Farm Table

at010-copy.jpgAirlie Trescowthick, Deniliquin
As featured in the 2018 Country Web Annual.

What is your background?
I grew up on a mixed farming property just south of Holbrook in the southern Riverina with my parents and older brother. Holbrook is a highly productive area and I enjoyed the livestock side of the operation the most. It was an idyllic childhood full of beautiful memories—riding horses, paddock BBQs and paddy melon fights, warm Friday nights at the local pool, and making cubby houses around the garden. It brings back beautiful smells and feelings just thinking about it.

I now live with my fiancé on his mixed irrigation and livestock farm north of Deniliquin in the Riverina. I split my time between building and running Farm Table and working in and on the farming business.

What did you want to be when you left school? Has this changed?
The last few years of school and my first year of university coincided with some of the harshest times on farm for my parents (and countless others) during the millennium drought. As a result of this, and my competencies in other areas, I was never encouraged to consider a life on the land.

When I left school, I really had no clue as to what I wanted to do. I was always a generalist and enrolled myself in a double degree at the University of Melbourne.
I have always loved and appreciated my upbringing and life on the land, but I didn’t fully appreciate it until I was about 25, after my first three years working in a corporate environment. I knew I wasn’t on the right career path and I felt a draw back to the land— to be a part of the industry that I had grown up in and that I owed so much. I took steps to enter the industry by furthering my formal education in agriculture, working on our family property, and working in different roles within the ag sector.

Who has inspired and supported you and what has been their impact?
My dad is one of my biggest mentors. This was solidified after spending a year working by his side. He is a respected and hardworking farmer who runs an efficient and productive business. We have a relationship defined by mutual respect. His confidence has been a key driver in me feeling capable enough to work fulltime in farming and agribusiness.

Pip Job has also been an ongoing source of inspiration to me over the years. Her technical farming knowledge is so strong and she is a respected producer. But, beyond that, she brings clear vision and a measured approach to the bigger issues plaguing our industry. She has been a source of professional and personal support for me.

What have your experiences taught you?
Studying overseas in North America taught me the importance of family and home. I love the opportunity to get away and experience new things, but the country is where I am happiest and most fulfilled. Leaving full-time employment to develop Farm Table was an incredibly difficult decision. You sometimes feel a bit hopeless because your life is no longer validated by a twice-monthly pay check! It remains a challenge as building a service for farmers that overcomes key information challenges is a certainly a big task, but I’m incredibly passionate about the route I’ve taken and impact I will make.

What’s something about you that people don’t know?
My best friend in the whole world lives in Chicago. Greta is a city girl and I am a country girl, but there is no divide between us. Although we are poles apart with very different interests, we are each other’s greatest support.

What has been your biggest triumph?
To be honest, hopefully my biggest triumph is still ahead of me … Until I finish building Farm Table and provide a useful and time-saving service to Australia producers, I will not feel I have succeeded!

Farm Table - Homepix Photography0661

What would you say to your 18-year-old self knowing what you know now?
Be patient and be kind to yourself—it will all be OK in the end. Work hard, be open to opportunities that come your way, and don’t be scared to change course.

What does being a rural woman mean to you?
Living and working in surrounds that inspire and ground me is the most wonderful thing. I’m so proud to be a rural woman; we are strong, independent, family-oriented, values-driven, and innovative.

Where to next?
I’ve thrown everything into Farm Table with the hope that by the end of 2018 Australian producers can access an extremely useful free tool to assist them in their businesses. I hope this platform will continue to evolve and grow with Australian agriculture, connecting people and disseminating knowledge.

Farming is my ultimate passion and it’s what I want to grow with my partner to create a future for the children we’re yet to have. I’ll be focusing my energy on my partner’s farming business as well as my parents.

Posted in agriculture, business, farming, inspirational, rural women, stories, Women leaders | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fire, hope and recovery

by Jill Goodman, Uarbry
As featured in the 2018 Country Web Annual.

We have lived on our farm near the village of Uarbry for nearly 44 years. My husband Graham grew up here and has worked on the family farm since leaving high school.

Before the Sir Ivan Fire of February 2017, life was somewhat orderly—the farm was going well and we had begun to make plans to take things a little easier, however the fire would forever change that.

As Captain of Uarbry Rural Fire Brigade, Graham received a call about 12 noon on that particular Saturday for the Uarbry Brigade to attend a fire that had started some 30 km west of us. I am not in the brigade but refer to myself as the ‘volunteer’s volunteer’ and so I noted the time the brigade truck left for future reporting.

Early Sunday morning Graham returned home to organise a fresh crew to go on the truck. He told of the seriousness of what was happening and we made plans for me to evacuate to Muswellbrook (where our daughter and family live) if the smoke came our way. He impressed on me the importance of watching and checking the smoke regularly.

About 11:40 am I received a call with a recorded message telling me to evacuate. My next call was from the RFS seeking information about the residents of Uarbry and whether a bus would be needed to evacuate them. Before the call ended I was told there were plans to bring the crew back to defend Uarbry, but that they were in an inaccessible spot and it was not going to work. After that call I turned around and saw a wall of black smoke moving along the highway towards our home. There was no time to pack anything and I left with my handbag and Graham’s wallet. I drove away from home, not thinking that it would not be there for us to return to.

Further east along the highway, from a higher elevation, I saw the flames roll into Uarbry. Our place is west of the village, so the fire had to go through our place before the village. I had sent Graham a text message to let him know I was heading to Muswellbrook and was safe. He rang when he got the message and told me to drive fast. At about midnight he sent a text message to let us know he was safe and staying with friends for the night.

A call from Graham the following morning confirmed that our home was gone. We had been heavily impacted by the fire losing two houses, the woolshed and the sheep and cattle yards, sheds and some machinery, some cattle and 900 lambs, and all the fences. The whole farm had been covered by the fire and we were completely burnt out. All that was familiar was gone including the village church we attended, the community hall, the house that Graham’s mother grew up in, and the school.


