Audrey Hardman OAM, Mandurama
I was delighted to be asked to write the editorial for this very special 25th anniversary issue of The Country Web. This issue celebrates 25 years of the Rural Women’s Network (RWN) and The Country Web, showcasing 25 inspiring women from rural NSW.
As we celebrate the remarkable achievements of the Network over the last 25 years, we must pay tribute to the small, passionate and dedicated team of rural women responsible for its incredible success, and the NSW Department of Primary Industries (formerly NSW Agriculture) staff who have supported the program. It is my great privilege and honour to tell the story of how the RWN and The Country Web newsletter was ‘born’, and to share the major impact it has had on the lives of rural women and their families throughout NSW.
The beginning …
The rural crisis in the 1980s, seriously threatened the financial security and well-being of rural families and highlighted the fact that rural women urgently needed a voice – a platform, communication network, and newsletter to exchange vital information. Responding to this crisis, the NSW Women’s Advisory Council organised and financed the NSW Rural Women’s Conference in Parkes in 1991, to assist women in a practical way through the provision of information and exchanging ideas.
This conference provided the platform for more than 600 articulate, motivated, passionate rural women, who converged on Parkes from all areas of NSW, to voice their concerns and share ideas. In response to recommendations from the conference, and with support of the then Minister for Agriculture, Minister for Women, and the Premier, a commitment was made to establish a Rural Women’s Network Program to further strengthen the communication between rural women and ensure they were well connected and had access to the information, support and services they needed.
The RWN program was established in 1992 and operated through its three staff members and a State Advisory Committee (SAC) drawn from major rural networks in NSW. What a privilege it was to Co-Chair the RWN SAC with the then Director General of NSW Agriculture, Dr Kevin Sheridan AO. His commitment to the establishment, development and delivery of the RWN program, and his constant support and guidance to the team until his retirement, contributed significantly to its success.
Margaret Carroll was appointed RWN Coordinator in May 1992 and with her passion, energy and excellent organisational and networking skills, she worked tirelessly setting up the network and delivering programs to build women’s confidence, capacity, knowledge and leadership skills.
Sonia Muir joined the team as Editor of the newsletter in 1993 and under the guidance of this creative, multi-talented woman, The Country Web developed into the most outstanding, unique and widely read publication—one that played a key role in the recovery from the rural crisis. It still meets all the challenges and changes in agriculture and rural affairs today, under the inspired leadership of Allison Priest.
I marvel at the incredible growth and recognition the Network has achieved for rural women and their families over its 25 years. The experience, knowledge and confidence rural women have gained and the support networks that have been established, have resulted in rural women leaders emerging in every area. These women are role models whose vision and enthusiasm has inspired others to take the first step out of their comfort zone and to actively contribute to our agricultural industries and communities.
The Rural Women’s Network has achieved many things since it’s establishment in 1992, some of which are highlighted in a special timeline on pages 30-31. There is an overwhelming sense of pride and satisfaction as we celebrate 25 years of the incredible achievements of the RWN and The Country Web newsletter.
A very special thank you to Sonia Muir for her 25 years of dedicated service to rural women, families and communities. Her time in the RWN and then as the Manager of DPI’s Business & Social Resilience program has seen her lead the RWN, Rural Resilience Program and Young Farmer Business programs to build the business and social resilience of women, their families and farmers across rural NSW.
It is a testament to Sonia that we still have the RWN program 25 years on, a brand that has endured the many organisation and political changes to enable rural communities to adapt and thrive in the ever changing agricultural environment. I wish Sonia the very best in her retirement as she and her husband Gordon, both head overseas to Burma to volunteer their time and skills to communities in need.
I congratulate Allison Priest on her appointment as Senior RWN Coordinator and for her ongoing role as editor of The Country Web newsletter. Also, a very big congratulations to Kate Lorimer-Ward on her appointment as Deputy Director General Agriculture.
The Rural Women’s Network is in good hands.
On behalf of the rural women of NSW, I would like to thank the Department for honouring the commitment to establish the RWN program and for continuing to deliver The Country Web free to women in NSW. Rural women now have connectivity and a voice. What a fantastic example of government and community working together!