22 December 1997

New technologies such as computers, mobile telephones and facsimile machines have not altered women's involvement in the running of Queensland farms, according to a University of Queensland PhD study.

For her thesis with the University's Anthropology and Sociology Department, Dr Julianne Stewart examined the way new technologies were accessed and regarded by men and women on around 20 cotton farms in the Dalby area.

Her thesis found that new technology had not altered the involvement of women in the day-to-day running of farms.

'If women had not been involved in farm business before, new technology did not change the situation,' she said.

'People's habits were not altered by computers despite media hype about how computers are supposed to have changed our lives. It was business as usual on the farms I examined. New technologies had just been worked into existing relationships.'

She said few studies had been done on the impact of new technology on relationships in rural and regional areas. She chose cotton farming because it involved modern farming practices more likely to employ new technologies. However, many of the families interviewed came from backgrounds in other farming such as mixed grain.

Dr Stewart, a lecturer in mass communication at the University of Southern Queensland, conducted in-depth interviews with husbands and wives running cotton farms, observed interactions between couples at Queensland Department of Primary Industries (QDPI) computer training workshops and spoke to computer industry representatives including retailers and QDPI personnel.

She also examined the way new technologies were represented in the media including cotton-growing magazines.

'Most farms tend to be at the forefront of new technology. Computers are used for cash management and preparing tax returns as well as for harvesting and growing crops,' Dr Stewart said.

She said her thesis had identified a generational difference in accessing new technology among women and men aged over 50.

'Women in this age group were more prepared to use computer technology. Their educational or career backgrounds may have given them greater clerical expertise whereas their husbands' backgrounds may have been more trade-based dealing with larger machines,' Dr Stewart said.

'Some of the men reported feeling ?too old' to learn about computers and that their role was to tend machines and outdoor aspects of farms while women looked after cashbooks and the computer.

'The computer keyboard was seen as a feminine item by some of the men including one who said his fingers were too big to use the keyboard.

'One man at a computer training course said about the keyboard ?I don't touch it without the cook here'. Often at these courses, the woman used the mouse and the keyboard while the man told her what to do.

'In couples aged 30 and below however, the men had usually received some computer training while at school and were more ready to use farm computers. The couple may have felt it was more efficient to have one person doing everything. In these cases, wives sometimes obtained work outside the farm,' she said.

She said in some of the relationships, the husband would give his wife the mobile telephone to take into town in case he remembered something extra he needed her to pick up.

'Some of the women perceived this as an abuse of new technology and rebelled by switching off the telephones while in town,' Dr Stewart said.

For more information, contact Dr Stewart (telephone 07 4631 1790 at work, 07 4630 1306 at home).