THE word trailblazer is not one that sits well with Leeton shire's Gillian Kirkup, but it is certainly an apt way to describe the businesswoman and community leader.
Mrs Kirkup has given decades of her life to the rice industry, first starting her career with SunRice as a computer programmer after finishing school.
From that point on it has always been about saying yes to the appropriate opportunities when they arose, broadening her skills base and always having the community in mind.
It was these ideals that led Mrs Kirkup to many high-level positions over the years, including chairman of Murrumbidgee Irrigation where she was also a director and deputy chairman prior to taking on the top job.
She also spent 16 years as a SunRice board grower director and Rice Marketing Board (RMB) director. Prior to that she held various positions in the company.
At the end of 2021, Mrs Kirkup decided it was time to stand down from the SunRice board and relevant committees to make way for new blood and fresh ideas. However, her legacy will remain for many years to come, not just at SunRice, but throughout the region.
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These platitudes are ones that Mrs Kirkup tends to shrug off, saying she always did what she thought was best for not just SunRice as a company, but also for the the industry, growers and their communities.
Amid all of this hard work, Mrs Kirkup also managed to raise a family, but it hasn't been an easy road, losing her first husband when their son Peter was only six months old.
She went on to remarry Barry Kirkup, and the pair had a daughter - Renee.
The Kirkups were also farmers, growing rice and other commodities over the years at their Gogeldrie property.
Mrs Kirkup is now able to look back on her many years of hard work after stepping down from the director role, saying it was something she did miss, but was hopeful she had helped to make a difference during her time.
"After 16 years, a couple of things came into play, I thought it was time for renewal and time for other people to have a go," she said.
"Part of me would have loved to continue on because I just love it, but it was the right time.
"We (SunRice) have listed on the ASX, we've done really well with our grower side of things, we've expanded worldwide. With the RMB, our governance has been good and it was time for a changing of the guard.
"Taking in all of those factors, I spoke to my husband Barry and we made a joint decision on whether or not I keep going.
"I'm still an appointed director with Riverina Lands Services, but it was time to start slowing down. I won't say retiring, but I think it's more of a new chapter."
While Mrs Kirkup has picked up plenty of qualifications over the years as a result of training and courses, she didn't complete a tertiary degree.
She said this was important to mention as it showed hard work, passion and tenacity can take you far in a career.
Mrs Kirkup did achieve excellent marks in her school exams, but said young people going through the motions shouldn't be discouraged if they don't achieve perfect results or find the path to their preferred career right away.
As well as being a leader and pioneer in the rice industry, Mrs Kirkup was sometimes the lone woman on many of the boards and committees she was part of.
She pointed out while life could certainly be busy, it was important for young women to strive to be leaders and have their voices heard.
There's also no doubting these kinds of big roles that Mrs Kirkup stepped into had their challenges, but she said being able to make decisions that made a difference to businesses to make them strong and nimble, was satisfying.
Part of me would have loved to continue on because I just love it, but it was the right time.- Gillian Kirkup
"Take the water industry, if you didn't change and improve all of the time, we wouldn't be where we are today," Mrs Kirkup said.
"I've always tried to bring passion to every role I have had. Sometimes it's really, really hard work, but other times it is great fun."
As Mrs Kirkup takes a step back, she was confident SunRice had a strong future ahead not just in Leeton, but in Australia and throughout the world.
"I have every confidence the team at SunRice are really forward-looking and well placed for the future," she said.
"One of the best things I found with being a director was the flexibility. You have to want to do what you are doing, but I do encourage young women to explore big opportunities when they come their way."
After a fruitful career filled with many ups and downs, Mrs Kirkup said she could look back on her time with SunRice and RGA with a sense of accomplishment.
She now looks forward to spending more time with family and traveling more throughout Australia.
"I still have a great passion for the region, some sadness that I'm stepping away, but also joy that it's time for the next generation to take over," Mrs Kirkup said.
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