Public practitioner Peter Knights FCPA finds his accounting skills in high demand in rural Victoria.
Peter Knights FCPA is driving a tractor, spraying his crop in north-west Victoria’s wheat belt. Typically, for a man who is a fire brigade captain, board member of the local racing club and owner of a country accountancy firm, he’s multitasking.
While his eyes scan the farm that has been in his family since 1872, Knights keeps a steady hand on the tractor wheel and chats with ease about what it’s like to be a rural accountant.
However, he is distinctly uncomfortable at mention of his recent Citizen of the Year award from the local shire council.
“It’s a bit embarrassing, as there’s not too many friends or neighbours who don’t contribute – everyone does the same thing,” he says. “You don’t want to be singled out, but at the same time it is nice it’s recognised that a fair bit of work goes on at times.”
Knights, owner of Knights Norfolk, has volunteered hundreds of hours to help service his community, which has been home for all but six of his nearly 50 years. In St Arnaud – population a tick over 2000 – the father of three has helped the hockey club and regional hockey association, the turf club, the fire authority, the local agricultural show and basketball club.
Knights also chaired his shire council’s audit committee and was an independent member of the regional health service’s audit and risk committee. Plus, he spent six years on CPA Australia’s Public Practice Committee.
“You need to pull your weight. That accountability is something that is quite an open thing and it is certainly good for me.”
“A lot of it is self-serving – and an inability to say no,” he says, explaining that he loves playing sport, including hockey, so has wanted to see his local clubs progress.
“Any sports you might do, you tend to take an [active] role in, but I also enjoy it,” he says. “You feel you have contributed and I feel comfortable that my efforts have not been in vain.”
Even the local fire brigade presents an opportunity to help those who might one day help him.
“Everyone who is on a farm in the area is generally involved in the fire brigade. I’m a captain, which is a senior role, but it’s still self-serving because if there’s a fire you want to get to it before it burns you out.”
Living in a small town, it’s hard not to contribute, Knights says. “Everyone knows you and there’s a lot of accountability that goes with that – you can’t get away with too much. You need to pull your weight. That accountability is something that is quite an open thing and it’s certainly good for me.”
Knights says the move to cloud accounting and other online solutions has made it easier to volunteer on committees. “You’re using things like Facebook Messenger, so information can be circulated with one post,” he says.
Knights spends about 30 per cent of his time farming, and while working with his father, Bill, remains something of a hobby, he says the hands-on farming knowledge is helpful when servicing rural businesses. About 60 per cent of his clients work of the land.
Western Victoria can be unforgiving. When a drought hits, it hits hard. The tough climate can break the hearts of local farmers, pushing some to the edge. During such times, all the community’s various groups are called on.
“At the moment, the price for wool is good and we’re growing a bit of grain, so shares are up,” Knights says, who in harder times has often been a shoulder for clients to cry on.
“Sometimes depression can creep into different people in your community and sometimes you need to be a referral point,” he recognises.
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About the Country Fire Authority
The Country Fire Authority (CFA) is a community-run fire department that works alongside Victoria’s emergency services and aims to keep rural citizens safe from fire and other emergencies. The overwhelming majority of CFA’s 59,000-strong members are volunteer firefighters.
While the CFA benefits from millions of dollars in state funding, the emergency relief organisation does rely heavily on fundraising and contributions from the public. If you would like to donate, head to: www.cfa.vic.gov.au/
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