Country connection alive and well in younger generation

by Seona Cremasco, Country Education Foundation

As featured in The Country Web 2017 Annual.

Living in the country you find so many connections weaved into daily life that sometimes are overlooked, underestimated and even forgotten. A friend helps you load the groceries, chop some wood or recommends you for a job. You shake hands and shout them a drink and it’s never spoken of again. This weave of helping hands can be put down to country life and that’s just the way people look after each other, or it can be thought of as something else. It can be put down to investing time and effort in your own community, no matter how big or small this effort is.

Country Education Foundation staff

Anna Ingold with Country Education Foundation’s chairman Paul Braybrooks (seated) and grants supervisor David Hain.

Anna Ingold is living proof of the country connection that is alive and well in the younger generations of rural and regional Australia. She is 24, living back in her home town of Cootamundra, working in the ag industry and giving back to the community that has helped her out.  She is actively helping to better the lives of young people in her community through the @cootamundraanddistrictcountryeducationfund.

This fund awarded Anna a community scholarship back in 2010 for her agriculture science studies at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga NSW. The Fund is one of 43 in the Country Education Foundation (CEF) network that spans four states.

CEF works to foster further education, career and personal development opportunities of rural youth through community based encouragement, support and financial assistance.

For Anna, her involvement within the CEF family stemmed from her own experiences. She wanted to show school leavers that community scholarships aren’t only about money, it’s also about networking and mentoring opportunities with other recipients and members from the organisation.

Anna says, ‘It gives the student a leg up into their future, and it creates a network between the recipients.

‘When I go into the schools I tell the students to look at it as a networking opportunity. I’ve got jobs not because of what I know, but who I know. I think the networking is the most valuable thing.’

For Anna, she has worked hard in her role, as a committee member and now secretary, to be approachable and accessible to Cootamundra’s youth.

‘I’ve made a Facebook page,’ Anna laughs.

Anna’s informal mentoring of the current students has seen some of the applicants reach out for advice and help.

‘I’ve had some of the students Facebook me and ask what’s the best thing for me to wear and what kind of questions are we going to be asked. Without giving too much away I tell them to simply be themself and to be open with what they are trying to do.

‘We also had a lot of older people on our committee going into the schools, however, the students weren’t listening saying it was boring. So they asked me to go in to the schools, and over the past two years the feedback from the students has been positive.

‘The students seem to relate to me and appreciate that I have recently gone to university, lived away from home and that I knows the ins and outs of the new life stage they are about to enter.’

Anna said the most rewarding thing about her role with the Cootamundra & District Education Fund is seeing school leavers bolstered by the confidence and belief the committee and community has in them.

‘It’s definitely a worthwhile thing to pursue. My favourite meeting of the year is when we choose the students. We give not based on how smart a student is or how sport they are—but on their needs and want of a good education. So I always tell the students to apply even when they may not think they will get it.’

Anna’s investment in her community and the future generation of CEF recipients is one many wouldn’t take so early in their careers, but her enthusiasm and passion for creating education and learning pathways for school leavers is evident. Her commitment to helping youth achieve their dreams and career goals strengthens not only her ties to Cootamundra, but the youths’ belief that their community backs and supports them.

More information
t:  1300 652 144

Posted in bursary, Community Hero, education and training, Grants and funding, Rural Australia, rural women, scholarships, Volunteering | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Building your Brains-trust

by Pip Job, Business & Social Resilience, Department of Primary Industries.
As featured in The Country Web 2017 Annual.

Have you ever heard the saying ‘the sum of the whole is greater than the sum of the parts’? Or how about ‘no one is greater than all of us’? When we come together as a collective, the power, ideas and energy we create is far greater than what we can generate on our own. Synergy is an extraordinary thing!

Pip Job sitting on verandah smiling

Pip Job is a Senior Project Officer with DPI’s Business & Social Resilience Program and heads up the @YoungFarmerBusinessProgram.

The concept of a brains-trust, in life, or business, is so important and we need to recognise that we will benefit greatly from bringing more minds to the table. There are many ways of building the brains-trust and a good way to consider it, is thinking of a tool-box. If a tradesman arrived at your home to fix a leaking tap and all they had in their toolbox was a screwdriver, you would be a little concerned about their ability to fix the tap properly.

This analogy applies to us in business, community and our personal lives. We need to build a toolbox which has lots of resources, tools and brains so that we can create solutions, or develop opportunities. By trying to deal with things on our own, we miss out on the opportunity which other brains can bring to us. Other brains can bring perspective, they bring creativity, they bring alternative views and they bring linkages to other opportunities or people.

So, what are some of the ways to build a brains-trust? In the corporate world, a brains trust is a small group of trusted peers whom you give permission to critique your ideas. Many successful business people make comment that it’s their brains-trust who have saved their business, or helped their business prosper and many comment they wish they had formed a brains trust from day one, rather than going it alone. The idea of a brains trust is not solely for the corporate world, so why not adopt it in your life and business.

Tips to help you form your brains-trust:

  • Look for diversity of thinking. The last things you want are people who think just like you. This is called group thinking and it is not healthy. Look for age, gender, race/culture, backgrounds, industries, etc. Diversity is proven to enhance outcomes.
  • Create an asking/giving environment. Everyone needs to be willing to help and share. Make sure it’s a win:win for everyone involved. This could be as simple as providing a nice lunch to being a paid function.
  • Make it an enjoyable experience when you bring the brains trust together. If it’s for business, than make sure it’s fun, but professional.

