Writing my life


by Kath Henry, Gloucester/Sydney
As featured in the 2018 Country Web Annual.

I have heard people say; ‘If someone told me a number years ago that I would … (fill in the blank with your own unexpected life experience) … I would have told them they were out of their mind’.

Well, I have said those words, related to the unexpected life experience of writing a book. The book, called SAM, is about my mother’s heartfelt experience of raising a son with a rare chronic illness. The book has been published and is now on Kindle after selling more than 500 copies. SAM has been read by people in the USA, UK, and Sweden. It has even reached unexpected places, like Cambodia.

I am not wanting to retell the content of the book here, instead I am hoping that by hearing a little of what the process meant for me, it may inspire others to write and publish.

It has been humbling and inspiring to realise how one life story shared can give courage to other people, those we know and those we may never meet. There is something about the written word holding another’s life story that is precious.

People have held my heartfelt words in their hands, they have read and reread them. Some people have emailed me and I have met with others as they have cried and shared the connection they found with their own life. Those points of connection have been as real as finding a hand to hold in the dark, a moment where another mother discovered they were not as alone as they once thought.

The other surprising gift that writing SAM has given my family has been the chance to process our own journey together. Reading over some of the events that felt really big in our memories and letting them take their place in the longer view of our life journey as a family has brought us closer. It was precious to write a chapter and send it to my daughter overseas and my son and husband upstairs. I would talk with my daughter over the phone and my men would descend the stairs to cry and hug and remember together.

The publication of the book and the kind publicity that followed has opened up so many unexpected doors. One of the most meaningful opportunities that has developed has been meeting with other writers—I have had the privilege of listening to some amazing life stories, sharing ideas on writing and publishing.

The distance between us in this vast Australian landscape is reduced when hearts and lives are connected through our stories. I hope to meet with more women via Skype who are finding words to tell their story. I am no expert, but I believe if I can write a book so can others, and if I can help, then I would like to. After all, in the end we all have a story to tell.

‘In SAM, Kath Henry tells her family’s story of the path to discovery that their son Sam has severe neutropenia, a blood condition that leads to recurrent and sometimes even fatal infections. For her family, like for many others, discovering that your child, who at first appeared totally healthy, has a serious health problem is a major, life-changing event.SAM reveals the vigour of a mother pursuing her son’s diagnosis, the feeling of a boy in tears asking, ‘Why has God given me neutropenia?’, and the Henry family’s path to helping others afflicted by chronic diseases.’ DAVID C. DALE M.D.

SAM is available at amazon.com.au Search for ‘Kathryn Henry’ (as the author). If you would like to contact me, you can email samthestory@gmail.com

Posted in Families, Health, inspirational, resilience, rural women, stories | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A full 25-year circle


by Sonia Muir, Orange  (now travelling the world)
As featured in the 2018 Country Web Annual

Back in 1992 I was flicking through the employment section of the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper and saw a job for an ‘Assistant Coordinator’ for the newly formed NSW Rural Women’s Network (RWN). I thought … Hmm, I grew up on a farm, I’m a woman and this could be fun. I also remember thinking … where on earth is Orange?

I was a North Coast girl through and through and had a very urban Scottish husband. The first time Gordon had ever been on a ‘dirt’ road was when he met my family on our farm near Murwillumbah.

My Dad was a Romanian refugee who came to Australia after the second world war, so our family was small with relatives living in Sydney and Melbourne or the two further farms down our road.

Apart from a childhood camping trip with a few neighbours to Lightning Ridge once, we always had our two weeks ‘annual leave’ break from banana growing at beachside Coolangatta, a 45-minute drive away.

Anyway as they say … nothing ventured nothing gained, so I drove the 2000 km round trip for the interview and started with the RWN in January 1993.

I was very happy when I was offered a permanent position a couple of years later and so we stayed.

Over the past 25 years I have enjoyed a close ongoing professional connection to the RWN and expanded my responsibilities to include the Rural Resilience and Young Farmer Business programs.

It has been an incredibly fulfilling and creative career, first as an art teacher and then with the RWN where I have had many opportunities to be inspired by the resilience of rural women and men who work and live across our state’s diverse rural landscapes.
My first task with the RWN was to set up The Country Web newsletter—a much loved publication that is still coveted by readers across NSW and remains a flagship publication for the Network.

I’ve had chats with thousands of remarkable women through the fantastic annual rural women’s gatherings, attending events and while facilitating the SOFT workshops held in freezing cold country churches, cosy women’s lounge rooms, outback halls and motel dining rooms.

I’ve captured stories of women doing amazing things in Daring to Dream 1 and 2 and contributed to a glossy coffee table book for Year of the Outback.

I’ve sat on numerous panels, given loads of presentations, written countless briefs and taken lots of long car trips with or without a passenger or two.

I’ve worked with dedicated women paid and unpaid who continue to make a difference to their family, their community and the wider world.

I’ve been supported to travel to South Africa for a World Rural Women’s Conference and complete the 18-month Vincent Fairfax Leadership Program, which took me all over Australia as well as Malaysia and India.

I’ve funded myself to represent rural women in Beijing at the United Nations Conference on Women and at a dinner with President Bill Clinton in San Francisco.

As I now look down the road of a new and exciting phase I can always reflect on these moments and know the RWN lives on through the dedication of the team. Allison and I have worked together for over 20 years so I know everything is in good hands—ably supported by the team.

When we moved to Orange for that temporary role, everything we owned fitted into our little red Astra… and now I have gone the full circle.

