2002 Winners

2002 New South Wales Winner - Robbie Sefton

Hunters and Gatherers – a Better Way of Understanding the Information Needs of Rural Australia

Robbie has a dual investment in rural Australia, as a producer, running a farm business involved in wool, meat and grains and as a communication consultant, running a national and specialist public relations agency catering to clients who need to communicate with rural, regional and remote Australia.

Robbie’s vision is for a vibrant and tenacious rural Australia, full of opportunities for a healthy future for the next generation of primary producers and regional communities and with it a stronger voice for rural Australia.

She believes a better understanding of the issues driving rural communities and their people, will allow both public and private sector organisations to better target the delivery of products and services required to sustain rural Australia.

Her proposed activity involved the development of a network of ‘hunters and gatherers’ of social, economic and biophysical information throughout rural and regional Australia.

The overriding objective of the project was to establish and evaluate the way in which the ‘hunters and gatherers’ concept could be implemented to assist in improving two-way communications with rural, regional and remote Australia.  The project would fill what is a serious void in accurate, reliable and current information on rural Australia and would set up an enduring framework for reliable data collection from rural communities.

Information collected was to include:

  • Economic -Economic drivers, key industries, employment trends & key business developments.
  • Social -Health, education, telecommunication and other services.
  • Cultural and Demographic – Aboriginal, women & youth issues.
  • Political – federal, state & local.
  • Media.

The ultimate aim of the proposal was to have a “hunter-gatherer” network, with over 1,000 villages, towns and rural cities, each with a district population of 2,000 or more, throughout Australia feeding into the information network.

A draft Strategic Plan was completed and included an analysis of relevant sociological research, an examination of previous rural and regional communication initiatives and consultation with government, media, business, social and technology organisations. Importantly the plan reinforced the need for accurate and timely data and has won strong support from key public and private sector organisations.

The specifications for the gathering, amalgamation and analysis of data were completed and were used as the basis to prepare a briefing document for the ‘hunters and gatherers’, to ensure uniformity of materials gathered, to provide for direct comparison and meaningful analysis.

Initial assessment of a range of rural communities within New South Wales, deemed suitable to be involved in the pilot program, along with a preliminary analysis of potential participants in each area, was undertaken.  A pilot program, involving rural communities targeted within New South Wales, was scheduled for implementation in late 2003.  The success of the pilot program was critical to the future roll out of the program, both within New South Wales and Australia wide.

Robbie believes the implications of the concept would be significant for the way in which private and public sector entities relate to rural and regional Australia. The delivery of this information will allow government agencies, business and industry organisations to develop policy, programs and services, which not only meet the needs of rural and regional areas, but will also be embraced by the people living within those communities.

Robbie believes passionately that for rural and regional Australia to prosper and grow, rural women must be given the opportunity to be economically empowered and financially independent. She believes her project when fully operational would allow over 1,000 women the opportunity to have an additional income through information collection, income that was previously not available to them.

In the twelve months of the Award Robbie learnt more about what life is really like in the bush and has been truly humbled by the experiences the Award has given her. The overwhelming key learnings during the year include:

  • Women are the silent partners yet they are the glue that hold families and communities together.
  • Young women are around but too busy to be seen.
  • Women in the bush are aging and tired but remain resilient and passionate.
  • Women in the bush are wise.
  • Farming families are not encouraging their children to return to the farm.
  • Life on the farm is becoming ever more challenging for all involved.

Her personal goal is to be as generous and as gracious with her new learnings in life, by passing these on to other women on her journey in life, and repay the compliment of women to her over past years.

2002 Victoria Winner - Carol Mathew

Alpaca Processing and Markets in the Outside World

At the time of the Award Carol Mathew was an alpaca stud breeder and a Director of the Australian Alpaca Association and the industry representative on the RIRDC Rare Natural Fibre Committee. Carol’s vision is to see the Australian Alpaca Industry become a viable agricultural industry, which value-adds to the Australian clip.

The Australian herd is currently estimated to number 50,000 animals, making it the largest herd outside South America, where in Peru the herd totals three million and in Bolivia and Chile, between them, 1 .5 million head. The Australian alpaca industry is a new and emerging agricultural industry and in 2002 was at a critical stage of its development. In 2002, while domestic demand outstripped processing capacity and supply, the herd size was predicted to more than double within five years, making the establishment of processing capacity and export markets critical to the industry’s future viability and success.

The primary objective of Carol’s proposed activity was to assist the industry value-add to the clip, by firstly, seeking out scouring and processing opportunities offshore, before acquiring knowledge of export processing requirements, export demand, opportunities and niches, necessary to secure new markets for the clip. Her proposed activity involved two major study tours, the first to New Zealand and the second and larger tour to Japan, the UK and Italy.

