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

Caroline Hayes
m: 0407 971 675

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

Coffs Harbour: Jen Haberecht
m: 0400 160 287

Goulburn: Ted O’Kane
m: 0427 781 514
e: ted.o’

Hay: Danny Byrnes
m: 0400 374 258

Tocal: Liane Corocher (coordinator)
m: 0427 188 643

Rural Support Workers:

Walgett: Robyn Walters
m: 0438 082 731

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

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: 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: (Free teacher’s notes are also available to download)

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


Some of the NSW-ACT Rural Women’s Award Alumni

The NSW-ACT Rural Women’s Award Alumni members have a diverse range of skills and experience and are keen to offer their expertise to grow our rural and regional communities. We encourage you to consider them the next time you need talented women to speak at events, to provide input to policy, or to represent industry on community boards and committees. 

For the past two decades the Rural Women’s Award has been Australia’s leading Award to acknowledge and support the essential role women play in rural industries, businesses and communities. During that time it has gained a significant profile and is now recognised as a program of influence amongst parliamentarians, industry, business and media.
In NSW-ACT the Award is coordinated by the DPI’s Rural Women’s Network (RWN). Since its inception it has inspired and supported nearly 50 women living and working in rural, regional and remote areas to be recognised for their valuable role in building sustainable rural and regional communities, develop skills and confidence, and become key influencers and leaders within their industry and community.
RWN has a number of key priorities including promoting rural women’s potential and achievements, promoting opportunities where rural women can connect, develop skills and knowledge, and build personal and business resilience. In response to this, RWN identified a need to bring this particular group of skilled women together to better support their development and contribution to rural industries. In 2016 the NSW-ACT Rural Women’s Alumni was formed.
The Alumni includes some of primary industries’ most inspiring and innovative women. They are community and professional leaders at a state and national level, representing a wide range of agricultural and rural interests.
Many of the Alumni hold positions on boards such as Local Land Services, the Rural Assistance Authority and the Primary Industries Ministerial Advisory Council, along with being influential women in their various industries and sectors. Many of the alumni are also graduates of the Australian Institute of Company Directors course and have undergone significant personal development and have advanced public speaking skills.
If you are interested in accessing members of the Alumni or are interested in finding out more about how these women are making a difference and contributing to enhancing the prosperity of rural and regional Australia, individual profiles are available on the Rural Women’s Network Website.

For more information please contact the RWN on 02 6391 3612 or

Posted in agriculture, Awards, boards and committees, business, Communities, Innovation, inspirational, leadership, Local Land Services, networking, NSW Rural Women's Network, primary industries, Rural Australia, rural women, RWN, stories, women, Women in Focus, Women leaders, women's networks | Leave a comment

Women, Culture, Land: Just Add Water – and 250 women

Group of women smiling at the Narrandera Rural Women's Gathering

Some of the 250 women who attended the 2017 Narrandera Rural Women’s Gathering. Image: Julie Novotny from Sapphire Coast Connections

The 25th annual NSW Rural Women’s Gathering event was held on the weekend from 27-29 October at Narrandera. Hosted by a committee of more than 20 talented and dedicated women from Narrandera and surrounding district, these women worked tirelessly for the last 18 months to deliver this special anniversary gathering.

Image of banner listing the year, town, and theme of the 25 NSW Rural Women's GatheringsAs the major sponsor for the event, Rural Women’s Network and DPI staff joined women from across NSW for what was a truly spectacular weekend. It provided the ideal opportunity for women (rural, regional and city based) to come together to be inspired by local and international women who shared their stories, to network and make new friends, learn new skills through a broad array of workshops and cultural experiences, and to share their issues and concerns.

Newly elected Member for Cootamundra, Steph Cooke MP, officially opened the event on behalf of Minister Blair on the Saturday morning. She shared her journey from a small child growing up in Temora, competing as an Olympic standard swimmer, running her own small business, to winning the seat of Cootamundra in the recent by-election. She then had the official role of launching the 2017 Hidden Treasures Honour Roll recognising more than 100 rural women volunteers across NSW, and announcing the NSW government $30,000 sponsorship for the 2018 Rural Women’s Gathering at Merimbula.

Steph Cooke MP

Newly elected Member for Cootamundra, Steph Cooke MP, officially opened the 2017 Narrandera Rural Women’s Gathering and launched the 2017 Hidden Treasures Honour Roll recognising rural women volunteers from across NSW. Image: Julie Novotny from Sapphire Coast Connections

To mark 25 years of the NSW Rural Women’s Gatherings, Steph was joined by Narrandera Gathering Chair, Tammy Galvin, and coordinators of the first NSW Rural Women’s Gathering, Marg Carroll and Ronnie Hazelton, to cut a special commemorative cake. Margaret and Ronnie spoke about the reasons behind the first women’s gathering and why it still remains relevant to this day.

Lots of women’s stories were featured throughout the weekend showcasing past and present rural women from the surrounding areas. They included Kate O’Callaghan (General Manager of Southern Cotton), Tammy Galvin (Chair of the Committee), Betina Walker (Whispering Pines Organics and Runner-up in the Australian Women’s Weekly 2015 Women in Business Award), Annette Turner (President – CWA of NSW), Aimee Snowden (The Lego Farmer and NSW-ACT Rural Women’s Award Finalist), local girl Shakira Lyons (mechanic) and Carmella La Rocca (Multicultural Council of Griffith).

Women sitting in an open paddock listing to guest speakers

Opening night at the Narrandera Rural Women’s Gathering. Participants were treated to a night at the Travelling Stock Reserve with special guests Prof. Dame Marie Bashir, Kate O’Callaghan and Tammy Galvin. The evening featured a variety of local ‘bush food’ prepared by Michael Lyons, local Wiradjuri Elder and was the opening night for the Cad Factory’s Shadow Places open-air artwork installation. Image: Julie Novotny from Sapphire Coast Connections

Other keynote speakers included Prof. Dame Marie Bashir AD. CVO who was a special guest on the Friday evening. On Friday night participants were treated to the Cad Factory Shadow Places landscape artwork and light installation featured along the Narrandera Traveling Stock Reserve. These large scale artworks featured images projected onto hay bales with surrounding and accompanying textile installations. One of the installations focused on rural women highlighting the important role that women have played in our rural places and the work that has been done to effect social and cultural change.

Rosalie Ham and Sue Maslin

A highlight of the event was Jerilderie girls, Rosalie Ham, who wrote The Dressmaker, and Sue Maslin, who directed the award winning film. Image: Julie Novotny from Sapphire Coast Connections

A highlight of the event for most participants was Jerilderie girls, Rosalie Ham, who wrote The Dressmaker, and Sue Maslin, who directed the award winning film. They each spoke on the Saturday evening and Sunday program and were a huge hit with the crowd. We got some interesting behind the scenes glimpses into the story behind The Dressmaker and the movie making process.

As part of RWN’s response to the ‘What Rural Women Say’ report which identified ‘Supporting rural carers’ as one of the top 5 most often mentioned challenges, RWN supported six rural women carers to attend the Gathering. We also ran an interactive panel session on the Sunday where three rural women carers shared their personal journey of caring, to raise awareness of some of the issue and challenges carers face. We included an interactive component, using the slido app, to gather feedback from participants about how people can better value and support carers. This feedback will be collated and written up into a mini report. A brochure which provided details on information and support available to carers within NSW was also prepared and provided to participants on the day.

RWN ran a goal setting workshop (a slice of SOFT) with great feedback from participants. The women said they highly valued the workshop with 100% reporting they were ‘likely to very likely’ to do something different as a result of attending the workshop.

Allison Priest & Emma Regan at the RWN information stand

RWN also hosted a trade display and the story pod throughout the weekend where several women shared their stories.

20171027_115114 (Large)

Plans are already underway for the 2018 Women’s Gathering in Merimbula from 19-21 October. For details and updates visit;

Posted in rural women | 2 Comments

Playing with fire: showcasing Australia’s native bush foods

As featured in The Country Web 2017 Annual


After an international career in finance and insurance, 2017 NSW-ACT RIRDC Rural Women’s Award finalist Rebecca Barnes moved to the northern NSW coastal town of Ballina 20 years ago, seeking a career and lifestyle change that would allow her to balance work and family.

When research led her to realise the nutritional benefits and untapped potential of Australian native foods Rebecca and her business partner established Playing with Fire Native Foods. An industry leader Playing with Fire Australian Native Foods  grows, processes, manufacturers and supplies native foods both domestically, to local farmers markets, gourmet food shops and high end restaurants, and internationally to Asia, USA and Europe.

With demand currently outstripping supply due to the growing interest from chefs, foodies, nutritionists and international markets Rebecca believes the industry is at a critical point for advancement.

‘Australia’s native foods are rich and vibrant in colour, taste and nutrition. There are now 15 commercialised varieties available which are in very high demand due to the growing interest from chefs, foodies, nutritionists and international markets. It presents a favourable opportunity to reignite this small but vibrant industry.

‘Native foods, which can be found all over Australia, sustained the Aboriginal population for many thousands of years.  Sadly though, people still don’t know a lot of our native foods.’

Rebecca sells her bush food products at the weekly Farmers’ Market, to the food service sector, other manufacturers, and more recently she has entered the export market, however, she says they are struggling to meet supply demands and desperately need more plants in the ground.

‘I believe encouraging landholders to include bush tucker on their existing farms is a great way to expand the industry.’

Rebecca’s passion for bush foods and encouraging and supporting the participation of Aboriginal people in the industry goes handin-hand, as she works alongside Indigenous communities to provide opportunities to share their extensive knowledge and skills so they can play a key role in growing the industry.

‘I worked for almost 5 years at the Bogal Local Aboriginal Land Council located in Coraki. During that time we received a youth opportunities grant from the NSW government and started a youth horticulture project revitalising and expanding an existing bush food farm owned by the Kurrachee Aboriginal Cooperative Society Limited (aboriginal owned and operated). We grew rosellas, native raspberries, lilly pillys, illawarra plums, aniseed myrtle, native tamarinds and warrigal greens as well as mangoes avocadoes and pecan nuts. The young people received a Certificate II in Horticulture as well as chemical users and chainsaw qualifications.’

Rebecca is currently the Public Officer, Secretary and Treasurer of—Bushfood Sensations—an industry group set up for Aboriginal businesses involved in the bushfood industry.

‘We started by implementing a program to train several Aboriginal people as chefs—Clayton Donovon being one of the more successful
students. The focus of the group shifted to growing and supply when it was evident this was the next problem facing the industry.’

Through Bushfood Sensations Rebecca was involved in running and presenting a series of workshops around NSW as an introduction to bushfoods, fully funded for Indigenous people.

‘The workshops were well attended and evoked a lot of interest. The Indigenous community decided they would like to learn more, so from there, we approached the team running the TAFE NSW Aboriginal pathways program to implement a Certificate II in Horticulture (Bushfood Production) course. Two classes have already
started and a third is due to start in September. The course is fully funded for Aboriginal students from all over NSW.

‘I volunteer my services and present a half-day introduction to bushfoods providing tastings and information on the foods, the industry and the opportunities. The students visit my farm and perform soil testing and I accompany them to a local bushfood nursery to discuss propagation techniques. We hope to have 40 students graduate in February 2018 providing a workforce for existing business and hopefully some entrepreneurship among the students to start utilising land to grow the bush foods.’

Rebecca is also working with the Indigenous Land Corporation to fund a feasibility study
to set up a working processing hub, so Aboriginal growers can send their produce to
the hub for on-sale, storage or processing for value-added products.

‘The hub will be Aboriginal run and owned.  The first step of this process is to do a
‘stocktake’ of the industry and determine the priority crops needed and the processing
required to determine plant and equipment.’

Rebecca says she is very happy to be involved with the Aboriginal community or people on a one-on-one basis to share her knowledge and support their ventures.

‘I see enormous opportunity for Aboriginal people to get involved in a variety of ways,
including horticulture, and I would be thrilled to start filling domestic and larger export
orders with produce supplied by Aboriginal organisations.

‘This not only fills a void in the market but it tells an intriguing story of how the aboriginal people were removed from their land but can now benefit using land returned (or purchased or attained) celebrating their culture and again caring for the country they are so connected to.

‘Most food plants are not just seen as food, but have a myriad of uses and even totems. It
is important to respect this and acknowledge the traditional culture associated with our
native food plants.’

Rebecca wants to encourage anyone using native foods to continue to acknowledge
the original inhabitants and the culture associated with native foods; to tell their
story and include the history as well as the modern functionalities and nutritional
elements of our delicious native foods.

With plans to become an industry leader and mentor for other women to enter the industry, Rebecca hopes that in five year’s time the industry will have a very united front with a whole lot of new entrants.

For more information:

m: 0434 190 239



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Leading women in agriculture

As featured in The Country Web 2017 Annual

Emma’s plans for a mentoring program to help young women in agriculture feel confident and supported.

2017 NSW-ACT Rural Women’s Award finalist Emma Doyle lives in Armidale in the Northern Tablelands region of NSW and is employed as the sheep and wool lecturer at the University of New England (UNE).  After completing her PhD Emma started work as a lecturer 10 years ago.  She is currently the only sheep and wool lecturer at UNE which provides specialised sheep and wool units across Australian to 10 other Universities.

Passionate about the Australian Sheep industry Emma is in a unique position to
support professional women in Agriculture, as one of the few academic women in the School of Environmental and Rural Science at UNE. Her long term vision is to create a community of highly educated, competent women in Agriculture, empowering them to
take on senior leadership roles.

Over the years Emma has mentored many young undergraduate women through their
studies and early career. Using her skills and experience she has plans to develop a pilot mentoring network for female agricultural undergraduates from UNE to assist in reducing the gender gap and increasing the retention of women in Agriculture.

‘As a lecturer at UNE I have found that over half of our graduates are female, which is really exciting, but only a third of those are actually in our workforce. I believe a mentoring program like the one I am proposing will help young women to feel confident and supported within the ag industry.’

Emma believes for Agriculture to be sustainable and profitable into the future, investment needs to be made in both innovative technologies and diversity of
people in decision making roles.

‘I think it’s really important for women to have access mentors in the ag sector because having the support and confidence to push into more senior roles is often a lot easier when you have people with the know-how and the knowledge to help you make some really good career decisions.

‘I hope to see flow on benefits where the undergraduates over time become mentors themselves, creating a bigger community of women that are supporting each other
within the Agricultural industry.’

Emma’s longer term goal is to have a fully developed model that can be transferred
across industries such as cropping, meat and livestock, grains, dairy and cotton.

2018 Rural Women’s Award

Applications for the 2018 Rural Women’s Award are currently open and close 29 October.  If you’re a woman who wants to innovate and make a difference, or contribute to enhancing the prosperity of rural and regional Australia you should apply for this life-changing opportunity.

Contact Emma:

m: 0413 990 140



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Don’t miss out on applying for inspiring Rural Women’s Award – 2 weeks left to apply

There’s just two weeks left to apply for the new-look 2018 AgriFutures™ Rural Women’s Award. Emerging women leaders are encouraged to apply for Australia’s leading Award in acknowledging and supporting the essential role women play in rural and regional businesses, industries and communities.


If you’re a woman who wants to innovate and make a difference, or contribute to enhancing the prosperity of rural and regional Australia you should apply for this life-changing opportunity.

The Award, formerly the Rural Industries Research & Development Corporation (RIRDC) Rural Women’s Award, has been renamed and adapted to align with AgriFutures Australia’s new strategic direction on the changing face of Agriculture, where technology is transforming the sector and successful and impactful leaders are skilled, professional, dynamic, entrepreneurial, commercially savvy and connected.

“Over the past two decades, the Rural Women’s Award has provided more than 200 women with significant professional development opportunities and importantly the opportunity to achieve positive change for rural and regional Australia. Award winners have delivered diverse and innovative projects relating to rural and regional industries, and the communities and businesses that rely on, and support them,” John Harvey, AgriFutures Australia Managing Director said.

To align with AgriFutures Australia’s new strategic direction and to ensure the Rural Women’s Award continues to identify, celebrate and empower women, a number of changes have been made to the Award criteria for 2018.

One important change to the Award is that projects or initiatives can be commercially focused, providing they still align with AgriFutures Australia’s strategic priorities of innovation, creativity, community sustainability, education, productivity, agribusiness, regional development and technology.

Location is also no barrier – applicants can live in rural and regional Australia, or in the city – their applications will be measured on the impact and benefits to rural and regional Australia.

Another important change to the Award criteria is that applicants are not required to have a specific project to be considered eligible, although projects are still welcomed. This year, applications can be submitted based on an idea, an identified problem, or an opportunity the applicant wants to focus on. Applicants may be in the early stages of working through how they want to contribute, or they may be well down the road in making their contribution.

Sandra Ireson: 2017 NSW-ACT Rural Women's Award winner

2017 NSW/ACT AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award Winner and National Finalist and co-founder of Hay Inc Rural Education Program Sandra Ireson says, “Sometimes it’s too easy to sit on an idea and not make it happen. The Rural Women’s Award is a great motivator, and it allows you to draw on the skills and capacities of others to see your project come to fruition. The benefit you gain from that is enormous.”

Each state and territory winner receives a $10,000 bursary provided by Platinum sponsor Westpac, to bring their idea or project to life, access to professional development opportunities and national Alumni networks. The 2018 AgriFutures™ Rural Women’s Award National Winner and Runner Up, selected from the state and territory winners, and announced at a Gala event at Parliament House in Canberra in September 2018, will receive a further $10,000 and $5000 respectively.

Applications for the AgriFutures™ Rural Women’s Award are open now and close Sunday, 29 October 2017 at 9pm AEDT. 

For more information and to apply, visit 

If you are a resident of NSW-ACT and would like to discuss your idea, or you would like to access a mentor who can guide you through the application process, plesae contact NSW-ACT Award Coordinator, Allison Priest on 02 6391 3620 or email

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TUFF workshop helps young farmer re-balance busy life

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

Mick, Alice & Sophie Shannon

The Tune Up For Farmers (TUFF) workshop Cathcart farmer, Michael Shannon, attended in Bega earlier this year gave him the opportunity to reassess his work and family priorities. He has since taken a more healthy approach to balancing work and life responsibilities and is taking regular time out for family-friendly activities. He is pictured with his wife Alice, and daughter Sophie.

To a casual observer, southern NSW beef and lamb producer, Michael Shannon, would seem to be riding high on a-once-in-a-lifetime wave of good seasons, high prices and great opportunities beyond the farm gate.

Add the recent birth of his first child, the opportunity to take part in a MLA Young Food Innovators program study tour of China in 2016 and an impressive list of personal and career achievements in a few short years, the picture looks even brighter.

Appearances, however, can be deceiving. While Michael had successfully sorted through some challenging family issues to take over the reins of the farm business; was well advanced on a comprehensive farm development plan; and was busy exploring the potential of value chain beef marketing, underneath it all he was bearing an increasingly heavy burden.

He says that burden has been significantly lifted since taking part in a workshop for male farmers, organised though DPI in May this year. But he knows to remain effective in business and relationships, he needs to stay attuned to the stressors around him and his emotional responses to them.

‘I am still dealing with things that have gone on but I’m slowly but surely pulling myself out of the hole.’

At 31, he has achieved a great deal to be running a 1600 ha beef and lamb enterprise, Lowanna Properties, in the idyllic Cathcart district, a rich soiled, high rainfall grazing region between Bombala and the South Coast. In partnership with his mother Lyn and wife Alice, Michael takes pride in securing the future of a land aggregation that includes the original homestead block of his much admired grandfather, Laurie Platts, who as a descendant of the early pioneers of the south-east region, had established the highly acclaimed Lowanna Hereford stud in 1959.

But while families can be a great source of pride and inspiration, they can equally bring frustration and heartache, particularly when it involves family farms. Having returned to the farm business in 2007, Michael seized the opportunity with gusto, embarking on an ambitious redevelopment program after 12 years of drought. The partnership sold some land, bought extra blocks and had invested heavily in subdivision fencing and pasture reclamation of otherwise productive country over-run with tussock.

Michael was energised by the challenge ahead but, as is often the case, life became both more rewarding and more complicated. In 2013, Alice moved from Canberra to be with Michael and they were married in 2014.

‘That was the good part but things became more complex when my parents separated in 2015,’ he recalled. ‘We had built up some debt developing and buying more land and because of a few other expenses, we were feeling a bit of financial pressure.’
Relationship breakdowns also require property settlements and after a predictably difficult negotiation and divorce process, Michael’s father left the business in 2016. In the meantime, Michael and Alice had welcomed Sophie into the business in early 2015.

‘And just for good measure, we decided to renovate the house we had bought on a new farm block, which was probably not the best timing,’ he observed wryly.

‘It was all a bit too much. I was exhausted and not effectively managing the business with so much other stuff happening.’

The combination of family stress and baby induced sleep deprivation was taking its toll on Michael personally and his relationship with Alice.

Within the emotional fog, Michael felt both anger with the circumstances around him and disappointment with himself as a husband.

‘I really struggled before, and going to the Tune Up For Farmers (TUFF) workshop, but once I was there it was a weight off my shoulders.

‘In Alice’s last trimester of pregnancy, I should’ve been a supportive husband. But I wasn’t supportive. I wasn’t really there as a husband.

‘Emotionally, I was drained after all the stuff with my parents. I just felt: ‘When is it going to end’. Alice just said: ‘You need to work things out’. So I decided to see a doctor.’

For Michael, this was a turning point but even with professional help and the conclusion of the property settlement in late 2016, the emotional legacy of the family dispute and on-going farm responsibilities were still affecting his health and wellbeing.

So earlier this year when he was invited to take part in a Tune Up For Farmers (TUFF) pilot workshop for rural men at Bega, Michael felt the timing was right for him and, despite some reservations, it was an opportunity he shouldn’t miss.

While justifying his participation as a way to develop a stronger relationship with the South Coast Farmers Network, a group working to develop a beef producers’ cooperative that also helped organise the TUFF workshop, Michael sensed the experience would help him on a much deeper level.

‘I really struggled before, and going to the TUFF workshop. I was going through a pretty difficult time so I had to take a deep breath and just give it a go,’ he recalled.

‘Once I was there, it was a weight off my shoulders. It was great to sit around with the other blokes and hear their stories. I think it was the openness, to see tough-looking blokes and realise they were a bit broken too. And being able to get some things off my chest in a different domain, that was really powerful.’

While conceding to being ‘really exhausted’ after the first of the two-day workshop, Michael was convinced of its value and returned the next day enthusiastically relating the great discussion it had generated with his wife Alice overnight.

‘I think where TUFF really helped me was giving me an opportunity to compartmentalise my life and put things in perspective. That simple life-wheel exercise showed me where I was putting my time and how I was prioritising my energy and efforts between farm, family and fitness; they all run in parallel,’ he said.

‘It really showed me what I was neglecting and these were the things that were most important to me.’

Having Alice also do his life-wheel for him, and accurately identifying the same gaps, helped him recognise what he had to do to realign his life and who could best provide that support.

‘I’ve started running again and working in the gym we have in the garage—also cutting back on the cigarettes. Alice can come and do this with me sometimes so we are able to do things together and that’s better for our relationship.

‘The TUFF workshop really resolved a lot of things in my mind that I probably would’ve needed to get some help about, and while I wouldn’t rule out getting professional help if I need it, I feel like I am in a much better place now.’

Timely life changes necessary and welcome

For Alice Shannon, the changes her stressed and over-worked husband, Michael, has made since attending the Tune Up For Farmers (TUFF) workshop have been both significant and welcome.

Working full-time as a teacher in nearby Bombala and well aware of the complexities of modern ‘fast-paced’ life, Alice was increasingly concerned at the toll difficult family and farm business challenges were taking on her husband’s health and general wellbeing.

‘After a few emotionally charged years on the farm, succession planning, the divorce of Michael’s parents, coupled with a renovation, both in full-time work and a baby on the way it was a bit too much to handle,’ Alice recalled.

‘Michael really felt all the pressures and was struggling to find the right work-life balance, which is so often a problem among farming families.’

‘Michael was more willing to give up on hobbies, exercise, friends and family time before he would give up on anything farm related. Hearing from your wife that you need to make times for hobbies, friends, exercise doesn’t always work. I felt he needed to hear it from someone else,’ said Alice.

‘The TUFF program really gave Michael the opportunity to hear from other like- minded people about their situations and how they dealt with all the ups and downs one experiences through life.

‘With the current statistics on mental health issues in farmers at an all time high we really need to promote the value of programs based around sharing our stories. I was always taught ‘a problem shared, is a problem halved’ and I believe the TUFF program really valued this philosophy while also having some reflective activities to help equip the participants with strategies to ensure they are mentally at their best.’

The clarity TUFF provided for Michael on how stressed and unbalanced his life had become has given him the motivation to make some relatively simple and effective changes, Alice said.

‘Since the program he has been actively working on ensuring that his work life isn’t consuming his personal life. We have days where it’s ‘tools down’ and off we go to explore a new place or catch up with friends. Having the ability to compartmentalise our lives is so important for keeping up in today’s fast paced environment.’

More information

Tune Up For Farmers (TUFF)
Ted O’Kane, DPI Rural Resilience Officer
m: 0427 781 514
e: ted.o’

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Hayley’s ‘Big Sky’ ideas

by Hayley Purbrick, Big Sky Ideas
As featured in The Country Web 2017 Annual

A finalist in the 2017 NSW-ACT Rural Women’s Award, Hayley Purbrick has a vision to create vibrant small town communities across regional NSW filled with people who think like entrepreneurs.  Through her social enterprise ‘The Riverina Collective’ she hopes to influence cultural change from the grassroots up and to encourage people to see opportunities and take action.

Hayley Purbrick-17

‘A move can either make or break an individual’s spirit.’

The most confronting experience for me has been moving to a new town with a barely newborn leaving my stability behind. It is an experience I won’t forget and one which is familiar to many people. Sometimes life takes us away from our stability, asking us to rebuild our social connections.

A move can either make or break an  individual’s spirit.  But why is moving so difficult for people?

For me, my confidence dropped almost immediately, as soon as the newborn fog lifted. At the time I went through a lot of self-assessment, is it me, is it them, what’s missing? When I found myself chasing down a girl for a chat near our farm, it dawned on me suddenly. The problem was I felt socially isolated.

It is well understood that social connection improves physical health and psychological wellbeing. When we are connected we have lower anxiety and higher self-esteem. The Country Women’s Association understood this when they established in 1922. Yet, for me I had to make a conscious choice to connect, recognising that if I didn’t I would never feel happy in my new place.

So that’s what I did, I created an opportunity to connect with people in my new town.

The result was an experience I would recommend. It opened opportunities to collaborate and do ‘stuff’. When I made the choice to connect I was rewarded with the opportunity to do something much bigger—collaborate.

I was embraced and celebrated. It felt amazing and I made a decision right then to make sure everyone in my community would have the same opportunity to feel just as I did.

As I explored how I would do this I kept coming back to four building blocks essential to ensuring I could create this feeling in others; provoke open thought, provide support, create environments free of judgement and inspire people to dream.

As it developed the synergies with entrepreneurship became clear—entrepreneurship is not a business model instead it’s a mindset. Meaning if I could find a way to foster entrepreneurial spirit in people the community is rewarded. And I would achieve my goal.

This prompted the start of my social enterprise Big Sky Ideas to foster entrepreneurial spirit in small towns throughout Australia with a vision to ensure everyone who lives here feels celebrated and embraced. We have a big goal but anything is possible and in the interim we have a few things going on.

We facilitate a women’s group called The Riverina Collective. We meet in Deniliquin three times a year and discuss difficult topics with an optimistic outlook. Women in the community share their personal stories of success and failure. Storytelling is a powerful force towards connection. We have also set up a collective workspace (or co-working as they say). We prefer collective because you don’t have to be working to be there. This space gives people the opportunity to explore their ideas, work and collaborate in an open environment.  No town is too small.

Next on the agenda is a 12 week women’s innovation program. The program is different approach to economic development in small regional communities utilising challenge driven innovation theory.

Challenge driven innovation is based on identifying the right problem through collaboration before looking for any solutions. Traditionally we focus on enterprise as being the only solution to our problems and the broader community sits outside of this conversation. This is a new approach bringing the whole community into the conversation.

When I got the community together for a brainstorm for our 12 week program to identify the single problem of our region they identified we are not ‘well’.

Wellbeing is described by Marshall et al. (1995) as ‘a state of being where all members of a community have economic security; are respected, valued and have personal worth; feel connected to those around them; are able to access necessary resources; and are able to participate in the decision making process affecting them.’

To hear this from my own community drives me on knowing what Big Sky Ideas is trying to create for people is worth pursuing.

And it all started because of a conscious choice to connect.

More information

m: 0408 129 782


Posted in agriculture, inspirational, leadership, NSW Rural Women's Network, RIRDC rural women's award, rural women, stories, The Country Web, Women leaders, women's networks | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment