Time running out to nominate your ‘Hidden Treasure’

Nominations closing soon for the 2017 NSW Hidden Treasures Honour Roll.


The annual Hidden Treasures Honour Roll is an important tribute which captures inspirational stories, documenting and celebrating the unpaid work of women who are ensuring the viability of so many important and crucial community groups and charities such as emergency services, the arts, environment, social justice, education and sport organisation, and so many others within rural and regional communities.

The Rural Women’s Network is seeking your help to nominate rural women volunteers in NSW who give so much of their time to improving our communities and neighbourhoods. You can nominate a friend, family member, colleague, community worker – any rural woman who you believe makes your community a better place to live.

If you know a worthy woman volunteer, why not nominate her today by sharing a short ‘story about her contributions.’

All nominations will be included in the 2017 Hidden Treasures Honour Roll which will be unveiled at the NSW Rural Women’s Gathering in Narrandera on 28 October.

Nominations are open until 28 July 2017.

For more information call 02 6391 3706.

Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much’  Helen Keller

Posted in agriculture, Communities, Community Hero, CWA, Environment, Families, farming, Health, hidden treasure, inspirational, mental health, networking, NSW Rural Women's Network, primary industries, resilience, Rural Australia, rural women, RuralWomen, RWN, Social welfare, stories, Volunteering, women, women's networks | Leave a comment

Smart ways to leave farming

by Ted O’Kane, Goulburn DPI Rural Resilience Officer.
As featured in The Country Web 2016 Annual.

Respected Monaro grazier and cattle breeder, Howard Charles, cites a number of logical
reasons for ‘half retiring’ and leasing his property but admits that if it were not for his
wife Anne’s declining eyesight, he could well have put the decision off for some time yet.

Howard and Anne Charles

Howard and Anne Charles. The change … is a transitional one …

Breeding his celebrated Kydrabah Murray Grey stud cattle and merino sheep, it would have been easy for the still fit 72-year-old to maintain the status quo and keep running his 1375 hectare Nimmitabel property, Rockybah, as he has done since 1980.

But with neither of his adult children interested in taking over the farm and, by his own admission, starting to feel his years, Howard knew retirement was something that could not be put off forever. Still, he concedes that, “Anne’s eyes (she has macular
degeneration) were the real catalyst for the change.”

The change, though, is a transitional one where the Charles remain happily living in their home among the magnificent country garden Anne has developed from something akin to a moonscape 35 years ago. They remain happy to do so, contributing to the local community they love, as long as Anne’s eyesight allows her to drive.

“I can’t stay here if I can’t drive and Howard has to drive me everywhere. We don’t know
when that will be, but when it happens it will mean moving to a town,” she says.

The flexible lease arrangement the Charles’ negotiated with two local landholders, Jim
Haylock and Charles Keighley, in September 2014 also means Howard remains involved
to some extent in both management and the physical running of the property.

Anne and Howard enjoying their ‘half retirement’ at their home, Rockybah “I do believe that farming is a young person’s game, not only physically, but keeping up
with the technical advances as well. I am now what is called the ‘weeds, wire and water
man’ and that’s a bigger job than I thought,” Howard explained.

“I’m only half retired so I am not walking around saying, ‘What will I do now?’ But if
Anne’s sight deteriorates quickly, we are in a better position to change our arrangements
than if we were still running everything.”

The innovative lease was negotiated by farm consultant, Jim Symon, McMichael
& Associates, Albury, who consults independently to all three parties. Two events on flexible transition options have been held (one in Cooma in 2015 and most recently August 2016) where Howard outlined aspects of the lease and answered questions for people wanting to know more about the process. The lease conditions provided a good example of how a well-considered and flexible lease could provide a viable option for farmers wanting to retire from the business but still wishing to live in their own homes, he said.

Based on the rationale that farm wealth was built from the capital growth of the asset more than from income, Mr Charles wanted a lease that prioritised the protection of the asset.

“We built flexibility into the agreement that meant the lessees weren’t put under pressure when the season gets tough. We certainly needed an income but our main focus was to protect the asset. It’s not perfect but we are still working on it,” he said.

Mr Symon said the lease aimed to bring the right people together in a deal that wasn’t necessarily about maximising monetary gain but rather tried to meet everyone’s needs in a way that was sustainable. This was the key, he said, to the success of any farm lease.