You can bring your brains trust together for brainstorming sessions, or it could be for one-on-one interaction when seeking counsel. Having some fun around a white board or with sticky notes and a few bottles of wine can be an enjoyable experience. When brainstorming, remember the rule that there is no such thing as a bad idea. Sometimes it’s the wild ideas which open doors, create opportunities or simply stimulate the creation of other ideas. Don’t debate ideas; just create them.

By collaborating with others, you will add richness to your life which is a gift. Use the idea of a brains trust to create solutions and generate opportunities. Have an abundance thinking mindset.

Posted in stories, The Country Web | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Catching Dreams: From Bathurst to Nepal

by Deb Grivas Grivas, Wentworth Falls
As featured in The Country Web 2017 Annual

We’re sitting in the back of a taxi dangerously weaving through choking traffic on the dusty and chaotic streets of Kathmandu. I’m here volunteering with an organisation called the Mitrataa Foundation which is run by Australian woman Bec Ordish. I’m listening to her speak on her phone while I’m trying to distract my attention from the impending death I feel I may be facing with this taxi driver. Amongst the cacophony of car horns, street vendors and motorbikes, Bec’s voice is soothing and calming.

‘It’s OK darling, I know the exams are hard but you tried your best. I know … I know … It will be OK … remember to breathe … I understand…’

Bec is placating one of her ‘daughters’ who is distraught after receiving poor results in her preparation exams for the national exam. National exams are a big deal in Nepal and with over a 50 per cent failure rate, the pressure on students to pass is immense.

Deborah Grivas Image2Originally from Bathurst NSW, Bec has many ‘daughters’ and many ‘sons’ too. In fact, at last count she currently has over 200 children spread across various schools in the city of Kathmandu and surrounding districts. Mitrataa, among other things, helps house and educate under-privileged children by providing them with ‘Dream Catchers Scholarships’ which pays for their tuition and offers a life skills program and family support as required. Bec calls these children her ‘kids’ and her passion and dedication to improving their lives is evident in the way she speaks to them and about them.

‘Part of my job is to get to know each child.’

Bec is explaining to me what drives her to do such difficult and challenging work.
‘I believe every single person has a gift to offer the world. My job … my privilege … is to help them find that gift and help them set it free.’

Bec’s enthusiasm is palpable.

‘It’s the most incredible feeling … it’s that magic moment when someone starts to believe in him or herself. When they see that they can do it … that look in their eyes of possibility.’

Bec founded Mitrataa (meaning ‘friendship’ in Nepali) 17 years ago after a volunteering stint in Kathmandu. An intellectual property lawyer by profession, she was moved by the plight of one mother she met who showed up on the doorstep of a school every morning, begging for her son to attend. When Bec found out it would cost the equivalent of $300 Australian dollars to educate the boy for a year, she didn’t hesitate to offer to pay the fees for him.

Realising that such a small gesture could potentially change a life, Bec began raising money by rallying her friends and family. As word spread, more people made donations and by 2005 it became clear that running Mitrataa would require a fulltime commitment.

Bec eventually quit her job and moved to Kathmandu and has lived there ever since. She has since adopted two young Nepali girls who have grown into confident young women and are working beside her on a myriad of projects, including leadership training, community kitchens, community sustainability projects, teacher training, medical support programs, English programs in rural schools—all with the underlying goal to empower the Nepali people.

Nepal has a bevy of social and political problems including corruption and poverty that seeps its way into every aspect of life. Public education is inadequate and social injustices pervade. As a result, these children’s lives have been witness to more heartache than they should at their age. The devastation of the 2015 earthquake that rocked the country compounded the problems leaving many with a feeling of hopelessness and desperation.

‘I see my role as sharing the stories of the Nepali people. They want to be heard and they want people to know that things are hard for them but they don’t want our pity. They also want people to know how hard they are working to change things.

Many charitable organisations come to Nepal with great intentions to help but often perpetuate a sense of dependence. Mitrataa helps create the bridge to empower people—we are not working for them from above but with them to enable them to help themselves.’

Bec laughs when asked about Mitrataa’s vision for the future.

‘We want to work our way out of a job! By empowering these students and their families we hope to mentor them into finding solutions for themselves. At the end of the day, we need to build strong, supportive nurturing networks of ‘cheer squads’—individuals and schools and communities that can continue the work of inspiring, believing in and co-creating a thriving, flourishing Nepal.’

Bec’s phone rings again. It is another one of her ‘kids’ ringing to tell her about her exam results. This phone call is cheerier. She has passed all of her subjects. Bec nearly bursts with pride.

The taxi pulls up in front of a small school in the suburbs of Kathmandu. It’s a Sunday afternoon and we have gathered here to take part in one of the monthly ‘Dream Catcher’s’ sessions run by Mitrataa for the students and their families. We arrive a bit late and the session is in progress, run by one of Bec’s adopted daughters, Nimu. She is talking about preparing for winter and brainstorming ideas that might help everyone get through it.

Winter is a particularly difficult time in the city as food becomes scarce and the city is subject to long periods without electricity, and therefore no heating, lights or hot water, due to the government imposed load shedding. Fuel for cooking is expensive and hard to come by. Fresh water often runs dry due to poor government infrastructure. People get sick and medical help is insufficient and expensive.

Bec explains that the purpose of these Dream Catchers sessions is to network and collaborate and to build a sense of community among these poverty stricken families. Together they share in sorrows, joys and experience, to solution-find, to cry and laugh.
The discussion becomes overwhelming for one woman, a single mother of five. She can’t bare the thought of having to face another winter. She sobs uncontrollably. It is heartbreaking to witness. Bec moves close to her and quietly consoles her, nodding her head and gently stroking her arm as the woman weeps and shares her anguish. She later organises a food package and blankets be delivered to her and pays for the woman to visit a doctor.