We are taking another big leap having sold our house, our car and most of our ‘stuff’. We know we can do this as we’ve done it before and look forward to whatever adventures lay ahead as we move to South East Asia to explore volunteering and living a more simple life.

My blog will be a way of sharing this with others: soniamuir.wordpress.com

It has been a privilege and an honour to have had so many experiences at the RWN which has contributed to developing me into who I am today. Thank you to everyone who has given me such generous hospitality over the years and to those who sent cards and messages, I shall treasure these and feel humbled by your kindness and words.

What’s behind the name?
When the concept for The Country Web was being developed RWN ran a competition for rural women to name the newsletter! A judging panel— drawn from women around NSW, the State Committee, Central West Group, Orange/Far West Group and NSW Agriculture Taskforce for the RWN— had the difficult task of selecting the winning entry!

Jerilderie’s Marion Palmer had the winning entry with the magazine officially named The Country Web. Marion said, ‘The arms of the ‘web’ provide the framework around which the fragile thread is spun, thus linking everything together with the end result a delicate but strong and flexible work of art. To me, this resembles what the Rural Women’s Network is all about— connecting people in far flung areas and drawing them all together through the newsletter.’

This 25th anniversary issue of The Country Web is a special milestone for the Network and rural women. Since it first rolled off the press back in 1993 the newsletter has been a constant source of information and support for women dealing with the many aspects of rural life. We look forward to bringing you many more issues in the future.

Posted in agriculture, Communities, inspirational, NSW Rural Women's Network, rural women, Women leaders | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Daring to Dream: Fashion to farmer, ex-model finds niche in baby market

Picture of Vanessa Bell standing in front of sheepVanessa Bell
As featured in the 2018 Country Web Annual.

Australian Merino wool has a new advocate—ex-model and media professional Vanessa Bell has launched a new brand ‘Sarah Jane Bond’ targeting the baby segment (newborns to five years), a market in which Merino wool has traditionally been limited. Vanessa produces fine Merino woollen baby blankets with a team of local dedicated knitters. Enjoying a dynamic career in fashion, finance and media, Vanessa gave up her successful media career in 2013 when she moved from Sydney to start a family with her husband and local grazier, Philip Bell. They currently run sheep and cattle from their properties at Breadalbane and Mt. Hope.

Tell me about your current business?
Utilising my media experience and new found love of Merino, I established Sarah Jane Bond, producing hand knitted woollen baby blankets. It has been wonderful to create a brand that aligns with my life on the farm.

The brand appeals to consumers who value quality products with high social and environmental standards and is more than just another baby brand; it values local community knowledge and expertise and is a voice promoting the natural properties and versatility of Merino wool. I am passionate about communicating the incredible attributes of this natural fibre, especially to people from the ‘city’. Merino is a highly efficient insulator, keeping children cool and fresh in hot temperatures and cosy warm in colder weather.

Its thermo-regulating properties help children sleep better, and it’s anti bacterial and fire retardant making it an incredibly wise choice for parents.’ Using the digital space to position Sarah Jane Bond into the domestic and international markets, our brand has certainly gained traction in the market. Since the airing of the ABC Landline program featuring Sarah Jane Bond we have launched new products into the range.

Stepping up to meet the consumer demand for traceability, I purchased our own Merino lambs. While the brand currently uses commercially produced Australian Merino wool, it is my long-term goal to provide consumers with a true ‘paddock to blanket’ product by 2021.

I am really excited by the news of a potential fibre processing facility in the Yass region. The boutique facility is currently in the planning stages however it will be the first of its type in Australia using environmentally sound and sustainable processes based on CSIRO research to manage all water and waste products. This is a game changer for producers such as myself as it will allow me to have complete control and traceability from inception. I believe consumers value pure products, they want to understand the journey and to place their trust in us in providing them with a truly bespoke natural product.

It’s important to me to bring our customers on our journey and for them to know our blankets are produced in a sustainable and ethical way free from harsh chemicals and mulesing. Our long-term strategy will focus on Asia and the USA.

What gave you the motivation/inspiration to follow your dream?
I’ve been very fortunate and had an extraordinary life living and working all over the world. I’ve drawn inspiration from so many people and situations; my motivation to follow my dreams was instilled in me from a young age thanks to a supportive family and a personal drive to learn and work. I think the motivation to follow your dreams comes from a desire to be the best you can be regardless of your education or background.

In terms of ‘Sarah Jane Bond’, I was motivated to create an on-farm business drawing on my professional media skills to leverage our existing farming business into a new business opportunity. I’m not your usual farmer, however I’ve become very passionate about Merino wool and inspired by the outstanding growers in our region.
Our district is very cold; four years ago I’d just had a new baby and was struggling to find a woollen blanket to keep him warm.

In searching for blankets I realised there weren’t any ‘proper’ blankets on the market for the category, just basic light throws or poor quality factory knitted blankets made from wool mix or polyester. My mother came to the rescue handing me a family heirloom, a gorgeous baby blanket knitted by my great-grandmother Sarah Jane Bond back in 1940. Sarah’s blanket was exactly what I was after; sublimely soft it had some weight to it and was the perfect size for a cot. Her beautiful work was the inspiration for me to create gorgeous baby blankets, ideally a special keepsake to be handed down through future generations.


At what point did you realise your dream was possible?
I think the realisation my dream was actually possible was more methodical versus emotional. My background as a Project Director in Media means by nature I’m process driven. In terms of bringing my dream to life, I operated on the basis of extrapolating the core thought of creating hand knitted baby blankets via a strategy map, executing a marketing plan and conducting rigorous market research before deciding to press ahead.

