Cheryl Roser.
Cheryl Roser.

Rural firefighters ready to answer the call

AS A teenager Cheryl Roser remembers the shrill sound of the phone being the backdrop to family life, largely because the Willowvale Telephone Exchange was in her kitchen.

Back then the district exchange serviced 50 locals and for her family, having a ward-robe-size switchboard beside the table meant a "handy" extra income on the dairy farm.

"My mum took over the switchboard after my grandmother - it was only going to be for a short while until Telecom went automatic," Mrs Roser said.

"But it ended up being there for years."

Despite the 1970s and early 1980s being a less frantic time, the exchange was still a 24/7 commitment.

"Massie Aerodrome was really busy then, a lot of people did aerial spraying so the calls use to start at 4am," Cheryl said.

The job was a constant tie and a generous neighbour stepped in to oversee the switchboard.


And at night Cheryl remembers her dad dutifully taking his turn.

"I did my share from time to time," she laughed.

"We had to write down the details of each local call for the accounts."

They were early lessons in phone etiquette and bookkeeping, which worked in her favour from the start of her working life.

Today she handles purchasing for Olsen's Produce, roles she juggles to an almost constant chorus of phone calls.

And, if she manages the steady stream of agricultural enquiries and a Bush Tele interview without faltering, it could well be a legacy of more than three decades working in rural business.

"I started working at Olsen's Produce in 1977," Cheryl explained.

The move proved relatively straightforward thanks to a childhood spent on a Willowvale dairy farm.

"I think having a rural background helped," she said.

"It gave me an understanding of country people and products."

She had grown up like many of her generation, lending a hand after school on the family farm.

"Dad never expected us to work in the dairy," she said.

"But we all did a bit; I remember loading hay on the truck as a kid.

"In those days, although we lived just 17km from Warwick, we only went into town once a week.

"They were different times."

While a lot may have changed, some things remain the same.

"Yes, I am still working at Olsen's Produce," she acknowledged good-humouredly.

"But I haven't been here the whole time."

She spent her first 10 years in the workforce with the business house, which then traded as Olsen Brothers, working for Lyn and Laurie Olsen.

"I loved it, I was mainly in the office, everything was done on paper: from orders through to invoices."

From there she went to Toowoomba maintaining her close connection with Darling Downs agriculture in a role with Pacific Seeds.

"I enjoy working with rural people.

"With Pacific Seeds I handled orders and dispatches for the Darling Downs, west to Dalby and out to Goondiwindi and Moree, plus everywhere in between," she said.

She rejoined the Olsen Brothers team in 1992 when she returned to her home town and has been with the Lyons St business in some capacity practically ever since: give and take time off to get married to husband Peter and have two children, Nicole and Thomas.

When new owners took over in 2003 renaming the enterprise, Olsen's Produce, she was one of the team members who stayed on.

These days she handles everything from merchandise orders to farmer queries and believes dealing with rural people is the best part of a busy job.

"Yes I do love it," she admitted.

"Even though they have had a really tough time with the floods, most of our farmers still keep their sense of humour.

"It's hard because we know what they have lost.

"In many cases we sold them seed and fertiliser and they planted it, only to have it wash away or they lost fences.

"So this year we could understand when they came and they were really down - it's been a tough time."

Despite the weighty cost of two consecutive summer floods when you are holding down the merchandise front-line in Warwick, there is still room for humour.

For Cheryl it's Wednesday, after the weekly pig and calf sale finishes at the northern end of their street, when some of the most unusual customer queries cross the counter and make her smile.

Most recently it was the new owner of a young lamb, who called in with a query about what she'd need for her little charge.

She was sold a bottle and some milk formula but her requests for lamb nappies was a little harder to accommodate.

"Who knows you can probably buy them somewhere already," Cheryl laughed.

"And one thing I have learnt is that things change: when I first started horses were lucky to get a bag of chaff and some lucerne hay.

"Nowadays there is every sort of supplement and horse feed in the world, so things change and from a merchandise perspective.

"Horse feed has been one of the big ones."

So who knows? One day she could well be ordering nappies for lambs.

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