The group share some stories and they brainstorm ways to overcome the difficulties of water shortages and lack of electricity and poor health. The mood lightens as ideas flow. Bec then gives each student a small solar charged lamp for them to use to study by when the electricity goes out, which often occurs for up to 12 hours a day during the winter season. The children smile as if it’s Christmas.

By the end of the meeting I’m emotionally exhausted and I’m aware that Bec and her staff run more than 10 of these meetings a month. In the taxi on the way back to my hotel, I ask Bec how she does it. How does she keep going in the face of all the heartache?
She ponders the question before answering, ‘As the Kenyan proverb goes, ‘Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable’. That’s the power of connecting and collaborating and that’s at Mitrataa’s heart.

More information

Posted in inspirational, Mentor, RWN, school students, The Country Web, Volunteering | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

2017 female ambassador for ag show movement

As featured in The Country Web 2017 Annual

Fourteen finalists competed for the title of The Land Sydney Royal Showgirl 2017. These young women were a mix of medical and business students, teachers, volunteers and science graduates. Their interests covered many diverse areas including free range farms, mental health in bush communities, sustainability and community gardens. Finalists are judged on their rural knowledge, ambition and genuine interest in their local community.

Twenty-four-year-old Maisie Morrow, from Merriwa, took out the title of The Land Sydney Royal Showgirl 2017, becoming an ambassador for rural NSW and the Sydney Royal Easter Show and an important role model for young women in agricultural communities.

Maisie Morrow RAS Showgirl

Maisie Morrow, The Land Sydney Royal Showgirl 2017

An Agronomist and Livestock Nutritionist for Landmark, Maisie grew up at Cassilis and studied Rural Science at the University of New England. She is the first ever Showgirl to represent Merriwa at the Sydney Royal.

Maisie is involved in the Cassilis Rural Fire Brigade, Merriwa Show Society, Merriwa Country Women’s Association, and the Scone Grasslands Society. She has ambitions to get involved in farming lobby groups and politics, to ensure Australia educates and supports the ageing farming population, and invests in technology to support the ‘green’ movement to meet world food demand.

Maisie’s interest in being a Showgirl was driven by her support of women in agriculture, emphasising their integral role in the industry both now and in the future.

What do you hope to achieve as The Land Sydney Royal Showgirl 2017?
I am passionate about recognising women’s involvement in agriculture and I am humbled and proud to be representing a movement that promotes young women in agriculture. I believe women are the key to thriving communities as we bring a different dimension to the ‘table’. I would like to use this powerful position as a rural ambassador to encourage women, especially young women, to engage in their communities and showcase the diverse opportunities that exist in rural NSW.

How has your involvement in the competition benefited you?
I have met some incredible people and made some wonderful friendships. The week spent at the Show was a very empowering experience being surrounded by such a diverse group of women, all championing agriculture in different ways.

Why do you think it is so important to raise awareness of rural and regional NSW?
Raising awareness of rural and regional NSW is essential for the economic sustainability of global primary industries. We are a key contributor in the food security discussion and we must maintain an active voice, so farmers and producers have a seat at the table.


Posted in agriculture, Awards, Leaders in Heels, Royal Agricultural Society, rural women, The Country Web | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Recovering from fire

by Caroline Hayes, Sir Ivan Fire Recovery Support Service
As featured in The Country Web 2017 Annual

In February 2017, a devastating fire ripped through farming land between the small rural towns of Cassilis, Coolah and Dunedoo. 55 000 ha was burnt, 147 properties significantly affected, 46 homes either damaged or destroyed and 173 outbuildings either  damaged or destroyed, including a church and community centre. The small rural communities of Leadville, Uarbry, Cassilis, Coolah and Dunedoo were left with the massive task of recovering from this natural disaster.

Rural Resilience Staff

Some of the DPI Rural Resilience Program staff: Danny Byrnes, Robyn Walters, Jen Haberecht, Ellen Day, Caroline Hayes, and Ted O’Kane at a recent team meeting

Due to the scale of agricultural impact, joint Commonwealth and State funding (through the Natural Disaster Relief & Recovery Arrangements) was received through the NSW Office of Emergency Management’s Disaster Assistance Guidelines to establish a Recovery Support Service based within DPI’s Rural Resilience Program. The Recovery Support Service aims to provide a single point of contact for people affected by the fire and provide information and support to assist them with their recovery efforts. Dealing with a natural disaster of this scale can be extremely traumatic, so having a service that can help people navigate their way to the support and information they need is important.

Rural Support Workers Caroline Hayes and Sue Freebairn have been working with people affected by the fire from the beginning and have now been appointed as Recovery Support Workers for the next 12 months.

‘Initially we were stationed in the Recovery Centre at Coolah and in the Village Hall at Cassilis along with other service providers, to provide immediate information and emergency support and assistance’, explained Caroline.

‘The funding will allow the Rural Resilience Program to provide an ongoing one-on-one personalised service to affected people. The dedicated Recovery Support Service was instigated based on the needs we were seeing first-hand from people affected.’

As well as providing a single point of contact for people, Caroline and Sue will also be informing other support services about people’s recovery needs and issues.

A number of government organisations and support services including the Rural Financial Counselling Service, Local Land Services, NSW Health, Rural Assistance Authority, Red Cross and the CWA have all been working together to support people affected.

‘It can be really overwhelming as there are a range of different assistance measures managed by different groups and this can become confusing, especially when someone is already under stress.