Help and recovery started straight away and the morning after the fire, people arrived at our farm to help deal with dead and injured stock and any that had survived. It was completely overwhelming and we were in shock. Our life had been turned upside down and we were in a whirlpool of organising so many things. Life’s road took a sweeping curve and we were faced with many challenges.

We were able to move back to our property two weeks after the fire when I was able to source an 11 metre van for us to live in. It was our shelter for the next 13 months while we organised everything and waited for our house to be built. Notebooks became an essential item— to write messages in and make lists of things we needed to do.

The help and support from family and friends, and the response from the local and wider community, was wonderful. Lots of invisible hands supported us in so many ways as we started to rebuild. People’s thoughtfulness, kindness and giving made us humble. The effect of the fire went out like a ripple when you throw a stone into water. People everywhere were hurting and everyone was keen for us to recover from this awful disaster.

Warrumbungle Shire was supportive and assigned a staff member to be a contact to help us access information and the support that we needed. We were able to contact her at any time and nothing was too much trouble. I also visited the Coolah disaster centre on a trip into town to charge the mobile phones and devices (we had no power at that time) and I registered with several organisations that would help in the future. It was here that I spent time with Sue Freebairn from the DPI Rural Resilience Program (RRP) as she asked for information about our losses and offered her support.

The Dunedoo branch of the Country Women’s Association had organised disaster relief and supplies of clothing and food which were stockpiled in a pavilion at the Dunedoo Showground for people in need to access. Money was raised to help with fencing and so much more. Farmers and community groups from far and wide came to help with fencing, including BlazeAid who initially became involved with the fencing and then stayed for about eight months. The RFS, Lions Clubs and other service organisations also were there providing support.

We attended many information days and events organised by the DPI RRP and regular newsletters kept us informed, and phone calls and visits from folk including the Salvation Army chaplains Di and Rusty Lawson, who made us feel very cared for.

A year and a half after the fire, I had the opportunity to attend a SOFT course organised by RRP to help ladies affected by the Sir Ivan Fire. It was a chance for us to share our experiences of the fire in quieter times, to laugh and cry, and to support one another. We were asked to write down two things we hoped to get out of the course—I wrote, ‘relaxation’ and ‘a stronger me’.

I shed many tears knowing that it is healthy to cry and feel sad, but I also realise the importance of getting on with things. Unexpectedly, I did feel relaxed during the SOFT workshop and today I feel much stronger—all a part of my healing journey.

Much has been achieved since the fire. We have a new woolshed and house. The stock came home some months after the fire when the paddocks had been fenced and we have a farm again, although not like it was before as that will take time. I had a sign in my home that was destroyed in the fire, it read, ‘This home is filled with love, laughter and lots of cups of tea’. Our new home is again filled with those things.

We cannot change what has happened but we can put back together the pieces of our lives that are possible. The rest remains a memory of our past. The story that is part of our history.

Posted in agriculture, Communities, Families, farming, resilience, Rural Support Workers, rural women, RuralWomen, stories | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A car, my bag and my swag

Sophia Pic lowres

Sophia Hoffenberg, Orange
As featured in the 2018 Country Web Annual.

As a 24-year-old aspiring agriculturist, I’ve been adventuring around rural Australia to find my place in the wide, prosperous world of ag. Growing up on a cattle property near Longreach in Central Queensland, I have always known and loved outback Australia. Though after moving to Toowoomba at the age of eight, I became consumed by town life and considered myself truly converted.

I completed my schooling at Fairholme College in 2010, deferred my study and moved to England. I spent two years as the ‘cool’ matron in an all boys preparatory boarding school. Returning to Australia when funds ran out, and I could no longer raise revenue from the Bank of Dad, I moved back in with my parents for five months. I picked up a contract as a Prep Teacher’s Aide with Toowoomba Grammar School for a term.

I embarked on my tertiary career in Brisbane at the University of Queensland studying Business Management. During my first year I changed my profession goals regularly. If they had all gone as planned I would now be a firefighting, art curating, paralegal, fashion designing, travel blogging doctor (or thereabouts). Instead, I added an International Tourism degree and am now a qualified Human Resource Manager and Event Manager.

Alongside uni and work, I was President of the 2016 Girl’s Ball Association committee, organising a charity ball held on the eve of the Ekka Show Holiday in Brisbane in support of a rural charity. An amazing team, a lot of hard work, some wacky ideas from my media coordinator, the phenomenal bargaining power of my functions coordinator and the generosity of so many of our family and friends saw us raise $34 000 for the Burrumbuttock Hay Runners.

Upon graduating from university, I had planned a trip to Japan for five months on the slopes of Niseko. A week before my visa came through, my best friend approached me with an idea and a dream that changed my course, again. Niseko was out, Northern Territory was in. With nothing but a car, our bags and our swags we headed north for a year on a 2 million acre cattle station in remote NT; Riveren Inverway, the middle of nowhere.

Walking cattle out Riveren 2017

Riding horses, helicopter flights, chasing cows and them chasing me, early starts and late finishes, a fractured spine, bushfires, weaner scruffs, station parties, a written-off car, campdrafts and rodeos, a terrible and unimproved sense of direction, a few steep learning curves, love and loss; the best year of my life. The happiness and hardships I experienced brought me back to my country roots and reignited my love of the land and the lifestyle of rural living.

A dance filled night in Darwin with some of my favourite jillaroos, jackaroos and pilots, was a send-off like no other. I donned my Akubra, pulled on my Ariats and set off for the airport with a grin on my face and a feather in my cap; a contrast to the heels-and-dress wearing city-chick from 10 months earlier. My direction was now clear: my passion lies in ag.