It was critical to analyse the benefits and differentiating features of the product, understanding the positive implications for the customer and by having a positioning statement that would carry the brand as it expanded. I knew the prototypes were absolutely gorgeous, I knew emotionally it would be well received because the brand was not only a quality product but it could be ‘an aspirational brand’ customers could trust and relate to.

In short, I knew I would succeed as long as I stayed true to my strategy. I appreciate it is tempting to share your dream with the world as you’re starting out however I also know from experience it’s crucial to ensure every touch point of the business is tested and ready for market before hitting the ‘go’ button.

As a child, what did you want to ‘be’ when you grew up?
I never had a clear-cut picture of what I wanted to be. I loved language, fashion and animals; I knew I was detail orientated.

I seemed to fall into the fashion business spending 12 years modelling for clients such as Armani, Christian Dior, Comme des Garçons, Valentino and closer to home clients such as Country Road and David Jones. I worked all over the world doing editorial and advertising work for magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar; my exposure to high-end designers gave me a solid understanding of fabric quality and craftsmanship. The runways of Tokyo seem a long way from where I’m living now!

How did your childhood influence you in later life?
My childhood influenced me to be a trusting and loyal person, sometimes to my own detriment! I now realise how valuable it is to have the support of family, the importance of integrity and how I rate honesty above all else. My life growing up was very positive and nurturing; Middle Harbour in Sydney saw days of sunshine playing in the bush, fishing, swimming in the pool, riding bikes with a gang of friends and endless summers at Long Reef beach. Classic 70s! I had a really fortunate upbringing—I suspect I didn’t appreciate how lucky I was at the time!

Who are your role models?
My personal role models are inherently family. Family has taught me the importance of communication, taking responsibility for your own actions and for being empathetic even when every fibre of your body is feeling defeated or betrayed. At the end of the day we are here for a good time not a long time.

Professionally my mentor is Simon Rutherford, Australia’s most highly awarded media strategist and CEO/partner of Slingshot Media. My media career stands out as being the most challenging and rewarding working with an excellent team of media and digital professionals. In the remit of this role I was charged with managing a $1m project developing and implementing a school based program to inspire youth to consider a career in disability or community care. I’m immensely proud to say this Government initiative known as projectABLE is still going strong today.

What does success mean to you?
Success to me is a good balance between a happy family and creativity. I’m blessed to have an incredibly kind, loving and hard working husband; we’re a solid team and part of a very big family. It’s not always smooth sailing however it’s amazing what a family can achieve when everyone accepts each other and can look for the positive in situations. I’m especially grateful to have our four-year-old little boy Charlie, he’s a handful but keeps us all on our game!

In terms of Sarah Jane Bond one of the unexpected joys of the business has been the positive impact of bringing women together, tapping into a wealth of experience, the importance of community and providing people with a sense of feeling valued in a society where older people are experiencing loneliness or feeling cast aside. I’m immensely pleased to say part of the success of Sarah Jane Bond is encouraging women to discuss their skills and providing an opportunity to bring them to the forefront.

Knitting group

What has been one of the biggest barriers you have had to face, what happened, and how did you overcome it?
We have different challenges at different points in our life; barriers have been mostly personal however I feel there is greater value in looking at what you learn in the process. Meditation and yoga have always been a part of my journey; I learned the hard way emotion is simply like water, there is nothing wrong in letting it run through you however it should never dictate the outcome.

After a very damaging life event in 2007, I had a stroke and suffered partial blindness. Losing my sight was terrifying, I didn’t know if I’d ever see again. Ironically it made me put everything into context and for the first time, I could see clearly since being a child. It was actually this catastrophic situation which propelled me into realising and celebrating my self worth, from that point I decided to do more for other people and my community and realised the more I gave, the stronger I became. I recovered and was very fortunate my sight returned. Today I’m so grateful for all the beautiful people I have in my life, my husband, children, family and friends.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time? What is your vision for the future?
The vision is pretty simple; enjoying life with my family, expanding my business and continuing to work closely with my husband to provide a safe and happy future for our children. In terms of my business success, my goals are audacious. I’d like to sell limited edition baby blanket packages from specific wool clips into stores such as Neiman Marcus, Takashimaya or Liberty London supported by interactive and engaging content.
What would you like to say to other women who may be just starting out on a daring to dream journey?

‘It’s in our nature to think beyond our reality and to wish for a better future. My view is based on visualisation and action. If you have an idea or a goal (regardless of being big or small), every action you make is a step closer to manifesting your dream. I firmly believe you need to back yourself—if you do things aligning with your heart, your actions transform into something truly incredible. The main advice I would give is to be consistent, set realistic goals and join other business or social groups supporting you in your success.

Posted in agriculture, business, Families, Innovation, rural women, Social Media, Women leaders | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hidden Treasures – Pip Smith


Pip Smith, Amber Smith and Pip’s father Marto volunteering at the St Mary’s Athletics carnival.

What gave you the motivation/inspiration to become involved in the community?

When my children were tiny I felt overwhelmed with domesticity – life felt like ground hog day, juggling life with small children and farm life, you slip into survival mode so I liked the idea of being able to get out of the house with the children, meet new people and help out whilst giving myself some time out.

Realising there are so many people and organisations that rely on volunteers it seemed like a no brainer and just so rewarding to meet new friends and catch up with old friends. It’s great for your mental health – you keep busy and my life tended to become more organised!

What has been one of the biggest barriers you have had to face, what happened, and how did you overcome it?