‘It is our role to ease the burden and make sure people know what assistance is out there, how to tap into it and ensure they have access to relevant information and support to move forward in their recovery.’

Sue and Caroline have both worked previously as Rural Support Workers so understand the process of accessing support. Sue was Director of Nursing at Cooinda Coonabarabran for 25 years until her retirement. In 2013, in the wake of the Wambelong Bushfire, she started working with the DPI to support those communities affected by fire.

Caroline has worked with farming families and communities for 20 years, helping them to improve business and personal resilience through improved communication, networking, business management and personal development. Caroline has spent more than nine years with DPI in rural support roles and has also been a Rural Financial Counsellor.

‘Women play a crucial role in recovery from disasters such as this. Without wanting to stereotype, women often have input into the financial management and may also be the ones with more established support networks. We often hear from women that they are worried about their blokes, so making sure everyone involved in the business is part of recovery is essential.’

Recovery Support Workers:

Sue Freebairn
m: 0429 212 368

Caroline Hayes
m: 0407 971 675

The Rural Resilience Program can help farming families by:

Creating opportunities to connect with others in farming communities, as well as connecting with support services.

Providing information, tools and development opportunities that build skills, knowledge and experience.

Supporting families while recovering from adverse events and helping them prepare for the future.

Listening to farming needs and issues and communicating these to policy makers.

Rural resilience officers:

Cobar: Ellen Day
m: 0427 639 761

Coffs Harbour: Jen Haberecht
m: 0400 160 287

Goulburn: Ted O’Kane
m: 0427 781 514
e: ted.o’

Hay: Danny Byrnes
m: 0400 374 258

Tocal: Liane Corocher (coordinator)
m: 0427 188 643

Rural Support Workers:

Walgett: Robyn Walters
m: 0438 082 731

Posted in Community Hero, Families, Local Land Services, NSW Rural Women's Network, resilience, Rural Support Workers, rural women, Social welfare, trauma, Volunteering | Tagged | Leave a comment

NSW Rural Women’s Gathering celebrates 25 years

From meeting at the crossroads with drought-stricken women in 1992, the NSW Rural Women’s Network (RWN) continues to reflect and improve how we listen to rural women, link them to information and services and create opportunities that build personal and business resilience and strengthen rural communities.

One of the major annual activities coordinated by RWN and run by the local community is the annual NSW Rural Women’s Gathering which this year is also celebrating 25 wonderful years.

Ronnie Hazelton, Marg Carroll AO, Tammy Galvin & Steph Cooke MP cutting the celebratory cake for the 25th Anniversary of the NSW Rural Women's Gathering.

Ronnie Hazelton, Marg Carroll AO, Tammy Galvin and Steph Cooke MP cutting the celebratory cake for the 25th Anniversary of the NSW Rural Women’s Gathering. PHOTO: Fran McDonald

To mark this very special occasion, founders Marg Carroll AO and Ronnie Hazelton attended this year’s Gathering in Narrandera and shared the story around the start of the NSW Gathering movement. They presented Narrandera with a beautiful flowering gum to be planted at the local park before joining with Narrandera Gathering Chair Tammy Galvin and MP for Cootamundra Steph Cooke to cut a special anniversary cake.

A flowering gum was always our RWN symbol and logo, then became the Gathering’s. It signifies the resilience and strength of us rural women through flood, fire and famine, the blossoming and growth in daily life, the determination and courage needed to raise families and develop communities.

This is the story of the NSW Rural Women’s Gathering in Mar and Ronnie’s  words…


Picture this – two friends driving along, brimming with ideas and talking 19 to the dozen about the marvelous weekend they had just had!

That was Ronnie Hazelton and I returning from Numurkah, just over the border in Victoria after their Women on Farms Gathering in April 1992. We both worked in health: Ronnie in farm safety and me in health promotion, and I had a brand new but daunting job the following month of setting up the NSW Rural Women’s Network (RWN).

It didn’t take long for us to have the BIG IDEA: ‘Why don’t we do a Gathering in NSW?’ We were completely carried away, not having a clue how much organisation it might take, or how big it could grow. We just knew we had to convince our bosses so we had support, get a talented team together, scrounge funding from somewhere and unashamedly pinch ideas from the Victorians. Easy done!

1992/93 was a time of the 3 Ds – drought for over two-thirds of NSW, debt and depression, especially in the Western Division.

My new job had come about from the 1991 Women’s Advisory Council conference in Parkes, chaired by Audrey Hardman from Mandurama. There, 600 rural women had listed issues and called for action, primarily to set up a RWN. This was helped through Government by Audrey and by Dr Kevin Sheridan AO, Director-General of NSW Agriculture, who became our great ally in a male-dominated department.

My first task as RWN coordinator was to meet women all over and hear their concerns. In that first year I covered maybe 50,000 km and, over kitchen tables, in halls and paddocks (and one memorable occasion at Gilgunyah crossroads out west where the red dust settled steadily on the white carrot cake icing as we talked), heard tales of isolation and lack of communications, poor services in just about everything, loss and grief, and financial woes especially on-farm and in smaller communities.

So the idea of something as joyful as a Gathering especially for rural women, struck a cord. We wanted to offer hard-pressed women a change away from the grind, something stimulating, relevant to their needs and good fun.

It fitted within the overall RWN action strategies then of The Country Web newsletter which started when Sonia Muir came on board in 1993; Country Care Link 1800 line we set up for counseling, information and referral with the wonderful Sister Jude from St Vincent’s Sisters of Charity, and an ambitious consultation planned for a few months later with 500 women simultaneously at 28 TAFE satellite sites.

