By TOBY WALKER
SIX months ago, Grafton Agricultural Research and Advisory Station employees faced an uncertain future as a Carr Government departmental restructure threatened their jobs.
Beef researchers Helen Hearnshaw and Linda Cafe were two of the 37 employees forced to endure an anxious three-month wait on a decision from Primary Industries Minister Ian Macdonald.
Community protest and submissions from the ag station's specialist employees appeared to force the Carr Government's hand, claiming a positive result as almost all of the jobs were retained.
However, it was a hollow victory for some as ag station staff learned the beef research arm would be relocated to Armidale after 35 years of work at the Trenayr site.
"Politically, we were stuck between a rock and a hard place," said Mrs Hearnshaw.
Since her arrival at the ag station in 1976, Mrs Hearnshaw had made valuable contributions to the North Coast agricultural industry through her groundbreaking work on the breeding of brahman and British and European cattle. Ms Cafe arrived in 2002 as a technical officer to assist in the current project, a seven-year study of the the impact of early life nutrition on cattle growth and carcass characteristics, which began in 1999. Although Mrs Hearnshaw eventually took redundancy, effectively ending her work at the ag station last October, she is still bitterly disappointed by the lack of negotiation provided to employees throughout the tumultuous period.
Her submission to plead a case for the retention of beef research at Grafton was received with no response.
She followed this with an offer to continue working at the ag station without payment to see a seven-year project through. The offer was not acknowledged.
Both women appreciate the Clarence Valley's support, an effort that went some way to saving the jobs of their colleagues.
"We would have had zero chance without the community," Ms Cafe said.
But, dismayed as Mrs Hearnshaw was by her treatment after performing a job she loved for almost 40 years, she has fond memories of a November farewell amongst good friends and colleagues.
She also has the prospect of more time with her family to look forward to.
"I figure change is a good thing if it's well thought out, done for the right reasons and is well-consulted but I don't think that happened here," she said.
Ms Cafe said she would have liked to have stayed in Grafton a while longer but had readily accepted the move to Armidale, happy knowing that next week she will be able to continue her work at the Department's Beef Centre located at the University of New England.
As a new era at Trenayr approaches, the advantages of a locally-based beef research team is sure to be missed.