Once again, it was me, a car, my bag and my swag, this time heading west to find some land with some cows to chase and horses to ride. This solo venture found ‘Ricky the Rav’ parked in my cousin’s shed during his branding muster and then again in the lead up to the RFDS Tooloombilla Rodeo held on his property. A few months building yards on another family farm in central NSW was enough to turn me off boiler making forever and left me feeling lost, wondering if I’d ever find my place in this industry.

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Fortune favours the bold (and a little dutch courage never hurts), so when I met an incredibly fierce woman at the Cassilis Rodeo who told me in no uncertain terms that if I came to Dubbo in the next two weeks she would sort me out, I leapt.

A Wednesday morning coffee date where she inspired me with her story and introduced me to unique ideas and thinking, Jill Kilby became my mentor right then and there and set me on a path of wondrous discovery.

At her direction I volunteered with The Royal Agricultural Society Youth Group for the regional, state and national finals of the Young Farmer Challenge at this year’s Sydney Easter Show. Throughout the day I progressed from Steward to Competitor to Judge and my over-enthusiastic nature labelled me a seemingly ideal candidate to be mic’d up for the Seven News coverage. WWJD (What Would Jill Do) inspired my day, as I screwed up every ounce of courage I possessed to engage with every networking opportunity that came my way.

A well-placed contact, the ability to talk my way in anywhere and some serious mentor string-pulling had me interning at the DPI in Orange; expanding my professional network and making a name for myself in rural NSW. After three weeks across three fantastic branches I was exposed to concepts, roles, situations and people, that have moulded my professional stance and enlightened me on many more opportunities the world of agriculture has to offer. I have since worked at DPI as a Communications Coordinator for a priority R&D project and in September I began a contract within DPI’s Strategy, Policy & Engagement unit.

In August I attended a week-long rural leaders program in Geelong and was awarded the Marcus Oldham College Yulgilbar Foundation Travel Award in conjunction with the 2018 Crawford Fund Conference Scholarship to attend the ‘Reshaping Agriculture for Better Nutrition—The Agriculture, Food, Nutrition, Health Nexus’ in Canberra.

I am empowered by the opportunities I’ve embraced, skills and knowledge learned and people I have encountered. I now have a fantastic network of professionals and friends who I will remain connected with as I carve a path for myself in the agricultural industry. The incredible women I’ve met have inspired my journey and left me with lasting messages that resonate through my world.

Laura, Bridget, Sophia on Inverway feb 2017

Someone once told me that we’re in the golden age of ag and I believe it, so I’m doing my damnedest to get in on it and I am excited for what comes next! ■

Posted in agriculture, Cattle, farming, inspirational, rural women, The Country Web, women | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Not just a farmer’s daughter

susie_72dpiby Susie Cay, Corowa
As featured in the 2018 Country Web Annual.

What is your background?

I was born the eldest of three girls, at the end of the second world war, to parents who had both served in the war. My father returned from the war to take over his family farm ‘Warrembool’, 20 km north of Corowa in the Riverina. My mother, a Corowa doctor’s daughter, began the journey with him.

We had an idyllic farming childhood, going to a small school and playing endlessly. We were encouraged by our mother to farm with our father at every opportunity. As we reached secondary school we broadened our horizons by going to boarding school.

What did you want to be when you left school? Did this change?

I really wanted to stay in the country after I left school but there were few opportunities, so I ‘toed’ the line and spent five years studying, and working in the city as what was then known as a private secretary, now a PA. As the future turned out, my brush with the business world stood me in good stead.

When I was 23 our father died, and we were left with a property to run. In 1968 boys of 23 rarely managed properties, let alone a girl. I had a good overseer who had worked with my father for 11 years and my mother who looked after me. My city business experience kicked in, and together with my childhood farming experience and love for farming, I held my head high and worked hard.

I never asked anyone to do anything I could not do myself, and I was either supported by the rural business people or received their disapproval—there were plenty who disapproved. At one time my sister came home to help as well.

After four years I married Robbie Cay from Parkes, where we lived for a year before returning home to Warrembool.

Robbie managed Warrembool and I worked with him for 25 years. We were on equal footing and he never demeaned my ability in farming. We had three sons who enjoyed the idyllic childhood that Warrembool had provided me. Tragically, Robbie died when our eldest son was 23.

History repeated itself. For almost 20 years I have worked with my sons, each of them having businesses independently outside Warrembool Pastoral Co Pty Ltd. Our eldest son takes a major role as CEO, and we employ a farming manager who heads an excellent team. Throughout these years we have expanded the business considerably and it has been an exciting journey for us all.

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

Love what you do. Achieve your ambitions. Treasure the happy parts. Be strong and dignified throughout the tragedies.

Who has inspired and supported you along the way? What has been their impact?

My father inspired me, my mother supported me, but above all, my husband was my everything. He believed in women in agriculture and the contribution that was so often not acknowledged by men, and he supported my role beside him always. He gave me love, confidence and strength and I would not be who I am today without him.

What have your experiences taught you?

My experience has taught me that dignity and caring is important and hard work is satisfying and rewarding.

To me, keeping my femininity was also always important. I like to keep to myself, although if I can help anyone I like to do so.

I had plenty of challenges. Although women in agriculture are common place now, at the beginning they were rare. It was a challenge to take my place in the rural business as a 23-year-old. It was a challenge to take my place in the rural industry in partnership as a wife. And it is a challenge to take my place in the rural industry in partnership as a mother. You have to get it right.

What has been your biggest triumph?

Family. Without a doubt, my family and the fact that through the generosity of my sisters, we have been able to do business as a family, as well as members having their own individual businesses.

Credit must also go to three beautiful daughters-in-law who support and acknowledge the closeness of three brothers.

What does being a rural woman mean to you?

Rural women come from all aspects of rural life, but I really want to acknowledge the ones who work in farming businesses with their husbands. I believe this acknowledgement has to come from home and until they get the respect of their husbands and partners, they will go unnoticed. Everyone can see the female agronomist, vet, rural supplier, university lecturer, academic, but who sees the shadowy figure of the farming business partner?

