Last night I was at Parliament House in Canberra to attend and MC at a gala dinner to welcome in the 2017 AgriFutures Rural Woman of the Year (AgriFutures is the new look and name for RIRDC). Not only did it mark the end of my 12 months as the 2016 Rural Women of the Year but it also gave me the opportunity to share the progress of My Open Kitchen over the last 12 months.
And I hope you don’t think this a completely self-indulgent exercise….but thought I’d share with you my speech as the outgoing Rural Women of the Year as I hope there are many other women who a. feel the same way as I do and b. should feel encouraged and supported in the same way I have this year. And if you are one of these women, please please let me encourage to you apply for the 2018 Rural Woman of the Year? Applications are now open so please throw your hat in the ring – it was one of the best things I ever did.
But before I do that – I want to tell you about the two incredible women below, this year’s winner and runner up. 2017 AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award National Winner is….drumroll…Tanya Dupagne (on the right). Tanya comes from WA’s wheatbelt and there in the town of Kulin runs a camp for kids and their Mum’s to grow in resilience and confidence and to help them build life skills. The whole town calls her ‘Mum’ and she has changed, is changing and will change many many lives through her warmth, innovative programs and support.
National Runner-up, and lady in red below is Simone Kain from Penola in South Australia. Simone is the co-creator of George the Farmer; the character staring in a series of apps, books and educational programs and is all about using George and his agronomist wife Ruby and their stories to educate kids about where their food comes from and what happens behind Australia’s farm gates. Please pop on over to the AgriFutures site to read more about these amazing women and the full complement of 2017 national finalists. All such incredible women.
The morning after last year’s award ceremony my 7-year-old son bounded into school telling everyone that his mother was the new ‘woman of the year’. And while I’m happy for my children to have unrealistic expectations of me – I did call and ask the principal of our wonderful small country school to change the letter board to reflect my brand new ‘title’.
I was that morning, and am even more so today, very proud to be the 2016 National Rural Woman of the Year.
This award celebrates, and most importantly I think – gives women like us the courage of our convictions. Because, whether you sit on a tractor, in a boat, at a desk, behind a counter, with a patient or in front of a classroom, we all have important contributions to make in our regional and rural communities. But not all of us are born with the confidence to easily realise this potential.
This is the biggest lesson I’ve learnt this year – to be certain of the contribution I make and – to go out there and make it. I learnt this lesson in part thanks to the award itself but also through the support of the alumni network and the personal and professional development opportunities that have presented themselves these past 12 months.
Rural and regional communities, and their futures, depend on resilient, confident women working in a huge variety of vocations – just look at the diversity of backgrounds and stories in this year’s line up of finalists! So my advice to all of you tonight, whether or not you are named the national award winner – is to really take every opportunity that comes your way – and many will – to learn, network and confidently share your skills and stories and in turn encourage others to do the same. The best kind of ripple effect!
And another thing I’ve found – the more you put yourself out there, and challenge yourself to speak in public, give interviews, mentor and be mentored, the more comfortable you will be doing so – and think of all the other women who will in turn be inspired by your confidence.
So here’s what I’ve been up to this year – my award project idea My Open Kitchen has grown to encompass a podcast, series of workshops and e-course all designed to encourage, inspire and educate farmers and food producers to take advantage of social media platforms to tell their stories and build supportive communities. Our podcast has been downloaded over one hundred thousand times, the e-course is into it’s fourth round and my workshops and presentations have reached thousands of people from Broken Hill to Warnambool, Grafton to Wagga Wagga. As a result of all of this, I know that there are many more farmers and producers out there telling their stories, engaging with new customers, peers and communities of support and doing their important part in breaking down the urban rural divide through the sharing of authentic, real and positive stories from behind the farm gate. We have even seen a surge in #felfies – farmer selfies being shared all over social media. Move over Kardashians!
I still have of course, many things to learn, achieve and improve upon. And My Open Kitchen is still very young but I’m excited about its future and so grateful to the award for giving me the kick start needed to get this thing off the ground.
And even though I’m not going to be the Rural Woman of the Year, let alone Woman of the Year for much longer – I would like to take this opportunity to say to all the women who want to make an impact in regional and rural Australia – lets keep lifting each other up, sharing our skills, making our contributions and confidently telling our stories.
All images by Sean Davey