Time management has always been my barrier – learning to say no and that I can’t do everything. Ensuring I have had enough sleep is the best thing you can do for oneself – it allows me to function at full capacity whilst also knowing the signs of when I need to slow down and say no or catch up on sleep.

Oh and keeping a diary of everyone’s (my family) activities on my desk, writing in it daily or updating it always, allowing me to prioritise. Sadly you do miss out on some things in life but that passes and you’re on to the next thing.

What would you tell your 18 year old self knowing what you know now?

I would not change anything in my life except for a few silly things I have said or done when I have had too much to drink. But I would like to tell my 18 year old self to TRUST your gut instinct or to learn how to trust your gut instinct and then act on it.

What are the benefits of volunteering?

They are endless – it’s fun, the knowledge you gain, the confidence it gives you to feel a part of the community, the people you meet, the friendships you gain – how grateful it makes you feel, it’s priceless really.

How can people get involved in their local community?

It is hard if you are new to a community or perhaps just shy, sometimes I believe the best way to gain volunteers is for volunteers to ask others – it is amazing when you ask people who want to help but they have never been asked. It does not bother me when people tell me they can’t help, they’re too busy, or it’s not for them.

I never give up, I will ask again next time as everyone is in a different space or pathway in their life and you will find that the majority of people are able to give their time at some point.

Joining an association or club is always an easy way to get involved. Every club/society/association/board/committee I have been involved with welcomes anyone who shows interest with open arms.

One really easy way to get involved would be to join your local CWA, Red Cross, Church, fishing club – men’s shed – Rotary or Lions. Within a short period of time you will work out whether you want to hang out with these people or if it is not for you. Volunteering can lead to endless possibilities – so much fun and frivolity, frustrations but lots of laughs, friendships and good times.

What does being a rural woman mean to you?

Two different meanings really – I am blessed to be married to Norm and be a graziers/farmers wife. Living on the land has provided our children with a beautiful upbringing – lots of space and I guess reap what you sow.

I feel those who live on the land should really take the time to educate city folk (I mean those who live east of the mountains) about rural life – where your food comes from – how your fibres are grown – and how mobile service/data/netflix are not readily available to us. We still use a paging system to receive notifications about bush fires as we do not have good mobile service even though we live 5 hours from Sydney.

Being a rural woman means I am a part of the Wellington community. We are an eclectic lot who are bloody blessed and proud. Wouldn’t change it for quids.

Hidden Treasures
An annual initiative of the Department of Primary Industries’ Rural Women’s Network, Hidden Treasures recognises the outstanding efforts of women volunteers in NSW and promotes the valuable role of volunteering to the community.

You can nominate a friend, family member, colleague, community worker – any rural woman who you believe makes your community a better place to live. To nominate a Hidden Treasures volunteer you simply need to complete the Nomination Form and tell us a short ‘story’ about why your nominee is worthy.

All rural women nominated will be included in the 2019 Honour Roll to be launched at the annual NSW Rural Women’s Gathering in Walcha on 3 November 2019. To nominate a rural woman in your community, visit https://bit.ly/2JK1qxH

Posted in agriculture, Communities, Families, farming, hidden treasure, inspirational, rural women, stories, women | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Olympia’s insect journey


By Olympia Yarger, Fyshwick ACT
2018 NSW-ACT AgriFutures  Rural Women’s Award Finalist
As featured in the 2018 Country Web Annual.

Passionate about rural and regional communities, Olympia Yarger is a farmer, innovator and leader in insect farming in Australia.

As the founder and CEO of Goterra, an insect farm based in Canberra, Olympia is committed to changing the landscape of livestock feed and redefining how we look at sustainable waste management solutions.

Olympia’s roots are firmly in farming—a love she developed from spending time on the family farm in Canberra, first settled by her Italian great grandparents. This passion translated to her career—working across many different agricultural industries. This included spending 14 years in America after marrying her U.S Marine husband, working with and supporting military families.

Olympia returned to Australia in 2014 with plans to start farming. Realising that the landscape had changed significantly, and the opportunity for purchasing and effectively running a small-to-medium sustainable enterprise was not available, Olympia began researching alternate farming options, which eventually led her to insect farming.

It was during this time that she realised a need to unlock access to and leverage the current food and agricultural waste in rural and regional Australia. She set about addressing this gap by designing a modular mobile system to process food waste onsite.

By 2016 Olympia had to move her business operation out of her garage and into a warehouse facility in Fyshwick to keep up with demand.

‘We grow our insects using food and agricultural waste from our regions—doing our part to keep food waste from going into Australian landfill and reducing odour and waste for agricultural enterprises in urban locations.’

Olympia’s business processed 20 tonnes of food and agriculture waste in 2017 and this year (2018) that figure will increase to more than 200 tonnes—turning those wastes into an alternative livestock feed compound for primary producers and human food products, like protein bars, crackers and cakes.

The business has been testing and developing its insect feed to ensure quality assurance across its insect for feed products. In 2018 Goterra insect meal will be commercially available as the company continues to scale to commercial capacity.

They also produce and supply nutritious insect meal and whole crickets for human consumption to restaurants and foodies across Australia. Notably, Goterra provided whole crickets and mealworms for Adelaide’s Open State event, which hosted an ‘insects as food and feed’ showcase. Delivering nutritious crickets, raised on grape marc from a local Murrumbateman winery, to attendees at the Adelaide event, showcased the importance of insect farming and how it is creating feed security for farmers, regional industry and communities.