Where to next?

I am now known as ‘The Office Nazi’, running the office, and it is my ambition to work in this capacity for as long as I can. I would like to die with my working boots on.

Posted in agriculture, business, Communities, Families, farming, Gender equality, resilience, Rural Australia, rural women, RuralWomen, RWN, stories, women | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Bright, strong and fearless

Anna Horton pic4
Horizon scholars’ vision for the future of women in Australian agriculture.
Dallas Pearce, AgriFutures Australia.

Agriculture is ingrained in the hearts and minds of three female students recently awarded a 2018 AgriFutures™ Horizon Scholarship. Fond memories are brought to mind when these young women reminisce on their first recollection of agriculture. For Indiana Rhind, it was exploring horticulture and her first taste of an Australian classic.

JOH1803_19_Agrifutures_Horizon-193PRINT“My earliest memory of agriculture would be picking oranges on a family friends hobby farm. There was nothing better than climbing to the heights of the orange trees and collecting what seemed to be an endless supply of oranges in the eyes of a child,” said Indiana.

Indiana, unlike many other Horizon scholars, grew up in an urban backyard rather than a rural playground, in the NSW Central Coast town of Berkeley Vale. Indiana’s passion for rural industries was sparked from an early age. She is passionate of the growing issue of gender diversity within the industry with just 30% of women employed in the agricultural sector, and is looking forward to bringing about change.

Studying a Bachelor of Engineering at University of Queensland, Indiana is excited to push the boundaries, remove the stigma surrounding women in agriculture, and celebrate gender diversity within rural industries.

“It’s important that we celebrate the accomplishments of women in agriculture and encourage diversity within the sector. Women in this sector bring new opportunities to the table, which is significant, particularly now, as employers look to match employees with the numerous jobs available.

“We need to move forward as an industry in terms of improving technology and educating younger generations on the various aspects of agriculture and the opportunities this industry provides; we need to share stories of success and excitement in the farming industry and regardless of gender and stigma,” said Indiana.

Sarah Ludington, sponsored by Dairy Australia, is another scholar that wasn’t ‘born into’ to agriculture, she discovered her love of dairy through participation in her school
cattle-showing team.

Sarah Ludington pic2“I grew up in Sydney where everything is fast paced and no one takes the time to stop and appreciate the little things in life, and that’s what I love about agriculture, it can be the polar opposite,” said Sarah.

Sarah is studying a Bachelor of Rural Science at University of New England, and aims to follow a career path of a livestock consultant to help farmers maximise genetic and nutritional potential. She also wants to be a part of the up-and-coming wave of women specialising in science and engineering areas within agriculture.

“Women in the agricultural industry have so much to offer, and I see the future being bright, strong and fearless,” said Sarah.

Anna Horton, sponsored by Australian Wool Innovation, is passionate about agribusiness, having grown up on her family’s sheep farm in Craigie, in southern Monaro, NSW. Anna believes the agricultural industry is well on its way to embracing gender diversity.

Anna Horton pic3“In 2017, I worked on a large cattle station in the Northern Territory as a Jillaroo. Within my camp, girls made up at least half of the group. When I was comparing my time to my father’s as a Jackaroo nearly 30 years ago, the only women on the station at that time were the Manager’s wife and the occasional cook,” said Anna.

Anna has been surrounded by rural and regional communities all her life, and even in her short time, has seen the industry evolve.

“I’m so excited to learn more and contribute to the agriculture in Australia. New technologies have opened up numerous opportunities to increase production an efficiency in all stages of the supply chain, it’s an exciting time to be in agriculture,” said Anna.

Anna is studying at University of New England and is passionate about research and development in meat, livestock and wool industries. She also aims to promote agriculture to the Australian public.

“I see a growing divide between the understanding of what actually happens in the agricultural industry, and how the general public perceives it. I want to help change this perspective, and educate people on our great industry,” said Anna.

Students selected for the AgriFutures™ Horizon Scholarship program have a strong understanding of Australia’s rural industries, the challenges and opportunities facing rural and regional Australia, and importantly want to be part of the next generation of leaders to deliver change, impact and results, including gender diversity.

The AgriFutures™ Horizon Scholarship program supports the next generation of leaders that will drive the future prosperity in Australian rural industries and communities by providing:

  • a bursary of $5000 per year for two years
  • professional development workshops
  • annual industry work placements aligned with the scholar’s areas of interest and their sponsor’s industry
  • opportunities to network and gain knowledge at a range of industry events.

The program supports students enrolled in full time study at an Australian university by providing a range of benefits, skills and networks, providing an excellent platform for their future career prospects and success. Indiana, Anna and Sarah are three of 14 students awarded the 2018 AgriFutures™ Horizon Scholarship.

How to apply

Applications for the 2019 AgriFutures™ Horizon Scholarship Program are now open at 

Closing date: 5.00pm AEDT Friday, 1 March 2019.

Following a review of all written applications, short-listed applicants will participate in a phone interview with representatives from AgriFutures Australia and Horizon Scholarship sponsors, after which the successful applicants will be selected.

Successful students will be notified in May 2019.


Posted in agriculture, education and training, farming, Gender equality, Innovation, inspirational, Rural Australia, rural women, scholarships, stories, women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leading women in agriculture: people, place, purpose

Kate Lorimer-Ward-2_crop
Kate Lorimer-Ward, Deputy Director General DPI Agriculture, Orange
As featured in the 2018 Country Web Annual.

Tell me about your childhood, family, home and work?
I was born on a property at Nymagee called ‘Trugannini’, to Bruce and Patty Lorimer. I am the eldest of three girls and I am pretty typical of what they say about the eldest in a family.

