Mental health advocate wins inaugural 2019 Agricultural Student of the Year Award


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The winner of the Kondinin Group, 2019 Agricultural Student of the Year Sally Downie is passionate about advocating for mental health, especially for young women in regional and rural Australia.

The inaugural Award category was sponsored by AgriFutures Australia with twenty-one year old Sally Downie taking out the top honour in Canberra as part of the Australian Farmer of the Year Awards. Sally knows first-hand the devastating impact mental health can have if it’s left untreated.

Belinda Allitt, General Manager, Communications & Capacity Building at AgriFutures Australia said Sally’s story was an inspiring one and highlighted her resilience and courage.

“Sally is a bright young women tackling a major societal health issue in a positive and empathetic manner,” said Ms Allitt.

“Her studies will give her a great foundation to continue her important work and give her more confidence and inspiration to create further impact across rural industries and rural communities.”

Sally grew up on a dairy property in Forbes, in Central Western NSW and was surprised to receive the award, as she was unaware of her nomination from her mum, Cheryl.

“The award has given me a real confidence boost and it’s also helped me reflect on my achievements,” said Sally.

“I think the combination of full-time study, working as a Drought Coordinator for Forbes Shire Council and my involvement in the community also helped me take out this prestigious award.”

‘‘I don’t believe there’s enough help targeting women as I’m a strong advocate for mental health having struggled with it myself.”

Sally spent five months in hospital facing her own mental health concerns and that experience led her to “Grassroots Blueprint”, a networking association that helps rural communities connect through barbeques, and workshops.

Sally’s passion for agriculture has been lifelong. At school she was known as being a bit of a ‘cow nerd’. She studied agriculture and primary industries and also helped form the Forbes High School Show Team.

After finishing school in 2016 as Dux of Year 12, she took on a full-time role on the family farm and role of “Young Dairy Network Coordinator” for Dairy NSW, bringing the first network for young dairy farmers to the Central West, giving young dairy farmers an opportunity to learn and engage with others in the industry.


Sally is currently studying a Bachelor of Agriculture (distance) through Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga. Since winning the award in October 2019, Sally intends to change gear with her degree and now move into ag science in 2020.

Grassroots Blueprint gives rural communities a chance to reconnect and talk about mental health by providing a safe space for these conversations.

“As suicide rates continue to climb, I would like to see mental health as part of the school curriculum and a mandatory component for all university students,” she said.

“University students are going directly into workforces so they’re in the driver’s seat to male real change when it comes to mental health awareness and direct contact with rural communities.’

“My advice for others struggling with mental illness is don’t be embarrassed by it and get help sooner rather than later before it escalates.”

In 2019, Sally was part of the ABC Trailblazer Program which has helped her continue to run various workshops locally and she’s determined to improve mental health services in regional Australia.

“Studying has definitely helped my wellness journey,” she said.

“Once I complete my degree, I am looking forward to reaching out to more regions with Grassroots Blueprint,” said Sally.

If you are struggling or know someone struggling with mental illness contact:

In an emergency: 000

Lifeline: Phone: 13 11 14 (24/7 service)


Beyond Blue: Phone: 1300 22 4636 (24/7 service)


Black Dog Institute: Website:

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