In case you’re wondering how we did this with 1.5 RWN staff that first year, then 2.5 when Sonia arrived – we worked in partnerships and teams, networked furiously, fielded constant media demands and 500 calls a month, spoke at many forums and made every post a winner. I loved working with rural women and tuning into their concerns to try and figure out what might make a difference. As coordinator, I was also away from home a lot, lost weight and took up meditation! Overdid it a bit, but the threat hung over us of being a three-year wonder, a pilot program that finished before it had really begun.

One of our key partners was NSW Health – and Farmsafe Central West.


When I was sorting out what I would do in life, I thought I would like to be an air hostess. I rang Qantas and asked them what the requirements were for a flight attendant. They said I would need a first aid certificate or a degree in nursing. I thought I would do nursing as it was sure to get me a job, so I trained at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.

I ended up going to Bourke to ‘special’ a lady and after being there for two days a very handsome young man came to a party held at the nurses’ quarters. That was an amazing change of life for me. After about six months the lady got better and rather than leave Bourke I got a job at a local stock and station agent, Elders Smith Goldsborough Mort. After working there for about five months I decided to get my midwifery certificate and left to go to King George Hospital. The first deliveries I attended were stillbirths and I knew I needed to leave and work somewhere else.

The following year I married the handsome man who happened to be a pilot, and we moved to Cudal in 1969.

A job came up in 1975 and I told my husband I was going back to work. He said No, but I did and became one of the first community nurses in the Central West, a scheme started by PM Gough Whitlam. One of the problems we noticed was farm accidents and we worked hard to address the issue. In Cudal we started the first Farm Safety Action Group in Australia and had a great committee of diverse people. We started to run Farm Safety workshops for women on farms and also Farm Safety for School Children.

When we planned the first Women on the Land Gathering in 1993, it seemed like a perfect place to follow our program. Marg and I began by putting together a diverse team of 14 from throughout the Central West to help us. The 13 women and one bloke (now mayor of Orange, Reg Kidd) tapped into organisations and ‘networks’ – a new concept then but really the time-honoured bush telegraph. We didn’t have email or social media, just phone and fax, but got wide media coverage and used The Country Web.

Here with us from the original Gathering team are the wonderful Betty MacDonald from Orange, and Sonia Muir from DPI. Others send their apologies.


We chose Orange Agricultural College as a venue because women could hang out together in cheap digs during student holidays. It was chilly in September, but no one seemed to mind and registrations started to roll in. At about 350 the college began to get anxious. At 400 they said, ‘Stop, no more’, and we had to turn 150+ women away. Sponsorship was generous and the Rural Assistance Authority funded women from each of the 26 Rural Financial Counselling Services to attend the Gathering.

With the theme of “Surviving and Thriving” we focused on issues and actions in deciding guest speakers and workshops – finances, learning, the environment, health and personal development, as Narrandera has too. And those hidden issues I was hearing around the traps: farm family succession and domestic violence.

Our guest speakers: author/farmer Christina Hindhaugh and the first Aboriginal magistrate, Pat O’Shane, touched emotions – Pat on the appalling statistics and reality of domestic violence, and Christina urging us to follow our dreams whatever they may be. ‘Although it would be lovely if one could, you don’t have to travel overseas, change industries, go to university or win the lottery to pursue your dream,’ she concluded in a story about life journeys. ‘Look around you, right where you are; in most cases you’ll find your acres of diamonds right there in your own backyard.’

My old friend and Gathering ‘groupie’ Fran Spora from Gulargambone, who has attended umpteen events with her sisters and cousins, also recalls the Hypothetical cleverly guided by Christina Hindhaugh via a panel and her ‘story’ of Mr and Mrs Murray Grey and family. ‘We nodded our collective heads at the reality on many family farms whereby Dad, and Dad alone, liaised with the Bank Manager, with the Solicitor and others,’ says Fran. ‘Mum (let alone sons, daughters and forget about the daughters-in-law) had no part in decision-making.’  Many around the room cheered the panel as they came up with better ways of negotiating a family’s future.

We had our glitches, but women forgave the odd hiccup because they loved being there and being together. Fran Spora mentions the friendships formed all over the state, ‘an important factor in addressing the isolation felt by many women’.

An old-fashioned lantern was our way of handing on the ‘light’ to host another Gathering. At the end when it came to that question: ‘Is anyone interested in doing another Gathering?’ there was a pregnant pause, then up the back one brave woman jumped up – Janet Redden from Gunnedah. ‘I’ll do it,’ she said. Our team breathed a sigh of relief. What a great job they did, then Yanco, Cobar, the Hunter valley, Cooma and many others until it’s here in Narrandera.

But it wasn’t all joy. The following week The Land had excellent coverage of the event, but a critical editorial – Why have such a gathering, the editor wrote, when there’s Country Women’s Association already, and hey, what about us men?  He copped a flood of letters, even from the husband of one participant who said his wife was so inspired she was still floating around the ceiling. So he graciously retracted his views the next week and printed the letters.

And so off went the Gatherings backed by the Rural Women’s Network which itself has carried on thanks to the tireless work of Sonia Muir, Allison Priest, Emma Regan and many other staffers.

We feel so proud that the Gatherings are still going 25 years on. And that many elements of the original model have endured:

  • Women’s stories, ‘giving heart to us all’.
  • Local farm tours – ‘a great idea.”
  • Ecumenical services on Sundays
  • A forum for views, bringing together rural and urban women, and linking participants with decision-makers and service providers. and raising the profile of rural women via media and now social media.
  • Above all, wonderful volunteer teams who give their time and efforts to provide opportunities for other rural women down the years and around the state. Hosting is a huge undertaking. But it also gives ownership and pride in such achievement, and hopefully a lot of laughs.

Congratulations to all those host teams, the Rural Women’s Network and all of you for supporting Narrandera.

Posted in NSW Rural Women's Gathering, NSW Rural Women's Network, rural women | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Art Connections: helping people with dementia

Contributed by Maryanne Jaques, Arts OutWest. As featured in The Country Web 2017 Annual

An innovative arts program is helping people with dementia to connect and participate at Catholic Healthcare’s Jemalong Residential Village in Forbes NSW.

Jemalong is home for up to 91 residents with a range of care requirements, including specialist care for those living with dementia. The Art Connections program runs in the Coolabah wing, a secure dementia unit, where a gallery or ‘sensory room’ has been created displaying a rotating collection of artworks on loan from Bathurst Regional Art Gallery. In the program, residents view and talk about the artwork, then create their own works in response.

‘Art Connections lets people living with dementia engage in intellectual and sensory stimulation, which promotes storytelling, reminiscence and learning,’ Arts OutWest Arts & Health Coordinator Christine McMillan said.

The program is coordinated by Arts OutWest in partnership with Catholic Healthcare’s Jemalong Residential Village with support from Bathurst Regional Art Gallery and JRV Fundraising Group. It began in 2016 with specialised training from National Gallery of Australia’s Art and Dementia Outreach Program. Staff, volunteers and artists learnt how to talk about artworks with people with dementia, about the importance of asking opened ended questions and allowing time for the participants to answer.

The Art Connections sessions involve four participants per weekly one-hour session over
12 weeks. Residents spend supervised time with staff, artist Ro Burns and volunteers, looking at artworks, then talking about them.

Participants might be asked ‘What can you see?’ or to talk about colour, size, shape, texture, contrast, symmetry, composition; how the work makes them feel; or perhaps the history and context of the artwork. The participants then make their own artworks—an activity just as important as the looking.

Feedback from staff and volunteers has been really positive: ‘I feel the residents were more content in themselves and have built lasting relationships,’ said a staff member. Participants were just as enthused: ‘I felt relaxed and I felt good.’ ‘Art group gives you a chance to see what you can do.’

Staff have noticed positive change in residents during the art sessions and for hours afterwards including a reduction in agitation, greater social interaction and engagement, and functional improvements such as hand strength and dexterity. Strong relationships and trust have been developed between participants, the artist, staff and volunteers. Involvement of family members, including children, in the activities has been appreciated.

Christine says key to the program’s success is providing appropriate training for staff, volunteers and artists in learning how to create a safe space, allowing for that intellectual and sensory stimulation, and how to ask questions and respond.

Another component of the program includes the creation of a sensory garden for residents. Contemporary artists Damien Castadli and Solonge Kershaw are working with residents on ideas and are creating sculptures and textural outdoors artworks for the garden.

Artworks created by residents in ‘Arts Connections’ sessions will be exhibited at the Forbes Hospital and the Forbes Platypus Gallery.

More information
t: 02 6338 4657

Country Web reader giveaway

Grandma Forgets book cover image

Grandma forgets is a special picture book for families touched by dementia.

We still have 3 copies of Grandma Forgets, provided by EK Books, for reader-give away’s. If you would like a copy please send an email to: and simply tell us in 25 words or less your child’s favourite moment with their grandparent. (Make sure to include your full name and postal details and a telephone contact).

About the book….

When your grandmother can’t remember your name it should be sad, but maybe it is just an opportunity to tell her more often how much you love her.

Over the years, the little girl in Grandma Forgets has built up a treasure trove of memories of time spent with Grandma: sausages for Sunday lunch, driving in her sky-blue car to the beach, climbing her apple trees while she baked a delicious apple pie, and her comforting hugs during wild storms. But now, Grandma can’t remember those memories. She makes up new rules for old games and often hides Dad’s keys. Sometimes Dad is sad because he has to hold onto the memories for both him and his mother now, but fortunately his daughter is only too happy to help him make new memories to share.

This is a warm, hopeful story about a family who sometimes needs to remind their grandmother a little more often than they used to about how much they care. She might not remember their names but she will always know how much she is loved.

Recommended for 4–8 years
RRP $24.99
Published August 2017
w: (Free teacher’s notes are also available to download)

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Some of the NSW-ACT Rural Women’s Award Alumni

The NSW-ACT Rural Women’s Award Alumni members have a diverse range of skills and experience and are keen to offer their expertise to grow our rural and regional communities. We encourage you to consider them the next time you need talented women to speak at events, to provide input to policy, or to represent industry on community boards and committees. 

For the past two decades the Rural Women’s Award has been Australia’s leading Award to acknowledge and support the essential role women play in rural industries, businesses and communities. During that time it has gained a significant profile and is now recognised as a program of influence amongst parliamentarians, industry, business and media.
In NSW-ACT the Award is coordinated by the DPI’s Rural Women’s Network (RWN). Since its inception it has inspired and supported nearly 50 women living and working in rural, regional and remote areas to be recognised for their valuable role in building sustainable rural and regional communities, develop skills and confidence, and become key influencers and leaders within their industry and community.
RWN has a number of key priorities including promoting rural women’s potential and achievements, promoting opportunities where rural women can connect, develop skills and knowledge, and build personal and business resilience. In response to this, RWN identified a need to bring this particular group of skilled women together to better support their development and contribution to rural industries. In 2016 the NSW-ACT Rural Women’s Alumni was formed.
The Alumni includes some of primary industries’ most inspiring and innovative women. They are community and professional leaders at a state and national level, representing a wide range of agricultural and rural interests.
Many of the Alumni hold positions on boards such as Local Land Services, the Rural Assistance Authority and the Primary Industries Ministerial Advisory Council, along with being influential women in their various industries and sectors. Many of the alumni are also graduates of the Australian Institute of Company Directors course and have undergone significant personal development and have advanced public speaking skills.
If you are interested in accessing members of the Alumni or are interested in finding out more about how these women are making a difference and contributing to enhancing the prosperity of rural and regional Australia, individual profiles are available on the Rural Women’s Network Website.

For more information please contact the RWN on 02 6391 3612 or

Posted in agriculture, Awards, boards and committees, business, Communities, Innovation, inspirational, leadership, Local Land Services, networking, NSW Rural Women's Network, primary industries, Rural Australia, rural women, RWN, stories, women, Women in Focus, Women leaders, women's networks | Leave a comment

Women, Culture, Land: Just Add Water – and 250 women

Group of women smiling at the Narrandera Rural Women's Gathering

Some of the 250 women who attended the 2017 Narrandera Rural Women’s Gathering. Image: Julie Novotny from Sapphire Coast Connections

The 25th annual NSW Rural Women’s Gathering event was held on the weekend from 27-29 October at Narrandera. Hosted by a committee of more than 20 talented and dedicated women from Narrandera and surrounding district, these women worked tirelessly for the last 18 months to deliver this special anniversary gathering.

Image of banner listing the year, town, and theme of the 25 NSW Rural Women's GatheringsAs the major sponsor for the event, Rural Women’s Network and DPI staff joined women from across NSW for what was a truly spectacular weekend. It provided the ideal opportunity for women (rural, regional and city based) to come together to be inspired by local and international women who shared their stories, to network and make new friends, learn new skills through a broad array of workshops and cultural experiences, and to share their issues and concerns.

Newly elected Member for Cootamundra, Steph Cooke MP, officially opened the event on behalf of Minister Blair on the Saturday morning. She shared her journey from a small child growing up in Temora, competing as an Olympic standard swimmer, running her own small business, to winning the seat of Cootamundra in the recent by-election. She then had the official role of launching the 2017 Hidden Treasures Honour Roll recognising more than 100 rural women volunteers across NSW, and announcing the NSW government $30,000 sponsorship for the 2018 Rural Women’s Gathering at Merimbula.

Steph Cooke MP

Newly elected Member for Cootamundra, Steph Cooke MP, officially opened the 2017 Narrandera Rural Women’s Gathering and launched the 2017 Hidden Treasures Honour Roll recognising rural women volunteers from across NSW. Image: Julie Novotny from Sapphire Coast Connections

To mark 25 years of the NSW Rural Women’s Gatherings, Steph was joined by Narrandera Gathering Chair, Tammy Galvin, and coordinators of the first NSW Rural Women’s Gathering, Marg Carroll and Ronnie Hazelton, to cut a special commemorative cake. Margaret and Ronnie spoke about the reasons behind the first women’s gathering and why it still remains relevant to this day.

Lots of women’s stories were featured throughout the weekend showcasing past and present rural women from the surrounding areas. They included Kate O’Callaghan (General Manager of Southern Cotton), Tammy Galvin (Chair of the Committee), Betina Walker (Whispering Pines Organics and Runner-up in the Australian Women’s Weekly 2015 Women in Business Award), Annette Turner (President – CWA of NSW), Aimee Snowden (The Lego Farmer and NSW-ACT Rural Women’s Award Finalist), local girl Shakira Lyons (mechanic) and Carmella La Rocca (Multicultural Council of Griffith).

Women sitting in an open paddock listing to guest speakers

Opening night at the Narrandera Rural Women’s Gathering. Participants were treated to a night at the Travelling Stock Reserve with special guests Prof. Dame Marie Bashir, Kate O’Callaghan and Tammy Galvin. The evening featured a variety of local ‘bush food’ prepared by Michael Lyons, local Wiradjuri Elder and was the opening night for the Cad Factory’s Shadow Places open-air artwork installation. Image: Julie Novotny from Sapphire Coast Connections

Other keynote speakers included Prof. Dame Marie Bashir AD. CVO who was a special guest on the Friday evening. On Friday night participants were treated to the Cad Factory Shadow Places landscape artwork and light installation featured along the Narrandera Traveling Stock Reserve. These large scale artworks featured images projected onto hay bales with surrounding and accompanying textile installations. One of the installations focused on rural women highlighting the important role that women have played in our rural places and the work that has been done to effect social and cultural change.

Rosalie Ham and Sue Maslin

A highlight of the event was Jerilderie girls, Rosalie Ham, who wrote The Dressmaker, and Sue Maslin, who directed the award winning film. Image: Julie Novotny from Sapphire Coast Connections

A highlight of the event for most participants was Jerilderie girls, Rosalie Ham, who wrote The Dressmaker, and Sue Maslin, who directed the award winning film. They each spoke on the Saturday evening and Sunday program and were a huge hit with the crowd. We got some interesting behind the scenes glimpses into the story behind The Dressmaker and the movie making process.

As part of RWN’s response to the ‘What Rural Women Say’ report which identified ‘Supporting rural carers’ as one of the top 5 most often mentioned challenges, RWN supported six rural women carers to attend the Gathering. We also ran an interactive panel session on the Sunday where three rural women carers shared their personal journey of caring, to raise awareness of some of the issue and challenges carers face. We included an interactive component, using the slido app, to gather feedback from participants about how people can better value and support carers. This feedback will be collated and written up into a mini report. A brochure which provided details on information and support available to carers within NSW was also prepared and provided to participants on the day.

