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;

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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

Pathways to ag for young people

As featured in The Country Web 2017 Annual.

2017 Rural Industries Research & Development Corporation (RIRDC) Rural Women’s Award (RWA) winner, Sandra Ireson, runs a beef and sheep operation near Booligal with her husband and their three children. She has a keen interest in developing pathways for young people to gain a start in agriculture.

Sandra Ireson4-CMYK

Sandra Ireson from Booligal. 2017 NSW-ACT RIRDC Rural Women’s Award winner.

Sandra says she has seen first-hand the lack of opportunities available to young people to access hands-on training to make them employable in the rural sector.

‘I saw a trend where smaller numbers of young people were entering or staying in agriculturally dependent communities and townships like Hay and I decided I wanted to do something to shift the trend.’

In 2014 Sandra co-developed the Hay Inc. Rural Education Program to give young people the skills, education and experience they need to pursue a career in agriculture.

Alongside members of the Hay Inc. Rural Education team, Sandra develop a tailored program that provides hands-on training modules that cover the necessary skills of stockmanship in sheep and cattle and farming.

The program, which is taught by local landholders or retired farmers, also provides mentoring support and access to rural networks, which young people can use as a spring board to their career in agriculture.

‘Farmers in this region have hundreds of years of knowledge between them. It’s been great for the students to learn tips and skills you don’t get through a traditional training program.’

The Hay Inc. Program has delivered substantial benefits to Hay including: raising the profile of the local ag industry, enhancing tourism, providing greater understanding of the importance of food and fibre production, and it has enriched the social fabric of the community and surrounding district.

Using her bursary from the RIRDC Rural Women’s Award, Sandra plans to build on the success of the program by developing an adaptable model that can be used by other communities and industries across Australia.

‘The model will provide a pathway for young people wanting a career in agriculture, and will support the establishment of networks between district landholders, employers and trainees who can provide ongoing mentoring of trainees. It will be great for other rural communities and industries to realise the benefits we have already seen in our region.’

As a member of the National Rural Women’s Coalition Communication Reference Group Sandra has access to a wide support network across rural Australia and says she’s fortunate to be surrounded by a fantastic community who share common values and interest and who are passionate about rural Australia.

‘People young and old are happy to roll up their sleeves and help out. It’s this local community that has helped bring ideas to life—from 20 years of organising sheep racing at Booligal to the Hay Inc. Rural Education Program.’

Sandra embraced technology with open arms. She recalls developing a website with volunteers for the Booligal Sheep Races in 2001 when internet first became available in her remote community. From there she joined webinars and learnt how to use social media as an effective marketing/communications tool.

While the tyranny of distance, and the constant juggle to balance the farm, business and family responsibilities, means she often doesn’t have time to meet up with people in person, Sandra says her online presence mean she can stay in touch and still feel connected.

‘I regularly use online platforms to stay connected and involved with the community, sharing stories of life on the land. I hope we will see better infrastructure and more affordable technology in rural Australia so many more women can benefit from this form of collaboration like I have.’

More information
m: 0439 938 119
twitter: @sandrairo


Posted in Communities, education and training, leadership, RIRDC rural women's award, rural women, Tocal Agricultural College, Women leaders | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Latest issue of Country Web hot off the press

Country Web 2017 Annual CoverOur 64th issue of The Country Web explores the theme ‘connect and collaborate‘ and features stories about creating meaningful connections, mentoring, sharing wisdom, books and people that inspire others.

In this issue we profile the 2017 NSW-ACT Rural Women’s Award recipients and find out how they are contributing to their local communities and industries through creative pursuits. If you are inspired by their stories and are interesting in applying for the 2018 Rural Women’s Award you can find out more about the award and how to apply on the AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award webpage. AgriFutures will host a special webinar this Thursday for women interested in applying. To register simply send an email with the subject ‘hello’ to:

As part of our Rural Women’s Network 25 year anniversary celebrations, we have included ’25 fast facts over 25 years’ which highlight some of the activities and projects we have delivered over the years. Make sure you have a look and if you have been involved in any of these activities we invite you to send us your thoughts about how the RWN has played a role (big or small) in your life. You can email your thoughts to or for those feeling a little more creative why not send us a video.

To kick off the stories from our 2017 annual issue of The Country Web I thought I would share Fran Rowe’s editorial. Fran has been a wonderful ambassador for rural women and as she retires from her role as a Rural Financial Counsellor we thought it was only fitting that she wrote the editorial for this ‘connect and collaborate’ issue…

‘The barriers to (farm) adjustment are much less tangible than cold, hard (equity) cash. They include: The love of land, the history and tradition of land ownership, the homestead garden, family members buried in the local cemetery, the honour roll at the local memorial, the avenue of trees planted after the ’46 fires, the pride in breeding stock, the satisfaction of producing, the fear of lack of ability to cope in the world outside the farm gate, your place in the community, an individual’s sense of self and self-worth’.

I delivered these words to the 1996 Rural Summit. Now, two decades on, the Rowe family has jumped the barrier of adjustment and following many seasons of agricultural production, we have sold our farm.

Fran Rowe with Sonia Muir & Marie Russell

Fran Rowe with Sonia Muir & Marie Russell at the RWN 25th Anniversary Event, August 2017

As I face retirement from farming and rural counselling, those words from 1996 resonate, bringing not only the sorrow associated with letting go of the land but also that of farewelling the many farming families with whom I’ve travelled over the years as a Rural Financial Counsellor.

The role of a rural counsellor has been one of privilege. The privilege of being part of a family’s fears, concerns, aspirations and desires. In ‘normal’ times the case work is heartening as families seek to better understand the historical and current business position and seek to identify future aims and objectives and how best to achieve those objectives. In times of drought, flood, bank pressure, and threatened loss, there is sadness, grief, depression, stoicism, tears, frustration, anger but also shared humour. Now, both farming and rural counselling are to become past chapters of my life.

So, what of the future? First, I’m off to travel the Pilgrim’s Way—walking my way through (part of) Spain. This pilgrimage will provide the opportunity for reflection.

I will without doubt reflect on the beginnings of the Rural Financial Counselling Service in the knowledge that it was women who were the initial respondents to the fledging counselling service of the 80’s crisis period. Rural women made the initial connection to the service and collaborated with the Rural Financial Counsellor to respond to the challenges of that time. Many families survived those crisis years to pass the land to a younger generation and many, whose kids had moved to greener more regional or urban pastures responded as we now respond, telling our kids ‘The Farm is a business, it will be sold as a business, Dad will get a floozie, mum a toy boy and you kids will get what’s left over’. The laughter hides the pain!

Those early crisis years also spawned the RWN, which evolved from a small network of committed women. Women determined to provide a forum to address issues of importance to rural and regional women and women’s concerns and needs, to partner with other programs and develop projects of interest to women, and to promote and encourage the participation of women in policy development.

As the network developed one could not but admire the diversity, resilience, articulation
and compassion of rural women. As Pat O’Shane noted at the first NSW Women’s Gathering: Rural women are the gatherers in our rural communities. They gather the information to assist their families and communities to respond to adjustment
pressures’. Rural women connect. Rural women collaborate.

RWN remains strong 25 years on, developing with the support of a small but dedicated team within Department of Primary Industries, demonstrating an extraordinary ability to promote leadership skills, encourage broad based community participation and to promote the value of connecting and collaborating. I raise my akubra to the dedicated staff and marvel at the opportunities provided to readers by stories in this 2017 annual issue of The Country Web.

As I leave behind the title of ‘farmer’ and ‘rural counsellor’, Hayley’s article (page 7) reminds me to ‘rebuild my social connections’ when moving to my new town, and RWN’s 25 Fast Facts Over 25 Years (page 34) recalls those early crossroad meetings and encourages me to continue to connect and collaborate in my new title of regional (retired) woman.

Call for stories
The 2018 annual issue of The Country Web will celebrate ’25 years of the NSW Rural Women’s Network’. We want to hear from people whose lives have been touched by the RWN in some way over the years.

Contributions are required by 30 April 2018 for publication in August 2018.
Email your contribution to or post to:

The Editor – The Country Web
Rural Women’s Network, NSW DPI
Locked Bag 21
Orange NSW 2800

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Registrations open for NSW Rural Women’s Gathering

Logo: Narrandera Rural Women's GatheringIt’s time to register for the Rural Women’s Gathering, with this year’s theme Women, Culture, Land – Just add water, to be held 27-29 October at Narrandera.

DPI Rural Women’s Network Project Officer, Emma Regan, said celebrating 25 years, the NSW Rural Women’s Gathering provides the opportunity for women to come together to build resilience by learning new skills accessing information, sharing experiences and having a voice to decision-makers.

“Organised by a team of dedicated women from the Narrandera and Leeton communities, the weekend provides participants with the opportunity to hear from a brilliant line-up of inspirational women, to attend a variety of educational and informative workshops and to explore beautiful Narrandera,” Emma said.

Narrandera Rural Women's Catering Committee members

The 2017 NSW Rural Women’s Gathering is being organised by a dedicated team of talented women from the Narrandera and Leeton communities. Pictured are some of the Narrandera organising committee members.

“Some of the workshops on offer include: Blogging 101, Oral history, Legal check-up for your farm business, cooking, the secret to community engagement, novel writing, weaving, photography, drumming, wool brooches, marvellous mosaics and much more – you really will be spoilt for choice.”

Centrally located in the Riverina, Narrandera is situated beside the Murrumbidgee River and features a lot of natural beauty for visitors to discover – its rich history, culture, produce and environment.

“A highlight of the Friday evening will be Cad Factory’s Shadow Places open air installation featuring 20 video projections onto round hay bales, with sounds and accompanying textile installations.

Emma said special guest speaker Dame Marie Bashir AD, CVO who was born and raised in Narrandera will tell her story of leaving a rural town to become the second longest serving Governor of NSW.

“At the Silver Masquerade Gala Dinner we will no doubt be inspired by stories from acclaimed author Rosalie Ham, film producer/director Sue Maslin, and organic paddock-to-plate farmer Bettina Walker,” Emma said.

As part of the event, the 2017 Hidden Treasures Honour Roll, annually recognising rural women volunteers, will be launched.

Interested participants are encouraged to register for the gathering before 5.00 pm Friday 6 October 2017.

To register for the NSW Rural Women’s Gathering at Narrandera, please go to

For enquiries please email or contact Kristen Clancy on 0437 998 075 or Tammy Galvin on 0427 848 163.

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