The New Zealand tour involved meeting with key members of the NZ industry, including the New Zealand Alpaca Association, the Wool Research Organisation of New Zealand, along with numerous fibre producing and processing firms. As a direct result of her tour, the Australian Alpaca Cooperative entered into business arrangements with a number of New Zealand firms, who committed to commercially scouring the Australian clip.  The second study tour involved meetings with international industry representatives in Tokyo, London, Leeds, Florence (including the Pitti Filati Trade Fair) and other Italian cities.

While the tour revealed the fibre market internationally and alpaca prices alike to be depressed, valuable contacts were made and knowledge gained on fibre blends and trends, export capacity and demand and possible opportunities for the Australian clip.

Key learnings from the tour included the international market emphasis on blends as a continuously evolving point of difference, the fact that if Italian processors do not use the fleece it does not make the retail shelves, along with strong feedback on the quality of the Australian clip and the belief that the Australian industry knows how to produce superior fibre.

Significantly one top Italian manufacturing firm expressed a keen interest in developing an exclusive alliance with Australia alpaca. The major hurdle to the alliance being forged was the Australian industry’s capacity to deliver the required supply.

The implications of Carol’s project on the Australian alpaca industry were very significant, not only in the knowledge and contacts gained, but in the opening up of new opportunities for processing in New Zealand and new possibilities to export into Italy. These opportunities steered the industry in the right direction to securing its long-term viability and longevity.  The twelve months were personally challenging for Carol and resulted in numerous speaking engagements, including keynote address to the Australian Alpaca National Conference and talks to the Australian Sheep & Wool Show and the Victorian Alpaca Fiesta.

The Award also considerably expanded Carol’s international contacts and her knowledge of the global fibre market and the threats and opportunities the Australian industry faces. This knowledge has enabled her to argue points of view more successfully and succinctly, in discussions on issues pertinent to the industry.

2002 Queensland Winner - Mary Lankester

The Business of Tropical Wine

Mary is a banana grower from Northern Queensland and an active industry participant, sitting on the Executive Committee of the Innisfail Banana Growers Association and at the Time of the Award was the only woman member on the industry benchmarking Better Banana Group.  Her vision is for a vibrant and positive rural Australia, by developing new and alternate agricultural industries, which offer career opportunities for the regions and for the next generation.

Mary was frustrated with the excessive wastage of fruit, with close to 15% of the state’s bananas sent to the fresh fruit market rejected due to minor skin blemishes.

Her proposed activity involved the development of a regional industry and tourism venture in tropical fruit wines, by utilising the discarded second grade fruit.  The objectives of her proposed activity were three fold:

  • To construct a business plan, complete with a targeted marketing plan for the tropical wine venture.
  • To upskill herself and the venture, with training in winemaking and business and marketing skills along with knowledge on best practice winery design and quality assurance export standards, while seeking out opportunities for business mentoring.
  • To establish a laboratory to monitor quality controls and ensure consistent product development.

In her 12 month tenure Mary attended some 36 courses, with a focus on leadership, business and winemaking, with all courses relevant to the development of the tropical fruit wine industry.  The business plan was completed, an Australian Institute of Company Director’s course attended and passed and supply chain avenues to Japan were explored.

The laboratory was established to the stage of monitoring product development and satisfying all legal requirements. Equipment was installed in the laboratory, and most importantly the ReflectoQuant has made testing quality and accuracy significantly faster and more reliable.

The winery was fitted out and now named “Paradise Wines” with the first commercial production in May 2002, coinciding with her first major taste-testing undertaken in Victoria in May 2002 at the “Best of Australian Banquet” as part of AFFA’s Women in Innovation program.

On a personal level, Mary can now boast a solid knowledge of winemaking, business and marketing, knowledge that she has been able to share through media, community groups and conferences to the fruit wine industry, both within Australia and abroad.

Mary’s project was the catalyst behind the start-up of other tropical fruit ventures and was instrumental in the establishment of the Association for Tropical Northern Queensland Wineries, upon which she was Vice-President.

The Association was the first fruit wine association of its type in Australia. It boasted 30 members at the time of the Award and was rapidly expanding.

2002 South Australian Winner - June Gill


June lives in the small fishing town of Port Victorian on the Yorke Peninsula and has spent her working life in the wild catch commercial fishing industry, from deckhand with her father to a working Company Director of a business she shares with her family.