The lease of Rockybah has also provided an opportunity for Jim Haylock and Charles Keighley to expand their grazing enterprises though a newly formed business partnership, although they were not previously close friends and live some distance from each other and the lease property.

The partnership runs merino wethers and agistment cattle, allowing the flexibility to trade in line with seasons and also to minimise labour. Farm jobs are prearranged and performed together. For both Jim and Charles, the deal provides extra scale and income for their farm businesses and the possibility of being able to hand a viable operation onto their children.

“It is a good short-term option to increase income but should also lead to me being able to increase my capital base as well— depending on whether the kids want to carry it on. There is no need for me to knock myself into the ground into my 60s and 70s if the kids are not interested,” he said.

Similarly, for 59-year-old Mr Keighley, leasing more land as an adjunct to the 890 hectare property, Woburn, he owns at Bungarby, will hopefully assist at least one of his three sons to get a start in farming.

“We are talking to Jim Symon now about farm succession issues and while Woburn still needs a lot of investment, we hope we can set up the transition to the next generation over the next 10 years or so,” Mr Keighly said.

More Information: Ted O’Kane, DPI Rural Resilience Officer.  m: 0427 781 514
e: ted.o’kane@dpi.nsw.gov.au


Posted in agriculture, Communities, Elderly, farming, Health, primary industries, resilience, rural resilience officer, rural women, Sustainability, The Country Web, Transitioning | Leave a comment

Small business program makes getting advice a piece of cake

by Sonya Martin, Office of the NSW Small Business Commissioner.
As featured in The Country Web 2016 Annual.

Greg and Angie Wilton from Mullumbimby have cooked up a successful business creating delicious pastries, cakes, tarts, breads and savory delights.


Greg and Angie Wilton from Mullumbimby.

“Keeping up with demand is our biggest problem,” Angie said. “We go to the farmers’ markets in Byron Bay and Mullumbimby and sell out every time without fail.”

“We could easily sell another 25 per cent but we can’t bake enough because we just don’t have the space.”

The Wilton’s started small five years ago and their wholesale bakery grew organically until they came to a fork in the road 18 months ago. They had to decide whether to continue down the wholesale path or follow Greg’s dream as a baker with a retail outlet.

“We take pride in what we do. If we had gone big with the wholesale business, we would have become more of a production line.

“By moving into retail instead we could keep our boutique, artisan approach. We wanted to be the ones who controlled how the product was displayed and treated.

“More importantly, we really cared about how our customers talked about the product. It was a no-brainer in the end.”

The Wilton’s made the decision to open Scratch Patisserie in Mullumbimby to maintain their ‘made from scratch, baked with love’ philosophy.

The shop opening coincided with the birth of their second child, a time Angie now describes as, “Crazy!”

Growing week-on-week is the worst small business problem to have, but growing has made Angie and Greg appreciate the importance of building structure into their business.

“We were feeling a bit overwhelmed. We felt like we weren’t managing the business as well as we could. We’ve never had a business plan, although we’ve attempted one many times and when we became responsible for eight staff we knew it was time for goals and more of a focus.”

The Small Biz Bus couldn’t have driven into Mullumbimby at a better time.

“I jumped on the bus six months ago to get some advice and see if someone could point us in the right direction.”

Firstly, Angie and Greg were connected to a local Small Biz Connect business advisor, Sam Tebbutt, who started helping them with a business plan.

“It was really practical advice. It also plugged us into another service the Office of the NSW Small Business Commissioner was offering— the Regional Activation Program.”

The Office of the NSW Small Business Commissioner launched the Regional Activation Program to better reach regional small businesses. The program achieves this aim by engaging with regional communities to activate small business opportunities through specialised programs, assistance and tools. After visiting each town participating in the program and working with key stakeholders, a series of workshops were developed.

Two workshops were held in Mullumbimby on topics local businesses felt would assist them the most—Visual Merchandising and Women in Business.

“I really liked the Visual Merchandising workshop. It came at a good time because we were developing a range of packaged products for our biscuits, jams, chutneys and relishes.

“The workshop took us through all the stuff we needed to know, like making sure labelling and packaging was perfect and targeted to our customers. Brian Ambler from Australian Retailers Association took the workshop and also came around the next day to give us advice specific to our display and setup.”

Following the workshops the Wilton’s took action.