With the breadth and range of the insect protein industry only just starting to emerge Olympia is committed to developing the processes and industry standards necessary to bring sustainable insect protein feeds to the Australian market.

She is working to educate people on opportunities to establish regionally based insect farms by developing an online education series and creating a digital handbook of best practice to grow the industry, to be delivered through the Insect Protein Association and other online farming platforms.

Olympia believes rural industries, businesses and communities can leverage insect farming to become more agile and innovative in the development of products for food and feed, creating sustainability into the future.

As a new and emerging industry, Olympia says insect farming can provide multiple, dynamic opportunities for primary producers as either a new enterprise or a vehicle to valorise or manage their waste streams.

More information
e: olympia@goterra.com.au
w: http://www.goterra.com.au

Posted in agriculture, business, farming, food, Innovation, rural women, Women leaders | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Hidden Treasures – Trudy Cooper


I share with you my story to encourage others to get involved in their community. Together we can do wonderful things to help, support and care for those around us. I believe the greatest blessing in life is to love and care for one another.

Deepwater is a small rural community with approximately 350 people that runs through the New England Highway.  Like most small rural places, lending a hand to your neighbour is the done thing and when someone is in need we work together. As a result, our volunteer services hold us together in tough times such as droughts, floods, bushfires, and tragedies.

I believe rural women play a large role in contributing to the resilience of our communities. Our skills are varied, we partake in several activities, the demands are huge, but I believe we all share a common love for our rural way of life.

The SES (State Emergency Service) volunteers have provided a very diverse set of skills to Deepwater and surrounding communities for more than 30 years. In 2006, I was privileged to join the friendly team of very proficient operators (the mentoring was second to none), and was trained in one of the diverse areas of the SES unit as frontline response to motor vehicle collisions in a rescue and first aid capacity.

As we live 40km from the nearest Ambulance service or emergence capable hospital, the Ambulance Service and SES collaborated to equip a number of personnel in November 2007 as ‘Community First Responders’, who provide initial emergency health care and answer 000 emergency requests.

This began our/my journey coming face to face with farming accidents, motor vehicle collisions, drug overdoses, cardiac arrests, suicides, broken limbs and sick little children, just to mention a few. Overall, we responded to approximately 120 requests for assistance in 2018 from rural and isolated communities. It was an absolute privilege to support, serve and care for the people in our community.

It must also be said that this service can take a toll on our volunteers, as most of the time we are attending to people we know such as friends, family or colleagues. Standing together in the difficulties of life and sharing the load is vital so that we can keep moving forward.

My husband Reuben and I help out with a number of other volunteer organisations including our local Anglican Church Services, as the congregation can no longer financially support a paid minister.  We feel strongly about maintaining our Christian presence and sharing joyful moments with everyone such as weddings and baptisms. Providing a caring place to hold funeral services is also vitally important to the health and well-being of our community.

For a number of years, teaching Scripture and Bible education at our local primary school has been a blessing to me, and I feel the children teach me more than I teach them. What joy and excitement I feel to see groups of beautiful young people peering into the Bible helping each other read and understand what they are learning about, they are all so hungry to learn. I don’t have words that can express how wonderful this is to me.

I feel very passionately about playing my part in the lives of our young people, they are the present and future.

Romans 8: 31 – 37 you may find interesting to read.
Living is to love and care for one another.
God bless you

Hidden Treasures
An annual initiative of the Department of Primary Industries’ Rural Women’s Network, Hidden Treasures recognises the outstanding efforts of women volunteers in NSW and promotes the valuable role of volunteering to the community.

You can nominate a friend, family member, colleague, community worker – any rural woman who you believe makes your community a better place to live. To nominate a Hidden Treasures volunteer you simply need to complete the Nomination Form and tell us a short ‘story’ about why your nominee is worthy.

All rural women nominated will be included in the 2019 Honour Roll to be launched at the annual NSW Rural Women’s Gathering in Walcha on 3 November 2019. To nominate a rural woman in your community, visit https://bit.ly/2JK1qxH




Posted in Communities, Families, inspirational, resilience, rural women, Volunteering, women | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Editorial: Celebrating 25 years

Sonia & Audrey

Audrey Hardman OAM, Mandurama

I was delighted to be asked to write the editorial for this very special 25th anniversary issue of The Country Web. This issue celebrates 25 years of the Rural Women’s Network (RWN) and The Country Web, showcasing 25 inspiring women from rural NSW.

As we celebrate the remarkable achievements of the Network over the last 25 years, we must pay tribute to the small, passionate and dedicated team of rural women responsible for its incredible success, and the NSW Department of Primary Industries (formerly NSW Agriculture) staff who have supported the program. It is my great privilege and honour to tell the story of how the RWN and The Country Web newsletter was ‘born’, and to share the major impact it has had on the lives of rural women and their families throughout NSW.

The beginning …

The rural crisis in the 1980s, seriously threatened the financial security and well-being of rural families and highlighted the fact that rural women urgently needed a voice – a platform, communication network, and newsletter to exchange vital information. Responding to this crisis, the NSW Women’s Advisory Council organised and financed the NSW Rural Women’s Conference in Parkes in 1991, to assist women in a practical way through the provision of information and exchanging ideas.

This conference provided the platform for more than 600 articulate, motivated, passionate rural women, who converged on Parkes from all areas of NSW, to voice their concerns and share ideas. In response to recommendations from the conference, and with support of the then Minister for Agriculture, Minister for Women, and the Premier, a commitment was made to establish a Rural Women’s Network Program to further strengthen the communication between rural women and ensure they were well connected and had access to the information, support and services they needed.

