2022 Winners

2022 New South Wales Winner – Josie Clarke

Josie Clarke - NSW Winner

Josie Clarke - NSW Winner

Agronomist, Research Assistant, PhD candidate in gene editing for crop improvement, and passionate disability advocate, Josie Clarke is a powerhouse. The founder of Ability Agriculture, she’s on a mission to give a voice to people with a disability, to change perceptions of their capacity to work in agriculture and create opportunities for them to be involved in the sector they love.

Founded in 2021, Ability Agriculture is a cause close to Josie’s heart. When a devastating truck accident left her father a paraplegic, Josie was confronted with the reality of life on the land for people with a disability.

“It is my family’s story that inspired Ability Agriculture. My dad became a paraplegic when I was 5 years old, and at that time it was very much the idea we should sell the farm and do something else.”

The family stayed on their mid north coast farm, with Josie and her siblings juggling extra responsibilities to support their mum to run the beef grazing operation. But Josie’s dad was forced to retrain for a desk job.

She wanted more for her people like her dad, and so, Ability Agriculture was born.

An online community with over 2,000 members from Australia and abroad, Ability Agriculture raises awareness and provides 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 to make agriculture a more inclusive workplace.

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

While she hopes one day to have Ability Agriculture recognised as the representative voice for disability in the ag sector – driving better industry policy, leadership development and workforce planning outcomes – the individual, personal stories are where Ability Agriculture’s beating heart lies.

From the “Words of Advice” to the “Take Overs” – a ‘day in the life’ social media snapshot shared directly by someone with a 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.  

“Agriculture has a diversity of roles and sharing stories of those with disabilities is a start to increasing awareness and inclusivity in the sector,” said Josie.

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

“Around 75% of people with disabilities 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.” 

The 2022 NSW/ACT AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award Winner will use her $15,000 Westpac grant 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. 

Watch Josie’s story

2022 Northern Territory Winner – Kylie Jones

Kylie Jones  - NT Winner

Kylie Jones  - NT Winner

Kylie Jones understands the importance of teamwork and community in empowering people to be the best version of themselves. A self-confessed adventurer, the former Tasmanian cricketer turned 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 – and in doing so, make the remote classroom a place that fosters a love of learning in both students and the educators who dedicate their lives to guiding their development.

As a remote area educator, Kylie recognised the digital revolution has done much to advance remote education, bringing the learning resources of the world to the most isolated classrooms of Australia. “But technology [can only go] so far,” she explained. “It can’t replace the connection you develop with the student when you’re physically present.

This is why I think it is essential that RAISEducation recognises the skills and experience the educator brings to the remote classroom and support them to build their knowledge and skills so they can deliver individualised, evidence-based learning programs on a daily basis.”

Front of mind is Kylie’s own experience, and that of the lifelong friends she’s made in the governess circuit, many of whom were fresh out of high school and struggling to keep up with the demands of the job – and oftentimes without adequate peer support.

That’s why RAISEducation delivers not just online programs, but face-to-face visits that facilitate connections with families and educators. “We want to let them know they are not alone and we’re here to provide learning support for their children,” said Kylie.

“Because geographically isolated families live so far away from other families, they often have very minimal interaction with other kids. It can be very difficult to know if your child is meeting the appropriate developmental milestones and educators are often unaware of learning problems as they seldom see other kids for comparison. We want to be able to provide that support and identify learning issues to make sure students have the fundamental skills they require,” she says.

Two years on and RAISEducation now provides evidence-based learning support to pre-school and primary aged children in 40 isolated families across WA, NT, SA & QLD. Kylie personally assesses and delivers individualised programs for students to work through on a weekly basis, as well as offering ongoing support and progress reports for families.
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,” explained Kylie.

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

Watch Kylie’s story

2022 Queensland Winner – Rebecca Bradshaw

Rebecca Bradshaw - QLD Winner

Rebecca Bradshaw - QLD Winner

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.

With a population of just 57 in the nearby rural town of Jackson in Queensland’s Maranoa Region, Rebecca knows just how isolating raising a family in the bush can be. Living on a beef cattle property with her diesel mechanic husband, Clancy and their two young sons, Rebecca says location and lifestyle should not determine parents’ access to expert advice. The nurse offers digital 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.

Winning accolades is not a novel experience for Rebecca, who received a clinical excellence award from Queensland Health and was the recipient of a Young Australian Citizen of the Year award in 2012 for her work setting up and facilitating a Mums and Bubs groups in Queensland’s Taroom as a 22-year-old.

Rebecca was inspired to become a nurse when she was just nine-years-old after her father suffered a serious farming accident on the family property outside Moura in outback Queensland. Rebecca says the weekly nurse visits to the family home were a highlight for her and her four siblings.

“I’d race home from school to see them; they were just delightful and made us kids feel really important, and we could see how much they were helping dad,” Rebecca says. “It had a massive impact on me, and I remember thinking, ‘I want to make people feel like that’.”

After studying nursing at the University of Southern Queensland in Toowoomba, Rebecca and her partner moved to Taroom for a period where she studied paediatric health externally via the Queensland University of Technology. The pair then moved to Brisbane for five years, where the child health nurse gained her metro stripes working at the Gold Coast University Hospital; before finally setting their sights back on the bush – moving to Chinchilla and then finally to Jackson.

It’s this experience working in both a city and remote setting that Rebecca says sets her apart from other health professionals.

“Many metro health clinicians have no concept of the challenges faced by rural and remote mothers – that we’re breastfeeding in the cattle yards, or we’ve got to cook smoko and lunch for 30 men in the muster because camp cook has gone off sick for two days, whilst we’re juggling babies and toddlers,” Rebecca says. “I get that babies don’t follow the rule book and just because you live out of town, doesn’t mean they’re not going to get sick or have rare diseases or need occupational therapy or speech support. These things happen and rural parents need someone who can link them with the right services and understand the challenges of juggling babies in the bush.”

Rebecca will put her 2022 QLD Agrifutures Rural Women’s Award $15,000 Westpac grant towards setting up a website, gaining business and facilitator coaching and delivering a pilot parenting program to rural families.

Watch Rebecca’s story

2022 South Australian Winner – Robyn Verrall

Robyn Verrall - SA Winner

Robyn Verrall - SA Winner

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.

“Even though I have a loving, supportive family – I couldn’t go and tell them I was experiencing food insecurity with my daughter,” Robyn says. “I had a mortgage to pay and my daughter was at school. I would eat spaghetti bolognaise 10 nights in a row. I remember thinking, this will get us to my next pay…but sometimes it didn’t, and we’d eat two-minute noodles.”

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

Robyn was born and bred in Adelaide, studying nursing and working in medical sales for nearly 20-years. Her life changed dramatically in 2002, after she organised her 20-year high school reunion and was reunited with farmer Chris Bullen, a former boarder from her year at Adelaide’s Sacred Heart College. The pair were married in 2007, with the nurse moving to Chris’s property, Caloundra Station in 2009.

The couple run beef cattle and lambs across 5600 acres, 300-kilometres from Adelaide in the upper south east of South Australia. Looking to reach new markets, Robyn launched the couple’s branded beef line in 2011 – dubbed Bully’s Meats – and started exporting to China, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Middle East in 2013, as well as hand-delivering lamb around the state.

The grazier’s exporting came to a grounding halt due to Chinese export bans in 2017 – the same year Robyn met Jessica Wishart, a proud Bidjara woman from Alice Springs. After experiencing the inflated prices of food in remote Central Australian communities, Jessica founded Kere to Country, enlisting Robyn’s expertise to source quality protein and cost-efficient transport options shortly after.

“Jessica said to me, ‘why can we get good quality, affordable meat to China and not to Central Australia?’” Robyn says. “It made me think there has to be a better way.”

Robyn now organises the transport of Bully’s Meats and other local produce from Adelaide to Alice Springs, where it is distributed by Kere to Country. With affordable, interest free payment plans available for customers, the organisation has fed more than 300 families over the last three years.

“Many of these communities are spending 80 percent of their income on food,” Robyn says. “In Australia, two in every 10 women are going without food unwillingly for 24 hours, every week. For First Nations people, it’s double – with four in every 10 women going without. Imagine waking up every day and wondering, ‘is today the day I don’t eat?’”

Robyn will use part of her $15,000 Westpac grant to transport a custom-made mobile cool room from Melbourne to Alice Springs, to enable meat transport to communities on country around Alice Springs on a weekly basis.

“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 says. “Kere to Country is Aboriginal formed and led through Jessica’s vision – I’m just trying to be part of the solution.”

Watch Robyn’s story

2022 Tasmanian Winner and National Winner – Stephanie Trethewey

Stephanie Trethewey - TAS Winner

Stephanie Trethewey - TAS Winner

Stephanie Trethewey is on a mission to eliminate the crippling isolation faced by many mothers in rural, regional and remote communities.

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

“Becoming a mum was a baptism of fire for me and I wasn’t prepared for the unique challenges that awaited me on the land. My struggles as a rural mother, feeling isolated and feeling an immense loss of identity as a career-focused woman, have fuelled my desire to create meaningful change for rural mums across Australia.”

So, not long after having her first child, the Motherland podcast was born. Dedicated to sharing authentic stories told by women on the land, the podcast struck a nerve with rural mums, who value its raw, unfiltered representation of motherhood – not the Insta-worthy version. Two years on, the weekly podcast has amassed over 330,000 downloads and profiled over 130 rural mothers.

But Steph didn’t stop there. Alarmed that more than half of her listeners had no access to social support networks like the mothers group she’d left behind in Melbourne, Steph set about making a change: creating a world where every rural mum in Australia has the opportunity to be part of a mothers group.

Her solution is Motherland Village – a simple and easily accessible mothers group service that every rural mum in Australia can access, regardless of where she lives, or how old her children are. Offering an online membership service, the digital Motherland Village program connects rural mothers through ‘virtual villages’: small groups that participate in a six-week program that includes facilitated video calls, access to a private Facebook chat room, and weekly activities on a variety of topics that encourage deeper connection.

Motherland has already gathered the support of more than 6,000 rural mums across its social media platforms. In similar strength, Motherland Village has created nine virtual villages, connecting over 80 rural mums from six different states through the digital support group programs.

Having proved the need for the service, Steph now has set her sights on an even bigger goal: connecting with every Australian hospital that delivers rural babies. “I’m on a mission to ensure every rural mum who gives birth in this country does not leave hospital without knowing that they are not alone and that there is a village of other rural mothers available to support them, no matter where they live,” said Steph.

While Motherland Village focuses heavily on supporting ‘new’ mums with children aged from zero to three, the innovative program also offers online mothers groups for rural women with children aged 4-10 years and 11-18 years. 

“We are failing rural mothers,” explained Steph. “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.”

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

Watch Stephanie’s story

2022 Victorian Winner and National Runner Up – Kimberley Furness

Kimberley Furness - VIC Winner

Kimberley Furness - VIC Winner

Kimberley Furness understands all too well the opportunities and alumni network that are part and parcel of the AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award – having interviewed many a state/territory finalist and winner herself. The love of storytelling started at a young age for the Victorian journalist, when an English teacher encouraged her to try her hand at news reporting for her year 10 work experience. Born and bred in Bendigo, Kimberley chose to travel the six hour round trip to the small rural town of Nhill to work at the local newspaper.

“My grandparents had a farm, and I was always involved in that world, and working at this tiny newspaper I absolutely loved sharing the stories of those around me,” Kimberley says. “I realised how powerful news was to connect everyone in a rural community.”

After finishing school Kimberley started reporting and sub-editing for the Bendigo Advertiser, before scoring a much-feted internship at Sydney’s Cosmopolitan Magazine. The week changed everything for the journalist, who came home to Victoria and enrolled in beauty therapy with the aim of one day working as a beauty editor.

After several years working in Melbourne as a beauty therapist, Kimberley moved back to Bendigo with her husband, David and their first child. After several years working locally in corporate communications, she decided to take a marketing position in Melbourne to see how her skills stacked up in the big smoke – and was pleasantly surprised that her experience working regionally gave her a wealth of knowledge and an edge among her city colleagues.

It was on her daily train commute to Melbourne that Kimberley founded her first business – offering social media consultancy and copywriting to female-founded small businesses in rural areas. The businesswoman says she was astonished at the calibre of their stories, and was astounded no one was telling them.

In 2017, six-weeks before taking on the role of keynote speaker at a regional women’s networking event, the mother-of-four decided to create a magazine for each guest’s goodie bag. The magazine received an incredible reception and the journalist felt committed to continue sourcing and printing the stories of women who inspired her.

Now, OAK is a national quarterly print magazine highlighting the stories of women from a vast range of regional, rural and remote backgrounds and demographics. Kimberley works with rural-based writers, photographers and designers to bring each issue to life and is passionate about offering more representation for female changemakers and community contributors.

Kimberley will put her $15,000 Westpac grant towards an audio version of the magazine for those who have a visual impairment or low literacy; in turn mitigating the feeling of isolation that often comes from living in rural areas and offering employment to radio journalists and producers living outside metropolitan areas.

“We’re trying to change the way we tell and share stories, which changes the way women view themselves and view what is possible,” Kimberley says. “Women in business are the fastest growing cohort in Australia, but you wouldn’t know it as we’re underrepresented and we’re missing from the media. I want to help change that.”

Watch Kimberley’s story

2022 Western Australia Winner – Louise O’Neill

Louise O'Neill - WA Winner

Louise O'Neill - WA Winner

Living on the land has many upsides, but rural communities often lack much-needed wellbeing 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,” said Louise.

“A lack of services, stigma about seeking help and pressure from others that don’t want to change are all barriers. So is a lack of awareness about the importance of good mental and physical health – which goes hand-in-hand with the lack of services available in rural locations.”

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

Drawing on the networks she’s worked hard to build, Louise invites guest speakers to present to members on a range of wellbeing topics – giving other rural businesses a chance to reach a wider audience for their services.

Farm Life Fitness is tapping into an unmet, yearned for, need. “The men and women who engage with me on a one-on-one basis are more likely to talk than train,” said Louise.

“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 our classes and workshops provide life-changing experiences.”

Louise runs Farm Life Fitness from an online studio in Denmark, in southern WA. Recognising the benefit that flexible work provides, Farm Life Fitness exclusively employs people from rural communities – offering work-from-home opportunities to those whose remote location or limited access to childcare makes finding paid work a challenge. 

The flow-on benefits that involvement with Farm Life Fitness provides are clear. “Children find their role models, husbands notice a happier, more confident wife and vice versa, and businesses benefit from a more productive employee,” said Louise.

To maximise that impact, Louise’s next step is to directly engage the business and local government sector, “To help them realise that, if they invest in this area, their business and community will reap the benefits as well.”

“We can’t deny the stats surrounding the mental health of those in farming. They can spend all their time on plant repairs and maintaining livestock health, but there is no point if they don’t focus on themselves. Farm Life Fitness helps people in agriculture realise their health is their wealth.”

The 2022 WA AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award Winner will use her $15,000 Westpac grant to scale the Farm Life Fitness community and hone her pitch to the business and local government sector. Louise will also use her funding to better articulate her brand and develop a user-friendly website that provides a dedicated online home for members. 

Watch Louise’s story