The burden of drought amazingly discovers my real purpose in life

by Karen Weller, Winton New South Wales

What devastation we have experienced statewide in this current drought! It is hard to even comprehend how widespread this particular drought has been to primary producers this year. It is tiring us out physically and wearing us down mentally. Some rain may have given us a slight breather, but it is far from over. My story is a true example of something positive emerging from this drought. It is hard to be optimistic, but I am living proof that through my emotional journey, depression and health concerns, I finally discovered my real purpose in life. My new blog “Country Heart Spark” is telling the real story, with raw emotion and bringing a valuable agricultural connection to all.

My name is Karen Weller and I have a unique passion to promote and sustain the agricultural industry in Australia and unite city and country. I value the significance of our industry to feed and clothe our nation into the future. The connection in our community is paramount for survival of the industry.

I also have an inner enthusiasm to inspire others to find their own inner strength through openly and honestly sharing my stories on the land. I hope to not only guide my own personal growth, but encourage and motivate others to find their own contentment in the process.

I have been involved in the farming industry all of my life. I grew up on a small property on the Mid North Coast with my parents and siblings. I then married a farmer, which kept me in the industry, allowing my passion to develop further and somewhat vary. My husband and I have owned farming properties in the New England and Central West regions, before settling on a 2803 acre farm 30km west of Tamworth about 2 years ago. We run beef cattle and sheep and also produce stud Hereford bulls.

I am shy but friendly and value the importance of inner harmony. My strong family values and strong work ethic is at the forefront of my mind and my self-motivation drives me daily. I am devoted to my husband Peter and married for 24 years. We have 2 wonderful adult sons, Andrew and Glen, independently living their own lives. But I valued my time spent raising our children to adulthood, a job I was whole-heartedly committed to. I was determined to raise great men. So when they were toddlers I decided to study Child Psychology, which gave me an inside seat to the workings within. I loved being a Mum with dependent children and I cherished this very important role. Now they have grown-up and my job is “complete”.

This is when the emotional turmoil started. I was not satisfied with just the business of farming, so was feeling overwhelmed and “lost” with trying to discover my new purpose in life as well. Health concerns arose for me, so I was stressed to my limit. With the help of my GP and specialists, they discovered that I had sleep apnea which was a root cause of my other ongoing health problems. I then started CPAP therapy to keep me breathing while sleeping, and it was quite an adjustment and confronting, in my forties, to have to deal with this.

We were then in drought, feeling physically exhausted, financially strained and emotionally I fell in a heap. My life role had changed, suffering from “empty-nest syndrome” and farming was not entirely meeting my bigger need in life. The drought just tipped me over the edge. It was then that I found enough courage to visit my GP to discuss the topic that nobody wants to admit… that depression was at my door.
I felt terrible and unable to cope, embarrassed, yet I knew that I needed to be open with my family about my depression/anxiety. I had to set an example to my sons, that it is OK to talk about depression, it is not a taboo subject. We need to lose the stigma attached to depression. It is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign that we have been too strong for too long. My GP put me on medication for depression/anxiety and sent me for a few visits to a psychologist. I would not talk of this to anyone, except my family. I wanted to hide it… but why?

Now I can say, it has worked for me. I am still on medication but feeling so much better, more focused and able to deal with the struggles on-farm. I have changed my outlook, have shifted my mindset successfully and feeling almost at the top of my game. I am a little philosophical and believe things happen for a reason. Depression needed to hit me, so I can now share my story to help others. Now, I am not afraid to admit that I had depression/anxiety and are still being treated as such. I am not weak and I have nothing to be ashamed of.

So my life started to get back on track, with the help of my GP, specialists and my own commitment to improve my health. With CPAP therapy, I quickly realized how this little machine then became my “night partner” and the health benefits started. My blood pressure came back to normal immediately, then slowly other things happened over time. I had more energy, my muscles stopped aching and I could think clearer. My brain and body were now getting the oxygen it needed. This avoided any medication for high blood pressure which was a bonus.

I enjoy the quiet lifestyle that farming provides and value the hard-work on-farm. Unfortunately, the drought has stretched our resilience quite a bit this year. This drought is different to other droughts experienced over the years. It is so widespread, that agistment of livestock is not even an option this year. Livestock numbers have been reduced to only our core breeding stock. We needed to ensure we could save 25 years of breeding genetics in our stud herd. We only have about 260 head of cattle remaining on our property.

Hay and fodder needs to be transported from quite a distance interstate and prices have become exuberant. To give you an example, a load of hay was costing us about $13,000 and now with the price-war about $24,000. Farm loans have been increased and massive interest is being paid. Let’s just hope the drought breaks before we do.

My background is in Agribusiness Management, financial and office management. I see farming as my business but not my sole purpose in life. Now my children have grown up, it is time for me to reconnect with my purpose and share my passion with the world. I have discovered my passion for writing and sharing my stories to connect with others.
My recent blog and web page “Country Heart Spark” has been my voice to promote the importance of the agricultural industry and help people find their own inner strength to survive in this world generally. I provide inspiration and share my personal stories, from my family, farm life, a husband surviving a Quad-bike accident and breaking his back, to my support of the Country Women’s Association (CWA) at all levels.

My blog also provides me a platform to relieve some everyday stress and it brings me a sense of calmness and contentment. By sharing my emotional thoughts and stories, with the intention of connecting with others, I hope to inspire a journey of personal growth for all. I also have a vision for the near future to write my first book on self-awareness and acceptance of self. My passion has been sparked and this will be my new purpose.

I also feel strongly that Australian’s care about our domestic food chain and sustaining the farming industry. So by educating and understanding, I hope to connect all people regardless of whether they live in the city or country. Our jobs may all differ, our lives may be very different, but we are all human and empathy is our second nature.

I would like to invite you to follow my blog at and share my life journey and inspiration. You will feel inspired to believe in yourself, find happiness within, accept our differences and understand that we are all in this together.

Posted in Community Hero, inspirational, networking, resilience, rural women, stories | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Feedback is not a dirty word

by Janine Garner, Connected Leadership
As featured in the 2018 Country Web Annual.

