But the 28-year-old’s creativity has blossomed after she and husband Wade transformed a calf paddock into a fledgling flower farm.
Ms Johnston has cultivated colourful rows of blooms, including native paper daisies, straw flowers, zinnias, cornflowers, sunflowers, statice, pink baby’s breath and poppies, from seed bought from an Australian company that plants a tree for every purchase.
“I think it’s pretty hard, especially as a young mum of young children, being so far away from family and friends, and friends with kids. I think it’s been a little isolating for me,” Ms Johnston says.
“But finding something like this that that I can now put my heart into and finding, kind of, my place on the farm. It’s been really exciting for me.”
October 15 is International Rural Women’s Day and Ms Johnston is one of many women changing the stereotype of what a farmer looks like in Australia.
Before her brother played matchmaker and set her up with her husband, Ms Johnston studied and toured Australia as a professional dancer and singer in the musical theatre industry.
Life changed dramatically after moving to Bollier in the Mary Valley, nearly an hour’s drive north-west of Maroochydore on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.
Then came three-year-old Poppy, two-year-old Joey and six-month-old Valli.
The rustic barn where her husband milks his small herd has provided the perfect backdrop for potential flower customers enjoying a weekend drive in the country.
Ms Johnston has written a children’s book and recently did a three-week stint as musical director for the Queensland run of Legally Blonde.
“We really got affected as artists through COVID so getting theatre back up again is really exciting. They’re on tour now and I’m off the show, so I can focus on my flowers,” she says.
Women’s place in agriculture
According to Australia’s most recent Agricultural Census in 2016, women provided 33 per cent of all on-farm income and 84 per cent of all off-farm income.
Australian Women in Agriculture (AWiA) president Nat Sommerville said historically women were not promoted as significant contributors.
“Prior to this organisation forming 30 years ago, for our tax documents we weren’t allowed to use the term farmers,” Ms Sommerville says.
“We had to refer to ourselves as farmers’ wives, or something of that nature.”
An agronomist and farmer, Ms Sommerville says agriculture provides a diverse range of opportunities and the AWiA is committed to mentoring and advocating for women, as well as lobbying for better representation on company boards.
Family first for Johnstons
At Bollier, Ms Johnston’s fledgling flower enterprise could be the perfect complement to the small dairy herd her husband runs.
By growing from seed, the Johnstons say they remain true to their ethos of keeping their debts low so they can spend more time with their children.
“When Poppy [now three] was born, straight away I just knew what I wanted,” 33-year-old Mr Johnston said.
“I wanted to be around her, I wanted to be a dad and I wanted to help out my wife Courtney in every way I could. I just wanted to be a parent too.”
Ms Johnston says she appreciates every day on their land.
“I always wake up and pinch myself because we’re just so lucky to be able to bring the kids up out here and to be able to be out in the garden, digging in the soil and getting back to nature,” she says.
“That is just so amazing and exciting, and I really don’t want to take that for granted any day.”