The RWN program was established in 1992 and operated through its three staff members and a State Advisory Committee (SAC) drawn from major rural networks in NSW. What a privilege it was to Co-Chair the RWN SAC with the then Director General of NSW Agriculture, Dr Kevin Sheridan AO. His commitment to the establishment, development and delivery of the RWN program, and his constant support and guidance to the team until his retirement, contributed significantly to its success.

Margaret Carroll was appointed RWN Coordinator in May 1992 and with her passion, energy and excellent organisational and networking skills, she worked tirelessly setting up the network and delivering programs to build women’s confidence, capacity, knowledge and leadership skills.

Sonia Muir joined the team as Editor of the newsletter in 1993 and under the guidance of this creative, multi-talented woman, The Country Web developed into the most outstanding, unique and widely read publication—one that played a key role in the recovery from the rural crisis. It still meets all the challenges and changes in agriculture and rural affairs today, under the inspired leadership of Allison Priest.

I marvel at the incredible growth and recognition the Network has achieved for rural women and their families over its 25 years. The experience, knowledge and confidence rural women have gained and the support networks that have been established, have resulted in rural women leaders emerging in every area. These women are role models whose vision and enthusiasm has inspired others to take the first step out of their comfort zone and to actively contribute to our agricultural industries and communities.

The Rural Women’s Network has achieved many things since it’s establishment in 1992, some of which are highlighted in a special timeline on pages 30-31. There is an overwhelming sense of pride and satisfaction as we celebrate 25 years of the incredible achievements of the RWN and The Country Web newsletter.

A very special thank you to Sonia Muir for her 25 years of dedicated service to rural women, families and communities. Her time in the RWN and then as the Manager of DPI’s Business & Social Resilience program has seen her lead the RWN, Rural Resilience Program and Young Farmer Business programs to build the business and social resilience of women, their families and farmers across rural NSW.

It is a testament to Sonia that we still have the RWN program 25 years on, a brand that has endured the many organisation and political changes to enable rural communities to adapt and thrive in the ever changing agricultural environment. I wish Sonia the very best in her retirement as she and her husband Gordon, both head overseas to Burma to volunteer their time and skills to communities in need.

I congratulate Allison Priest on her appointment as Senior RWN Coordinator and for her ongoing role as editor of The Country Web newsletter. Also, a very big congratulations to Kate Lorimer-Ward on her appointment as Deputy Director General Agriculture.
The Rural Women’s Network is in good hands.

On behalf of the rural women of NSW, I would like to thank the Department for honouring the commitment to establish the RWN program and for continuing to deliver The Country Web free to women in NSW. Rural women now have connectivity and a voice. What a fantastic example of government and community working together!

Posted in agriculture, business, Communities, Families, farming, resilience, rural women, The Country Web, women's networks | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Women leaders: Lorraine Gordon

lorraine rural

Lorraine Gordon
As featured in the 2018 Country Web Annual.

As a businesswoman with significant experience at a senior executive level across Australian agriculture, Lorraine has achieved success in her agricultural management endeavours.

Currently, Lorraine is the Program Director for Australian Government’s Farm Cooperatives & Collaboration Program, referred to as ‘Farming Together’. She is also the Director of Strategic Projects for Southern Cross University, acting as a conduit between industry and research, and the Associate Director of the Organics Research Centre, delivering sustainable and regenerative agriculture to the world.

On her weekends, Lorraine is a beef cattle trader from Ebor in the New England Tablelands of NSW turning out up to 1000 steers per annum. She is also Director of Moffat Falls Pty Ltd and Yaraandoo which operates a number of successful tourism, agricultural, and health businesses in both the New England and North Coast Regions of NSW. Her company has been running mental health respite retreats for carers for more than 16 years, providing structured well-being respite programs to more than 2000 carers, and providing them with coping tools.

Lorraine is currently completing a PhD in Ecological Economics through the University of New England. She has three amazing boys aged 23, 21 and 14 who she believes are her real legacy to the world.

What motivated you to become involved?
The more you give, the more you receive. I have always been an active community person, however my community has now stretched to all of rural Australia. I like to make a difference where ever I put my efforts. If I’m not making a difference I move on to where I can. I like to be at the cutting edge of new ideas and movements.

What do you get out of being in these roles?
Extensive networks of ‘can do’ people. Experience in many industries and sectors and an ever increasing ‘box of tools’ to address the most complex, wicked problems that face civilisation. Each experience builds my capability for the next challenge I will need to face. For some reason I seem to be attracted to challenging projects that have the capacity to disrupt the status quo.

Have you experienced any obstacles?
I have experienced many obstacles! Having worked in government, universities and for large corporates, they don’t always move at the pace that I like to get things done. I have had to learn to be patient. I spend the time getting all the stakeholders on board and on the same page from the grass roots up so that the change is a smooth transition.

Pushback from conservative folk who don’t like change or disruption to their norms. And, pushback from those protecting their patch at all costs. I aim to be collaborative not competitive. I tend to go round sharp objects and obstacles as I am highly strategic and focused on the vision. Outcomes driven really.

Where do you get your support?
My family, particularly my children. My friends. My farm which energises me and is the basis of who I am. And of course I absolutely couldn’t do it without my staff and team. This is particularly evident in the performance of ‘Farming Together’. We were supposed to support 2000 farmers, fishers and foresters. We supported 28 500. We were supposed to give expert support to 100 of the best group projects in the country, we gave expert support to 730 groups. We were supposed to fund 15 of the best projects, we funded 51. This extraordinary legacy called ‘Farming Together’, could not have been achieved without a team of dedicated people working towards a common vision.

