Letting go to make room for something new

By Kath Henry. As featured in The Country Web 2016 Annual

As a midwife I became skilled at intuitively recognising when a women was entering the transition phase of labour. In some cases the well-established rhythm of contractions and rest pause, the stillness allowing deeper rest with time to regroup and reposition in preparation for the birth. In other cases a crescendo occurs, if not harnessed it can lead to an unwanted obstructed labour. It is meant to be transitory this place between the pain of labour and birth.

As in birthing, so in life, we are not created to remain stuck in transition but rather to harness the strength of change to allow a new transformation. Of course this is made easier if the change is chosen, the transition well supported and room has been made for the newness to be embraced.

What happens when the change catalyst is unexpected? When there is no space or time to process?

Kath Henry

Kath with her husband and son


As I write I am on a plane, in ‘transit’, up the coast. I have just looked out the window to discover the land and ocean are reversed to the alignment they should be in, given the direction we are flying. My mind is trying to rationalise the scene below as the pilot announces we have turned back and will be circling in transit as there is an unexpected landing queue. I watch as passengers become restless, looking at their watches, sighing—life doesn’t leave room for unexpected transits.

I am in my own internal transition, however, this birthing is a type of letting go rather than preparing to hold something new.

This year I have let go of many of the roles that have given me a sense of identity. Both our children have moved from home, our daughter to be married and start a new life with her husband and our son has moved overseas to complete his studies. I am officially an empty-nester.

I had, until several months ago, the role of daughter and carer to my ageing mum as Alzheimer’s had started to creep in and steal my mother’s memories. However without warning my mother left this earth. Hair done, having had lunch with friends, she quite literally dropped dead from a heart attack.

All this letting go has left me feeling vulnerable, searching for meaning rather than identity as I allow my heart to catch up with reality, in this landscape that has held both celebrations on the one hand and on the other layers of grief.

As I circle this space I want to move on, yet I know there is a work in the waiting, in the emptiness, in being emptied.

I had a remedial massage the other day and learned that this type of massage is synonymous with pain, pressure and release. I discovered my muscles had circled into tight knots that required informed pressure to release.

I am in a place of pressure to release the roles of life, to realise meaning can be expressed through our roles but not in them. I want to be and become. So I am waiting here and unravelling as I excuse myself from the busyness of life. I will wait with myself, to become the midwife to my own transition in this sacred undefined space.

Next issue

The 2017 annual issue of The Country Web will explore the theme ‘Connect and Collaborate‘. We want to hear from you about creating meaningful connections, mentoring and sharing wisdom, books and people that have inspired you.

Contributions are required by 21 April 2017 for publication in August 2017. Email your contributions to rural.women@dpi.nsw.gov.au

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Local is Lovely: St Joseph’s Kitchen Garden

By Sophie Hansen, Orange
As featured in The Country Web 2016 Annual

St Joseph’s is a small school in the Central Western town of Molong. And its new kitchen garden is nourishing its 50-plus students on every level.

St Joseph’s has a terrifically hardworking Parents and Friends committee, and they’re are also a very handy lot. So when it was decided that their regular canteen should start up again after a long break, the committee knew they wanted fresh produce on the menu. And yes, they decided to grow it themselves, at the school.

Plans were made to start a garden on the school grounds—from scratch. It didn’t take long to prepare the beds and get the ball rolling.

St Joseph's Kitchen Garden

“The best part about setting up the garden has been seeing the children enjoy getting their hands dirty, the excitement of finding wriggly worms and of course, the digging and planting, nurturing and then harvesting their very own produce.” JANE SHANNON

The kitchen garden was officially opened by ABC’s Gardening Australia host Costa Georgiadis on 25 September last year and each St Joseph’s student now plays a part in caring for and enjoying their new project. Plus everyone gets to enjoy its spoils via their canteen orders. How good is that?!

Here’s the story of the St Joseph’s kitchen garden, plus some really fantastic advice on how you can do something similar at your school, direct from Jane Shannon, the woman who drove the whole thing. Jane also shares their canteen’s recipe for spinach cob loaf—an old school classic that deserves to get taken on every picnic, and will be the first thing eaten at every one. Plus the lemonade made in huge batches to sell at a school fundraiser. (visit Sophie’s Local is Lovely Blog for the recipes).

How did the kitchen garden get started?

The P and F committee started talking about a kitchen garden in spring 2014. This followed the re-establishment of the school canteen, which was started up again after a break of some years. We were keen to set the canteen up under the healthy canteen guidelines, and for us that meant incorporating garden-fresh food. We started the process by looking at a suitable location, design and what materials we needed. From there we got quotes, hunted around for grants to fund the project and put a plan and a budget together.

We decided not to tap into the school’s town-water supply to maintain the garden. Instead, we installed a small water pump, purchased with some money we’d raised, to make use of the (at that time) unaccessible tank water from our school hall. One grant application was successful and money from this went towards the purchase of our raised beds.

How long did it take to get up and running?

Discussing the ‘how, what, when and where’ took a little while, as we wanted to make sure we got it right! During term four, 2014 we worked out the logistics of the project, with the aim of taking delivery of the materials for construction in January of 2015. A group of parents and children got together at the end of the summer holidays and constructed the garden—many hands make light work, so building the garden itself took a day from start to finish. Planting happened within the first few weeks of term one, and we had our first harvest by early winter.

What advice would you give other schools setting out to start a garden like yours?

Being a small school, our P and F and teachers work very well together, and we have a great band of merry workers… so I think that played a big part in making this project come together so quickly! My advice would be to plan ahead and seek out and apply for any grants that your school may be eligible for. Also, there are suppliers who will happily advise on the most appropriate heights and sizes of garden beds, etc… and may have specials for schools. Local suppliers and tradies were also very helpful and generous to us with their time.

What has been the best part about setting up this garden?

Seeing the children enjoy getting their hands dirty—the excitement of finding wriggly worms and of course, the digging and planting, nurturing and then harvesting their very own produce. It’s wonderful to see them all hoeing into raw vegetables like broccoli, heirloom carrots, snow peas and celery straight out of the garden.

Any tips on delegating jobs in a school garden?

In our case a jobs and responsibilities roster is part of school life, and watering the garden became part of this system. This means that there are children given the responsibility of watering each week, so watering doesn’t get forgotten about. Most important!

How do you incorporate produce from the garden into the school canteen?

In summer this is easy! We have lovely fresh salads on the canteen menu and we’ve had an abundance of rainbow chard, which has meant some delicious spinach cob loaves (even the kids who ‘don’t like spinach’ think it’s delicious). Through the winter there was bolognaise, nachos and homemade chicken soup on the menu, in which beautiful fresh celery, carrots and herbs were used. We also make a point of using the celery, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers and radishes from the garden, chopping them up to put on the windowsill for the children to help themselves.

Why do you think it’s great for schools like yours to have a garden and involve the kids in it?

It teaches children so much about all sorts of things. As well as being a useful tool for the teachers, giving them scope for teaching things like science and numeracy, it’s a wonderful learning experience in terms of sustainability, being waterwise and in teaching self-sufficiency. It teaches the seasonality of foods and that everything has a beginning and an end. It gives children such a boost, knowing they can grow something they can actually use. It’s also brought people together (children, parents, teachers, friends, helpers) in a completely different scene, which has been terrific.

Can you tell us about the garden’s opening and having Costa there?

The garden opening was a fabulous day for the school and the local community. Having a celebrity in town was so exciting–especially one who was so enthusiastic as Costa! He arrived at around 10 am and barely had time to don his well-known bib and brace overalls before being surrounded by keen gardeners, from toddlers to people in their 80s, all keen for a chat about their favourite topic. Meanwhile, the dads built a scarecrow (our Costacrow!) and a good sized crowd mingled and browsed the garden-themed stalls, whilst enjoying a glass of St Joseph’s lemonade, morning tea and a delicious fresh lunch served by our P and F.

Eventually, the crowd focused on the task at hand, which was to plant the ‘mini orchard’. A selection of dwarf fruit tree favourites, selected for their suitability for children, was planted, mostly all by Costa, with a band of merry little helpers. The children got in and did a lot of the hands-on.

We finished the day with the official opening of the kitchen garden, which involved a very funny, animated and also moving talk by Costa, and a pair of golden secateurs from the cretaceous period! He focused on the wonderful legacy the older students are leaving behind as they move on to the wider world. A food garden is such a precious gift—generations of children coming through the school will benefit for years to come.

You mentioned that Costa showed you all a great way to plant the dwarf fruit trees, can you share his advice?

Costa had asked us to prepare the site and have lots of organic matter, including manure and hay for mulching. We were able to supply him with mountains of sheep, cow, chicken and even mouse (from Doolittle Farm) manure! He was most impressed!

  • Holes were prepared with gypsum, ag-lime and dynamic lifter.
  • Costa backfilled the holes a little and added his special ingredient, Rock Dust.
  • Trees were placed into the now shallow holes so that their bases were just above ground level, and planted under layers of mulch and manure. This formed a ‘cocoon’ around the tree, to help conserve moisture and nutrients. We will keep adding to these layers in time.
  • After planting, trees were well watered and given a dose of organic liquid fertiliser, courtesy of Baa Baa Brew.
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They didn’t think Facebook would work for their business

Written by Sonya Martin, Office of the NSW Small Business Commission.
As featured in The Country Web 2016 Annual

On Wednesday Tracie Johnson’s business didn’t have a Facebook page—by Thursday, 150 000 people had seen her first post.

Tracie and Coel Johnson

Tracie and her husband Coel are partners in CT Johnson Shearing, a business they started 12 months ago. Coel has been shearing since he was 17 and the couple decided it was time to capitalise on his experience and reputation by starting their own operation.

Today their team of shearers, shed hands and wool classers could be anywhere in Australia where there is a flock to be shorn. Travelling with their own food supply (and a cook who knows what to do with it), they spend weeks away on a property, shearing large flocks of sheep.

“It’s hard work,” said Tracie, “and every business is challenged with the issues of finding ways to generate new business.” The drought has taken a toll on flock sizes and competition can be tough. “You have to look at different ways to increase revenue and build brand recognition.”

It was the quest to grow the recognition of CT Johnson Shearing that led Tracie to sign up for our Regional Activation Program’s new interactive workshops. Her hometown, Deniliquin, was one of the first NSW communities to be offered workshops, together with Mullumbimby and Gilgandra.

Tracie signed up for a Social Media Workshop, even though she was skeptical that her business would benefit from being online at all, let alone in social media.

“This is basically a word of mouth business,” she said. “Being a service business and in the agriculture sector, I didn’t think social media and online marketing would have any benefit to us.

“Social media is only going to get bigger and the agriculture sector is moving forward so I thought it was worth trying,” Tracie added.

The night after the one-day course, Tracie went home and set up the CT Johnson Shearing Facebook page. Her inaugural post was two pictures. In the first her husband Coel holds an impressively woolly sheep found by the team on a property in Deniliquin. The second picture shows their son dwarfed by the giant fleece that came off the sheep. Using her newfound social media skills, Tracie also shared the picture with other Facebook pages she thought would be interested, like the R.M.Williams Outback magazine page. The post has been shared over 400 times and as a result it’s been seen by over 150 000 people.

Tracie’s business philosophy is that success relies on continuous learning and in this case that motivation to step outside the norm has paid off in spades.

Attending the Social Media Workshop has turned Tracie from a curious skeptic into a believer and has connected CT Johnson Shearing to a new audience.

Her next project, inspired by the success of the CT Johnson Facebook page, is a website with videos and photographs showing the company’s professional shearers in action all over Australia.

More information
t: 1300 795 534
NSW Small Business Commissioner website

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Our journey into farming

By Liane Corocher, Hunter Valley. As featured in The Country Web 2016 Annual


Moving from a beautiful new home in close proximity to friends and shopping centres to a ‘renovators delight’ on a 20 km stretch of windy dirt road may seem crazy to some. However, this represents the start of the journey into farming that I am currently making with my husband and four young sons.

Over the last 15 years we built our dream home on a small property near Paterson, increased our family to six and started raising our own livestock for meat and milk in an attempt to satisfy the ferocious appetites of our growing boys.

We quickly realised that the experience of raising our own livestock, helping our boys to connect with their food and allowing them to grow up with plenty of space and fresh air was getting restricted by the small size of our property, the abundance of rocks in the soil (not a great medium for growing good pasture or vegetables) and the increasing pressure from surrounding development. We also found that other families wanted to experience the same thing and the demand for our produce and ‘lifestyle’ was exceeding what we could produce on our small property.

So we started thinking. Could we do this on a larger scale on a more productive farm? Could we take the risk of moving our boys to a new town, new schools and a new community? Could we leave the dream we had created over the last 15 years on our existing property and create a new dream and future for our boys in farming? Of course we could. But it would take a lot of hard work to get there.

I am not a huge risk-taker, so everything had to be researched and planned with all the risks listed and measures put in place to manage the risks. We also had some challenges to consider along the way—major back surgery for my husband, a child with special needs and the high cost of productive agricultural land!

Selling our property was the easy part—once I realised that confiscating the Lego and keeping the kids outside were the keys to a tidy house! The hard part was finding a farm within our price range that was productive, had future growth potential (or the ability to lease land nearby) and met our ever increasing list of criteria. We also wanted to make sure our adventure was shared by all of us, so we had to find a farm that our boys actually wanted to move to. And we finally found it.

I should have realised that we had found the right farm when we saw our boys stripping off to have a skinny dip in the river. Our eldest son Jesse was quick to point out that he didn’t join in (nudie swims with your family is not something a teenage boy wants to think about). However, we had a few other criteria to check off to make sure this new farm was the one:

  • Located on a school bus route—important for our kids to meet other kids and give us extra time to work the farm.
  • Located within a 60 minute drive from work—I love my job and the extra income would help in establishing the farm.
  • Located within 90 minutes of a major city with access to TAFE and universities so our boys have options for further training and education.
  • Good local schools with transition programs and special needs classrooms—to help kids who suffer anxiety to transition slowly and kids with special needs to get the support they need to learn and be happy.
  • Water security—access to a water license, bore or substantial dams.
  • Good soils—from experience, it can take years and lots of money to build good soils.
  • A house (in whatever condition) overlooking the farm—to keep an eye on our boys driving tractors, riding motorbikes, etc…
  • Fences and yards in fair condition—we wanted to be able to raise livestock immediately, even if only a small number.
  • Immediate access to a large shed—this meant we could make the move gradually (this is due to having a husband who is a hoarder and can’t get rid of anything as ‘it may come in handy one day’).
  • A stable river system higher in the catchment—so we can minimise any erosion or weed issues.
  • Good community and farming networks—we place a high value on community and
    to be honest, as new farmers, we need all the help we can get!

One aspect that made our move less stressful was the good relationship we had built with our agribusiness finance manager and accountant. A business loan is required to purchase any farm over 120 acres, which means a higher interest rate and shorter loan term. Having a good relationship meant we could discuss different finance scenarios, develop financial plans and structure the loan to meet both our immediate needs and future plans for the farm.

I won’t say it’s been easy. It sounds romantic, but spending hours in front of a computer doing budget forecasts, searching for documents you urgently need yet they were filed in a mystery location and dragging four children around farms hasn’t been fun. There have been times when it has been very stressful and we have doubted our decision.

We understand that this is just the start of our journey and that there will be many more challenges in the future associated with making a small farm profitable. However, keeping a positive outlook and our end goal in sight has helped drive us through the more difficult times. And, I will say, the picture of our boys swimming nudie in the river always puts a smile back on my face.

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5 ways to turn risk into a win

Written by Kathleen Fisher, Knowsley VIC. As featured in The Country Web 2016 Annual

I would never skydive, bungee jump or swim with sharks… and yet I consider myself to be a risk-taker.

How can that be?

Because I believe there’s a big difference between being a daredevil and taking risks. For me, the key to successfully undertaking any risk is to be calculated. Name a person who has achieved significant things by flying by the seat of their pants. I’m sure there have been a select few, but their names certainly don’t drip from the tongue.

I did a quick Google search for evidence to back up my claim and came across a Forbes magazine article that quotes Leonard C Green, an academic and entrepreneur who has changed the world in ways anyone reading my words today can only dream of.

“Entrepreneurs are not risk takers. They are calculated risk takers.” LEONARD C GREEN

That is, they don’t act on a whim, follow a trend or wake up one morning with a crazy idea—instead, they have a goal, create a written plan and step outside their comfort zones to turn their dreams into realities.

How does this relate to me?

Just over 12 months ago, I sold my house and bought a farm… not only in a different town, but in a State I’d never been to. And I did it all on my own while my husband was overseas on a two-year posting for work!

People thought I was mad. The most common thing they said was, “You won’t know anyone. Won’t you be lonely?”

Actually, no… because I had a plan.

I should say ‘we’ had a plan. My husband and I had dreamed of owning acreage for 10 years. He’s a city boy from another country (Zimbabwe) and I’m the fifth generation of an Australian farming family (which greatly helped).

Image of horse and colt

“In my late thirties I reconnected with my childhood love of horses and very quickly started breeding high-end Appaloosas and quarter horses on a boutique level, with the help of wonderful mentors.” Pictured is Treena Razzle Dazzle (AQHA) with her 2015 colt.

As you can imagine, living on a quarter-acre block in town and relying on friends with a few acres on the edge of town to agist broodmares only goes so far in horse breeding. Something had to give.

It’s not easy to synthesise the last year into a series of how-to steps of advice for anyone ready to transition toward a risk-worthy dream, but here are my top five tips:

1. Know your limits

Depending on perspective, I’m either blessed or damned to have an interest in personal financial management. Either way, as the one with this ‘gift’ in my relationship, I had a decade to plan for buying acreage, which is no mean feat in today’s agricultural climate, where you either inherit or save and invest like crazy to afford a (small) property. I knew exactly what we could afford versus what we were prepared to commit.

2. Have a realistic wish list

I’m my parents’ daughter when it comes to land. The fact is that any entry level farm for sale is going to be run-down—there will be rubbish everywhere and the fences will be a mess! However, I had two musts… the first was that the soil and its potential productivity had to be topnotch. This, of course, meant sacrifices elsewhere—and the primary one was a house in desperate need of work.

My second must was that a new location needed to have good job opportunities. While my skill set is easily transferable, my husband’s is limited to certain geographical areas, which narrowed the field considerably.

3. Draw on your networks

In this age of Facebook and other online networks, we have a wealth of resources and support as close as a mouse click. As soon as the purchase of our property was confirmed, I hit my social networks and asked for contacts in my soon-to-be home. As a result, I already had half a dozen friends lined up before I moved, who have since supported me through everything from running out of water to pets dying!

4. Make your own way

Many of us feel there’s a general lack of responsibility in our society. One way I see this played out is the assumption things must come to us, especially socially. However, I believe life is what we make it, which means we can live pretty much anywhere when we make the effort. As such, I joined the clubs and associations that matter to me as soon as I moved. Getting involved is not always easy (and I often vow never to join another committee again!), but it’s the best way to meet like-minded people, create a social life and feel you have a purpose.

5. Choose your attitude

To be honest, there are many times I would have gladly given up over the last 12 months. Most notably when sewerage gushed up through both showers, I didn’t have a single gate on the entire property that actually closed and I unwittingly bought a horse infested with a frightening and contagious equine disease.

However, I had a choice—crumple under the weight of the drama or get on and solve the problem. The fact is, to use an old term from school, life often ‘sucks’.

However, I believe what happens to us is often not as important as how we react, which is why I choose to see problems as opportunities or learning experiences. Giving up is often not a luxury we have, which makes seeing the silver lining on every cloud an absolute necessity.

In the last issue of The Country Web, Jessica Green’s wonderful article ‘Everyday gratitude‘ resonated with me. Whenever you’re in doubt, focus on what you have and the joys of being alive.

How blessed we are to live in a country where the government values the contribution of rural women enough to give us resources, a magazine and an opportunity for our stories to be told!

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Parenting: Managing life transitions

Written by Melinda Philips, Good Grief Ltd. As featured in The Country Web 2016 Annual

Many transitions, large and small, occur at the beginning of the calendar year in Australia. Children start primary school for the first time and young people may start high school, their senior secondary years or further study. Family relocations due to work or study may take place over the long summer break and new jobs may also commence. We know that change is an inevitable part of life, however sometimes we don’t see the broader impact of life transitions until we are trying to deal with the consequences. The following tasks, based on the grief theory of J William Worden (2009), and part of The Seasons for Growth® programs, highlight useful points to consider when managing the changes and losses that come with life transitions.


Good Grief provides education programs to build resilience and foster wellbeing for children, young people and adults challenged by loss and change. The work is based on Mary MacKillop’s principle: “Never see a need without doing something about it.” (Image: Good Grief)

Task 1: Accept the reality of the change or loss

Lovely anecdotes abound about small children, who, after attending their first day or week of school, declare that they’ve finished with school and are ready to go back to how life was. Similarly, the shock of high school’s size and speed, or the scale and freedom of university life, or the unfamiliarity of a new job can have the most well-adjusted person in firm agreement with our five year old friends. However, one cannot go backwards in life. Change is inevitable and working toward accepting both the reality and the significance of the transition readies people to participate in the new experience.

Accepting the reality of the change:

  • Keep to some routines (where possible), or establish new routines. Routines give time and mental space for changes to be processed and accepted.
  • Not everything changes. Take the time to remember and enjoy the parts of life that are staying the same.
  • Rituals can help. Participating in end of year concerts and parties, farewell work dinners and small, personal/family rituals can help people of all ages come to terms with the change. Orientation days, welcome morning teas and other occasions serve a similar purpose in marking new beginnings.
  • Remind people in transition that they are not alone. Many people will be experiencing similar thoughts, feelings and challenges if they too are starting or changing schools, further study, jobs or locations.

Task 2: Work through the pain of grief

Change and loss impacts on each of us differently and people experience and express their hurt in a variety of ways. Each person will need to work through a range of reactions—thoughts and self talk (why did I take this job? Will I make friends?), feelings (fear, anxiety, sadness, excitement), physical responses (headaches, stomach upsets, sleep changes) and behaviours (withdrawing, need for rest, hyped behaviour). This work takes time and energy for both children and adults.

Working through the pain of grief:

  • Bodies are under stress in times of change and transition. Self care needs to be a priority—eat properly, drink enough water, sleep well, fit in a little exercise and spend some time outside.
  • Listen to how people are feeling. Remind people that they have your support.
    Talk about what works for you when feelings of sadness, frustration or loneliness arise.
  • Remember past successes. Previous changes and transitions that have been managed can serve as a useful reminder for people of their personal strengths and provide confidence for the future.

Task 3: Adjust to the new environment

This task varies greatly from person to person, depending on what new skills might be needed. Children, young people and adults need personal skills, relationship skills and learning skills to succeed in unfamiliar learning environments.

Adjusting to a new environment:

  • New surroundings can be daunting. Take the time to become familiar with the new environment and new travel routines.
  • Personal skills: encourage positive self talk and problem solving. Talking about past examples of these can help children and young people draw on previous experience.
    Relationship skills: people need a sense of belonging in their new environment. Social skills (saying hello, smiling, making eye contact and listening) are skills that can be practised at home, and can help children, young people and adults make connections with others.
  • Learning skills: asking for help and information is how people learn and is normal behaviour in a new environment. Encourage help seeking as a worthwhile learning strategy that builds independence and confidence.
  • Build in downtime. Adjusting to a new environment can be physically and mentally draining, so make sure there is time to relax in favourite ways—familiar TV shows, hanging out with friends or the family pet, reading or playing sport.

Task 4: Find an ongoing connection with what’s been lost while living in the new, changed world

As time passes, the new way of things generally gets a little easier. Routines are established, friendships and connections are made and the environment becomes more familiar. Children, young people and adults most often move into a space where they can look forward and be pleased with small, achievable steps toward new goals. However, this does not mean the connection with what was needs to be lost—some precious parts of how things were may be able to be part of the new world, or at least remembered and talked about.

Maintain ongoing connections while living in the new, changed world:

  • Provide opportunities to talk about how things used to be, as well as how they are right now.
  • Make sure connections and support are available. Maintaining different friendships (from past and present, inside and outside school and work) can help ensure there are people around to talk to or share stories with.
  • Be flexible with additional support or time to participate in day-to-day life and get tasks done.
  • Sometimes people need additional support to manage changes and transitions. If the child, young person or adult doesn’t seem to be coping talk with them about it and be ready to speak to appropriate people for additional support.

Change is a normal and natural part of life. People are often surprised by the experience of hurt and sadness alongside excitement and happiness as a result of life’s transitions. It can be reassuring to know there are things people can do to actively manage big life changes or support others to manage. If you are helping somebody manage a life transition, some of the small gestures of support described above can show that although you know change can be hard, you believe in their capacity to cope and, in time, flourish in their new environment.

More information

t: 02 8912 2700
e: info@goodgrief.org.au
Good Grief

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I am an Australian – Just like you

As featured in The Country Web 2016 Annual

Dai Le, Sydney

Dai Le is CEO and Founder of DAWN – a network for professionals passionate about culturally diverse and inclusive leadership.

The true optimist not only expects the best to happen, but goes to work to make the best happen. The true optimist not only looks upon the bright side, but trains every force that is in him to produce more and more brightness in his life.” CHRISTIAN D LARSON

In Syria and the Middle East and the exodus of refugees has made me reflect on my own personal journey.

Like many of you, I lead a busy and hectic life. I’m often caught up with life’s daily routines: from paying bills, picking up my son from school, keeping the house clean, going to work, attending meetings and so forth.

I almost forgot the impact of the ‘boat people’ journey; the sacrifices my mother was forced to make, fleeing war-torn Vietnam, and the challenges we all had to overcome to rebuild our lives here in Australia. Being uprooted from your birthplace and being forced to flee were not something a young child should have to go through, nor would they forget.

Seeing images of small boats on the sea reignited memories of my own family’s escape just before the Vietnam War ended on 30 April 1975.

Following that conflict, hundreds and thousands of Vietnamese escaped communist Vietnam, including my family. Many ended up in refugee camps in countries such as Malaysia, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand. These camps were set up by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). While my family were lucky to survive the boat journey, hundreds and thousands of Vietnamese died at sea.

I remember our boat encountered a huge storm one night. We were literally staring death in the face. The boat pounded so hard against the ocean I thought I would fall overboard. The rain was pelting my face and the wind was howling. It felt like the night and the ocean were going to swallow us up.

We had nothing to protect us except for a plastic tarp. We huddled under that tarp; my mother holding her rosary in one hand praying, while the other arm held my youngest sister. I held onto my middle sister. I kept thinking there was no way we could survive this. Our boat was too small to withstand the storm. But we survived the treacherous sea journey for another week or so.

I think the issue of identity, of who is an Australian, and what makes for an Australian society, is now more important than ever. With the continuing increase in conflicts around the world we will continue to see an increase in the movements of people seeking asylum, a safe haven, away from the daily bombings, fighting and uncertainties in their birth countries. Also with climate change related weather events we could potentially see another type of refugee develop—adding to the tide of displaced people. These asylum seekers will face the fact that their lives will be in a state of limbo, their identity will be challenged and their acceptance tested. And who makes up these asylum seekers? The majority are people like my mother and myself… women and children caught up in the crossfire of opposing forces or circumstances beyond their control.

I was just seven years old when I witnessed my birth country crumble in front of my eyes. I watched as people, confused and frightened, scrambled to get onto boats, screaming and crying as they rushed anywhere their feet could take them. It was total chaos.

I remember lying on that boat surrounded by strangers as I stared into the night’s sky.

Where were we going, I thought to myself? What was happening? Why were we there? Why did we run? Why was I on that boat with strangers? Why were the women crying? Would I go home soon?

I don’t know if you can put yourself into that situation? Can you take yourself there? It is hard to localise what it means to lose everything, until you have lost it all. It is hard to imagine and put yourself in the situation where your village is bombed heavily, or invaded by your enemies, unless you have been there. I can guarantee you it’s unimaginable until it happens to you. It is hard to describe in words the feeling of being uprooted from your birthplace, your motherland—the sense of hopelessness, confusion, loss and fear. Fear of the unknown, fear for the future. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me, my family, to my life.

Our boat journey took us to Hong Kong refugee camps, where we stayed for almost a year before we were accepted for resettlement in Australia. My mother, two younger sisters and I were processed by the UNHCR and then flown to Sydney on 5 December 1979.

Australia was known back then within refugee camps as a big island, with one of the best education systems in the world. So when my mother chose Australia, it was because of its education system.

We arrived with one suitcase and no English. Australia had just emerged from the White Australia policy, which meant there was hardly an Asian face around. I learned later that the Chinese had come here during the gold rush in the 1800s. But in the 1970s, as an 11-year-old I felt there weren’t many people who looked like me.

We were taken to a migrant hostel in Fairy Meadow, a suburb in Wollongong. As soon as we settled into our one bedroom unit, in a red-brick block, I couldn’t wait to shed my refugee clothes and my ‘old’ self. I made a conscious decision to erase as much of my ‘old’ self as possible and start afresh. I wanted to become ‘Australian’ as soon as I could. For me, that meant I had to learn to speak English quickly. I also learned to make new friends so I could practice my speaking; I was looking for opportunities to grow into a new person. Part of me wanted to strip away my Vietnamese heritage completely so that I could become a ‘true’ Australian.

So from the young age of 11, I worked hard to ‘blend in’, to embrace the Australian way of life, to speak English as fluently as I could, and even to learn to eat vegemite on toast!

Did I succeed? Am I a local? Local to where? Am I now as local as those born here? Am I as local as many of you reading this?

In the mid-80s, my mother decided to relocate us from the steelwork city of Wollongong to Bossley Park, a suburb in Sydney’s South West near Cabramatta. In that period, there were more refugees from South East Asia—including Cambodia, Laos—who had resettled in the region (because of the migrant hostel there). My mother wanted to be part of the local community. She wanted to move closer to an area where she could relate to the people, the language, the food and the culture.

My sisters and I had to re-localise ourselves. We had left behind friends we made since we first arrived. While it might look from the outside that we should ‘blend in’ into this very culturally diverse community, it took us a while to ‘fit in’ because from my perspective there were more Asian Australians in this new local area than where we came from in Wollongong.

Cabramatta was known as Vietnamatta. Many Vietnamese refugees have called it home since their resettlement. It is a suburb where the Indo-Chinese refugees, as we were identified, have become comfortable to be ‘local’. And as they felt more ‘local’ in this area, they started to build homes, set up their businesses and raise their families. But then the wider Australian community started to question their ‘local’ identity.

How Australian are these newly arrived migrants? Why don’t they integrate into the wider society? Why are they all living in one area? Why don’t they spread out?

I too questioned this. While I might have looked ‘local’ and should have fitted into this Indo-Chinese community, the decision I made to be ‘Australian’ prompted me to do what I could to leave this local community and move to another, where I felt I would belong ‘better’. Unconsciously, I think I developed friendships with people who were mainly non-Asian Australians.

I found my niche in journalism and thrived. I was determined to be accepted in mainstream media. I did not want to be just an ‘ethnic’ reporter. But that was a challenge.

Being the only Australian journalist of Asian heritage in the industry at the time, and especially coming from an area with a high Indo-Chinese population, any stories on ‘ethnics’ would be assigned to me.

I am an Australian and I should have been able to do general stories, not just ethnic specific. How else would I learn and develop my skills? But my English and accent held me back from progressing up the reporting career ladder, especially on screen. I would argue that being Asian-looking was also a hurdle for me. But I didn’t for one moment let those hurdles stop me. I persevered and did not allow the barriers within the organisation to turn me into a victim.

I continued to give my best, constantly learning, producing, trying and creating story after story. My aim was to better myself, improve my journalistic skills and to contribute. At the end of the day, what was important for me was that I had the privilege to be on this journey, to meet amazing, extraordinary people, whose stories captured the essence of humanity—and captured the hearts of those who heard them.

In October 2014 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was another challenge I had to confront. It made me reflect on the milestones in my life and the battles I had to fight to fit in and be part of mainstream society. I could have died on that boat journey. But I didn’t.

I could have died if I had not discovered that lump in my breast. But I found it and here I am today. I completed my cancer treatments on 30 April 2015—exactly 40 years since the war ended in Vietnam.

With all of these personal challenges, including my foray into politics, I came to realise that I have choices: it is my choice to feel accepted or rejected; it is my choice to feel local. I am an Australian. I was a refugee. And I am of Vietnamese heritage. I don’t need validation from people to feel that I am Australian.

“The road to becoming local is not easy. When we as a community talk about resettling refugees, we must remember that the journey will not simply end when they reach our shores. As I learnt, the journey to become a local may take many years. For those on that journey I encourage you to be optimistic.”

Dai Le is CEO and Founder of DAWN—a network for professionals passionate about culturally diverse and inclusive leadership. Contact Dai at: info@dawn.org.au

Related sites: www.dawn.org.au

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Women in focus: Top 5 tips for successful crowdfunding

As featured in The Country Web 2016 AnnualThis story originally appeared on http://www.womeninfocus.com.au – A CommBank program supporting women in business and community.


Kasia Gospos is one incredibly courageous woman. As we are increasingly encouraged to step out of our comfort zones to seek out new experiences, Kasia took a leap of faith from a great height and landed firmly on her feet.

As a successful management consultant in Poland, she couldn’t have imagined the sacrifices and rewards that would come from stretching her career and herself as a person to the limits. Eight years later and a world away from her homeland, Kasia is paving the way for change and leading tens of thousands of women as founder and publisher of Leaders in Heels, a leading Australian online community and magazine.

One of Kasia’s more recent significant achievements, a successful crowdfunding campaign with the first Make Your Mark leadership notebook in 2014, gave invaluable insights that helped shape her second campaign, which has recently finished exceeding funding expectations also.

Here this incredible feminist and change maker shares with us her Leaders in Heels journey, from her humble beginnings as a blogger to collaborating with designers and publishers to make a positive and unique impact on the complex issue of gender equality.

What inspired the Make Your Mark concept?

In 2008 I left my life in Poland behind and moved to Australia. In this new world I encountered women from many different walks of life. I realised that some women succeeded in shaping their career and life, while other women didn’t. Intrigued, I started interviewing successful women in Australia to connect with them, learn from them and then share their experiences with other women. Leaders in Heels was born.

Since my humble beginning as a blogger Leaders in Heels now has hundreds of interviews with successful women and articles covering leadership, success, career development and entrepreneurship. We also organise events, are active in the gender equality space and offer inspirational prints and eBooks. The blog has been visited over
a million times!

As an analyst at heart and always curious about why certain women are more successful, I ran my own research and collected over 200 responses from Leaders in Heels readers about what makes a successful female leader. I found that there were six common traits that they all used in their life.

They were passionate about what they did, which gave them energy to stay long hours or not to give up—even when the odds were against them. They were creative in achieving their goals, no matter if it was about implementing new products or running effective meetings—they looked for innovative ways of doing things. Passion was giving them confidence to stand up for their beliefs and determination to keep going when things were falling apart. And lastly, they were kind in their actions.

These traits are now part of the Leaders in Heels manifesto which, for me, is a road map to become a leader in every aspect of my life.

The Make Your Mark stationery was created to bring to life the Leaders in Heels manifesto and help women develop these daily leadership traits by creating a habit.

Who did you collaborate with to create such functional, inspirational and supportive content for Make Your Mark?

I love the power of collaboration and when women do amazing stuff together. The Make Your Mark journal has been reviewed by Australian leadership experts Ozlem Beldan, Catherine Nolan, Sonia McDonald, Lisa Phillips and Natalie Goldman, as well as my mentor, Devika Mohotti. I met all of these women through Leaders in Heels. They’ve also contributed to Leaders in Heels and provided some of the content.

Why crowdfunding and how has it disrupted traditional funding?

Crowdfunding allows literally anyone with an idea to share the project with the world and start raising funds. There are many amazing projects that were brought to life by creatives who were supported by the crowd, projects that otherwise would not have come to life as they may have not been considered safe enough for investors.

As I already had a community of women interested in leadership, crowdfunding seemed to be the most obvious way of raising funds. I see the crowdfunding as an opportunity to validate the idea, gain some momentum in building brand awareness and presale as much as possible.

It’s not only about funding but also about doing it quickly and selling quickly. Crowdfunding enables savings in warehousing costs and it is also much more efficient to bulk ship many orders rather than doing it every day or every week in small amounts. I am obsessed with efficiency and automation.

So what are your top five tips for starting a crowdfunding campaign

1. Platform: The first campaign was on StartSomeGood, which is designed to crowdfund social projects. This time I decided to try Kickstarter. StartSomeGood is a smaller business and therefore they were really supportive in helping me launch the project. However, the benefit of Kickstarter is that it is much more advanced in terms of analytics. The design and user experience on the site is topnotch. It also offers currency conversion and broader payment methods. It all results in higher conversion rate.

2. Time: Last time I had only 12 days due to proximity to Christmas and a large upcoming order from one of the leadership course providers under the condition it was delivered before Christmas. The campaign would have been much more successful if I didn’t need to rush. This time I ran my campaign for 39 days. According to Kickstarter research, the most successful campaigns are 30 days and under so I was going against the research. But I really wanted to enjoy the journey and not rush. I wanted to give myself more time and to feel more relaxed.

3. Goal: If you don’t reach your goal, Kickstarter cancels the project and you don’t get to keep any of the funds raised. So it is important to be reasonable when setting up your goal. The amount to raise should be the minimum you need to fulfil the project. For me this was a minimum volume required by the printing company. It is also important to cater for shipping costs and Kickstarter and financing fees (around 10 per cent).

4. Content: A crowdfunding campaign is not an online store. I always treat it as a very personal project—an opportunity to share my story, share my vision on how I came up with the idea and why I need the backers’ help.

People are more likely to support you if they relate to you and see there is a real person who is pushing really hard to make her dream happen.

I love to take people on the journey and make them a part of this beautiful project.
I also firmly believe that these products are the change makers in the empowerment and gender equality space, and through crowdfunding I have an opportunity to share the message with the world!

5. Marketing: The most important lesson I learnt is that marketing starts before the campaign starts. I purposefully designed different marketing strategies to attract my tribe before I launched the campaign.

Two months before the campaign I already had a pre-launch landing page where people were able to register to be notified about the campaign on day one. One month before the campaign we ran an amazing giveaway, ‘Be Empowered’, with over $2500 worth of leadership books (including Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and Ariana Huffington’s Thrive), eBooks, online courses, motivational prints, inspirational stationery and coaching sessions—most of the products I was able to source from our generous contributors and supporters of Leaders in Heels. We had over 1700 entries for this competition.

Lastly, I used Jeff Walker’s technique from Launch to maintain the momentum when communicating with my audience. I also ran a fun image-based survey letting people design their ideal stationery product. It not only helped me learn a lot about my audience but was also a fun way of communicating what was coming and that I really care about their needs.

Was the campaign a success?
I managed to get the campaign over the line, and then some, raising over $AU23 000. From the bottom of my heart, l want to say thank you to everyone who backed me for believing in this project and bringing the Leaders in Heels stationery to life!

Related sites:

Find out more and order your books from Leaders in Heels

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Transitioning from stay-at-home mum to app entrepreneur

Written by Beck Keysers, Orange

As featured in The Country Web 2016 Annual

Beck Keysers with her son Kaiser

Mother of two, Beck Keysers, is the founder and managing director of Autism Link. Her commitment to supporting families with children with Autism and Aspberger’s has seen Autism Link flourish from a simple idea to Australia’s leading resource on Autism services.

I am a mother to two wonderful boys aged three and six years old. My eldest has autism.

Autism or autism spectrum disorder is a lifelong developmental condition that affects how a person relates to his or her environment and interacts with others. People with autism can find it difficult to communicate, socialise and learn new things. They may also have unusual and repetitive behaviours and interests, such as avoiding loud noises, sniffing objects or touching certain textures.

About one in 100 people have autism—almost 230 000 Australians—and it affects almost four times as many boys as girls.

Like many Australian mums, I never thought autism would be a part of my life.

After a career working in special schools and as a disability support worker, when we found out I was pregnant my partner and I decided to move to Orange, his home town, to be near family. I had a few problems throughout my pregnancy and finally after an emergency C-section, Kaiser was born. He was perfect—healthy and happy—and my new role as a mother was by far the best.

As a baby, Kaiser was very easy to please, always laughing and he never complained about anything. He reached all his milestones on time and as far as I was concerned his development was spot on. At two years of age he experienced his first day at family day care.

I received a phone call after that day to come in for a chat. That chat turned out to be a suggestion that my beautiful, happy son could possibly have autism. They gave me a number to call to make an appointment with the local early intervention service.

After an intense assessment period Kaiser was formally diagnosed with Autism and severe language delay at age three. I wasn’t overly concerned and thought I would just need to get him some speech therapy. Little did I know that I would need ongoing assistance to ensure his needs could be met. This included speech therapy, occupational therapy, early intervention, a preschool that could assist him in a mainstream environment and learning to provide him with coping skills to deal with anxious situations. I found the experience really challenging and confusing.

Kaiser’s brother Xavier was born during this process, which made things incredibly hard. It wasn’t easy to help him with a newborn to also look after. However, Xavier has helped him in many ways in terms of communication and social interaction.

Watching them grow together has been very encouraging and it has inspired me to offer a resource for families to access services and information relating to autism.

Since Kaiser’s diagnosis I have met other parents like myself who are unsure of where to go when their child is autistic or is undergoing an autism diagnosis.

Some services don’t advertise on the internet and others have huge waiting lists, while some just don’t fit my sons needs.

Developing a relationship with the educator or therapist you choose is first and foremost. Your child has to enjoy attending sessions and feel safe and happy while doing so.
I came up with the idea for the Autism Link app to help families find local support services, relevant information, resources and much more.

Early intervention is crucial to ensure that kids get the support they need. The Autism Link app will hopefully give families choices to explore other options, especially if what they’re using is not working for their child and family.

Becoming a business woman almost overnight has presented me with a number of challenges. I’m now preparing the business case and technical requirements for the app, finding funding to pay for the development and transforming myself from a stay-at-home mum to the founder of an app start up.

I’m working with Bathurst-based mobile app company Appiwork, who have believed in me and the difference I’m trying to make for families from the very beginning. It really does help to surround yourself with people who want to see you succeed when making an important transition in your life!

The Autism Link app will be free for families to use and the funding for the project is based on service providers paying to promote their services. I really hope to create a wonderful resource for families just like my own.

At the end of the day, I am still a mum who just wants to offer the right information to families. Because we all want the best for our children. We don’t need to be afraid of autism, we need to embrace it and help children to live happy, connected lives.

To contact Rebecca email: rebeccakeysers@autismlink.com.au

Related sites: Autism Link

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5 must-have’s for your networking toolkit

Written by Toni Courtney.

As featured in The Country Web 2016 Annual. Re-printed with permission.

The power of a great network can’t be underestimated—especially when it results in new clients, the next job, or new opportunity.

“Networking is the key to success in business,” says Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone, a book about the power of relationship building and networking.

Someone said to me recently, “Your net worth is the quality of your connections. It’s all about who you know.”

The reality for most of us though is that networking takes us out of our comfort zones. Why? Because you’re putting yourself in front of people who are forming their impressions of you quickly. You’re vulnerable. You want to fit in, be liked and rated well.

woman smiling

Networking well is worth the investment of your time and effort, especially if you follow through and continue to build the relationship by giving meaningful value.


How to overcome feeling nervous or anxious

According to UK research, about 50 per cent of people in the room at a networking event will be feeling anxious. Here are five steps to help you feel more confident and courageous.

1. Choose a great attitude

Rather than deciding how it’s going to be before you get there (which is usually negative), instead be open, curious and create it the way you want it. To do this:

  • Be present with others rather than focused on your inner voice.
  • Be interested rather than being interesting.
  • Give before you get—show someone how you can help them first.

2. Build rapport quickly

Networking is all about building trust fast, so engage in open-ended questions that find common ground and build a conversation from there, for example: “What’s your interest in coming along tonight?” is a good starter.

Take the effort to get to know someone genuinely and learn what they care about, moving beyond the “what do you do?” question—even if it’s a short conversation.

Show the real you. It’s the only way you’ll create meaningful exchanges and manifest the potential for an ongoing authentic relationship.

3. Have an answer for the “what do you do?” question

It’s a good idea to have a couple of different ways to answer this question, depending on who’s asking, how formal your conversation is and when in the conversation you’re asked. For example, two frames for your answer are:

  • Informal/high energy: talk about what you’re passionate about and the difference you make (emotional answer) when you’re already engaged in conversation.
  • Formal/low energy: talk about what you do in the context of your expertise, experience or problems you solve (rational answer) if it’s the first thing you’re asked when you’ve just met someone.

4. Know how to join a group

Joining a group engaged in conversation can be awkward, especially if you’re not immediately acknowledged and welcomed in. The secret is to listen. Listen to the conversation and think about how you can add value to it. A great way to contribute is to pose a question—a good quality question will help establish credibility with the group, especially if it leads the conversation forward.

5. Know how to leave a group

Always acknowledge the person/people you’re leaving. Here are some examples:

  • “It’s been good to meet you. I’d better pop around and meet a few more people before the end of the evening,” or;
  • “It’s been great chatting with you. I’m sure you’d appreciate getting to meet other people here tonight too, take care and enjoy the rest of your evening”.

In conclusion, networking well is worth the investment of your time and effort, especially if you follow through and continue to build the relationship by giving meaningful value.

Re-printed with permission. Copyright © 2016 Toni Courtney All rights reserved.

Related sites: www.tonicourtney.com/blog

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