Strategising, planning, managing cash flow; these are all practical essentials of leadership. Do them well, and you will be a good leader. But to be a great and connected leader, that’s something more intangible.

Janine Garner

Janine Garner, Connected Leadership

A great leader connects people, skills, strategy, and vision. They understand the importance of surrounding themselves with a great team to propel collective success, and know that creating the right environment to inspire and amplify others is critical. A great leader develops others, guides, and mentors—and creates space for individuals to thrive, initiate and show their own skills.

John C. Maxwell is known to have said to his mentees, ‘The good news is I care about you, the bad news is I will be honest’. It’s that honesty that is one of the essentials of connected leadership, the honesty to give true and real feedback.

Feedback is a crucial element for success. Every one of us needs feedback and support to become better, and we will only improve if we’re willing to hear others point out our weaknesses and opportunities.

We all need a powerful tight network that we trust—that pit crew of mentors, coaches and teachers that will challenge and develop our thinking, guide our emotions, behaviours and attitudes, that will help pick us up when we fall and be that sounding board for ideas and decisions to be made. We are all seeking to surround ourselves with others who willingly give feedback because they are 100 per cent committed to our growth and development, and as leaders and individuals, we need to ensure we do this for others.

According to research by Officevibe, an employee engagement firm, 65 per cent of employees want more feedback. So why don’t we? Because it’s amazingly hard to give feedback sometimes. We worry about the negative, about hurting someone’s feelings. What if they leave my business? What if I upset them to the point where they go downhill rather than up? But as Georgia Murch, author of Fixing Feedback says, ‘If we don’t invest in our people and give them the feedback they need, we can’t expect to have a high performing business.’

Just think about it. Remember a time when you didn’t give honest feedback? How did it feel? Did you end up kicking yourself? How many times have you thought, ‘I wish I had said something at X point’; because the result of not giving the feedback at X point ultimately impacted your business and the person you were trying to assist—and not necessarily in a positive way.

Recently I debated for a couple of days with how I was going to give constructive feedback and input to someone I respect, admire and who is kicking some serious goals. I know this individual has the potential to kick even more goals, to become even more successful and to step up to their next challenge in business growth—but only when certain business disciplines are put in place along with ownership of the individual’s own journey. I approached the conversation from a place of care and compassion. The feedback was well received and steps have already been taken to make a tricky situation more manageable. I know that they appreciated what I had to say and the way that I said it.

If you approach feedback from a place of care, compassion and wanting to support and guide further evolution and improvement, then it will be something that is both well given and well received. At the end of the day, if you do speak out in this way, it is up to the individual to take ownership of what they do with any feedback; but you owe it to them to give it and avoid any complaining or ‘if only’ moments later on.
Empower those around and you will empower yourself, your team and your business. Help others take control—and in the process, you will find that it not only lifts their burden but yours as well.

Because you are showing that you give a damn, and that is a very great gift indeed.

More information

Posted in business, education and training, inspirational, leadership, networking, rural women, RuralWomen, Women in Focus, Women leaders | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Rural Resilience Program

by Karen Sowter, Scone
DPI Rural Support Worker, Hunter
As featured in the 2018 Country Web Annual.

I would describe myself as creative, curious, passionate and determined. Living in rural Australia my heart lies in agritourism and agri-education—through opening farm gates for people to connect with where and how food and fibre is produced, to now working with the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) as a Rural Support Worker. I love being involved in opportunities that promote rural and regional Australia and our farmers.

Karen Sowter FB

Karen Sowter, 
DPI Rural Support Worker, Hunter

Just now I’ve pulled over near an empty river and I am thinking about the last conversation I had at a Farm Family Gathering. ‘We plan for drought’, said Deni, ‘why are people so surprised when it arrives? It’s part of the normal cycle of farming in Australia. We need to normalise drought.’ Wow, how’s that for a brain explosion— normalise drought.

Farming in drought creates a whole set of monotonous, repetitive daily jobs. Keeping connected during these times is tough, especially when often all we want to do and feel capable of, is hiding away.

I am grateful that in my role as a DPI Rural Support Worker I’m able to throw a ‘party’ every now and then and invite all the locals to a Farm Family Gathering. These community gatherings are generally triggered by someone in the community saying something like, ‘I’ve forgotten when I last spoke to my neighbour or went somewhere other than the shed’.

The trade-off for a free feed is that I ask people to tell me one thing that will help them during tough times. From that list I create a link that gets people on the outside of the farm gate. I am all for the working dogs trials, yard design workshops, a create a hat day, making videos on your smartphone, workshops and business development, but just quietly, my favourites activities are the Ladies on the Land gatherings and SOFT (Shaping Our Future Together) workshops.

As part of my new role, I invited 20 local ladies to meet in the showground rooms for a cuppa and cake. I had these fabulous ideas of planning 12 months’ worth of activities centred on agricultural learning and pursuits with clear goals and outcomes that were reportable, trackable and more ‘able’ words. What naturally formed when these exhausted women gathered was a wonderful connecting of like-minded souls who needed to rest and talk. And talk we did. For months in fact. And that’s OK.

After the talking we did get around to organising learning days. We have covered pastures, how to have a tough conversation, dam cleaning, breed selection, farm continuity, generational planning, email setup, silage, weed control, why is that fence there when it doesn’t work there, quad bike safety, online accounting, meal planning, feral animal control and lessons learned in drought/flood/hail/windy times. And there is so much more to come.

What I have realised is that there will always be ‘tough times’ in farming. But it is how we deal with and adapt to these situations that tells the story of how we will come out the other side. And that’s where a SOFT workshop comes into play.

The two-day SOFT workshop provides a time and place for women to gather, rest, reflect, plan, learn new skills, have a bit of fun, network, make new friends and strengthen old friendships.

With the competing pressures of children, family, community, farm and work, women can sometimes forget who they are. A SOFT workshop provides space for women to re-focus and work out who they are again. It really is one of those things where it is often so hard to carve out time to get away, but when you do, you are left asking, ‘Why did I leave it so long?’.

The Rural Resilience Program can help farming families by:
* Creating opportunities to connect with others in farming communities, as well as connecting with support services.
* Providing information, tools and development opportunities that build skills, knowledge and experience.
* Supporting families while recovering from adverse events and helping them prepare for the future.
* Listening to farming needs and issues and communicating these to policy makers.