RWN ran a goal setting workshop (a slice of SOFT) with great feedback from participants. The women said they highly valued the workshop with 100% reporting they were ‘likely to very likely’ to do something different as a result of attending the workshop.

Allison Priest & Emma Regan at the RWN information stand

RWN also hosted a trade display and the story pod throughout the weekend where several women shared their stories.

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Plans are already underway for the 2018 Women’s Gathering in Merimbula from 19-21 October. For details and updates visit;

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Playing with fire: showcasing Australia’s native bush foods

As featured in The Country Web 2017 Annual


After an international career in finance and insurance, 2017 NSW-ACT RIRDC Rural Women’s Award finalist Rebecca Barnes moved to the northern NSW coastal town of Ballina 20 years ago, seeking a career and lifestyle change that would allow her to balance work and family.

When research led her to realise the nutritional benefits and untapped potential of Australian native foods Rebecca and her business partner established Playing with Fire Native Foods. An industry leader Playing with Fire Australian Native Foods  grows, processes, manufacturers and supplies native foods both domestically, to local farmers markets, gourmet food shops and high end restaurants, and internationally to Asia, USA and Europe.

With demand currently outstripping supply due to the growing interest from chefs, foodies, nutritionists and international markets Rebecca believes the industry is at a critical point for advancement.

‘Australia’s native foods are rich and vibrant in colour, taste and nutrition. There are now 15 commercialised varieties available which are in very high demand due to the growing interest from chefs, foodies, nutritionists and international markets. It presents a favourable opportunity to reignite this small but vibrant industry.

‘Native foods, which can be found all over Australia, sustained the Aboriginal population for many thousands of years.  Sadly though, people still don’t know a lot of our native foods.’

Rebecca sells her bush food products at the weekly Farmers’ Market, to the food service sector, other manufacturers, and more recently she has entered the export market, however, she says they are struggling to meet supply demands and desperately need more plants in the ground.

‘I believe encouraging landholders to include bush tucker on their existing farms is a great way to expand the industry.’

Rebecca’s passion for bush foods and encouraging and supporting the participation of Aboriginal people in the industry goes handin-hand, as she works alongside Indigenous communities to provide opportunities to share their extensive knowledge and skills so they can play a key role in growing the industry.

‘I worked for almost 5 years at the Bogal Local Aboriginal Land Council located in Coraki. During that time we received a youth opportunities grant from the NSW government and started a youth horticulture project revitalising and expanding an existing bush food farm owned by the Kurrachee Aboriginal Cooperative Society Limited (aboriginal owned and operated). We grew rosellas, native raspberries, lilly pillys, illawarra plums, aniseed myrtle, native tamarinds and warrigal greens as well as mangoes avocadoes and pecan nuts. The young people received a Certificate II in Horticulture as well as chemical users and chainsaw qualifications.’

Rebecca is currently the Public Officer, Secretary and Treasurer of—Bushfood Sensations—an industry group set up for Aboriginal businesses involved in the bushfood industry.

‘We started by implementing a program to train several Aboriginal people as chefs—Clayton Donovon being one of the more successful
students. The focus of the group shifted to growing and supply when it was evident this was the next problem facing the industry.’

Through Bushfood Sensations Rebecca was involved in running and presenting a series of workshops around NSW as an introduction to bushfoods, fully funded for Indigenous people.

‘The workshops were well attended and evoked a lot of interest. The Indigenous community decided they would like to learn more, so from there, we approached the team running the TAFE NSW Aboriginal pathways program to implement a Certificate II in Horticulture (Bushfood Production) course. Two classes have already
started and a third is due to start in September. The course is fully funded for Aboriginal students from all over NSW.

‘I volunteer my services and present a half-day introduction to bushfoods providing tastings and information on the foods, the industry and the opportunities. The students visit my farm and perform soil testing and I accompany them to a local bushfood nursery to discuss propagation techniques. We hope to have 40 students graduate in February 2018 providing a workforce for existing business and hopefully some entrepreneurship among the students to start utilising land to grow the bush foods.’

Rebecca is also working with the Indigenous Land Corporation to fund a feasibility study
to set up a working processing hub, so Aboriginal growers can send their produce to
the hub for on-sale, storage or processing for value-added products.

‘The hub will be Aboriginal run and owned.  The first step of this process is to do a
‘stocktake’ of the industry and determine the priority crops needed and the processing
required to determine plant and equipment.’

Rebecca says she is very happy to be involved with the Aboriginal community or people on a one-on-one basis to share her knowledge and support their ventures.

‘I see enormous opportunity for Aboriginal people to get involved in a variety of ways,
including horticulture, and I would be thrilled to start filling domestic and larger export
orders with produce supplied by Aboriginal organisations.

‘This not only fills a void in the market but it tells an intriguing story of how the aboriginal people were removed from their land but can now benefit using land returned (or purchased or attained) celebrating their culture and again caring for the country they are so connected to.

‘Most food plants are not just seen as food, but have a myriad of uses and even totems. It
is important to respect this and acknowledge the traditional culture associated with our
native food plants.’

Rebecca wants to encourage anyone using native foods to continue to acknowledge
the original inhabitants and the culture associated with native foods; to tell their
story and include the history as well as the modern functionalities and nutritional
elements of our delicious native foods.

With plans to become an industry leader and mentor for other women to enter the industry, Rebecca hopes that in five year’s time the industry will have a very united front with a whole lot of new entrants.

For more information:

m: 0434 190 239



Posted in agriculture, education and training, food, RuralWomen, Women leaders | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment