This was a joint conference of Queensland Rural, Regional and Remote Women’s Network and Australian Women in Agriculture and attracted about 200 women from across Australia.
The event was an opportunity for the NSW RWN to strengthen interstate networks and connect with NSW border women. It was also good to hear from our neighbouring QLD rural women who have had to deal with two recent devastating floods after years of drought. The event provided an opportunity for inspiration, story telling and capacity building of women – many of whom are still struggling to recover from personal hardships.
There was much sharing on information, knowledge and friendships so, despite the long drive, the trip was very worthwhile. It also provided source material and subjects for future Country Web stories.
I was invited to participate on a panel about the future for rural women with colleagues from Qld, Vic, and WA. This was a good opportunity to promote the 2012 NSW Rural Women’s Gathering being hosted by Parkes (regos close 21 Sept) and generally enlighten participants about the NSW RWN.
St George is a small outback town in the South West of Queensland on the Balonne River. It has a population of about 3000 people and is home of Cubbie Station – the largest cotton farm in the southern hemisphere.
The QLD conference followed similar lines to NSW rural women’s gatherings but the program stretched to three evenings, two full days and a farm tour… it was full-on with little time to spare and is held mid week.
Journalist turned local farming woman – Sally Rigney was an exemplary MC who kept the conference flowing, fun and on track.
The Day one afternoon farm tour took participants through agricultural land to two farms growing onions and cotton. Access to water for irrigation along with backpacker/grey nomad labour is critical to agriculture in this area. Olympic swimmer Duncan Armstrong is ambassador for the Swap it Don’t stop it health program and spoke on the opening night. There was an array of sponsor/trade stalls including NSW 2012 RIRDC runner up Corinne Annetts selling her goat’s milk products. Women were also treated to a free half hourly booked pamper session available across the two days.
Tai Chi, morning walks and sponsored breakfasts were offered each morning with excellent guest speakers including Netty Smith the 2012 QLD RIRDC winner who is working hard to build bridges between farming and mining business who hadn’t been engaged in very much talking.
Netty spoke about the difficulties that arise when mining and agriculture collide resulting in tensions such as impacts on farm hygiene and erosion. The need to find common ground was essential and she has developed a Certificate 2 in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management training program called ‘My Tracks’ as a way of building mutual understanding. The program is giving mine workers an understanding of the potential impacts their exploration work on farms can have. Rural women are often the centre of these negotiations with mining companies and it can become very complex with bigger property owners having to deal with multiple companies. This is taking women away from family, school, farm and community activities. Adding to this, mine workers often bring weeds onto properties, destroy roads or get bogged in mud and expect farmers to pull them out.
Sally Sara – former ABC Foreign Correspondent and author of African women’s stories – Gogo Mama, was given a standing ovation after her moving snapshot of life on the frontline in Afghanistan and the challenges women face in general. The largest killer of women in that country is childbirth because health services are meagre or non-existent.
The conference program was sprinkled with 15 minute ‘fireside’ chats with local women telling their stories and giving a ‘sneak peek’ into their lives as well as shorter ‘interviews’ with sponsors which was an excellent format.
The gala dinner included announcing winner of QLD’s inaugural Strong Women Awards and also included an amazing wearable art parade with garments all made from ‘stuff’ found on farms such as fertiliser bags, grasses and plastic. Our own NSW 2010 RIRDC Award winner Lana Mitchell gave two presentations over the conference talking about her RIRDC journey at the gala dinner and giving a great interactive session on how to start a business from scratch. The 2012 NSW winner Danica Leys also attended but didn’t have a role on the program.
The workshops were divided into four themes: health & wellbeing, business & communications, self-development & education and agriculture & environment and only four were offered in each time slot so targeting groups of 50 women meant a limit to participant interactivity but the ones I attended were excellent.
Alison Fairleigh a rural mental health advocate ran a workshop on social media. I have been tweeting with Alison for the past year so great to meet her in person. The workshop audience was very mixed so it was quite difficult for the presenter however I did learn about urbandictionary.com where you can find out what new words and social media acronyms mean. I also did a writing workshop with rural author Nicole Alexander and another with Helen Dugdale who challenged participants to aim for positive behaviours using the Behavioural Model (Above/Below the Line). She also spoke about the importance of listening and the PRES (point, reason, example and summary approach solving dilemmas.
I also did a wonderfully informative communications session with corporate trainer turned rural woman – Robyn Pullman who I have now recommended as a key-note speaker for the 2013 gathering. Robyn spoke about changing habits to become a conductor of your life rather than be a puppet. I particularly liked these quotes:
- Listen to understand not respond
- Don’t compare yourself with others. Feeling inferior or superior are both not good places to be
- Your role is to be the best you
- Delete the word ‘but’ from you vocab and substitute with ‘and’ as it takes away excuses about why you are or are not doing something.
- Women need to be loved and men need to be respected.
- Communications is 55% non verbal, 38% vocal and 7% verbal (no wonder emails get misconstrued! “I didn’t say she ignored that woman”. The meaning of this sentence changes depending on which word is emphasised – try it yourself and see.
- Listen is an anagram for SILENT!
- If you engage with men and look them in the eye for more than 7 seconds you could be considered to be flirting!
- Ask questions to be understood… “Why do you say that?” is a good response when communication is unclear.
Another speaker was voice coach Suzanne Stark, who provided tips on good media communications such as ensuring your voice, appearance and posture are appropriate. She also stressed the importance of good listening skills, being engaging and engaged and using language targeted at a 10-year-old. Suzanne also advised us to leave those jargon words at home and stressed the need to establish three key issues for interviews and try to keep answers short and sharp.
 PRES: Point, Reason, Example, Summary
Formula to help structure your arguments and thoughts… example:
Point – I love running.
Reason – Because when I run, I have energy all day.
Example – I’m able to be powerfully in action, producing important results, from morning to night.
Summary – This is just one of the reasons I love being a runner!