Our journey continues…..

by Liane Corocher, Monkerai.
As featured in The Country Web 2017 Annual.

Living the life of a farmer certainly has its highs and lows. I have always thought this was the case through my career within the agricultural sector, but it has only really been in the last 18 months, since I bought a small farm with my husband and four sons, that I truly understand the highs and lows of being a farmer.


Liane Corocher and her family at their farm at Monkerai in the Hunter Region.

Lets start with the highs.

Our boys have developed a much greater understanding of where their food comes from and the process for creating it. They have been involved in raising our livestock, processing it or taking it to the abattoir and then gaining the satisfaction from eating the end product. Understanding the process to grow good food has helped them value the animal or plants more and has given them a desire to make the most of what we harvest.

Our eldest son has transitioned from high school to agricultural college and it has been great to see him pursue his interest and passion in agriculture, and do so well. Having the opportunity to apply his skills on the farm has been a fantastic opportunity and has placed him a good position to pursue whatever agricultural career he chooses.

We have moved into a fantastic rural community. This has completely surprised us, as our boys have friends on the neighbouring property (they even share the same first names which can be very confusing) and there are lots of young children in the area.

Our community is full of wonderfully kind and generous people who are willing to share ideas and are happy to help us in whatever way they can. Being able to share a beer with your neighbours on a Sunday afternoon, in a beautiful setting is certainly one of the highs.

Now, the lows.

It has certainly been a challenge. We greatly underestimated how much time and money
it would take to restore the farm to a productive state which includes rebuilding old infrastructure and increasing our livestock. We often find that we are one step behind with repairing fences and creating paddocks, and as we get one paddock fully fenced, another fence falls down and becomes the next ‘top’ priority on the growing priority list.

We have also developed a very good relationship with the local vet—probably too good a relationship! Increasing our jersey herd has meant we have faced every animal health issue imaginable including milk fever, raising calves, mastitis, retained placenta’s, liver fluke infestations etc. However, I am happy to report that during our latest vet visit, the vet reported that our jersey herd was one of the healthiest he had seen. We are also grateful to have a local dairy farmer as our ‘unofficial’ mentor who has helped us manage these issues.

In farming we often get side tracked by the physical and financial challenges of managing the farm. However, the social aspects and the people in the farming business is more important. One of our biggest lows over the last 18 months has been the challenge associated with having a young son with autism and the difficulties with gaining support and services in an isolated rural community. We have had major challenges with the NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme), school transport and gaining therapy for our son, which has placed a huge pressure on our family. However, after eight months we now have access to NDIS funding and our happy, healthy son is now getting some of the support he needs.

Even though there has been lots of highs and lows, I look at every experience as a stage in our journey. Our learning curve has certainly been a steep one, with the angle of the curve sometimes completely vertical, where we seemed to slip backwards faster than moving forward. However, when I think of resilience as being able to learn from adversity whilst still moving forward, I think we are not going too bad. Having a positive outlook has helped us look at our lows as learning opportunities, and I have developed some insights which may help others in a similar situation.

1. Find that special place on your farm that allows you to stop and admire the beautiful place you work in and get back to what is truly important. For us this is our river and the view over the valley from what we call ‘the old house site paddock’.

2. When things really turn to crap, you have a number of lows in a row and you find it hard to see the positives, then this is a sign that your need to have a break and get away from the farm. This will help ’empty your jug or mind’ to be able to think clearly again. Even a weekend away is helpful in this situation.

3. Take time to stop and celebrate everything you have achieved. When times get tough it is easy to focus on what’s going wrong, rather than what’s going right or what you haven’t done rather than what you have done, which can be the start of a downward spiral.

We still have a lot of work ahead, am I am sure many highs and lows to come. However, keeping things in perspective and taking time out to enjoy what we are doing is an important part of our farming journey.

Posted in agriculture, Communities, Families, mental health, NSW Rural Women's Network, resilience, rural resilience officer, Rural Support Workers, rural women, Transitioning | Tagged | 1 Comment

It’s not McLeod’s daughters: Support for young women working in the bush

As featured in The Country Web 2017 Annual.

About 90 families living across Far Western NSW access education for their primary school aged children through Broken Hill School of the Air. Approximately half of them employ an educator/governess.


Govies’ getting the feel of some learning through play activities – an important part of the home classroom.

The role of ‘govie’ is traditionally one which attracts young women—often on a gap year having just finished school. They are a cohort of workers who can be inexperienced and vulnerable. Living within the family they facilitate care and deliver the educational program developed at School of the Air (SOTA).

Although SOTA organises a Home Tutors conference as an induction for new families, what can be overlooked during this get-together is specific support and information needed to ensure the emotional wellbeing, resilience and safety of the young women heading out to their new homes.

Ellen Day from the Rural Resilience Program (RRP) and Marie Kelly, the RAMHP Coordinator based in the Far West identified this need and in February of this year launched an innovative new event that would offer the support required and fill a gap in services to isolated farm families. With backing from SOTA Principal Kylie Green and her staff, in partnership with Far West In-Home Care and Governess Australia, they set out to deliver a workshop where governesses were provided with information on key topics to assist them with the transition to life in the bush.

Living remotely can be a huge mental, physical, and practical challenge. Have you ever driven on a dirt road? Can you change a flat tyre? Where can you go to for support when you are feeling overwhelmed? What do you do for entertainment when you live three hours away from the nearest town? These were just a few of the questions raised with the 32 participants of the workshop.

To thrive and support the families for the best possible outcome, a govie needs to maintain personal resilience. The workshop provided strategies for dealing with stress, maintaining good mental and physical health and practical tips for outback living.
The educators were also able to link with one another. ‘Dots on the map’ identified geographical synergies. The girls were encouraged to exchange phone numbers and email addresses so that everyone felt more connected.

Rural isolated families face unique challenges including financial hardship, extreme weather conditions and isolation. The ripple effect may mean these factors also impact on the govie and the classroom. The girls learnt to identify the signs that a person may be struggling with their mental health and how to find and provide help; as well as how to support each other.

Honest discussion and factual information enabled the young women to leave the workshop with a toolbox full of skills and strategies, and a better understanding and increased awareness of the challenges they may face.

The verbal feedback during and after the event indicated that educators hadn’t even considered some of the things discussed. The response to the workshop was positive and enthusiastic with women feeling more confident and better equipped to start their outback journey.

Some of the more experienced govies opened up and bravely shared their stories—some good and some bad—there was learning in every story. It was requested these sessions become a regular part of the annual Home Tutors Conference.

The govies felt supported and were appreciative of having the opportunity for discussions in a ‘safe’ place. Importantly, the training helped them to identify the value they bring to their families and their workplace.

According to Lee-Anne Bright, who initiated ‘Governess Australia’ and has over 20 years’ experience as a governess, the workshop was fantastic because it helped bring everyone together in a safe place and put faces to names.

‘The girls realised they were not alone and that self-care and communication skills were really important, as well as learning about safety issues in the bush and what skills would be helpful. Subsequent to the retreat, we followed up with the govies to talk about some of the issues and tips discussed including how to use mindfulness as a way of self-care. It was wonderful to see some of them having the courage and self-awareness to communicate with their employees about their roles and their feelings. We would really to see this workshop evolve and continue each year.’

The afternoon workshop ended with drinks and dinner, providing an opportunity to share stories and get to know one another. It may be months before some of these women meet again, and establishing a social connection is invaluable.

The facilitators are already discussing ideas and are planning to host this event next year. Feedback from Children’s Services Manager, Cobar Shire Council, Karen Lennon indicates that it was valued and highly beneficial.

‘The women and organisations involved were easy to work with and knowledgeable about the issues faced by govies,’ she said.

The workshop presented a unique opportunity for RAMHP and RRP to work in partnership providing much needed support to educators, governesses and employed home tutors. It was a great example of two organisations ‘connecting and collaborating’ for an outcome that changes community capacity and improves quality of life and business for our farm families and their workers.

More information:
m: 0427 639 761
e: ellen.day@dpi.nsw.gov.au

Posted in Communities, education and training, NSW Rural Women's Network, Rural Australia, rural women | Tagged , | Leave a comment

A monument to Cathcart’s community spirit

by Ted O’Kane, Goulburn
As featured in The Country Web 2017 Annual.

If it were not for its eye catching lolly pink exterior and matching burgundy roof, the Cathcart War Memorial Hall might go unnoticed by travellers to the historic grazing and timber town, nestled high on the NSW south-coast escarpment.

Cathcart community committee President, Ryan (Fred) Simpson standing outside the Cathcart Hall

Cathcart community committee volunteer, Ryan (Fred) Simpson (President)

That failure would be a lost opportunity to experience one of the enduring but increasingly challenged notions of Australian bush life–the strength and power of shared community.

In contrast to many similar bush community halls, left stranded and forlornly awaiting patronage by rapidly changing rural demographics and a diminishing sense of common purpose, the Cathcart Hall stands as a monument to the pride and resilience of a community determined to not let the chill winds of change destroy one of the last legacies of its pioneering forebears.

For current generations, the hall is the town’s heart and focal point for a vibrant social calendar that includes weddings, wakes, birthday parties, balls, variety shows and much more. It also regularly hosts major district events, attracting visitors from across the county, providing the local community with the necessary funds to continually maintain and develop its most precious asset.

Efforts by the Cathcart community to maintain and develop the local Hall have honed the cooking skills of locals and spawned legendary tales of amazing catering feats. Feeding hordes of hungry adventurers has also funded an impressive and ongoing list of Hall improvements, which in turn attracts more travellers.

Cathcart Memorial Community Hall secretary, Jenni Moreing, recounts the greatest challenge when the village was on the route of the RTA Big Bike Ride around 15 years ago.

‘We were told to expect up to 500 riders for lunch but the weather turned cold and we ended up feeding over 1200 people. We had to raid every freezer and pantry in the town but no-one went hungry,’ she said.

The locals are well practised. One of the feature annual fundraisers with a 30 year plus history is the Cathcart Variety show which attracts talent from across the country, once featuring an opera singer. Dinner and supper is provided for 250–300 people with everyone from kids to seniors doing their bit.

Hosting a horse trail riding event was another major fundraiser, catering over two days for around 160 riders and up to 300 for the Saturday night festivities. Insurance and liability constraints have put an end to that event but the committee is planning to run an annual Team Sorting equine event in a paddock at the back of the Hall to maintain an income stream and attract visitors to the area.

In the past five years, locally generated funds have built a free standing toilet and shower block adjacent to the Hall to provide facilities for passing travellers and campers who can use the hall and surrounds. Recently, a Snowy Monaro Council grant upgraded the hall kitchen to commercial standard and further improvements to the external covered areas— used for weddings and parties—are planned.

‘It would be a very lonely, dark old town without the hall. I would hate to see Cathcart without it,’ committee president, Ryan (‘Fred’) Simpson, reflected.

‘The hall is the main focus of the community. If we didn’t have the hall, people would go their own way and travel to surrounding towns. We would have no reason to get together,’ committee secretary for the past 20 years, Jenni Moreing, added.

Once served by three hotels, a school, post office, a police station, two blacksmith shops and numerous small retail businesses, Cathcart now hangs on to just one general store. For everything else, it relies entirely on the hall and the plethora of activities generated by its determined and resilient citizens.

The strongly held association to a rich history by scores of local families is recorded in a
spectacular rock wall outside the hall. Atop the metre high wall are around 40 plaques telling the story of a particular pioneering family.  John Moreing proudly points to the story of his own forebears as he explains how the wall was funded by each family buying a space and providing the plaque.

With a roughly estimated population of 60–70, including numerous farmers on smaller blocks surrounding the village, the committee happily reports a tally of 25 to 30 workers at regular working bees. ‘Pretty much everyone in the town gets involved,’ Fred said. ‘Even the little kids (including his own) help out by setting tables and taking a turn at washing up. They are learning about their community responsibilities from early on.’

‘The history used to be just inside the hall but unless it was open, no-one could see it so we decided to make it a permanent record and available for all to see,’ he explained proudly.

Posted in Communities, Community Hero, resilience, rural women, Volunteering | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Country connection alive and well in younger generation

by Seona Cremasco, Country Education Foundation

As featured in The Country Web 2017 Annual.

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

Country Education Foundation staff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More information
t:  1300 652 144
w: http://www.cef.org.au

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

Building your Brains-trust

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

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

Pip Job sitting on verandah smiling

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

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

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

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

Tips to help you form your brains-trust:

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

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

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

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

Catching Dreams: From Bathurst to Nepal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bec’s enthusiasm is palpable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More information
e: bec@mitrataa.org
w: http://www.mitrataa.org

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

2017 female ambassador for ag show movement

As featured in The Country Web 2017 Annual

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

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

Maisie Morrow RAS Showgirl

Maisie Morrow, The Land Sydney Royal Showgirl 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Recovering from fire

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

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

Rural Resilience Staff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recovery Support Workers:

Sue Freebairn
m: 0429 212 368
e: sue.freebairn@dpi.nsw.gov.au

Caroline Hayes
m: 0407 971 675
e: caroline.hayes@dpi.nsw.gov.au

The Rural Resilience Program can help farming families by:

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

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

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

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

Rural resilience officers:

Cobar: Ellen Day
m: 0427 639 761
e: ellen.day@dpi.nsw.gov.au

Coffs Harbour: Jen Haberecht
m: 0400 160 287
e: jen.haberecht@dpi.nsw.gov.au

Goulburn: Ted O’Kane
m: 0427 781 514
e: ted.o’kane@dpi.nsw.gov.au

Hay: Danny Byrnes
m: 0400 374 258
e: danny.byrnes@dpi.nsw.gov.au

Tocal: Liane Corocher (coordinator)
m: 0427 188 643
e: liane.corocher@dpi.nsw.gov.au

Rural Support Workers:

Walgett: Robyn Walters
m: 0438 082 731
e: robyn.walters@dpi.nsw.gov.au

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

NSW Rural Women’s Gathering celebrates 25 years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art Connections: helping people with dementia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More information
t: 02 6338 4657
e: artsoutwest@csu.edu.au

Country Web reader giveaway

Grandma Forgets book cover image

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

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

About the book….

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

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

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

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

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