My parents sold the farm and bought another farm at Parkes, ‘Oaklands’, where I attended Parkes Central Primary school. Following the 1982 drought and the wet harvest of 1983, I can recall my father saying cropping is for fools, and he wanted to get back into a livestock enterprise. So they sold the farm at Parkes and bought a property at Panuara on the outskirts of Orange called ‘Weemalla’. I undertook all of my high school years in Orange and graduated from Orange High School. In the late 1990s my parents were forced to sell the property with the establishment of the Cadia Gold mine.

I had a truly blessed childhood—plenty of freedom, plenty of responsibility, and a life living in some vibrant communities where traditions were strongly held. It was also a childhood where I played witness to some of the many challenges of agriculture, experienced by my parents—drought, floods, removal of floor prices in wool, record high interest rates, and shooting sheep because they were worthless.

I left home at 18 to go to university in Sydney for three years. From there, I took on my first job at Condobolin with the NSW Soil Conservation Service. This was the start of my public service career.

I have held a number of roles since then: Landcare Coordinator, Property Planner, River Planner, Executive Officer to the water reforms committees, Business Manager with the Catchment Management Authority, and then into Department of Primary Industries (DPI) as Leader of the climate change programs, then as the Director for Education & Regional Services. Earlier this year I was appointed the Deputy Director General for DPI Agriculture.

I am married to a wonderfully supportive husband and I have three children aged 19, 16 and 13, and for the past 10 years I have helped raise another child who is now also 19, and who I class as my own. We live on a small farm outside Orange in a house my husband built (he is not a builder!) on top of a hill in a gorgeous community. I am a member of our local Country Women’s Association branch, Byng Emu Swamp Branch—one that I set up 10 years ago in response to the millennium drought in our community.

What did you want to be when you left school? Has this changed?
I always wanted to be a farmer, but being the daughter of a farmer, my mother was adamant that we needed to have another qualification to support us/the family if that was where I ended up. So, I left school wanting to be a psychologist. I attended Sydney University doing a Bachelor of Arts, and started doing psychology and economics as my two majors. I dropped economics after first year (too dry), and dropped psychology after second year because I hated statistics. I completed my BA with a double major in geography—physical and social geographies. That is where I learnt not only about the physical processes of the environment, but the social ones as well—people in place with purpose.

As the Deputy Director General DPI, Agriculture, what is the best thing about your job?
The people I get to work with! The people make this organisation great—they are the reason why we retain our great research and education facilities, they are the diversity that create great ideas and approaches, they are why we are in regional locations all over the state, they are the family that we turn to when we need help and they are the ones we celebrate achievements with. They are the ones that convert abstract thoughts into products and knowledge that the industry can adopt to make changes that drive a productive community and industry. The people are what I love about this job!

Why did this type of work interest you, and how did you get started?
Like most people, I haven’t ended where I started. Actually, when I started I swore I would never work for the Department of Ag! They were like the enemy when you were in the soil conservation service—we had different philosophical approaches and a different research focus. However, time has seen these two worlds come together.
The work interests me greatly because I love the problem solving that is involved and helping people, industries and communities uncover solutions. While I will never be the researcher, loans assessor, educator or policy officer, I do love that I can play my part in helping them achieve what they need to achieve, so perhaps it is that I love being able to provide service to others.

What steps did you take that were vital in getting to where you are now?
I have moved roles into areas that were quite different from previous ones, and I think this has helped by having a breadth of experience. I have also remained committed to self improvement, ongoing learning and self reflection. These are all deliberate actions to improve how I do things. Finally, I took some risks and thought about things a little differently—bringing some innovation and energy to a new role.

What is one challenge you have encountered along your career journey?
I have had to make one really deliberate decision along my journey—to pursue a technical career or shift into management. This is probably the biggest challenge I have encountered. At some point I had to make a decision as opposed to just being a passenger on a career journey.

Who has inspired and supported you along the way?
So many people!
My parents—because they believed that we could and would be anything we wanted.
My husband—he has given me the freedom and support to pursue my passions, and he has readily accepted the role-swap of being the chief kid wrangler!
So many male managers—I have never had a female direct boss, so my experience has been shaped by some great male leaders and mentors who have invested time, shared great advice, provided wonderful opportunities and given me permission to grow. I have also been privileged to witness and connect with some great female leaders who have also done the same—invested time, shared great advice, provided opportunities and backed me when I have not had the confidence to see it for myself.

What have your experiences taught you?
It is OK to not get it right. Just know why you made that decision and then have a great plan B in place. Always be thinking about the next decision that may need to be made.
You will always swallow some water while you learn to swim.
Have a framework of questions that you work through to make sure you have considered everything.
Stay calm—panic is exhausting and stops your best decision making. Take a deep breath and stay calm.
With happy comes sad—if you are passionate about your work you will feel the full range of emotions, and that is OK.

What would you tell your 18-year-old self, knowing what you know now?
Perhaps the 18-years-olds of today don’t have this problem but, believe in your skills and knowledge, and back yourself.
Your roots and where you are anchored is important in shaping what you do, how you make decisions, and what you draw upon to make those decisions. Remember where, and what this is.
Know what is important to you—be deliberate in thinking about what it is that is important to you in your work! This will shape your decisions and judgements—it can also create blind spots—so know what you believe in, make sure you stay true to this, but also be aware of what others believe in—you need to consider them as well in your decision making.
18-year-olds need to listen—and listen deeply.
I have been blessed with great mentors and managers, so my advice is to make sure you deliberately link up with people you want to learn from. Pick them, ask them and listen. My experience was by accident, if I hadn’t landed in such a great work environment straight up, I wouldn’t have known to ask for it.

What has been your biggest triumph?
Having three healthy children and having the privilege to help raise another mother’s child. These four young people are my constant source of joy and pride.

What does being a rural woman mean to you?
It is what drives and defines me. I truly love the regions, the sector, the industry, the culture and the communities that support them. It is so much a part of my identify, that I cannot imagine living or working anywhere else. People in place with purpose!