What is your message to other women wanting to be more involved in decision-making?
Know your craft and then have conviction to put your ideas forward. Be confident in your persona, your voice and your tone. Be inclusive not exclusive. Put your name forward for a start. Too many women say they are not experienced enough or don’t have the right qualifications. If in the criteria they don’t have one of the dot points, they don’t apply at all! Sorry but the fellas always say yes, even if they can’t do the job! Show your passion, it will energise the room. No one has ever learned anything without having a go and making the mistakes, so just have a go.

Posted in agriculture, business, farming, networking, primary industries, rural women, Women leaders | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Life is a patchwork quilt

Mary Hollingworth, Glen Innes
As featured in the 2018 Country Web Annual.

What is your background?
I grew up in a noisy Catholic family with a strict father. For as long as I can remember, I was responsible for something or someone, and as the eldest of seven children under nine years there were always many jobs to do.

We had a property east of Glen Innes and my father worked long hours for what seemed like little reward. When I was 11, my mother went back to full-time work due to the 1970s cattle recession. As the eldest I seemed to be the one responsible for all of my siblings. It was always a case of making do, missing out, or making something out of nothing.

In my final two years of school I had the opportunity to go away to boarding school. For me, recognition and rewards seemed to come with another job completed or success at school so that’s what I strived for. I remember how exciting it was to have a store bought dress layered with frills for my Year 12 formal at the princely sum of $15. I still wear it today and I still love frills.

My first job was at the local pharmacy, followed by a stint in Sydney before returning home to be married at 19. While raising three children I worked the property with my husband; drenching, mustering, spraying, pulling calves and doing paperwork.
Ten years ago I landed a dream role as the administration assistant for the Australian Celtic Festival based in Glen Innes. In my ‘spare time’ I volunteer in the community, participating in local groups and working bees and catering for a myriad of organisations. This work has been truly rewarding.

What did you want to be when you left school?
My parents thought I was smart enough to be a doctor and so this was the view I took. Deep down however, I felt from my strict Catholic upbringing that marriage was the ultimate success, and so I wanted to be the mother that I always wanted to have. Getting married seemed to be the pinnacle of success, so it was with great sadness that my marriage did not stand the test of time. Now, many years later, I know that marriage is only one of many life choices, and one that is best enjoyed with another career.

What would you tell your 18-year-old self, knowing what you know now?
Believe in yourself and accept the help and guidance offered to become educated, with the ability, courage and knowledge to make wise decisions. Don’t be in a rush to be an adult and enjoy being a teenager. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. The harder you work the luckier you will be in life. It is the simple things that matter most in life. And finally, it is in giving that we receive.

Who has inspired and supported you along the way?
My great Aunt Gaga has always been my mentor. She was remarkable in all regards and in my eyes could do anything; from cooking, changing oil, sewing and mending family relationships. She always loved, encouraged, thanked and taught me. She laughed with me and made me feel like she had all the time in the world for me. Gaga had this amazing ability to see opportunities where there seemed none, and this was her greatest gift to me. From her resting place above, she is part of the fabric of my daily life and has truly shaped who I am today.

My children continue to inspire me and bring me great joy as they carve out their own lives. I am so proud and inspired by the new initiatives and practices they implement, their ability to make the intergenerational changes of a family business work, and the choices they make for a balanced rural family life.

Special female friends are a wonderful part of my life and each friendship is a gift and blessing in itself. It seems that a chat, coffee, cry and some chocolate can fix most things. The great joy of female friendships inspires and supports me daily.

What have your experiences taught you?
To always be positive and look for the opportunities in every chapter of life, even the ones that seem overwhelming. That small things, small gestures, and small acts of kindness are big things and their value should never be underestimated. I have also learnt the value of really making do by upcycling, and saving up for something really special.

Some of my biggest and hardest lessons can be summed up in the prayer of St Francis of Assiss, ‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference’. This is such a powerful mantra and truly has given me graceful courage during some very dark days. Yes the challenges have at times seemed insurmountable, but the love of my children has paved the way in moving forward.

I have also learnt the tremendous value in seeking professional guidance, from financial and personal help, to help from service providers such as the Rural Women’s Network. These services are invaluable to rural women and families and for many of us we owe them such a debt of gratitude.

What has been your biggest triumph?
Being a mother is my biggest triumph. I remember each pregnancy and birth as if it was yesterday. I truly love being a mother, mother-in-law, and grandmother.

What does being a rural woman mean to you? 
For me, being a rural woman is like creating a splendid and crazy patchwork quilt. You start with a pattern but pretty soon the pieces don’t fit and you alter, adjust or take it out altogether. The original pattern may have been perfect but probably lacked soul. My ever changing pattern has given me untold opportunities and has enriched my life in a way I never dreamed possible.

Being a rural women means I am resilient, resourceful and reliable. Relationships are paramount, distance is no barrier, weather will always feature in the conversation and, like a girl guide, I am always prepared for the unexpected. Mostly though, it means I am richly blessed every day in my rural life.

Where to next?
Days ahead will be shared with family, friends and community—the reasons for the seasons of every day of my life. And I have now found the marvellous joy of friendship with a soulmate, so it seems life is truly wonderful for this rural woman.

Posted in Communities, Families, farming, resilience, rural women, stories, women's networks | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sober in the Country: the conversation we need to have


by Shanna Whan, Founder of Sober in the Country
As featured in the 2018 Country Web Annual.

