2022 AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award to be announced tonight

The 2022 national winner and runner-up of the AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award will be announced tonight at a dinner at the Great Hall, Parliament House in Canberra. The event returns after a two-year hiatus.

The AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award is Australia’s leading award empowering and celebrating the inclusive and courageous leadership of women involved in Australia’s rural and emerging industries, businesses, and communities, now and into the future.

The state finalists are:

Kimberley Furness

Kimberley Furness understands the prestige of the AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award – having interviewed many a state/territory finalist and winner herself.

The Victorian journalist and founder of OAK Magazine is passionate about telling the stories of women living in regional and rural Australia – launching her quarterly print magazine from her home in Bendigo in 2017 as a platform to celebrate female changemakers outside metropolitan areas.

The mother-of-four started her journalism journey at just 15 when she completed her Year 10 work experience as a reporter for The Nhill Free Press. Since then, she’s worked as a reporter for the Bendigo Advertiser, in beauty therapy, corporate communications, copywriting, and social media consultancy.

Kimberley’s belief that “you cannot be what you cannot see” and her yearning to see more regional and rural women represented in print media remains her greatest career ambition. The businesswoman now employs writers, photographers and designers from across country Australia who help bring each issue of OAK to life.

The editor would use her $15,000 Westpac grant towards an audio version of the magazine, employing radio journalists based in the bush to create and produce the content.

Kylie Jones
Northern Territory

Kylie Jones understands the importance of teamwork and community in empowering people to be the best version of themselves. The former Tasmanian cricketer and outback schoolteacher is a passionate advocate for remote learning and a champion for the parents and governesses who take on the role of educating the next generation – often without adequate support.

Drawing on her years of experience in primary education, in 2020, Kylie launched RAISEducation – a not-for-profit organisation with the goal of building a community that supports remote educators to feel connected, empowered and confident about the lessons they deliver. In doing so, it aims to make the remote classroom a place that fosters a love of learning in students.

Two years on and RAISEducation provides evidence-based learning support to pre-school and primary-aged children in 40 isolated families across WA, NT, SA and Qld.

At the heart of the organisation is Kylie’s drive to ensure her services remain free for educators seeking guidance through the RAISEducation programs.

“Geographically isolated families already face so many challenges and costs to educate their children. We believe professional, evidence-based educational support should be available to anyone who needs it, regardless of their financial situation,” Kylie explained.

As the 2022 NT AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award winner, Kylie would commit her $15,000 Westpac Grant to build brand awareness and further establish RAISEducation’s donor pathway, working with supporters who similarly recognise the benefits of helping isolated families to get the most out of their early education experience.

Louise O’Neill
Western Australia

Living on the land has many upsides, but rural communities often lack much-needed well-being services. Mum-of-two and university-qualified sports therapist Louise O’Neill wants to fix that, with Farm Life Fitness – an online community that’s transforming the physical and mental health of people in rural Australia.

“I have witnessed too many people suffer as a consequence of decreased health,” Louise said. “What drives me is the fact that I know we need – and deserve – better.”

Farm Life Fitness runs 30-minute live, online group fitness classes, offering a quick, safe, and effective way for people of all fitness levels to exercise – from the comfort of their own homes. One-on-one sessions are also available to those seeking individual coaching.

But Farm Life Fitness is more than just a sweat session. A soon-to-be university graduate of psychology and counselling, Louise understands that optimising rural health means looking after the mental side, too.

“Our members take part in virtual workshops and talks about mental health and wellbeing,” Louise explained. “Together, we discuss things like the importance of goal setting, finding balance, and [reshaping] our emotional relationship with food.”

Farm Life Fitness is tapping an unmet need.

“The men and women who engage with me on a one-on-one basis are more likely to talk than train,” Louise reflected.

“Farm Life Fitness is a community in its own right. We support, validate, and celebrate with each other, and we are there for each other when the days are not so great. Members thrive in this community; everyone feels safe and trusts that our classes and workshops empower life-changing experiences.

“Young children growing up on the land need strong, positive role models. Farm Life Fitness can help create these – and change the stats around mental health and farming.”

If successful, Louise would use her $15,000 Westpac bursary to scale the Farm Life Fitness community and hone her pitch to the business and local government sector. She would also use her funding to better articulate her brand and develop a user-friendly website that provides a dedicated online home for members.

Robyn Verrall
South Australia

Food insecurity is more than just a concept for Robyn Verrall. The 2022 SA AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award winner knows first-hand the unease of stretching budgets to afford the weekly grocery shop from her time as a young single mum.

The Keith-based beef and lamb producer is now helping tackle food insecurity, working in partnership with Kere to Country (pronounced Carry to Country), providing mentoring and logistics support to the group’s CEO, Jessica Wishart.

The First Nations-led organisation provides affordable meat packages to remote Indigenous communities in Central Australia, where locals are spending up to 80 per cent of their income on inflated food prices, and some are going without food altogether.

Robyn would use part of her $15,000 AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award grant on a custom-made mobile cool room, to enable weekly meat distribution to Aboriginal communities.

“You can’t plan for the future when you have an empty stomach. It just shouldn’t be acceptable that so many people are going hungry,” Robyn said. “Kere to Country is Aboriginal formed and led through Jessica’s vision — I’m just trying to be part of the solution.”

Josie Clarke
New South Wales

Josie Clarke is on a mission to change perceptions of people with a disability and their capacity to work in agriculture – and create opportunities for them to be involved in the sector they love.

Ability Agriculture is a labour of love; Josie’s response to the devastating truck accident that left her father a paraplegic and took him off the farm and into a desk job.

Confronted with the reality of life on the land for people with a disability, Josie wanted more for people like her dad. She set about giving them a voice.

An online community with over 2,000 members from Australia and abroad, Ability Agriculture raises awareness and opportunities for those with disabilities in the agricultural sector. An interactive online platform, it welcomes individuals, family members and agribusinesses to share their employment experiences; the adaptations or supports that have enabled people with disabilities to keep working in the sector; and to voice the changes they want to see made to make agriculture a more inclusive workplace.

“We need to ensure those incredible voices are being heard,” Josie said.

From the “Words of Advice” to the “Take Overs” – a ‘day in the life’ snapshot of disability – Ability Agriculture is amplifying the voices of those who have long been under-represented in the sector.

With post reaches of up to 375,000 viewers, Ability Agriculture is challenging and changing perceptions around agricultural career opportunities for people with a disability.

“Ability Agriculture is not only showing that agriculture can be a truly inclusive and accessible career option for anyone, including those with disability, but also creating a positive, proactive conversation around the capacity of people with disability,” Josie said.

“Around 75 per cent of people don’t disclose their disability to an employer, and, to me, that shows a fear that maybe they won’t be hired if they let it be known they need some extra support. We need to change that.”

As the 2022 NSW AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award winner, she would use her $15,000 Westpac bursary to create an accessible Ability Agriculture website – including an employment page that highlights inclusive agricultural jobs – and deliver more awareness-raising initiatives that extend this important conversation.

Stephanie Trethewey

Stephanie Trethewey is on a mission to eliminate the crippling isolation that can accompany rural motherhood.

It’s a topic close to the heart of the former city girl and broadcast journalist, whose move from Melbourne to a small farming community in Tasmania’s northwest saw her confront firsthand the isolation that rural mums can feel.

“My struggles as a rural mother fuelled my desire to create meaningful change for rural mums across Australia,” Steph explained.

The Motherland podcast was born. Sharing authentic stories of mums on the land, Motherland struck a nerve with women for its raw, unfiltered representation of motherhood. Two years on, the weekly podcast has amassed over 330,000 downloads and profiled over 130 rural mothers.

But Steph wasn’t done. Alarmed that more than half of her listeners had no access to mothers groups, she set about giving every rural mum the opportunity to join one.

Her solution was Motherland Village – an online facilitated program that connects rural mums through ‘virtual villages,’ where they share in video calls, a private Facebook chat room, and weekly activities that encourage deeper connection.

With nine virtual villages already online, Motherland Village is making its mark on rural motherhood. But Steph has an even bigger goal: connecting with every hospital in Australia that delivers rural babies. Katherine Hospital in the Northern Territory is first to sign on, recognising the tremendous potential to improve mental health outcomes for the 300 mums who give birth there each year.

“We are in the midst of a loneliness epidemic that is only increasing mental health struggles for new mums in the bush. My vision is to ensure no rural mum in Australia is left behind,” Steph said.

As the 2022 Tasmanian AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award winner, Steph would use her $15,000 Westpac grant to invest in an online platform which will house new program content, Motherland Village hospital toolkits, and a Communicator Coordinator role for a rural mother to join her team.

Rebecca Bradshaw

Child health nurse Rebecca Bradshaw is passionate about access to health services — no matter the postcode. Specialising in child health from nought to five, Rebecca launched her online telehealth platform, Rural Child Health, at the beginning of 2021 — designed to give rural and remote parents the support and education they need to raise their families.

Living on a beef cattle property near Queensland’s Jackson with her diesel mechanic husband, Clancy, and their two young sons, Rebecca knows just how isolating raising a family in the bush can be.

The nurse offers digital support networks, parent groups and webinars, as well as one-on-one virtual appointments to help with everything from breastfeeding and health concerns to sleep and settling.

Rebecca was inspired to become a nurse when she was just nine years old, after her father suffered a serious farming accident. Watching how the nurses helped her dad recover, Rebecca grew determined to help others in a similar fashion.

If successful, the nurse plans to put her $15,000 Westpac grant from the 2022 QLD AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award towards setting up a website, gaining business and facilitator coaching and delivering a pilot parenting program to rural families.