“How’s the sheep going?”, “How’s the wheat going?” These are the questions Hockeyroos team-mates often fly at the new captain of the Australian women’s hockey team, Emily Smith.
“Well, pretty good,” Emily has been able to reply, especially seeing lamb and wheat prices have buoyed her investments.
Country-born Emily, who is still coming down from the excitement of being named Hockeyroos captain, has never been far away from the land. Born in Crookwell, she has been around sheep and farms all her life. Her parents had a small farm not far out of town and now her fiancee Dom Chalker is helping get her into some big time rural investments.
In elite amateur sport where players struggle financially and have to rely on grants and subsidies, Emily’s smart rural investments are backing up the dual-Olympian’s hockey career and are scoring goals for the new Aussie captain.
Her fiancee’s father, Mark Chalker, owns a few farms at Cowra and Forbes and Emily and Dom initially invested into some prime lambs a year ago which paid well. They’re now looking at getting another good return from a Gregory wheat crop the pair are leasing, due to be harvested in November, that has held up well despite a dry and frosty winter.
Emily, 25, will leave her hockey training in Perth for a while to head back to the Chalker’s farm at Forbes in November to help with harvesting, keen to see how the crops shape up.
“I’m sure Mark will get me on a tractor or I’ll just do some cooking, I don’t mind, it will be just nice to be there,” Emily says.
She is leasing 445ha with her fiancee Dom and his sister Maddie at “Blendwood” 10km from Forbes, that joins the family property “Goolerong”. It has been sown to 263ha of Gregory, 182ha of Spitfire, and sown at the end of June.
“We’re happy with the way it is going considering the dry winter but there is still good subsoil moisture as we were lucky to get good rain at the end of March,” Emily said.
Emily has been close to the land all her sporting career - playing on real turf in Crookwell. She picked up a hockey stick at the age of five, inspired by her hockey-playing mum and she’s been running around the turf of Crookwell’s hockey fields for nearly 20 years, fields renowned for producing elite hockey players. (Almost all hockey fields in Australia are synthetic turf).
“I think Crookwell has one of the flattest hockey fields in Australia,” Emily says. “It’s amazing how many good hockey players it’s produced.” The fields also produced her former Hockeyroos team-mate Kellie White and Emily’s sister Jessica, who plays for the ACT.
The sisters are due to meet in hockey state tournament in Perth this week, if the draw goes to plan. They share quite a rivalry.
"Mum would always blow up because we were playing in the hallway and it got pretty aggressive. There were a few broken frames and the skirting boards have marks all over them,” Emily’s sister Jessica told The Canberra Times this week.
"So I imagine it will be the same if we do meet again. We've played a couple of times at this level, and I know that any time she gets the ball it makes me want to go a bit faster."
There are a number of other players who have gone to play for NSW, not bad for a town of just 2600 people.
Emily learnt to grow up quickly having travelled at an early age to play hockey interstate as her talent bloomed. She made her senior debut at the 2011 Oceania Cup in Tasmania against New Zealand. She was just 19 when she made the squad for the 2012 London Olympic games, where the Hockeyroos finished fifth. She helped Australia win gold at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games and silver at the 2014 World Cup in the Netherlands.
This week she returns to training with her Hockeyroos and NSW team in Perth for the interstate comp, and to prepare for some internationals in Sydney in October in the Oceania Cup against Papua New Guinea and New Zealand at the famous Olympic hockey stadium, where the Hockeyroos famously won gold over Argentina in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. And of course it’s the big year next year of the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast where the Hockeyroos hope to remedy the sad run at the Rio Olmypics where they were eliminated in the quarter-finals. But it was not all bad news when Emily was in Rio last year for her second Olympics. Despite battling some tough accommodation challenges when first arriving in Brazil, she had the thrill of meeting world champion runner Usain Bolt in the athlete’s village.
She’s taken over the role of captain from her former room buddy and mentor Madonna Blyth. “She told me to stick to my guns and if it feels right, go with it.” “It is incredibly exciting to be captain.”
The Hockeyroos are in a rebuilding phase after a number of retirements and changes, a young team ready to make its mark again on the world stage.
After her career in hockey, Emily and Dom are enthusiastically thinking of a new life on the land. “I love the lifestyle,” Emily says. And at this stage, the returns!