If you haven’t yet heard of Sober in the Country (#SITC), it’s a rural conversation, and indeed a movement, that’s happening right now and gaining steady momentum since its inception in April by one of our NSW-ACT AgriFutures™ Rural Women’s Award finalists, Shanna Whan.

The idea was first born four years ago, and it’s a very personal commitment Shanna made, and one that she said is aimed to bring some serious and overdue discussions about the toxic rural booze culture to the table.

As a recovered alcoholic who nearly lost her life five years ago, Shanna knows all-too-well the reality of lack of support, awareness, and education for her working peers and professionals when it comes to the hugely complex arena of addictions in rural and remote Australia.

As a country woman, born and bred and raised on the land, she describes herself as a very typical rural woman: including her free-range ‘bush kid’ childhood, boarding school, university, and a career in Australian agriculture.

However her life took a nasty turn when she was a young woman entering adult life. Over a 12-month period, from the age of 18, she was raped and then sexually assaulted four times. As a self-described ‘exceptionally naïve and socially inept’ young woman she said she was utterly overwhelmed, ill-equipped to cope, and fell into the age-old cliché of self-blame, shame, fear, and self-destruction.

It was at this point alcohol entered Shanna’s life. She created what she calls an alter-ego of sorts: a confident, brash, ‘wild’ country girl who loved to party and pretended she was carefree and brave. When in actual fact, the total opposite was true.

‘What I discovered as a young woman in the early 90s was that there was minimum support of any kind for anything at all I’d experienced in an isolated setting. There was no internet or online support networks. But there was plenty of alcohol in the country-party scene—not to mention an ever-ready army of other young rural people who loved to party hard. In a social-media-free era, we were all free to behave like lunatics with no real regard for consequences.

‘What happened to me was that I became a walking, talking cliché. I was a damaged and traumatised young woman who hid behind a veneer to survive.’

Shanna went on to be successful in her career in agriculture and then onto being self-employed as a freelance photographer. She forged ahead despite her ongoing and escalating battle with many personal demons.

But she said her toxic relationship with alcohol, binge-drinking, and denial progressed steadily over the years in the background.

‘What started out as partying hard in my 20s to escape pain, eventually over a 25-year period, became high functioning alcoholism. A battle with infertility in my late 30s sent me spiralling over the edge. And ultimately, it all almost cost me my life.’

In 2018, Shanna is healthy, well, fully recovered and is finally learning to live life properly. She is married to ‘the best bloke in Australia’ as she calls her husband Tim.
She graduated in 2017 as a health coach, and she now uses her life experience and qualifications to speak openly and candidly about her alcoholism and subsequent life of sobriety as to help others break through and seek support.

‘What I realised after a lifetime of fighting, is that I am just one of many, many rural Australians who needed, but could not access decent help.

‘I now understand that rural Australia actually has a big pervasive drinking problem.

‘The alcohol abuse I speak about, write about, and study is rampant in our remote settings.

‘We have a national identity built around the fact that we measure a man by how many beers he can drink on a Friday night. It’s just what we ‘do’ in the country. And it comes with a massive raft of mental and physical health problems that we simply aren’t talking about.

Shanna said she’s basically doing for the booze culture what Jeff Kennett did years ago for mental health.

‘I started a conversation, and it has grown and grown and grown. Because as it turns out, so many people relate to alcohol abuse in their lives. And so many agree it’s time we talked about this.

‘But we have fierce stigmas to overcome and massive boundaries still to cross.

‘Folks tend to think that a problem with alcohol equals being homeless or drinking during the day. The reality is so much more insidious than that in our so-called educated and polished homes. It’s the ‘wine o’clock culture’ for Mums and the ‘beers with the boys’ culture that I am bringing to the table.

‘For example, I have been speaking recently with a young father who has chosen to give up alcohol as it was the cause of endless financial, emotional, relationship, and work problems in his life. He’s the happiest and healthiest he has ever been. He is an absolute legend.

‘And yet despite people being well aware of how close to chaos his life had gone and gossiping behind his back, his work and sporting colleagues still give him a hard time about not drinking.

‘He said that the usual reaction from rural blokes is that they call him soft or hopeless. Rarely will anybody step up and say ‘well done’ or support him in his choice.

‘This is the reality of the culture we have on our hands in many cases, and it’s really not okay.

‘In a rural setting, when somebody has the disease of cancer, we stop everything to rally around and help that person. We need to start addressing the disease of addiction with the same weight and support. Not with condemnation and judgement.

After appearing on national television, national radio, and multiple publications, as well as being invited to speak at events across the state, Shanna’s raw brand of authenticity, humour, and honesty is striking chords.

‘It’s quite a bizarre paradox I am trying to take on here in rural Australia’, she says.
‘In a rural setting, we are totally fine about our mates getting fall-down-drunk on a regular basis, and in fact encourage that behaviour. We have people in their 40s black-out drinking like university students, drink-driving, and progressively destroying their health.

‘And yet, when somebody steps up and admits they’re not okay and need help, we become awkwardly silent about it.

‘As somebody who has experienced the full range of all these difficulties, stigmas, and complexities, I am now sharing it all. And it astonishes me daily how far and wide the conversation is reaching.

‘Softly-softly we are making progress in a very important discussion about our rural relationships with booze, and how we need to be healthier and more aware. It’s happening.’ ■

More information
Facebook: @shannakwhan Instagram: @sober_in_the_country w: soberinthecountry.wixsite.com/sitc

Posted in Depression, Families, Health, inspirational, resilience, rural women, stories, women, Women leaders | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment