A sixth generation farmer, Cathy McGowan’s life has been characterised by strong family and community connections, and a love for rural Australia.
Cathy was born in the Indigo Valley, north-east Victoria, the fourth of 13 children. Her childhood not only taught her the importance of a good strategy in the face of a bully and respect for the power of community, but also engendered in her the resilience and persistence that was so obvious during her political campaigns.
Cathy completed an Arts degree and a Diploma of Education at Monash University in Melbourne, before teaching assignments in Nhill and Wangaratta. With these experiences under her belt, she returned to the land, buying a small farm where she had grown up.
Her first taste of politics came when she was offered a role as research assistant for federal member for Indi, Ewen Cameron.
Politics continued to weave its way through Cathy’s life, first through the consultancy business she established in 1983, which sought to bridge the gap between community and parliamentary bureaucracy; and then in her work as a rural affairs advisor with the Victorian Department of Agriculture.
Cathy returned to study in 1993, completing a Masters Degree in Systems Agriculture at the University of Western Sydney’s Hawkesbury campus, before taking up teaching positions there and at La Trobe University and Wodonga College of TAFE.
Among her many highlights from years of involvement in and leadership of rural and regional organisations, was Cathy’s presidency of Australian Women in Agriculture and her establishment of the Women and Dairy discussion groups across the country.
Cathy contested the federal seat of Indi as an independent candidate in 2013, running a surprising and high-energy grassroots campaign that unseated Liberal Party incumbent Sophie Mirabella, who had held the seat for 12 years.
While in parliament she developed policy around regional development, a national integrity commission, a code of conduct for politicians, and drought policy.
Cathy decided not to stand for re-election in 2019, handing the independent political baton to Indi’s second female independent representative, Dr Helen Haines.
Cathy celebrating her first birthday.
This was the final division on Cathy’s last day in Federal Parliament, April 4, 2019. While Cathy was the only female crossbencher when she was elected to parliament in 2013, by 2019 she was one of four women on the crossbench.
Federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese negotiates with the cross bench members on Cathy’s final day in Parliament, 2019.