Rural resilience officers:
Coordinator: Caroline Hayes m: 0407 971 675 e:
Western: Ellen Day m: 0427 639 761 e:
North Coast: Jen Haberecht m: 0400 160 287 e:
Southern Region: Ted O’Kane m: 0427 781 514 e: ted.o’
Riverina: Danny Byrnes m: 0400 374 258 e:
North West: Amanda Glasson m: 0438 082 731 e:

Rural support workers:
Central West: Sue Freebairn m: 0429 212 368 e:
Central West: James Cleaver m: 0408 687 165 e:
Hunter: Karen Sowter m: 0400 869 136 e:
Lower Hunter & Manning: Peter Brown m: 0437 671 459 e:
Northern Tablelands: Brian Sherwood t: 02 6763 1100 e:

Find out more at: about-us/rural-support/RRP


Posted in Communities, Families, networking, resilience, rural resilience officer, Rural Support Workers, rural women | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Write your story

by Kasia Gospos, Leaders in Heels
As featured in the 2018 Country Web Annual.

Stories are powerful. They can change our lives. They can change the world.

Storytelling is an art that everyone can master. You may not realise that you already have a story—it’s the one you have been telling yourself (and maybe other people) about your life. Our stories determine our experience of life. It is by taking control of our stories, and of the stories the world hears about us, that we can change the world.

Write Your Own Story Journal

Stories allow us to connect with others.

Stories are powerful because they allow us to connect with others. Research shows that stories change our brains and lead to greater production of oxytocin, which makes us feel more empathy for each other. They’re how we can challenge stereotypes and bias against women and marginalised groups, forge positive visibility, influence others’ beliefs and actions, and celebrate each others’ achievements.

Stories can be healing and self-affirming.

Research from the University of Minnesota supports the value of memoir writing as therapy for individuals. ‘Writing therapy’ is a process of capturing our memories through the written word, to release emotions that may be weighing us down. Capturing our life, one story at a time, offers us a fresh perspective on things. Writing our memories strengthens our level of self-awareness and allows us to know ourselves better.

Stories are a powerful management tool.

Storytelling is also a powerful management tool that leaders can use to connect with, engage, and inspire others. Storytelling in business can carry a message to help you share your company’s vision, enhance your personal brand, promote your products, sell your services and build stronger relationships with existing and potential clients, as well as customers and employees.

Storytelling has the ability to influence and inspire others to take action, illustrate your points and ideas, and motivate and influence your team. It’s an important tool to help you show emotions and vulnerability, which helps develop personal credibility—an essential aspect of leadership. Consciously developing business stories will lead to the information you share being relevant, engaging, and purposeful.

How to write and tell stories.

Writing your life or business story may seem daunting, but if you can capture small threads of your life—thoughts, key moments, memories and ideas—these ‘life-vignettes’ can be strung together to create your story. Start taking notice of the little things in life that feel important to you, and keep a record of them. Here are some exercises and prompts to get you started!

Storytelling in business.

A good business story always serves a purpose. Perhaps you want to use it to demonstrate specific traits, your business vision, or inspire your team. Give each story a moral or assign a situation in which you can tell it, so you’ll always be prepared. Use a combination of metaphors, analogies and anecdotes to make your story more visual, and ensure the stories are authentic.

For example, people have asked me a million times why I started Leaders in Heels. I could tell you in one sentence that I wanted to inspire and empower women. But what if I tell you a story instead?

‘One day, a female colleague came to me. She was disappointed that she didn’t get a role that was available in our department. When I asked her what our boss said when she asked him for the role, she said she’d never asked. She was a woman, a friend and a colleague who deserved the role more than anyone else, but she’d hoped her hard work would be recognised without her saying a word.’

Does this story inspire you more? Is it easier to remember and retell? Would it ‘sell’ better as the reason I started Leaders in Heels?

Exercises for storytelling in business.

Saying you have attention to detail doesn’t have the same effect as telling a story that proves you’re a perfectionist. Select three to five key traits you would like to highlight and for each of those traits, think about a time when you demonstrated that trait, and write a story for each one. These will be your go-to stories whenever you’re in a situation where you need to prove yourself.

Additional suggestion for storytelling:

Use your stories to practice public speaking. It might be something that’s out of your comfort zone, but don’t keep your stories locked on paper. Let them fly!

Storytelling using your personal life stories.

The most powerful stories are the ones that can only come from you—from your experience and your perspective. That’s because no one has lived the same life as you or experienced things in the way you have. Your unique perspective is a gift you can share with the world. Start by finding themes for your stories. These are recurring patterns you notice throughout your life, which help you narrow down what motivates you and what you believe in. Here’s an example of a snippet of my life story:

My desire to nurture, inspire and empower women comes from my mum, who strongly shaped my views on the power of women. The story starts well before I was born. When Poland was still a communist nation in the 70s, every citizen had a job guarantee and everyone was paid the same no matter their experience or commitment. So when my mum decided to go to university instead of working to earn money, everyone laughed.

Fast forward to the 90s when I was 13, and my dad passed away. My mum suddenly became a single mum, a widow, and had to support me and my brother. Communism was a thing of the past and thanks to her foresight, my mum was well-educated and working in a senior position in a large company—most likely managing those who laughed at her before! From her example, I learned that an education is the most valuable possession, as no one can ever take it away from you.

Write your own story.

If these exercises caught your imagination, Write Your Own Story Journal by Leaders in Heels was designed with even more prompts and exercises to help you write your stories. The journal is designed for you to capture your own stories, from big life events to small everyday situations, so you can one day share them with those around you.

If you would like to purchase a ‘Write Your Own Story’ book, use promotional code countryweb  to receive 10% off your purchase.

Posted in inspirational, Kasia Gospos, Leaders in Heels, leadership, rural women, stories | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Men’s matters: Supporting men in distress

By Dr John Ashfield PhD.
As featured in The Country Web 2018 Annual

In celebration of #internationalmensday yesterday (19 November) we wanted to acknowledge and appreciate the positive value men bring to our rural families and communities and to raise awareness of men’s wellbeing.

