How a law, commerce, science graduate became a sheep farmer

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By Amelia Knight

Imagine the skills of a lawyer, a physicist and economist combined into one person who also has empathy and passion for their community. Meet George Ryan, a family man who has multiple passion projects, but none quite like the local barter group he helps to run in his local area.

George has done a lot with his 66 years on Earth. He started out life on a cattle and potato farm and moved to Melbourne with his family when he was 11. He obtained his Law and Commerce degree at Melbourne University in 1976 and practiced as a lawyer for about four years in Melbourne.

“After (practicing) Law, … (for) about 2 years, I managed to get back to uni and start a science degree at Melbourne University,” he says, “and I did that part time for about 10 years.” He worked full-time as a lawyer to support himself. George continued his study of theoretical physics, achieving his PhD in 1997 at LaTrobe, and he also met his future wife, Anne, in practical labs.

“It was a bit of an office romance,” Anne says. “Just by chance he was doing his honour year the same year I was, and we were in the same research group, so (we) had the same supervisor and were in the same office.”

After George and Anne were married in 1989, they had a son in 1992. George went back to law to support his family, while Anne continued her career in physics and medicine.

 “My current job title is medical physicist,” Anne said. “I work with patients with cancer that would often use radio therapy as part of their treatment.”

Around 1996, the family moved to the country town of Castlemaine.

“In 2006 I moved from Castlemaine to the Newstead area and from 2010 I became more involved in farming. We now run a sheep farm,” George says, as he sips a cup of tea on his deck overlooking the farm.

Wanting to get back to farming basics, George got involved in the Mount Alexander Local Exchange Trading Systems (MaLets). MaLets is a community-built market trading group, that allows for individuals to bring produce from their own backyard orchards and vegie gardens and exchange it for produce they need for their own pantry.

He joined in 2006, became the secretary in 2009 and has been running the project for 11 years.

George Ryan and stall holders at the MarLets Wednesday Farmer’s market in Castlemaine. Photo: Amelia Knight

The origin of Local Exchange Trading Systems (LETS) can be traced back to 1983 in British-Columbia, Canada. LETS then crossed the seas and interstate borders between Queensland and Victoria all the way to Mount Alexander Shire.

Under George’s leadership, MaLets has steadily grown to a community of more than 480 members over 15 years, an incredible achievement when many LETS groups often only get up to 150 members then tend to fizzling out after about seven years.

Anne joined MaLets alongside George but didn’t find the same spark for the group as he did. Although she certainly admires his dedication. 

“When he takes on something that he feels really passionate about he doesn’t do it half-heartedly,” Anne pointed out. “He does it whole heartedly, with commitment and passion. And he’s like that in his legal practice too. If he takes on a case where someone has what he thinks is a raw deal, he’ll go all out to help them with hours and hours of work, which is often unpaid, because he thinks it’s the right thing to do. And he’s like that with the LETS too.”

George says he loves MaLets, not only for the basic premise of getting back to basics but also the reduced environmental impact it has. His passion for farming was reignited since returning to the country, while his law practice allows him to reach out and offer legal support within the Mount Alexander Shire. It’s clear he is a man who knows how to give back to his local community.

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