Where to next?
Buckle down and enjoy the current opportunity. I am still too young to retire so there will be a ‘next’. I have visions of sometime well into the future actually getting to end my career ‘back on the tools’—I loved working on the front line with producers where I started, and I wouldn’t mind ending my public sector career there as well. I have watched a colleague do this transition and it looks very attractive when I get to transition to retirement.

In all seriousness, my ‘next’ will be in work that involves regional Australia and people—I can’t see myself without either of these.

We have discussions as a family of taking on foster children when all ours leave—so we will see where that takes us.



Posted in agriculture, education and training, Families, farming, inspirational, leadership, Mentor, primary industries, rural women, RuralWomen, stories, The Country Web, women, Women leaders | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Little Wings

Garland 004by Richelle Koller, CEO Little Wings
As featured in the 2018 Country Web Annual

Little Wings is a not-for-profit organisation providing a free flight and ground transport service to seriously ill children and their families from the country who are needing specialised medical treatment at the Children’s Hospital in the city.

The Little Wings service helps to ease the journey for many rural and regional families by reducing the financial burden, travel fatigue and emotional stress of repetitive long distance travel and time spent away from home.

One such family who has been helped by Little Wings is Kathy Garland. Kathy’s life was turned upside down last year when her youngest daughter Ava was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia. Here, she talks about how Little Wings helped her through one of the toughest times of her life.

‘Ava was your typical bubbly three-year-old living on a farm between Forbes and West Wyalong with me, her dad and four big sisters. When she hadn’t been feeling well for a couple of days, then turned a funny colour, I drove her to Forbes to see a doctor. I had no idea what lay ahead.

Blood tests showed Ava’s bone marrow wasn’t working properly. We were sent straight to Westmead Children’s Hospital. It was a Tuesday afternoon. By 1 am the next morning, doctors had diagnosed Ava with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia, and it was in 8 per cent of her bone marrow. By 4 am, Ava was admitted to the oncology ward and started treatment.

Doctors set a treatment program for Ava that involved at least six months of intensive chemotherapy. After digesting the devastating news, my husband Andrew and I began rearranging our lives. My sister and her husband, stepped up and said they would look after our other girls in Orange. It was such a relief. Ava and I moved into Ronald McDonald House where we now stay when Ava isn’t in hospital.

That’s when Little Wings stepped in to help to keep us together as a family through this very difficult time.

When Ava was too ill to travel, Little Wings flew Andrew and the girls to Sydney to see us. After months of intensive chemo, Ava was allowed to go home for a few days and the charity flew us back to Forbes so we could spend some precious time together.

Ava was so excited to be going home, to play with her sisters and sleep in her own bed. When she saw her toys again it was like seeing them for the first time and she walked without a frame for the first time in 10 weeks. Going home was a huge step forward in her getting better.

The family reunions have helped immensely in Ava’s recovery. We live five and a half hours from Sydney and when Ava isn’t well from the chemo, driving is not an option.

Little Wings is extraordinary. I don’t know what we would have done if they hadn’t been there to help when we needed them. It was hard enough that our family was living apart for eight months. Ava and I would not have been able to get home at all and we would have seen very little of Andrew and the girls.

It is an absolute privilege to know the amazing team of volunteers and staff at Little Wings. We are eternally grateful to them for keeping our family together at such a difficult time.

More information

Posted in Communities, Families, Health, resilience, rural women, The Country Web, women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Engineer’s ambitious dream is empowering women

By Sophia Hoffenberg. As featured in the 2018 Country Web Annual.

2018 NSW-ACT AgriFutures™ Rural Women’s Award (RWA) winner, Jillian Kilby, approaches life optimistically, with the logical thinking of a civil engineer, the roll-up-your-sleeves attitude of a farmer’s daughter from Coonamble, and an with altruistic passion for change.


2018 NSW-ACT AgriFutures™ Rural Women’s Award winner, Jillian Kilby

When asked what led to her career as an Engineer, Jillian says she always wanted an exciting career—something that was different yet applicable across the world, just as much as back home in rural NSW.

‘After crossing out every degree I did not want to do in the UAC guide, the only one left was engineering. Within six months of study at Sydney University I was incredibly interested in the subject and excited about the future.

‘I love that you never stop learning as an engineer. There is always another exciting project, another great challenge, a new avenue to explore and you work with people who are passionate and interesting.

‘Engineers hold the knowledge and technology that forms our built environment and information systems. They are one of the most important and highly regarded professions across the world. Engineering speaks every language throughout every era of history, and will be of significant importance to our future.’

Jillian graduated in 2005 with a Bachelor of Civil Engineering with First Class Honours.

She worked for a number of companies before taking the leap and establishing her own engineering business. Her company, The Infrastructure Collaborative, has served the infrastructure needs of 50 local governments in regional NSW since 2009 when it was established from a 50 000 acre property west of Walgett. Now based in Dubbo, Jillian serves clients in Australia and the United States, where she is able to cross-pollinate learnings from a diverse set of work environments.

‘Starting my own project engineering company was about having a great career as an engineer, no matter where I chose to live. Operating in outback NSW, I love that my contribution to rural infrastructure directly affects the communities in which I live.

‘Every project is different, the people are friendly, the challenges are unique and I work harder knowing that the responsibility stops with me.

‘I have always chased ambitious dreams and followed my heart. That is the key to a satisfying career and fulfilling life.’

Jillian’s inspiration for developing an internationally based company is all about collecting memories and a diverse set of experiences. She says that to remove limitations and boundaries you have to actively seek more experiences, so operating in different places, meeting new people and seeing the way things are done elsewhere are key drivers of her multinational business.

‘Every project I work on in San Francisco makes me aware of something I can do better in regional Australia and every challenge we solve in regional Australia makes me a better operator in California.’

