Ryan Bajada looks back on his time as a child in Haz-Zebbug in southern Malta and puts his passion for agriculture down to his late grandfather's poultry feedlot and flower farm.
His unconventional entry into agriculture is inspiring for many reasons and shows what a person can achieve with a sense of determination and an ambitious attitude, regardless if they grew up in the bush.
The Elders Stud Stock specialist has risen through the ranks to become one of the company's main seedstock auctioneers in eastern Australia and at only 24, he has an impressive resume to boot.
From a trip on a private jet to inspect studstock, to auctioning a record-breaking Australian bull, and now a move interstate to grow his career, Mr Bajada will look back on 2023 as a year of career highlights.
His journey to Australia started at the age of 10, when he emigrated with parents, Mario and Nicolette, who went in search of a better life for Mr Bajada and his siblings, including sister, Melanie, and brother, Warren.
"Dad was born here, he was a Maltese citizen, and due to the war his family would come back and forth between the two countries," Mr Bajada said.
"We all spoke English because Malta is a European country, but English is English, it's not Australian so we weren't fluent by any means and we had strong European accents so it took a fair bit of time to adjust."
"I decided to refine my English and by doing that, I lost my Maltese accent and if I hadn't done that, I knew it would have been a massive barrier in life."
Some of Mr Bajada's earliest memories as a child are following his grandfather, who he called pop, around the family's poultry feedlot.
His mother, a florist by trade, also worked in the family business, organising arrangements for weddings and funerals and anything in between.
In fact, his family's association with ag dates back several generations, much to the surprise of Mr Bajada, who only recently found out his great-grandfather, Salvu Attard, was an agriculture minister for Malta.
"I guess agriculture is in my blood," Mr Bajada said.
His family initially moved in with his uncle and aunty at Trafalgar, Victoria, before they found their own home in Gippsland.
His connection with agriculture waned for a few years until he was encouraged by his teachers at Warragul to join Marist-Sion College's steer showing team at the Melbourne Royal Show.
"I wanted to do something in agriculture, I didn't know in what capacity because I was a little kid, but I just knew that's the industry I wanted to work in from the moment I started showing," Mr Bajada said.
When he left school, he said he adopted his grandfather's enthusiasm for doing something he loved, and worked on a handful of dairy and beef farms where he learned about pastures, fencing and animal husbandry.
He had not considered a career as a stock agent until cattle breeder and agent Malcolm Reedy, Garfield, who worked for Rodwell & Co at the time, asked Mr Bajada if he would be interested in a career change.
"I was only a young, dumb kid and had just turned 18 when Malcolm set up a meeting with me at Rodwells with Anthony Delaney, so without Malcolm, there wouldn't have been a start really," Mr Bajada said.
"Anthony was and still is a great mentor and as an Australian champion auctioneer, and world-class auctioneer in my mind, he taught me a lot about integrity and professionalism."
Mr Bajada spent two years with Rodwells, with a six-month stint at Shepparton, and a year at Sale where his career as an auctioneer started.
"That was my first opportunity to get in a vehicle as a young agent and go chase a bit of business," he said.
In 2018, he made the switch from Rodwells to Elders after a discussion with Elders Bairnsdale livestock manager Morgan Davies who urged Mr Bajada to contact branch manager Col Lane for a gig.
He initially worked as an agent at Pakenham and made the move to East Gippsland about two-and-a-half years ago.
It was about that time he joined the Elders Stud Stock team under the direction of Elders Stud Stock manager for Victoria and the Riverina Ross Milne.
"Morgan was a massive help, in fact the whole team was, including [agent] Mel Coster who used to always pull me into line when I needed to be, and told me when I was doing something well," Mr Bajada said.
In June, Mr Bajada was part of a headline-making auction when he knocked down a bull for $106,000 at the Shorthorn National Show and Sale in Dubbo, NSW, in what was a new top price for the breed.
The bull, Ronelle Park Slurpie S29, was sold by Ronelle Park Shorthorns, Lyndhurst NSW, and bought by the Falls family of Malton Shorthorns, Blighty, NSW.
"That was an incredible experience to be a part of," Mr Bajada said.
In another memorable moment, Mr Bajada joined a Gippsland cattle breeder on a private jet when the pair flew from Bairnsdale to Launceston, Tasmania, to inspect a group of sires.
"We left in the morning and I was back home on the couch by 6pm," Mr Bajada said.
Earlier this year, he was a guest auctioneer at Venturon Livestock, WA, and within hours of him landing in Melbourne after the sale, he was asked if he would return to the west for a stock horse auction four weeks later.
Mr Bajada and his partner, Giorgia Ayton, relocated from Bairnsdale to Wagga Wagga this week in a move that will present more opportunities for the 24-year-old.
"I talked to Giorgia and said, 'This opportunity in front of us is a great thing, but if you're not comfortable in doing it, we can stay here'," Mr Bajada said.
"She's incredibly supportive and said, 'Let's do it' and I think it will be good for us and our family one day in the future."
Mr Bajada said his career in ag was driven by "passion" and a legacy of the qualities his family instilled in him in Malta.
"I view it as a lifestyle, so you have to be excited to get up and do it each morning," he said.
"In this industry, there are a lot of people who want to tell you how to do things, but you really need to identify people who have your best interests and find those mentors who want to see you do well.
"Make sure that you're passionate about it, because I don't look at it as a job, I do it because it's me."