This recent column by Dr John Ashfield talks about what makes men tick and how we as women can better help the men in our lives why they are in distress…

Man speaking with a womanWe have somehow grown up with the idea that men are an open book, and can be easily understood. Yet just as men generally acknowledge that women can sometimes be hard to understand, increasingly women, out of genuine concern for the males in their life, want to know more about what makes men tick and how to help when they are in distress.

Women tend to be better informed than their male counterparts about available support systems in their community, and have often expressed frustration about the lack of appropriate services for men. Unfortunately, mainstream health and human services agencies and professionals often struggle to understand and to know how to engage successfully with males. Perhaps the most telling evidence of this is reflected in male suicide statistics, with males accounting for nearly 78 per cent of all suicides in Australia.

It is well recognised that women play a key role in the health of their families and in the lives of their menfolk. They are key agents of prevention and early intervention for mental health and wellbeing, and their particular help-seeking orientation and active social capacity represent potent protective factors of significant benefit to men.

This is not to suggest that women should assume responsibility for the psychological health and wellbeing of men. However, the fact remains that the wellbeing of families, children, intimate partner relationships, and communities, is irreducibly dependent on the mutual empathy, support, understanding, and compassion of both genders.

I’m sure he must feel powerless with what is happening, but how can I help?

For men, feeling powerless is frequently associated with fight or flight activation, chronic stress, a decline in mental capacity (thinking, problem solving, and memory recall), irritability, anger, and diminished verbal communication.

Many things can give rise to feeling powerless, such as: financial pressure, unemployment or underemployment, relationship difficulties, seeing others distressed or upset and not knowing how to respond, feeling dominated or controlled, a change in health status, having a sick child or partner, chronic pain, loss or bereavement, being on the land and affected by drought, fire, flood or pests, or perhaps a significant loss of status, role or position or having unmet expectations of a person or situation (whether realistic or not).

Many other examples could be given, but it is important to understand that a man may feel powerless without being able to identify and name the experience. He may need help to track down and name what it is that is giving rise to his experience of powerlessness. Detecting and addressing powerlessness can be an excellent general preventative mental health strategy with males, because it is commonly an early warning sign of deteriorating mental health and can be an important signal calling for help/intervention.

It may help to unearth a man’s experience of powerlessness to tentatively suggest: ‘I can only imagine how trapped and powerless you feel given the circumstances’.

It may help to ask one of the following questions: ‘Sounds like you’re feeling quite powerless? What are some ways in which you feel most powerless?’ Encouraging the openness of self-disclosure that questions of this kind can prompt may begin to lessen his experience of powerlessness. However, this very much depends on not reacting negatively to what he discloses of his experience and thoughts.

Listening attentively (without advice giving) may help him achieve new clarity, and begin to see a way through overwhelming difficulties—or at least feel more in control. Just to be able to name and externalise issues that contain intense emotion provides much opportunity to impose order upon them, to manage them, and problem solve.

Structured problem solving, combined with sound information and appropriate professional advice (which might be financial, legal, or of some other nature), can quickly restore a sense of being back in control.

The difference between informal ‘on the run’ problem solving versus formal structured problem solving is that formal problem solving involves a process with a set of steps and is usually written down. It involves gathering facts about the issue or problem at hand, brain storming options, thinking about the implications of acting on these options, selecting the best or preferred one and then acting on it. Just to go through this process, even in the absence of a desirable option, can be empowering and give a sense of being less out of control. There is always something that can be done about a problem, even if that is to decide to frame and respond to it differently.

An impasse of powerlessness can often be broken simply by discovering a more helpful and meaningful way of thinking about a situation. To understand and to make better sense of things provides a much better basis for action.

Small acts of power can have a disproportionately positive effect on a man’s experience of powerlessness. Though circumstances may appear to have reduced his options, there is generally always a choice he can make to counterbalancing his sense of powerlessness, impotence, and feeling inescapably overwhelmed. If he is too tired, anxious, or preoccupied to identify this for himself, and cannot move beyond his present experience, he will need someone to help him with this.

Ironically, prolonged powerlessness tends to diminish the very capacities we need most to tackle it, those of effective memory, creative thinking, and constructive problem solving. However, these are all faculties which can be readily enhanced through a helping relationship–one offering attentive presence, conversation, and listening; just like how one might use ‘jumper leads’ to borrow power from another’s battery to get a car started, when one’s battery is depleted. If a man’s partner or wife can’t help in this way, perhaps a trusted male friend can?

More information

Supporting Men in Distress can be ordered in bulk at
For individual copies visit

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Six women from the Upper Hunter join the Hidden Treasures Honour Roll

Hidden Treasures is an annual initiative of the Department of Primary Industries’ Rural Women’s Network which recognises the outstanding efforts of women volunteers in NSW and promotes the valuable role of volunteering to the community.  This week we pay tribute to six upper hunter women inducted into the Hidden Treasures Honour Roll.

Photos courtesy of Hunter Valley News

Amanda Johnstone (Scone): Teaching at Merriwa Central School since 2011, Amanda has become a valuable member of the Merriwa community. In her capacity as a teacher at Merriwa she always supports community events such as Little Sprouts, Festival of the Fleeces, ROAR Petting Zoo and raising money for charities such as Heart Kids and Westpac Rescue Helicopter. Over the past year, Amanda has worked two days a week at the school but on her days off she comes back to run a breakfast club free of charge. She has planned, organised and implemented this initiative for the benefit of Merriwa students. Being an active member of the Junior League and Merriwa Touch Association she enables preschool and primary school children the opportunity to learn a sport and be a part of a team. She is Merriwa’s hidden treasure.

Kim Clydsdale (Merriwa): Kim moved to Merriwa with her family in 2003. Shortly after settling in she joined the Merriwa P&C and became very involved in the school steer team. She also joined the planning committee for the Making Educational Goals Sustainable (MEGS) scheme, which was designed to give year six students the opportunity to experience university before making their respective career choices. Kim is very involved in the broader community as a member of the Country Women’s Association and is currently publicity officer for the Merriwa branch. The Festival of the Fleeces Committee is another cause very dear to her heart as is the Merriwa Tourism Committee of which she is an active member. Kim is never happier than when she is promoting Merriwa, which she does at the Merriwa Visitor Information Centre. She is a volunteer at the centre for some days and employed on others. She has a strong interest in the town’s local history and is often called upon by members of the community to provide information about the Merriwa district.