In 2013, the Australian Sir John Monash Foundation changed Jillian’s trajectory forever, affording her the opportunity to study at Stanford University in California. Jillian approached her MBA education with a view to bringing skills to improve infrastructure on a regional level back to Australia. She now employs a Design Thinking approach learned at Stanford to solve problems and shift infrastructure projects from government planning shelves to be shovel ready. When working on roads, Jillian refocuses infrastructure conversations around productivity for agriculture and mining, safety for school buses and access for tourism.

The Regional Startups Insight Study came about after returning to regional Australia and seeing the delta between the services delivered in Silicon Valley and Sydney for
people who are starting businesses. The project is about better understanding the needs of regional business owners, especially those who are on the cusp of starting a new business.

Jillian has experienced first-hand the difficulties of operating in isolation from like-minded people, stalling at the boundaries of her confidence in 2012 when running her business from a farm in Walgett. It is her aim to never see this happen to another regional business owner again and to empower women to make strong, brave decisions out of hope, not fear.

Jillian’s Rural Women’s Award project will help improve the commercial success of start-ups by increasing the capability, capacity and confidence of regional business owners. The project lives within a bigger ecosystem to develop more effective space and services for new and growing business owners within Dubbo and the wider catchment.

The Regional Startups Insight Study is about understanding women’s needs as they contemplate new ideas and business start-ups to identify the tools they need to launch their businesses into the commercial realm. For Jillian, this project isn’t about opening doors, it’s about knowing how to design the door handles.

‘When women in business thrive, communities thrive too. I want to encourage women to step outside their comfort zones and provide the support they need to pursue professional and personal goals.

‘There are women in regional NSW putting their careers on hold, accepting levels of underemployment, and mulling over new business ideas at their kitchen tables, needing reassurance, guidance and a gentle push to tip them over the edge into the business world. I spent my childhood running out the door with one boot on, begging not to be left behind and constantly proving myself to be capable of anything and everything my brother could do.’

Jillian views the success of her project and its wider impacts as. ‘Knowing the women in regional NSW thriving right now is multiplied, and that those thriving women help other thriving women through mentoring and co-working together.’

‘When women in business thrive, particularly in regional NSW, all of society benefits. I’m sure a lot of you have met these women, they are so contagious and come with a warning label that says, “If you hang out with me for too long, I will brainwash you into believing in yourself and knowing you can achieve anything”.’

Jillian has a strong rural background that has instilled in her a confident and resilient nature through the challenges tied to living regionally. She lives with a high level of optimism, constantly reinforced throughout an energetic, freedom-filled and education-emphasised childhood that differentiates regional women. She believes that, ‘education is given to one to benefit many to make Australia great’, and through working on a project in the regional community, rural women working remotely can achieve prosperity.

‘As a rural woman, I define prosperity as a time in life when the excitement of starting a business on a remote farm overpowers the fear, when the phone rings weekly with assurance from mentors, and when the resources are so readily available, contentment as a business leader overrides caution.’

While some would say running a successful international engineering business is enough, that’s not the case for Jillian. In addition to running her successful engineering business she devotes generous amounts of her time to serving rural communities through various board and committee roles and volunteer positions. She also mentors other young rural women to achieve their goals and be their best self. I am fortunate to be one of those women and have learnt so much and been inspired by Jillian’s experience, tenacity and passion.

Jillian now joins the Rural Women’s Award Alumni—ready to learn, give back, and meet new people as a part of her experience. She will go on to compete for the National Rural Women’s Award—the winner to be announced at a special gala event at Parliament House Canberra in October. She is a truly vibrant rural woman, with an inspirational nature, infectious enthusiasm and has an overwhelming ability to leave you sparkling, knowing you can achieve anything you dare to dream of. Jillian is a legend in her own right, and all rural women will benefit from the opportunities her inspired project emanates.

The AgriFutures™ Rural Women’s Award is Australia’s leading award acknowledging and supporting the essential role women play in rural industries, businesses and communities. The award provides a platform to inspire and support Australian women to use and develop their skills to benefit their industries and communities. Each state and territory winner receives a $10 000 bursary for innovative ideas and projects, access to professional development opportunities and alumni networks

The award is open to all women involved in rural industries, rural and regional businesses and rural and regional communities. Location is no barrier. If you want to create impact, innovate and make a difference and/or contribute to enhancing the prosperity of rural and regional Australia, then we want to hear from you.

For more information on how to enter visit:

Applications for the 2019 Award are closed and we hope to announce our finalists in March. If you are interested in applying for the Award in the future, keep an eye out for the 2020 application process later this year.

Posted in agriculture, Awards, bursary, business, Innovation, leadership, rural women, women | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The art of celebrating regional women

By Sarah McEwan, Sandigo
As featured in the 2018 Country Web Annual.

On Sunday 10 August 2010, my husband Vic and I closed the roller door of our Marrickville home for the very last time. We can still remember that feeling as we drove off into the early morning light—one of total terror thinking, ‘what have we done!’

We had spent our adult lives living in the inner-west of Sydney where we had a concrete block warehouse with a cement floor where we held gigs and exhibitions in our ‘illegal’ underground warehouse/home called the Cad Factory. We were part of a vibrant, warm and generous community of musicians and artists. Together, we all shaped a rich and energetic underground culture.

SarahMcEwanOur new home we were driving towards was six hours from Sydney down the Hume Highway, 30 km from Narrandera, in a place called Birrego, surrounded by dry inland cropping and thousands of sheep and cattle. Our falling down one-room school house built in 1886 had no running water, a bathroom with a hessian sack for a wall and possums living openly in the main school room. Being five months pregnant at the time of moving meant we had a lot of work to do before we could comfortably live with a baby.

In hindsight, our naivety served us well. If we had knowingly known what was in store for us in repairing and renovating the school house, plus building a beautiful world-class recording studio, there’s no way we would have willingly taken such a risk!

We stumbled, scrounged, questioned and finally, eight years later, we have spent the last few years enjoying our dream set up. I often think to myself it really is amazing what two people can do together when they share a similar vision.

Our rural move was because we wanted a new adventure and to have more space for creating artworks and supporting creative practices. We wanted a house and studio space to live and work in, and a place where visiting artists and musicians could work too. This third Cad Factory space we live in now is much more ‘grown up’ than our earlier years. When we started in 2004, above a pizza supply shop in Marrickville, we held all night gigs. Now, we are a not-for-profit artist led organisation creating an international program of new, immersive and experimental work guided by authentic exchanges, ethical principles, people and place.

Our rural move has changed us deeply—I would say for the better. The vast open skies of the Riverina has given us opportunities beyond what we thought was ever possible. Our arts practice has become more rigorous, engaged and ambitious.

For the last year, I have been fortunate enough to have received a Create NSW Regional Fellowship that allowed me to travel to Duke University in North Carolina and the Women’s Centre for Creative Work in Los Angeles to research for new exhibitions.
Part of this research culminated in an exhibition at Western Plains Cultural Centre in Dubbo called Unbind Me, that opened on 30 June and closed on 2 September, with more than 10 000 people viewing it.

The exhibition was creating feminist time travel beginning with Hesiod (c700BCE) in the Iron Age and running through to contemporary artist ‘Truth Tellers’ who face complex and competing ideologies. In making artworks about key philosophers, poets, authors, historians, economists, activists and artists who have contributed to the world over the past 2700 years, you can see a clear narrative of the historical limitations placed on women from all aspects of life including; philosophy, science, religion and education. You can also see how much has changed and been achieved since the Iron Age.

I still find it unfathomable to believe that 2500 years ago Plato started his Academy to foster philosophical education, but it wasn’t until 1881 that the first woman, Bella Geurin, completed a Bachelor of Arts at Melbourne University! The education gap widens for Indigenous women with Margaret Valadian being the first Indigenous woman to complete a Bachelor of Social Work at the University of Queensland in 1967.

During my eight years of living regionally, I have witnessed the drive of rural women to actively change the practical, social and emotional experience of regional life—for themselves, for their families, for their friends and for their communities. I see this in events like the NSW Rural Women’s Gatherings that Narrandera was lucky enough to host in 2017, publications like The Country Web and Graziher, along with the Hidden Treasure Honour Roll and so many other groups and committees. I see this with my friends and the way they care, with such love, for other people.

These kinds of activities inspire me in my creative practice. I hope that in my very own small way, I can build on the work of these trailblazing rural Australian women who have come before me and who work alongside me.


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Women who gather

by Marg Carroll OAM, Molong
As featured in the 2018 Country Web Annual.

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, as the NSW Rural Women’s Network (RWN) Coordinator, setting up the Network (a position I held from 1992–98).

Women who gather

Steph Cooke MP, Tammy Galvin, Marg Carroll OAM and Ronnie Hazelton at the 2017 Narrandera Rural Women’s Gathering

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, get a talented team together and source funding.

1992/93 was a time of the 3 Ds: drought (affecting more than 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 who at the time was the Director General of NSW Agriculture. He was to become our greatest ally in a male-dominated department.

My first task as RWN Coordinator was to meet women from all over and hear their concerns. In that first year I covered maybe 50000 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 of The Country Web newsletter, which started when Sonia Muir came on board in 1993; Country Care Link 1800 line we set up for counselling, 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! I 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 at the time was NSW Health and Farmsafe Central West. And this is where Ronnie Hazelton comes into the picture. Ronnie was one of the first community nurses in the Central West (a scheme started by former PM Gough Whitlam). During this time one of the noticeable problems was farm accidents. Ronnie and her team worked hard to address the issue and they started the first Farm Safety Action Group in Australia at Cudal with a great committee of diverse people. The committee started to run farm safety workshops for women on farms and also for school children. When I started planning the first Women on the Land Gathering in 1993, Ronnie felt it was the perfect place to promote their farm safety messages.

With Ronnie by my side, we began by putting together a diverse team of 14 from throughout the Central West to help us. The 13 women and one bloke, 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.’

We chose Orange Agricultural College as a venue because women could gather 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 registrations the College began to get anxious. At 400 they said, ‘Stop, no more’, and we had to turn more than 150 women away. Sponsorship was generous and the Rural Assistance Authority funded women from each of the then 26 Rural Financial Counselling Services to attend the Gathering.
With the theme of ‘Surviving & Thriving’ we focused on issues and actions in deciding guest speakers and workshops—finances, learning, the environment, health and personal development, 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, 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.

An old-fashioned lantern was our way of handing on the ‘light’ to host another gathering. At the end when we asked if anyone was interested in putting on another Gathering, there was a pregnant pause before one brave woman, Janet Redden from Gunnedah, jumped up and said, ‘I’ll do it’. Since then gatherings have been run annually with the 26th gathering to be held in Merimbula on 19-21 October.

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 CWA 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 RWN, which itself has carried on thanks to the tireless work of Sonia Muir, Allison Priest and many other staffers.

We feel proud that gatherings are still going strong and that the many elements of the original model have endured: Women’s stories that give heart to us all, local farm tours, ecumenical services on Sunday, a forum for views, the bringing together of rural and urban women, linking participants with decision-makers and service providers and raising the profile of rural women via media and now social media. And above all, the wonderful volunteers who give their time to provide opportunities for other rural women by hosting a gathering—a huge undertaking but one that gives ownership and pride in such achievement, and hopefully a lot of laughs. ■

The 2019 NSW Rural Women’s Gathering will be held in Walcha from 1-3 November. For more information on the event email:

Posted in Communities, networking, NSW Rural Women's Gathering, rural women, rural women's gathering, women's networks | Tagged , , | 2 Comments