“One piece of advice that really stuck was that we needed more of our logo image and colours around the shop to help us to get the brand message out. Now we have a great big plaque of our logo on the wall as you come in.

“Brian also made suggestions about signage, and we’re putting more under the awning on the street front. The idea is that people will see us out of the corner of their eye and be tempted to come in.”

As well as the suggestions, Angie said she really appreciated the confirmation of all the things Scratch Patisserie were doing right.

“It was great to get encouragement that we’re doing a good job. Brian said the place looked great.”

The Regional Activation Program also held a Women in Business workshop in Mullumbimby, which Angie also attended.

“I’ve made some good contacts and have already been able to do some business with a woman who runs food tours in the region.”

A quick glance at the pastries, cakes, tarts and tortes on Scratch Patisserie’s website leaves little doubt about why the business is growing. Greg and Angie continue to work with their Small Biz Connect advisor to plan and prepare for that growth.

More information
t: 1300 795 534
Posted in business, Communities, education and training, rural women, small business, Transitioning | Leave a comment

Transitions of life

by Lynda Williams, Biblah Farm.  As featured in The Country Web 2016 Annual

family photo (2)

‘Over the years we have happily settled into life at Biblah Farm.’

I have had numerous transitions throughout my life that took me away from my home at Wongali, Nevertire.

My first transition was going from Warren High to boarding school in Sydney at the age of 14.  This was a big shock to the system—to leave the wide open spaces of home for the confines of inner city living. The city does give people opportunities though, so after school I completed my nursing training there.  At the end of my course, I longed to get back to the country.  It surprised me that some of my nursing friends in Sydney (that came from the country) were keen to get back there too.

I took a position at Dubbo Base Hospital.  It was great as I had several friends there, so it was easy to find people to share a house with as well as people to socialise with.  In those days we loved going to B&S’s.  It was a great way to meet people and catch up with long-lost friends from all over the countryside.

My next transition from Dubbo was a trip overseas travelling around the world.  I was lucky enough to find a great travelling companion in my nursing friend Shazza, from Walgett.  We had a lot in common and never had a dull moment.  We split up for six weeks in the UK to work and make some money.  It was an amazing experience and one that I would recommend to everyone.

Returning from my trip, I had to transition back into working life.  It was difficult to get a full-time nursing position so I found myself with temporary positions in Ivanhoe, Walgett and Tottenham.  This was a great experience meeting people and broadening my nursing expertise in such things as venipuncture, cannulating and even suturing at Tottenham Hospital.  I would work in these towns for a while, then come home in between times and give Dad and Mum a hand at Wongali.  That was the good thing about being in the country, it always enabled me to get home frequently, and there’s no place like home!

After a while I started a full-time nursing position at Parkes Hospital. Parkes was a wonderful place to live and work, with extra-friendly people.  I thoroughly enjoyed my time there.  On my days off I would venture home or over to Coonamble to see my boyfriend Tim.  Whilst at Parkes we became engaged, which led me to the biggest transition of all.

Tim and his brother Neale purchased Biblah Farm during our engagement, which was to become our new home.  Biblah Farm is situated 65 km out of Coonamble.  About 20 km of the road was bitumen and the rest dirt.  Even though I consider myself a country girl through and through, to begin with, this place, way out of town, seemed quite isolating to me.

Over the years we have happily settled into life at Biblah Farm.  We have had the odd drought and rain at harvest time, but on the whole we are going alright.  I have ended up with my great friend Shazza (now called Shar) just down the road; how lucky can someone be?  Tim and I have four beautiful children, who have now made their own transitions to boarding school and university.

I wouldn’t be anywhere else in the world and I hope we have instilled the love of country life into our children.

Posted in agriculture, Communities, Families, farming, inspirational, resilience, Rural Australia, rural women, RWN, stories, The Country Web, Transitioning, women | Leave a comment

Money: Life transitions and your finances

By Jo Stephens, Financial Adviser.  As featured in The Country Web 2016 Annual

Life is ever-changing. During our lifetime many aspects of our lives will change, bringing highs and lows of certainty and uncertainty, comfort and fear of the unknown.

There are many agents of change— graduating from high school or university, getting married, having children, changing careers, death of a partner or divorce and retirement. Whether these transitions are expected or out of the blue, each one has the potential to change our lives as we know them.