Lenore Taylor (Merriwa): Lenore has given to the community of Merriwa through her enormous talents as a quilter and her passion for the Quilters Group. She uses her expertise and quilting equipment to create and donate numerous quilted items to raise funds for worthy causes. She organises the Hanging of the Quilts for the Merriwa Festival of the Fleeces every year. She has arranged and donated quilted items to Gumman Hostel, Merriwa Multi-Purpose Service and Ronald McDonald House as well as donating materials and equipment to the Quilters Group that went on to make a double bed quilt cover that was raffled for BlazeAid. Lenore has also made bags for children in developing countries at Christmas as well as many other projects to support the community and numerous charities over the years.

Eva Towler (Merriwa): For the past 20 years Eva Towler has been the smiling face in the main street of Merriwa selling raffle tickets for the Festival of the Fleeces, Westpac Rescue Helicopter, Little Athletics, Merriwa Tennis Club, cricket, football, bushfires and the Red Cross. She can always be relied on to volunteer regardless of the weather. Eva has been president of the Lawn Bowls and Super Veterans Bowls. She is a life member of ladies golf and a long-time member of the Red Cross, Senior Citizens and Hospital Auxiliary.

Linda Gant (Cassilis): After the Sir Ivan bushfire swept through Cassilis and surrounding areas, Linda, through her volunteering work, helped coordinate the Cassilis BlazeAid Camp. BlazeAid is a volunteer-based organisation that brought 250 volunteers to stay in Cassilis and go out each day to primarily help farmers rebuild their fences after the fires. The camp was set up in Cassilis for four months and during this time Linda coordinated the catering. This was an enormous task, organising food and local helpers each day to serve a total of 8 682 meals to 261 volunteers for breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. Without someone to coordinate the catering, the BlazeAid camp would not have been able to stay in the Cassilis area for such an extended period. This effort not only had a huge economic benefit for the farming community but also had a positive emotional impact.

Brenda Oglivie (Gundy): Brenda, known as Brazie, was born in New Zealand and made Australia home in the early 1970s. She came to work on ‘Belltrees’, a large cattle property in the Upper Hunter, near Gundy. During that time (50 years) Brenda worked with mostly horses, her first love, and cattle and was very involved with the family. She is always extremely loyal, capable and a hard working person. Brenda has been involved and a supporter of many local organisations and events, such as the Belltrees Gymkhanas, Aberdeen Pony Club camps, Gundy Bushman’s Carnivals, Moonan Campdrafts, Australian Stock Horse Shows, Scone Polo Club, and Scone and Ellerston Junior Schools. Brenda was often also a very successful competitor in these sports. Around 10 years ago, Brenda moved into the village of Gundy where she has extended her involvement in the community. She keeps the grassed areas and verges around the little village of Gundy mown and whipper snipped all year round and if neighbours are busy, she will often mow their yards as well. She maintains and waters the grounds and trees around the Gundy church, moving the hoses and watering, especially during the summer months. Brenda is extremely generous with her time and shows great compassion towards anyone going through a tough time, giving physical support often feeding animals, arriving on the doorstep with a meal to help out and to do whatever she can. I believe it could be said that many people in our community will have benefited from the kindness and thoughtfulness that Brenda quietly practices. Volunteers are all treasures but volunteers like Brenda are the backbone of the community and an absolutely priceless treasure to have in our midst.

2019 nominations will open May 2019.

If you know a rural women in your community who is making a difference, why not consider nominating them for next year’s Honour Roll.

For more information contact Rural Women’s Network
T: 02 6391 3612

Posted in Community Hero, hidden treasure, rural women, Volunteering | Leave a comment

parenting: depression proof your kids

by Andrew Fuller, Clinical Psychologist
As featured in the 2018 Country Web Annual.

About 20 per cent of people experience depression at some time in their lives. Unfortunately once someone has experienced depression, they are at far greater risk of feeling that way again. While we can’t protect everyone from depression, there are things that we can do to make it less likely.

yellow plush toy

In childhood/teenage years depression can be harder to pick because it is obscured by heightened emotions and times of grumpiness.  Photo by Pixabay on

Sadness is not always bad: Everyone loves being happy but being sad at times is not such a bad thing. Sadness gives us time for thinking things over, sometimes regretting things we have done and helps us to resolve to be better people. Feelings of sadness, disappointment and set backs are part of human lives and without them we don’t live whole lives. We all want our kids to be happy but know that there will be times they will be sad. Helping young people to know that they won’t be happy all the time is important.

Realising that all feelings pass and that we can learn from the whole range of feelings, sadness included, is part of being human.

Lower the amount of stress: Identify some of the major sources of stress in your life and develop systems to deal with them. If you can’t avoid the stress at least develop a de-compression strategy as a way of winding down after being revved up. Going for a walk, doing some exercise and being active are some of the best ways.

Find some good friends: Along with family, having a few good friends that we can talk things over with enriches our lives and protects us in difficult times.

Eat healthily: What we eat changes our moods. Countries that eat low levels of fish have higher levels of depression. Fish contains a fatty acid known as EPA, which is lacking in those with depression. Fatty acids are also found in flaxseed, walnuts and chia seeds and are good fats. Whole grain oats have been shown to help with depression as they have folic acid and B vitamins and helps with a slow release of energy versus the crash and burn of blood sugar levels that can happen. Foods high in selenium, which is found in meat, fish and cereal grains, has also been shown to decrease symptoms of depression. Leafy greens have magnesium in them which helps with depression and sleep patterns.
Have some sources of ‘Flow’: We experience ‘flow’ when we get involved in an activity that captivates us. At the end of these types of activities people often think, ‘Where did the time go?’ There are many sources of flow—computer games, sports, drawing, dancing, reading, and swimming are some. These things absorb you and take you away from your day-to-day worries. Losing yourself in enjoyable activities that challenge you is highly protective against depression.

Belong to the karma club: Increase good will in the world by doing something positive for someone else. Try this out for one week. Try to ‘knock someone’s socks off’. Give them compliments, greet them exuberantly and take time to be with them. You’ll be amazed at how much benefit you get from increasing someone else’s happiness.

Be grateful and lucky: Even people who have had rotten things happen to them can rise above them. They usually do this by deciding to be lucky. While we can focus on the things that have upset us, most of us have many things and people to be grateful for. Focusing on that part of your life.

Get enough sleep and rest: Sleep is one of the most powerful ways to protect ourselves against depression. The structures in the brain that support the most powerful anti-depressant, serotonin, are built and re-built between the sixth and the eighth hour of sleep. Over 60 per cent of people who sleep five or less hours a night end up obese and depressed. If you’re having difficulty sleeping:
– decrease caffeine late in the day
– decrease sugar in your diet
– go to bed at the same time every day and wakeup at the same time every day.
– avoid late nights and naps after 4 pm
– avoid spicy, sugary, heavy foods before bed
– have the room at a comfortable temperature
– block out distracting noise
– don’t sit in bed while studying, get in the habit of reserving it for sleep
– a warm milk before bed is good as it is high in tryptophan, which aids sleep.
– write a to-do list for the next day before getting into bed.
– have a pre-sleep ritual e.g. reading, warm bath, relaxing rituals
– switch off the electronics, especially phones

Get some exercise: Exercise decreases stress hormones such as cortisol and increases endorphins (happy chemicals). It also helps release dopamine, adrenaline and serotonin, which work together to make you feel good. Endorphins, a hormone like substance, is produced in the brain and functions as the body’s natural painkillers. During exercise endorphins can leave you in a state of euphoria with a sense of wellbeing. The most effective exercise for the release of endorphins is cardiovascular exercise and aerobics.

Moderate exercise for 10 minutes a day is enough to improve mood and increase energy but it’s suggested you do 30 minutes a day.

Laugh more: Laughter raises serotonin and dopamine levels. Watch shows/movies that make you laugh, share funny stories and jokes with friends. People report that laughing even when they don’t feel happy improves their mood and sense of wellbeing.

When should I worry? Checklist of signs:
In childhood/teenage years depression can be harder to pick because it is obscured by heightened emotions and times of grumpiness. Some signs to look out for are:
– loss of interest in usual activities
– increased use of drugs and alcohol
– sleep problems
– changes in energy levels: sluggish, agitated, restless
– changes in eating patterns: disinterest in food or over eating
– speaking about death and hopelessness
– increased and inexplicable irritability

It is worth getting some help if your child or adolescent appears to be depressed. One way to do this to say, ‘I’m worried about you and I want you to come with me to see someone so that I can work out whether I should be worried or not’. Try to find a good local psychologist, psychiatrist or doctor who can relate to young people.

For further information:



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Meet Cooma’s 2018 Hidden Treasure – Jasmin Statham-Smith

Hidden Treasures is an annual initiative of the Department of Primary Industries’ Rural Women’s Network which recognises the outstanding efforts of women volunteers in NSW and promotes the valuable role of volunteering to the community.  Each week, this blog will pay tribute to a Hidden Treasure inductee.

Jasmin Statham-Smith

2018 Hidden Treasures Honour Roll inductee, Jasmin Statham-Smith

Jasmin’s Statham-Smith was a premature baby born in ACT. After being in hospital for several weeks, Jasmin returned home to the rural and nurturing community of Cooma where she has lived and grown up with her mum, cousins and her supportive grandparents.

A people person, avid reader, and humanitarian, Jasmin devotes endless hours of selfless community work within her local community and at St Mary MacKillop College, Canberra community, where she is currently completing her Year 12 senior studies.

She commutes to the college on a daily basis via bus or vehicle. In Jasmin’s formative years she attended St Patrick’s Parish School, Cooma from K-10 where her love of community began. This has been enhanced at St Mary MacKillop College where there is a strong focus on reaching out and helping others. During this time, Jasmin has blossomed and grown into a strong, motivated and independent young woman whose desire is to volunteer in communities that she is involved with. She has shown a true dedication and passion for helping others.

Jasmin has represented the St Patrick’s Parish School and St Mary MacKillop College in many prominent service areas including: St Vincent de Paul Winter Sleep Out, St Vincent de Paul Door Knock Appeal, Relay for Life where St Mary MacKillop College Year 12 2018 team raised a staggering $12 900 and set a new college record. For several years, Jasmin has also been involved in The Annual Colour Day, which raises awareness of raising funds for cancer charities, and ambassador for St Mary MacKillop College on information night and 2019 MacKillop Career Expo Evening.

She is a member of The Community Chest Inc. Committee, a non-profit organisation that raises funds for local residents of the Snowy Monaro Region who are experiencing financial hardship and are emotionally in need.

Jasmin was the driving force behind establishing Cooma’s Interact Club for (12-18 year-old high schoolers), part of the Cooma Rotary Club family where members work within their local community to tackle important issues that they care most about that impact on their community while developing new life skills. She was selected and travelled to South Korea in 2016 for the International Rotary Convention as part of the Australian South Eastern Youth Delegation where they helped prepare and pack meals for the ‘Children of Cambodia’ among completing other important tasks.

Jasmin’s passion, hard work, being a positive role model, and selfless dedication to the communities that she has served in makes Jasmin a hidden gem, a treasure.

Jasmin has been acknowledged in 2017 St Mary Mackillop College Perpetual Award for Community, 2018 Senior Young Person of the Year for Snowy Monaro Region, NSW/ACT Semi- Finalist Young Achiever’s Freemasons Community Award 2018, and Monaro Service Award 2018 in recognition of her extraordinary contribution to the Monaro.

2019 nominations will open May 2019.

If you know a young rural women in your community who is making a difference, why not consider nominating them for next year’s Honour Roll.

For more information call the Rural Women’s Network on 02 6391 3612 or email

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Asking farmers difficult questions earns respect, if not friends

by Ted O’Kane, Goulburn
As featured in the 2018 Country Web annual

Fearlessly asking the hard questions that no-one else wants asked—or answered—has not always made her popular but it is likely that brutal honesty is the key to Lyn Sykes’ reputation as Australia’s most respected and successful farm family facilitator.

Lyn Sykes 1

Respected and successful farm family facilitator, Lyn Sykes.

Now slowly winding down a highly celebrated three-decade career helping farming families sort through the fraught issue of succession and inheritance, Lyn humbly admits her success has largely been a product of chance and circumstance.

‘Most of my learnings were accidental,’ she says in typical matter-of-fact style. With the same brutal honesty that has landed her in many a ‘murky swimming pool’ of family discontent, she offers this explanation of her rise to the top of her profession: ‘A lot of my success, it must be said, was because I was mostly the only horse in the race. It’s easy to look good when you are the only one.’

This candour, while somewhat diminishing her achievements, possibly explains why she has been able to blaze a pioneering trail through a treacherous landscape that has allowed many others to follow.

Not only has she directly helped hundreds of families sort through generations of dirty linen all over Australia, Lyn has taught similar numbers of consultants the facilitation ropes in formal courses and has spoken at seminars and conducted training in New Zealand, Ireland and England.

Her standing in this increasingly important field was recognised when the Grains Research & Development Corporation (GRDC) asked her to co-write its guides to succession planning and farm family communication in the early 2000s.

No-one is more surprised by this success than Lyn herself and, typically, the explanation of her career trajectory is firmly rooted in plain talking recognition of the role of fate and circumstance.

‘When I think about it, it’s amazing that a little girl from Harden–Murrumburrah who left school at 15 has had all these amazing opportunities—I just pinch myself. But, other people created them for me. I was never organised enough to create them but others did and I just tagged along,’ she said.

‘It’s like other people opened the doors. I just chose to walk through them.’

It is true Lyn’s pathway to the world stage seems somewhat serendipitous. Having started her working life as a nurse in the busy Wagga Wagga Base Hospital, she moved to Griffith where her husband, John, was a Department of Agriculture agronomist. Busy building a family, she also worked for TAFE where she had her first taste of formal communication training.

In 1986 when John was transferred to Dubbo, Lyn started working for a marriage guidance organisation, Family Life, where she was required to train as a relationship counsellor.

This may have remained Lyn’s career if it were not for a fateful coincidence around 1989.

‘I was running a communication course and one of the participants was this agricultural consultant from WA. He asked me if I would talk to his farming groups on communication and the impact of family breakdown. So I did,’ Lyn recalled.

‘About a year later, he rang me and said there was some conflict in his family and would I run a family meeting. He said they needed someone more bossy and more aggressive than all of them. That was a post in the ground moment.

‘His was a large family and I had no idea what I was doing so I just had to work it out as I went along. I thought if I asked everyone what they hoped to achieve and what concerns they had, that would be a good starting point.

‘It seemed to work alright and so from then on it (farm family facilitation) just grew.’

Asking simple questions, rather than offering advice, formed the template for Lyn’s approach to what were always complex and potentially emotionally difficult meetings.

‘The word, facilitate, means ‘to make easy’. One of the things that I did was make it easy for people to say the things that they needed to say. That wasn’t always well received by the rest of the family,’ Lyn said.

Crucial was the creation of an environment where it was not allowable for family members to judge each other.

‘Attitudes and language reflect a level of judgement of others. Some people are unable to see it and so it is my job to help them. It’s not comfortable, that’s for sure.

‘I have endeavoured not to think I had all the answers. I’ve had a strong belief that the answers must come from within the family and they know best what is right for them.’

But like any good lawyer or interrogator, it was not Lyn’s habit to accept any answer if she felt the real issues were being avoided. It was her role, she says, to get people to ‘look at the inconsistencies in their story’.

‘If they didn’t want to look at things, that was their choice but I tried to make the conversations easier for the hard questions to be asked. I was holding up a mirror to the family and sharing with them what I saw happening, especially in relation to family dynamics.

‘I would observe things like, when X speaks everyone goes quiet. It would make me question if it was a pattern in the family? If they tell me there is a lot of conflict in this family I ask, how does that roll? If there is a blue, what happens next, what happens after that until they get to the next blue. I want them to see how cyclic some of their family behaviour is.’

From her observations, Lyn is convinced that what influences families the most is cross-generational history.

‘It’s a bit like a book of library cards that sit in your subconscious and they are influencing your behaviour all the time. But you don’t know they are. And while you don’t know they are, you don’t have a choice whether you continue or not.

‘It is amazing how often a family would come together for a family meeting and no-one would really know why. Looking at their family history tree, I would ask the oldest man about their father’s retirement and when it happened. They would say Dad moved to town when he was 72. I would look at the man sitting there and he would be 71.

‘It’s like we are programmed by our previous experience. I had seen from counselling the same pattern. Women who were suffering domestic violence often had mothers who had suffered in the same way. By probing, I learnt it was usually the same triggers which prompted them to leave.’

While a workable succession or retirement plan is the ultimate aim of Lyn’s work, she is very clear on where her role starts and ends.

‘My whole aim is to get the family to a point where they can agree on an outcome. I don’t have any skills in how to execute that outcome, that’s the work of accountants and solicitors,’ she explains.

Surprisingly, for most families, only one facilitation meeting is held before Lyn’s work is done.

‘A typical meeting will start early in the morning and go all day, maybe until six or seven o’clock in the evening. By that time, none of them ever want to see me again. I have stepped on everybody’s toes by then. They have usually made more decisions then they realise. They get a set of notes at the end of the process that they can give to their accountant and solicitor and say this is where the family wants to go, you tell us how to get there.’

The process of delving into farm family dynamics over nearly 30 years has provided many insights in human nature but none more so, perhaps, than Lyn’s own somewhat difficult transition to retirement.

The eight or so year-long process has highlighted many parallels between her mental journey and that of her farmer clients. One of the main obstacles to retirement for farmers, she believes is the loss of self-esteem many suffer.

‘If your whole life is tied up with being a farmer and you don’t see yourself as anything else, retirement is a huge change. When they do move, they (male farmers) often don’t live long because they don’t have any identity outside farming and they don’t have any life outside the farm,’ she says.

‘That’s why the ones who can, hand over and stay until they have a major health issue and become a bit of a gopher around the place, that suits them because they don’t have to form a new identity.’

For Lyn, despite playing a part in her grandchildren’s lives and regularly volunteering at a childcare centre in Dubbo, she admits to having struggled with her own loss of self-esteem and identity and can empathise with farmers.

‘I thought my self-esteem was more tied up with family but I didn’t realise that your kids don’t think you have anything to offer and that damages your self-esteem. And I guess I got more from my work than I realised.

‘Talking in front of big crowds impressed people and I think I got a bit addicted to being told how good I was—and I missed that.’ ■

After more than 30 years working with farmers and in relationship counselling, Lyn Sykes offers a timely but grim warning to families battling drought, particularly male farmers.

‘I know after this drought, like every other drought, there is going to be a lot of marriages end. Because during the drought people become obsessed with their animals or their crops or soils and their partners think: ‘I deserve better than this’. They won’t go while it is really tough because it doesn’t look good—but the decision to leave will be made and after the drought ends, they will leave,’ she says.

In her experience, it is primarily women who leave the marriage, a development tragically not anticipated by men, for whom she has this uncompromising advice.

‘I ask them who they want to be sleeping with after the drought. ‘If it’s your sheep, keep looking after them’. I am not there to be their friend.’

‘If I got a male farmer whose wife had left him, I would need to see him for a year or more—and that’s a long time. Their recovery rate was very slow.


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Active Farmers

by Ginny Stevens, Mangoplah
As featured in the 2018 Country Web Annual.

2018 NSW-ACT AgriFutures™ Rural Women’s Award finalist, Ginny Stevens, lives on the family farm at Mangoplah, in the Riverina, with her husband Andy, their 12-month-old twins Henry and Isabella, and their Labrador Bonnie. Her work involves running Active Farmers—a not-for-profit organisation and health promotion charity.
Having grown up on the family farm in Tasmania, Ginny has always been passionate about agriculture and staying active.


2018 NSW-ACT AgriFutures ™ Rural Women’s Award finalist, Ginny Stevens with her team of active farmers. Photo by Jacki Cooper

‘As a young girl I grew up on a farm in Tasmania alongside the Tamar River, where my brother, sister and I were fortunate enough to be surrounded by our cousins and grandparents. My childhood memories involve family BBQs, long lunches, camping, horse riding, water and snow skiing—anything that involved being active and outside.’

Ginny says her parents have always been extremely supportive of her but at the same time they have always challenged her to move out of her comfort zone and make the most of her life and all of its opportunities.

‘When I left school I wanted to be a primary school teacher, however given I always had such a love of the country and farming, I decided to pursue a career in agribusiness. I didn’t really know exactly what I wanted to do, I just knew I wanted to end up living in the country and to be involved with farming somehow. My degree led me into an eight-year agribusiness banking career, and then onto founding Active Farmers. I definitely didn’t envisage either career!’

It was during Ginny’s agribusiness banking career that she became concerned with the growing level of mental illness and suicide in rural communities. As a result, she was inspired to develop a proactive program to bring together farmers and rural communities to help improve the physical and mental health of participants and to build community resilience.

In 2015, Ginny established the Active Farmers program in her home town of Mangoplah and in 2017 made the difficult decision to leave her agribusiness banking career to expand the network. Active Farmers is now available in 20 communities across regional areas of eastern Australia with interest from another 100 communities. Through exercise and interaction, participants become more aware of their health and they develop a greater sense of community.

Ginny says the decision to leave a secure job in the banking sector to establish and run her own small business was a big step, because she loved her job, but it was one that she knew she needed to try.

‘My parents and my family have been my biggest support. Their belief and reassurance has helped push me out of my comfort zone.

‘My school rowing coach also had a huge impact on my life. He taught our crew the art of discipline, accountability and commitment, while at the same time always reminding us to enjoy ourselves.

‘Today I still draw on support from my family and also my board, trainers and participants of Active Farmers. I also have several mentors with different skills and experience which is invaluable. I have never felt more inspired and energised than I do today.’

Ginny says her life experiences have taught her that life is short and precious and so it’s important to make the most out of every day.

‘Believing in myself and focusing on the things that bring me the most joy, along with ensuring I am as healthy as I can be, is so important.

‘At certain times I have found confidence a challenge, however having an amazing support network and finding my true passion in my work has definitely helped me overcome this. I will never underestimate the power of passion, and how finding the fire in your belly can create the most amazing amount of energy and enthusiasm!’

When asked what is something that people may not know about her, Ginny recalls going to work as a jillaroo on Manbulloo Station in the Northern Territory, just west of Katherine.

‘This was the most amazing experience and it has had a large influence on my life. It was an incredibly challenging job, involving long days in the heat on horseback and in the cattle yards with crazy cattle, however I absolutely loved it! It taught me lifelong lessons about resilience and having belief in myself. I hope to share this experience with my children someday as I think it is an experience that every child should have.’

Rural women, like Ginny, play an important role in agriculture and rural communities. In her view however, Ginny says she still sees that rural women are often undervalued, but also that they undervalue themselves.

‘Why is it that women feel the need to have their own career to ‘matter’? Being a rural woman often involves: raising children, helping run the farm (whether that’s physically or not), supporting their husband/families, bookkeeper, maintaining a garden (a little oasis is good for the soul) and feeding the family. The job is hard, and often isolating, and to top it off undervalued. It makes me sad when I hear, ‘I’m just a farmer’s wife’. I would much rather hear, ‘I am a farmer and a mother and I’m proud to be!’

Ginny says one of her biggest triumph’s has been having their twins, Henry and Isabella! Professionally it has been working with the Active Farmers board to set up Active Farmers as a not-for-profit organisation and health promotion charity.

‘From a very early age I knew I wanted to love whatever career I ended up with, and I can definitely say I have achieved that. Active Farmers is a job that hand on heart I can say I absolutely love and its where my passion lies. It combines my love of the Australian bush, agricultural industry and health. I definitely think finding your passion and following it can result in finding a career you love.

‘ I am excited for what’s next—enjoying being a mother and a rural woman first and
foremost! I also have big plans for Active Farmers to be servicing 70 small farming communities nationally by June 2020. We want to be able to have a positive impact on as many farmers and farming communities as we possibly can and we are working every day to achieve this. ■

More information

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