Tech startups are no longer restricted to concrete-jungle super cities and insular tech hubs (a COVID-19 silver lining perhaps?). Whilst metro centres continue to nurse lockdown-languishing hangovers, the sun is shining brightly for startups in rural Australia. Boasting lower overheads for rent and utilities and an ingrained appreciation for virtual meetings, silicon valleys outside the big smoke are a tree-lined no brainer.
For those already living in rural, regional and remote areas, the recent shift is not only creating more opportunities for bush-based businesses to engage with customers across the world – it’s also shaping the way they connect and deliver much needed resources back on home soil.
Recognising a need to support and promote female-led ingenuity in the regions, AgriFutures Australia established the Rural Women’s Award back in 1999, to celebrate and inspire the next crop of female leaders in rural and regional industries, businesses and communities. The award recognises a finalist from every state and territory who goes on to take part in a hyper-targeted professional development program – each finalist also armed with a $15,000 grant and access to some of the top thought leaders and decision makers in the country.
More than two decades on – with the support of long term Platinum Sponsor Westpac Agribusiness – the prestigious award continues to unearth some of the best grass roots tech and digital businesses in the bush; the 2022 cohort no exception.
Quashing preconceived notions of dust covered Akubras and scuffed boots, these rurally-based women are redefining what it means to be a community focussed tech-prenuer in a post-Covid world – and we are here for it.
Josie Clarke, NSW/ACT
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 her people like her dad. She set about giving them a voice.
Amassing 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.
Regularly reaching 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”.
“Around 75% 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.”
Rebecca Bradshaw, QLD
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 more options when it comes to selecting health services for their families.
Living on a remote 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.
Rebecca believes it’s her experience of working in both a city and remote setting that 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.
“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.”
Louise O’Neill, WA
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
“We can’t deny that 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.”
Kylie Jones, NT
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 and teachers to feel connected, empowered and confident about the lessons they deliver.
With a background in primary teaching and governessing across the top end of Australia, Kylie recognised the digital revolution has done much to advance remote education, bringing the learning resources of the world to the most isolated classrooms.
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.
“Technology can only go so far. 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.”
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. 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 or geographic location,” explained Kylie.
Stephanie Trethewey, TAS
After moving from Melbourne to a small farming community in Tasmania’s north-west, the former broadcast journalist and mother of two grappled with feelings of isolation and struggled with the absence of her own parent support group.
“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 mums across rural Australia.”
Prompted by her own lived experience and eager to spread awareness of the challenges of raising families in rural, regional and remote communities, Stephanie launched Motherland – a podcast series showcasing a raw and unfiltered representation of motherhood in the bush. Two years on, the weekly podcast has amassed over 330,000 downloads and profiled over 130 rural mothers.
Building on the success of the podcast, Steph launched 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.
Since it’s launch in September 2021, Motherland Village now houses nine virtual “villages” via an online platform. The program is now working alongside rural hospitals to provide support services for new mothers.
“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 mum in rural Australia is left behind.”
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. Applications for the 2023 program close on Wednesday, 19 October 2022. For more information visit https://www.agrifutures.com.au/people-leadership/rural-womens-award/.