Her enduring passion has been to lift the awareness of the important role women play in the seafood industry and for the seafood industry to be recognised as ‘more than a bunch of blokes in boats’ but rather as a seafood community. Her determination and perseverance saw the foundation of the South Australian Women’s Industry Network in 1999 and its transition into a national entity, and the Women’s Industry Network Seafood Community in 2000, which she was elected founding President.

Her vision is to provide seafood women, both in South Australia and nationally, with learning opportunities and with the support and resources to pursue new business goals and stronger industry involvement.  June, through her day to day contact and conversations with women in the fishing industry, identified a need for a document that would provide them with information and strategies for dealing with industry and government and for furthering themselves and their businesses.

The major objective of her proposed activity was to utilise her current skills, knowledge and experience, through compiling and writing a practical handbook that would provide a clear and useful set of strategies to support seafood women.

Extensive research was undertaken prior to compiling the book, including expansive reading on available literature, internet searches and extensive consultation with relevant agencies and her target audience, to make sure the book truly satisfied its potential customers’ needs.

The book titled “Equilibrium” comprised a number of sections:

  • How to Begin – Information gathering, support groups, rights and services, organising yourself, exchange of information process and keeping it organised.
  • How to Select Professionals or Agencies – Preparing for meetings, assessment, selecting professionals, selecting an agency and a word of caution.
  • How to Deal with Professionals – Preparing for meetings, assessment, meeting and conferences, breaking impasses and applying pressure.
  • CD-Rom Business Directory.

“Equilibrium” (Equilibrium is any condition in which all acting influences are cancelled by others, resulting in a stable, balanced or unchanging state) was launched in Adelaide on World Rural Women’s Day-15 October 2002, to a gathering of some sixty industry and government leaders.

As of 1 May 2003 two hundred copies of the book had been distributed and an additional two hundred sold and distributed throughout South Australia.

The 12-month tenure of the Award changed June’s views on people’s skill development and on their level of confidence and confirmed the need for such a book. The Award provided the resources to put her vision into action. The book, she believes, will be a valuable tool for women, not just in the seafood industry, but across industries, to further themselves and their business ventures.

On a personal level, June says the Award provided her with new opportunities to network and develop lasting friendships with rural women and new opportunities to promote her passion – the seafood community.

2002 Western Australia Winner - Angela Whittington

Review of the future potential for plum breeding in Western Australia in relation to the International Plum Industry

Angela’s involvement in horticulture in Western Australia has crossed many facets of the industry from importing horticultural machinery to owning and operating a wholesale fruit and vegetable operation and one of the state’s largest stonefruit export operations, to in more recent times growing stonefruit on farm.

Angela is motivated by the huge opportunities that Western Australia and its proximity to South East Asia offers the horticultural industry and by the opportunities the horticultural industry affords rural women.

While at the time of the Award Western Australia produced only 10% of Australia’s plum production, it produced 20 major plum varieties and was responsible for 60% of total exports. At the time of the Award, world consumption of plums exceeded 9 million tonnes, with over half of world consumption and production in China. The rapid emergence of China as a market within the previous 10 years had been a key factor behind the industry’s expansion in Australia, and South Africa and Chile.

Total world production of plums doubled in the five years to 2001, with exports exceeding $250m US dollars per annum. Angela believes that Western Australia, in terms of growing conditions, seasons and proximity to market, is uniquely positioned to capitalise on the opportunity that China presents, if the state’s industry can come up with a plum with growing and eating qualities, superior to its competitors and at the most opportune time for the market.

Her proposed activity involved reviewing the potential for plum breeding in Western Australia, by way of a study tour of our industry’s major off-season competitor – the United States – and our major export customer, SE Asia. The key objectives of her proposed activity were to:

  • Develop an in-depth understanding of the international market for plums.
  • Develop an understanding of breeding programs in Australia and how they compare to the world’s largest breeder of plums, the United States.
  • Develop an understanding of the SE Asian market and the potential for Australia to supply that market into the future.

The study tour of the United States, concentrated on the West Coast, focusing on the major growing region of the San Joaquin Valley in California and visiting major producers, packers and exporters, along with researchers behind US breeding programs.

The second stage of the tour involved our major export customers of Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong and China, with meetings with key importing and government officials, along with inspections of markets and their infrastructure.  In addition, a brief tour of the domestic industry was undertaken, to fully quantify the Australian industry, and took in Swan Hill and Shepparton in Victoria and the Granite Belt of Queensland.  The major conclusion Angela has drawn from her study tours is that while there are many opportunities, there are just as many challenges ahead for the Western Australian industry.

The United States industry, with its long history of plant breeding and its strong protection through plant variety rights, meant that it will continue to be the dominant breeder of new plum cultivars and would continue to set the benchmark in new varieties for the major international growers, exporters and importers.

The reality is that while many thousands of varieties of plums may go to trial at any one time, of which some 10-20 varieties may reach commercial release, the cost of replacing existing trees with new patented varieties, when international buyers are reluctant to pay the premiums required, results in few new varieties becoming commercially accepted and planted in any great quantity.

Against these cost impediments, is a supply chain where very few importers or consumers in Asia can identify more than two or three plum varieties, providing little incentive for new varieties with superior eating qualities, let alone the guarantee of varietial recognition and a premium price from export markets.

Despite these conclusions, Angela believes the study tour and the knowledge she gained had some important implications on the Western Australian industry. She firmly believes that rather than trying to compete with the United States through traditional breeding programs, the Australian industry should be concentrating its efforts of fast tracking breeding through genetic engineering programs, along with reducing costs and streamlining the trailing and release of new cultivars, so that they are identified and accessed in a much faster and transparent way.

The Award provided Angela with the opportunity to gain a more insightful and comprehensive level of understanding about the structure and workings of the international traded plum market. These insights she believes will be far reaching as she applies it to her own environment and to encouraging the Western Australian plum industry to the next level of production and international competitiveness.

2002 Tasmania Winner - Jeanette Reader

Import Replacement of Processed Asia Vegetables-Daikon Radish the Test Case

Jeanette, in partnership with her husband, runs a mixed farming enterprise, in Tasmania’s Northern Midlands comprising of predominantly crops along with cattle and prime lambs. The cropping regime is centred on seed crops, namely hybrid cabbage seed, poppies and pyrethrum.  Jeanette’s vision is to provide new opportunities for Tasmanian farming families, through the development of new products and the opening up of new markets.

She is very concerned about the reliance of farming families within the state, on too few industries and too few processors, to guarantee a satisfactory and reliable income. She believes that there are untapped industries and value adding opportunities within Tasmania that if proven, will benefit enormously farming families.

Her proposed activity focused on the production and processing of Asian vegetables and initially Daikong radishes as a new opportunity for the state.  Research undertaken into pickled and dried Asian vegetables, revealed that while Australia during the late 1990’s exported around A$40million processed vegetables, it also imported A$132million of products including processed Asian vegetables.

Trials undertaken in the early 1990’s proved that Asian vegetables could be successfully grown in Tasmania. The overriding objective of Jeanette’s project was to develop a new industry and new opportunities for farming enterprises, by growing and processing a product with a guaranteed market through replacing imports, and a guaranteed financial return by avoiding the demand and price fluctuations of the fresh market.

On the production front, variety trials were re-established and from the initial cull of less than optimal varieties, seven varieties were chosen for initial planting. Varieties were selected on their suitability to climatic conditions and physical traits for processing. Varieties found suitable to local Tasmania conditions included Summer Cross and Okura Cross, with Super Cloud and Relish Cross requiring further trial work to test suitability.

On the processing front, contact was made with key researchers to discuss major issues, including pickling solutions, drying conditions and physical treatment of product. Pleasingly the pickling solution Jeanette trialled was similar to that used extensively in official laboratory testing and thus ideal for processing, while research has revealed optimal drying conditions to be at low temperature and slow, to avoid any detrimental effect on flavour and colour. The physical treatment of the product, be it slicing, dicing or cutting into strips would be determined by the market itself.

Vacuum packing the product was also investigated and shown to be beneficial in extending the shelf life of the product, while presenting it in an easy to use format.

The potential demand for the processed vegetables and possible markets were also investigated. A visit to Food Science at Werribee, confirmed a market domestically for pickled product, including Daikon radish and Daikon leaf. A visit to the Melbourne market resulted in contact with a company that supplies processing plant machinery, which will be invaluable for future infrastructure. A visit to the Defense Nutrition Research Centre at Scottsdale was important in discussing food safety issues and testing their pickling solution; a test that returned positive results.

While much work was to be done, including a successful planting, numerous processing issues and securing necessary markets, Jeanette believed the initial results of her efforts to be extremely promising. She believed the project offered, long term, the opportunity of a new enterprise and an alternate and additional source of farm income and greater financial independence and security. She also believes her project offers rural women the opportunity of a new enterprise and the challenge of fully utilising their wide range of skills.

The most significant outcome would have been the development of a product, with a guaranteed and consistent supply, necessary to allow farming enterprises reliable and consistent returns and the opportunity of being financially self-reliant, while intrinsically involved in the total production to processing process.

On a personal level the Award boosted Jeanette’s skills development and confidence. Her project put her in the spotlight, both at an industry and government level, where she has been selected to represent women at a committee and board level, on an issue she is passionate about, the education and training of young people.

2002 Northern Territory Winner - Kate Hadden

Building Sustainable Indigenous Economies through Natural Resource Development

Kate has close to fifteen years experience in sustainable land management and at the time of the Award was the Environment and Heritage Officer for the Tiwi Land Council. Kate’s vision for natural resource management generally and for the Tiwi people in particular, is to build sustainable economies around the development of natural resources without compromising cultural and natural heritage values.

The Tiwi Islands in the Northern Territory are actively exploring development opportunities as a means of gaining self-determination through economic independence. There has long been concern from Tiwi leaders that reliance on the welfare system does not provide a vehicle for sustained economic opportunities or positive social outcomes.

The Inuit people of Canada are regarded as having successfully attained self-determination and are now focusing on building a sustainable system that will advance socio-economic development through natural resource utilisation.

Kate’s proposed activity centred on a tour of Nunavat and the Inuit people, in the belief that first-hand knowledge of their situation would be of immense value to the Tiwi people and to natural resource management in the Northern Territory.

The overall objective of the project was to gain first-hand experience and knowledge of how an indigenous society is successfully shifting from traditional custodianship of land to contemporary resource management, while improving social and economic outcomes for their people. Particular emphasis was placed on resource development and on the balance between resource utilisation and the maintenance of natural resource and cultural values.

Kate spent one month visiting and studying Inuit organisations and enterprises in Nunavut. Main activities included meetings and discussions with a range of organisations and individuals, to gain information and insight into the processes and procedures governing indigenous control of land and land administration, along with the development of sustainable economic ventures through natural resource utilisation. Kate met with representatives of the Canadian Federal Government, to Government of Nunavut, to Inuit representative bodies and Inuit owned businesses.

Kate believes that the Inuit experience has conclusively proven that the development of economic opportunities if linked to self-determination and self-management will have positive social outcomes. While it is unlikely that the Tiwi Islands will attain territorial status, as the Inuit people have, there remain important elements within the Nunavat model that can be applied to the current Tiwi situation.

One of the major issues facing Tiwi leadership is that of ownership of natural resources. Under current Federal and Territory legislation, cultural and natural heritage values and largely determined by non-Tiwi people, with ownership vested in relevant Ministers.

This has translated to some dis-empowerment of Tiwi leaders to negotiate economic projects with potential investors and a lack of incentive to landowners to manage their resources responsibly. A unique feature of Nunavut decision-making has been the creation of Institutions of Public Government, where decisions on natural resource management are vested with the majority Inuit people.

IPG’s form the cornerstone to Inuit ownership and control over natural resource usage, with Territory and Federal governments legally bound to accept the majority decisions of the Board. Similar structures and procedures over Aboriginal owned land would greatly enhance and streamline natural resource management and its sustainable commercialisation.

The Nunavut government has recognised the importance of baseline information to sustaining resources. Funding was allocated to undertake studies into wildlife, which had been used to allocate quotas for traditional harvest and determine levels surplus for economic use. The paucity of baseline data on the Tiwi Islands had led to legislative bodies invoking the ‘precautionary principle’ which, while sound in terms of sustainable management, does not afford opportunities for commercial development.

The Nunavut government also recognised serious deficiencies in physical infrastructure and that costly investment will be crucial to economic and social development. At the time of the Award the Tiwi were at a critical stage of development, with trial aquaculture and forestry industries proving viable and at the stage of providing significant employment and investment income. Gaps in physical infrastructure, including roads, ports, airstrips and accommodation, were constraining the realisation of economic dependence through core industries.

The Inuit peoples transition from custodial land use had not been without its social challenges, including family breakdowns, youth suicide and domestic violence. However there was general agreement that self-determination is positive and would bring more opportunities to the region and a pride and sense of self-worth to its people. Key factors that the Inuit people have identified, that have contributed to a successful transition include competent and committed expatriate professional staff, acknowledgement of the vested interest of traditional people in the region, community input into decision making and local jobs and training opportunities.

All of the above factors are valuable lessons that can be applied equally to indigenous rural communities in the Northern Territory as they explore opportunities for self-determination and economic independence.

On a personal level Kate gained a greater understanding of the processes, procedures and pitfalls associated with the transition in Nunavut – from individual as well as institutional points of view. The fact that there are significant parallels between the two areas and the obvious benefits to Inuit, provides confirmation that the Tiwi are heading in a positive direction and that the challenges they face are not all unique.

This greatly increased Kate’s confidence in her role with Tiwi people and organisations and provided her with another dimension when dealing with government agencies. More importantly, it supported her vision that the balance between natural resource development and the maintenance of cultural and natural resource values is worth working towards.