‘Change is often angst ridden and emotionally and financially challenging.’

Whilst this angst cannot often be eliminated, forward planning may minimise the impact, particularly financially.

As a financial adviser many people assume my role is solely as an investment adviser, and whilst that is definitely one small but significant facet, my primary role is to explore what is important to my client and understand what it is they wish to achieve. Financial advice is a multifaceted discipline that draws from many different knowledge areas and life experiences. My role includes educating the client so that when they make a decision they are making an informed one that gives them the best possible opportunity for success.

Agents of change

Graduating high school is an exciting time as we take our first steps into the adult world and is a time of great opportunity with many paths open to us. Do we continue with our education? Do we enter the workforce or even take a gap year and explore the world?

Once we are past the pain of HSC results and selecting a university, choosing to continue our education may also mean accessing Centrelink payments to assist with accommodation needs and supplies.  How will the course be funded? What will that mean for the future?

Entering the workforce means thinking about superannuation, perhaps a first car, or moving out of home and becoming truly independent for the first time. What is the right way to choose a super account? Why is it important to worry about something that won’t happen for another 40 or 50 years anyway? Budgeting and saving can become a priority to assist in buying that car or to pay rent and other bills.

Choosing to go down the path of a gap year, whether spending the year at home or abroad, also brings in the need for budgeting and saving. A gap year can assist you through the tough decisions of continuing with education or moving into the workforce.

The transition from single to married life is often the beginning of joint finances and perhaps the purchase of a first home. Understanding each partner’s financial philosophy, including budgeting and saving habits can make a big difference.  Protecting your own lifestyle can become a priority.

Married life can evolve into married life with kids; bringing with it more considerations and responsibilities. Saving for future education costs and learning to survive on one income are two considerations many of us have been through or will go through. The extracurricular costs of children has a large impact on the family budget. Ensuring your income and lifestyle are well protected is essential.

Unexpected life changes such as the death of a partner are often emotionally overwhelming. This is not the ideal time to begin thinking whether you can now afford the mortgage. The loss of an income from the death of a partner will have a financial impact.  You may also need to consider what to do with any life insurance payout, how to make it last. The surviving partner needs to consider their future—can their current lifestyle be maintained? Refocusing on budgets and savings plans is essential.


Retirement is one area where people often seek my advice too late. Retirement means you will be reliant on your superannuation, savings, investments and wealth created personally over your working life with perhaps some government assistance thrown in.

Funding one’s own retirement should be of  paramount concern for those of us aged less than 45 years as access to the aged pension may gradually become more restricted. Retirement savings can be more easily achieved by doing a little for a long period of time rather than a lot in a small amount of time. Many people believe they can put in lump sums of money as they approach retirement to ensure their financial future in retirement, and while this may be the case for some, many of us will need to use the benefit of compounding interest on top of our contributions if we wish to have a worry free retirement. Seeing an adviser five years before retirement does not allow for many wealth creation strategies to be effectively employed, whereas those who see an adviser quite early in their careers or even 10 to 15 years before retirement, are more likely to have a higher success rate of living the retirement they desire.

Many considerations go into retiring, especially for farmers and business owners.  What to do with assets held such as farmland or a business and its premises?  How do you effectively use these assets to fund retirement? As financial advisers, we can assist in succession planning for farmers to pass land onto the next generation. We can provide strategies that will minimise capital gains tax for assets sold and assist you to use the benefits of the sold assets to fund your retirement.

Posted in Communities, education and training, Elderly, Financial Literacy, leadership, NSW Rural Women's Network, rural women, The Country Web, Transitioning, women's networks | Leave a comment

Lynne opens her home and heart to children in crisis

By Lynne Sawyers
As featured in The Country Web 2016 Annual

When Barnardos Australia foster carer Lynne Sawyers (pictured), took in her first foster-child she couldn’t have guessed that she would still be caring for children in crisis almost 20 years later.

Lynne Sawyers

Lynne encourages anyone who is interested in fostering to give it a go.

Lynne, from Orange in the Central West, has four adult children of her own and has fostered more than 200 children and young people during the last two decades.

She says she loves all of the children that have come into her home and considers them all to be family.

“And they know it! I’ve got some lovely cards and notes that they’ve left over the years.

“I have what I call a ‘Wall of Fame’, which I started with my own children when they were very young and would come home and do Christmas drawings and I would put them up on the wall each year. But I’ve got such a wall full now that three-quarters of it is from the foster children and it’s wonderful.”

Lynne encourages anyone who is interested in fostering to give it a go.

“Barnardos will call me and say they have one or two (or it could even be four) children and could they come and stay for one or two nights? I usually say yes, because if it’s an emergency (especially if late at night), children need to go somewhere quickly because their life is upside down as it is.

“When children arrive I open the door and say, ‘Welcome, come on in. Would you like a drink? Would you like something to eat?’

“If it’s really late at night sometimes I put the TV on for a moment with a cartoon to ease them into relaxing a little bit. If it’s through the day I get the games out and sit down and play a game with them or we do some cooking or take a walk around the garden—that’s usually a good thing as most kids love gardens.

“Some children can be quite withdrawn. Some don’t want to communicate with you and they just want to sit in the corner, which is very sad. It’s something you just have to work around.

“I simply let them know that they are important and that they can come and talk to me when they are ready.”

Lynne says being a foster carer is wonderful because the children appreciate the kindness and the love they are given.

“They may not have experienced anything like that before. And everyone needs to be loved, everyone needs to be told how special they are.”

Her advice for those that are considering becoming a foster carer?

“If anyone is interested in fostering or has ever thought about it, they could just get in touch with Barnardos and make enquiries.

Try it, and if you find it doesn’t suit, then that’s fine.

“You don’t have to be a full-time carer, you can do it part-time and you can just provide respite for very short periods of time—it could be overnight or it could be for another foster family who has to go somewhere and the children can’t go with them, so they’ll come to your home on respite.”

More information on becoming a foster carer 

The children and young people who turn to Barnardos for help have been exposed to exceptionally difficult circumstances in their young lives—abuse, violence, poverty, drug and alcohol issues, mental illness, homelessness and disability. That is why they need you.

Barnardos Australia is currently looking for foster carers to look after children/young people aged between 0–18 years old. Foster carers must be at least 21 years old and can be single, married, with or without children, young or old. Carers receive ongoing training and 24/7 support, along with a generous non-taxable allowance and will be eligible for Centrelink entitlements.

If you are interested in becoming a foster carer contact Barnardos.

More information
t: 1800 663 441


Posted in Communities, Community Hero, Domestic Violence, Drug support, Families, inspirational, NSW Rural Women's Network, Rural Support Workers, rural women, Social welfare, The Country Web, Volunteering, women, women's networks | Leave a comment



hidden treasures poster image sml

The NSW Department of Primary Industries’ (DPI) Rural Women’s Network program is seeking your help to uncover female volunteers within NSW rural communities before 28 July 2017.

These worthy women will be included in the 2017 Hidden Treasures Honour Roll, acknowledging and celebrating their contributions to NSW rural communities.

Women are so often the backbone of families and communities and without their support many groups including charities, emergency services, the arts, environment, social justice, education and sporting organisations would struggle to survive.

We initiated the Hidden Treasures project to promote and archive the work of these remarkable women.  It is not an award program but a public tribute to the vast number of women who give their time and energy to help others across rural, regional and remote regions.

We look forward to seeing women from diverse backgrounds who volunteer in your region included in this year’s Honour Roll as recognition of the valuable work they do.

An example of previous Hidden Treasures can be found at 2016 Hidden Treasures Honour Roll

The 2017 Hidden Treasures Honour Roll will be unveiled at the NSW Rural Women’s Gathering in Narrandera from 27-29 October.

To nominate a Hidden Treasures’ volunteer you simply need to go to the following link: Hidden Treasures or call 02 6391 3706.  Tell us a short ‘story’ about why your nominee is worthy.

All rural women nominated will be included in the Honour Roll.  

Don’t forget we need these completed nominations by 28 July 2017!

More than six million Australian volunteers give happiness to other each year. Research shows that those volunteers are happier as a result. Whether it’s one hour or an ongoing commitment, it’s easy to share your skills and interests to give happy and live happy.


Posted in Communities, Community Hero, hidden treasure, inspirational, NSW Rural Women's Gathering, NSW Rural Women's Network, primary industries, resilience, Rural Australia, Rural Support Workers, rural women, RuralWomen, RWN, Social welfare, stories, Volunteering, women, women's networks | Leave a comment

Celebrating courage, celebrating seasons

By Stephanie Dale, Byron Bay
As featured in The Country Web 2016 Annual

Liz Chappell

“The book has given me courage and confidence to play with the big kids in the garden media world.”

It was the middle of a New England springtime, mid-November 2015; Liz Chappell cast her eyes around the visitors in her garden—570 of them, over two days.

They were there for the garden—and they were there for her.

This was the moment Liz had chosen to launch her book, Celebrate the Seasons: Garden memoirs from New England.

“It was overwhelming,” said Liz. “Wonderful. To be honest I still don’t think it’s actually sunk in that I’ve done it. I’ve written and published my book.”

A year ago, Liz was a riot of confusion and reticence about the project.

She had 20 years of gardening diaries up her sleeve, garden notes she’d kept since moving back to Glen Innes from Sydney to live in her parents’ home—to the house and garden originally built by her great grandparents.

“It was very daunting. I wasn’t really a gardener—then again, they say the gardening gene kicks in around 40. I was 39.”

As well as the diaries, Liz knew from experience tried and true there was a significant gap in the market for advice about gardening in the New England district.

“Our climatic region runs from Tamworth to Stanthorpe. It’s very cold and we’re on the edge of a monsoon pattern.

“To be honest, I learned more from other gardeners and English gardening books than I did from Australian gardening media, largely because our media focuses on the coastal areas, where most people live.”

Liz, who for four years wrote a regular gardening column in the local newspaper, thought she would pool her articles for the book—only to find she didn’t have enough material. She needed more. And she needed photos. Good photos. Photos of greater quality and expertise than she was capable of producing.

“These were my stumbling blocks. When it all felt too much I’d shelve the project, again and again, then I’d dig it out and work on it in fits and starts.

“This went on for three or four years—but the idea just wouldn’t leave me alone!”

Then The Write Road came through town, with writing workshops dedicated to new and unpublished writers.

“When I saw the workshops advertised I knew this would be my starting point. They were absolutely wonderful, extremely helpful.

“The first workshop crystalised my ideas and the second gave me practical guidance on how to approach the project.

“Through the workshops I understood that even though I was writing a gardening book, it was also my story—that it was important to tell my story—and I gained the confidence I needed to commit to the project.”

For a solid year, Liz dedicated herself to the book, full steam ahead. In 12 months she wrote, produced and published her book. And she found a skilled photographer willing to work with her in return for a share in profits.

“I rang a former colleague who lived in Brisbane, Kim Woods Rabbidge. I said, ‘If I go ahead with this crazy idea would you be willing to work with me, and if we get rich and famous we can share it.’

“Kim was wonderful to work with—I’d ring her at short notice and say, ‘The rose is blooming!’ or, ‘The frost is coming!’ and she’d jump in the car and drive down. I was very privileged to be able to work with her.”

By far the most significant aspect of Liz’s journey has been the rollercoaster ride of validity and credibility.

“I’m a self-taught gardener, I don’t have degrees and qualifications. The past few years have been a rollercoaster ride of overcoming voices in my head saying, ‘Who do you think you are to write this?’ and then this other voice says, ‘You must do it!’

“I was 65 and I knew if I didn’t do it now, I’d never do it.”

Once she knuckled down, Liz said she loved every minute of the writing process.

“I had a strict daily routine. I’d garden until lunch, then write until the 7 pm news or my husband started cooking dinner, whichever came first.

“I loved pouring words onto the page; finishing was a bit of an anticlimax really.

“And then I got the design concept back—and I cried; it was really going to happen. Up until that moment there was still every chance it would go back into the too hard basket.”

In six weeks Liz sold more than half the 2000 copies of the book sitting in her hallway.

“It was like having a litter of puppies— delightful at first, then you have to find homes for them all!”

She said the journey has been life-changing.

“Some moments have been terrifying—such as when I had to ask people I greatly admire and respect for endorsements. And some moments have been absolutely incredible— such as when I received the endorsements.

“The book has given me courage and confidence to play with the big kids in the garden media world.

“I could have gone my whole life thinking I can do that but never actually doing it. The book has proved to me that I can do it.

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

Women leaders: Mona Shindy

Jane Gilmore, this article was originally published on Women’s Agenda
As featured in The Country Web 2016 Annual

Mona Shindy, winner of the Telstra Business Woman of the Year Award, is not the typical privileged white corporate success story.

Captain Mona Shindy (pictured below) has seen 26 years’ service in the Royal Australian Navy. She has won numerous awards and achieved seniority in an organisation not traditionally given to promoting women. Mona immigrated from Egypt when she was three-years-old, and is rightly proud of the success and the she has found in Australia.

Captain Mona Shindy

What effect do you think winning this award will have?

I think it will give a lot of women in the defence force confidence in themselves and confidence to see themselves as legitimate business leaders and operators, not just public servants. Because they are doing genuinely important, complex and difficult tasks. Similar to or often even harder than people in civilian life. So this is a really powerful recognition of that work.

Also women in my position, from diverse backgrounds, who have come to Australia as immigrants, or even second generation, where there is still some differences that can make them a little unsure about whether they can succeed. To be able to see somebody who has, and has been honoured in such a great way, I hope that will give people some inspiration and encouragement.

Who’s been your inspiration?

I’ve known lots of inspirational people, but I’m more the kind of person who just watches a whole lot of different people. I don’t necessarily engage a huge number of mentors or role models. I learn things from people through observation. So there are things that I watch in people and I think, ‘wow I really liked that about that person, that affected me in a very positive way, and I’d like to emulate that.’ By the same token, I also observe behaviours that I say to myself, ‘I will never ever be that type of person.’

I’ve also had some fantastic personal role models. My mother is the most wonderful example. With the early death of my father, we were left with a family of young teenagers and very small sister—she was only five. Mum really took it all on and she made us believe in ourselves, she got us all through school and university; she is a really gutsy woman. To have done all that, on her own, with no extended family support here in Australia as a first generation migrant, she’s a great role model.

Also, there’s lots of male role models too. I’ve got a couple in particular who have made an effort to really give me some guidance along the way and have really helped with the training I’ve received and the opportunities I’ve been given. They really supported me all the way and I really value those people and the contributions they’ve made to my career.

You’re now a role model for young women? What do you most want to show them about your career?

I’ve always been very honest with who I am, it’s very important to me to be true to myself, and it’s also important that people that I work with are also true to themselves and are able to express themselves. Allowing people to have that freedom, allowing them to tell you the truth about how they think things should be done and how they see things from a different perspective. Allowing that two-way dialogue, weaving in everyone’s ideas together, ensures everyone to be part of the vision of where we’re going and how we get there, I think that’s really important.

I love to see young people feeling that they’re respected and valued for who they are—it’s not about trying to be something they can’t or put on some kind of act, it’s just about who they are. I think that’s how you get the best out of everyone.

What would you say to young women who want to make a career in a male dominated field but who might be intimidated by the challenges of attempting it?

Do whatever it is you dream and hope to do. No matter how many setbacks along the way, pick yourself up and keep going. I would say to those young women that if you’re good at maths or science, if you’re good at those things, be proud of that, be proud of the talent that you’ve got and use it to the best effect you can. And don’t be afraid. Sure you might come across some blocks in your life, or certain people who might not give you the same opportunities as a male counterpart, but just as often as you meet those people, rest assured that there are truly excellent people in the workforce too. And it’s just about keeping at it until you find those champions, those people who will back you and support you, even when you fall down. Don’t give up, you will succeed.

It’s certainly true that you’re facing even more challenges being not just a woman, but a Muslim woman in a white male dominated organisation, and you’ve overcome them, but perhaps not everyone has that strength?

No that’s true, everyone has different levels of resilience, that is absolutely true, but for me, what drives me is the hope for a better future. So I figure that whatever I can do, however hard I can work to make that little bit of an inroad into my career, that’s one less bit of work the next generation has to do, and that’s worth it. If we put that bit of effort in today, that’s one less thing the next generation has to do tomorrow.

And it’s just a matter of time. I really believe that, there are so many things people thought we could never do. Whether it’s technological advancements or huge cultural changes that happen in organisations or communities, they can and they do happen. That’s why we can never lose hope and we shouldn’t be afraid to keep working for change, even when it seems too difficult.

You’ve just got to keep going.

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Robyn’s story: From grub to butterfly

By Robyn Warwick, Narrabri
As featured in The Country Web 2016 Annual

I am now a strong, independent woman that wears strong colours and had the nerve to paint my house purple, when the norm was green, cream and white. But I wasn’t always this way.

Image of flower garden

There had been a few times in my life when I had to draw upon my inner strength to continue living the best I could but this would be my biggest challenge yet.

Looking back to a vision of myself as a young child, I see someone who was colourless. My most important aim was to be good and not rock the boat. Back then and still to this day my siblings would refer to me as the ‘goody two shoes’.  Mum would say she didn’t know I was there and that I was never any trouble.

This urge to please was never too far from the surface. I never voiced my opinion about moving all the time. I was never asked for my opinion, or how I felt continually experiencing the sense of not belonging. I was looking in on life.

When I married, I swallowed my sense of better judgement and moved in with my in-law’s to a flattened out petrol tin house. The aim was to save money and build our own home.

The time finally came to subdivide the land and have a block of our own, but my
mother-in-law refused to give her only child his independence. On top of this was the
revelation that they were going to build a section of their own, attached to our house.
I protested for a little while, but eventually caved in.

It wasn’t until I became a widow at 29-yearsold, when my husband died in a car accident,
and with two little children to protect, I was left with part of a house on someone else’s
land, that the colourless shell began to crack.

So began my journey of strength—a two-year legal tug of war and bravely standing up
to my mother-in-law, when a clause in the agreement for the land was for them to have
custody of my children one weekend a month.

I remarried; this time, a restless man who only wanted to be a truck driver, after spending seven years in the army. Money was tight trying to keep two households—one at home and one constantly moving up and down the East Coast—and when mobile phones came into vogue a $1000 a month phone account was the norm. Driving a truck was a lonely life, and the lifestyle impacted on his health, his physical form and his moods.

Investigating my family tree had been an ongoing hobby for many years, searching
for relatives and trying to fill the gaps in my childhood. The end result was something that never crossed my mind—I discovered we had an older sister who was adopted out at birth.

The unbelievable event happened, when 16 years and five days after my first husband was killed in an accident, my second husband was hit by a car, whilst walking across the road to his truck, and died at the scene. Once again the responsibility of raising our daughter fell on my shoulders, so more strength was needed.

The child within me still felt responsible for other people and I became a carer for my first mother-in-law and my own ageing parents.  I carried this feeling through to my chosen career as an advocate, trying to solve other people’s problems.

It wasn’t until I waved goodbye to my youngest child, as she walked through
the departure gates heading to Japan as a Rotary Exchange student, that I gave myself
permission to ask.

For the first time I was free to do whatever I wanted. But what? I was 53-years-old.

I threw myself into knowledge and education and became a qualified remedial massage
therapist, reflexologist, level two reiki practitioner, all the while still working as an
advocate. I finally put on the cap and gown at 57-years-old and achieved a Post Graduate
Diploma in Social Science—Community Service.

While happy with my achievements, for some reason I felt that studying was just
another form of responsibility and I longed for something more. So I traveled to Japan twice and then to the centre of Australia—they were all such wonderful experiences. Discovering who I really was and what made me tick was daunting but amazing.

The time came for me to begin another decade and so I decided to face my 60s with
vigour, energy and to define my fitness. I started riding an exercise bike, lifting weights
and continuing with my yoga.

Another challenge raised its head, when a moment occurred where my focus wasn’t
totally concentrated on the road and I had a car accident that destroyed the car I was
driving and the oncoming vehicle. Thankfully everyone escaped injury, something I will
be forever grateful for. I however, suffered injuries that have led me down an entirely
different path.

With my right elbow totally smashed and requiring reconstruction with plates
and screws, I was told my arm would be permanently stiff. The flow on effect of all
this was the knowledge that depression had wrapped its arms around me, threatening to
overcome my existence and place a veil of grey over my eyes and around my heart.

There had been a few times in my life when I had to draw upon my inner strength to
continue living the best I could but this would be my biggest challenge yet.

A path of awareness, a path where depression started out as my enemy, has
now become my friend, making sure I appreciate and I am aware of every day and
the path of putting my thoughts, feelings and emotions down on paper. This experience has steered me to Bellingen and Camp Creative and to a class of incredible people who
guided me down the path of a fledging writer.

What is ahead of me? What is around the corner? I do not know. One thing I am sure of now is that I am strong, I am colourful and I can be seen.

More information
PO Box 561, Bellingen NSW 2454

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