NSW’s most inspiring rural women
Two NSW women have been named winners in the prestigious 2020 Shine Awards, which celebrate the achievements and contributions of women across rural and regional Australia.
Occupational therapist Simone Dudley, from Deniliquin, is the Belief category winner while bushfire recovery volunteer Georgia Foster Eyles, from Nymboida, has won the Grace category.
The inspirational pair join Lauwana Blackley and Carmel Beresford from Queensland, Kate Davis from Victoria and Meg Clothier of South Australia to complete the honour roll of winners in six categories: Belief, Courage, Dedication, Grace, Passion, Spirit.
Drought pantry co-ordinator Nea Worrell, from Baradine, NSW, has also been named as a finalist in the awards.
Now in its fourth year, the Shine Awards is a campaign run by Australia's rural newspaper The Weekly Times, supported by Harvey Norman.
Nominees' stories have appeared in The Weekly Times over the past year, with a dedicated campaign that put rural women in the spotlight for the past 12 weeks and invited readers to nominate women who make a real difference to their industries and communities.
From a record-breaking field of almost 300 nominees, 18 finalists were announced.
NSW'S RURAL WOMEN SHINE
2020 SHINE AWARDS BELIEF WINNER
Simone Dudley, occupational therapist and co-founder of Therapy Connect , Deniliquin, NSW
PAVING THE ROAD TO RURAL HEALTH
Simone Dudley really understands the tyranny of distance.
And she is determined it will not get in the way of rural families receiving the health care they deserve.
Simone is an occupational therapist who also happens to run a cropping and cattle property with her family at Deniliquin, in the NSW Riverina. She was ahead of her time five years ago, when - well before the days of Zoom - she founded an online telehealth service to deliver therapy to remote children with developmental disabilities.
"I could see that the potential of using technology was huge, it could decrease waiting lists, increase accessibility, increase frequency," says Simone, who runs the business from her family farm.
She teamed up with a fellow rural woman, West Victorian beef producer and speech therapist Sue Cameron, to launch the service offering speech, occupational, nutritional and physiotherapy, as well as psychology services, through video conferencing.
"The truth for us is that telehealth has always been our plan," Simone explains. "Undoubtedly the business is founded by two women who understand the difficulties in accessing expert allied health at a time when you need it.
"Our experience has informed our practice. And, I think the challenges have been that we are two rural women who are figuring this out all on our own. We have had to work incredibly hard."
There have been many hurdles, not least digital connectivity, which was patchy at best when they started. Drought has also been a constant strain for Simone, her family, and her rural patients.
Therapy Connect has grown dramatically, now employing 40 part-time practitioners, many in rural areas, and delivering more than 1000 hours of service a month to families from the Torres Strait Islands to Tasmania, the western outback to the east coast, and even overseas.
Fellow health professional Dr Megan Hosken says the service is significant for many rural and remote Australians.
"It means overnight they have access to the specific therapists who can meet every need of their child," she says.
For her vision to improve health services for rural patients, and determination to make it happen against the odds, Simone Dudley is a worthy winner of the Shine Award for Belief.
Belief category finalists: Livestock vet and software developer Shannon Speight from Mareeba, Queensland, and Lost Trades Fair co-founder Lisa Rundell from Kyneton, Victoria.
2020 SHINE AWARDS GRACE WINNER
Georgia Foster Eyles, fire recovery volunteer, Nymboida, NSW
BEACON OF HOPE
When bushfire roared through Nymboida on November 8 last year, it destroyed homes and lives, and left both the landscape and locals deeply scarred.
But it lit a flame in Georgia Foster Eyles that still burns brightly.
The young mother runs an organic market garden in the Northern Rivers village with her partner, Tommy Welham, and their daughter, Maisy, 2.
Immediately after the blaze, she stepped up as an unofficial recovery co-ordinator and spent the following months devoting much of her time to helping residents who had lost everything and were too shell shocked to know what to do first. More than 80 houses were incinerated in the small Clarence Valley town of 300 people.
Georgia counts her family lucky because their home didn't burn.
"I really haven't considered myself to have lost much in comparison to what everybody else lost," Georgia says. "We had only been running for a year and a half, so didn't have 30 years of infrastructure and buildings … We are just looking at what we can do to help others rebuild."
The day after the fire, Georgia launched a fire-survivors Facebook page, so people could let others know they were safe. From there, she started liaising with charity groups and nearby community hubs, which were inundated with donations.
"They were just overloaded with clothes and food, but nobody could take those things yet because they didn't have anything set up for themselves," she says. "I was hoping to direct more of those supplies, and the goodwill, towards what was needed on the fire front, which were pumps and generators."
She made sure donations were distributed equitably; connected people with the relief and recovery aid; set up working bees and community meetings; helped organise a tool library so people could start to slowly rebuild.
Many of the residents, including Jennifer Spencer, did not know where to turn in the aftermath. Jennifer says Georgia showed amazing strength and made sure no one was left behind.
"Georgia is so energetic and selfless and treats everyone with dignity and respect. She has such a clear vision for what needs to be done and is level headed and kind, even when under pressure," Jennifer says.
Help has slowly reached the town, with charities lending people converted shipping containers and sheds to be used as accommodation. But Georgia says it is still going to be "a year, or two, three or four, before people actually have houses again".
She stresses that she is just one of many people who put their hands up to help.
There's no doubt, however, that her calm leadership helped her community through their darkest days and makes Georgia Foster Eyles a deserving winner of the Shine Award for Grace.
2020 SHINE AWARDS GRACE FINALIST
Nea Worrell, drought pantry co-ordinator, Baradine, NSW
TAKE STOCK TO SURVIVE THE DRY
GREEN paddocks around Baradine are a sight for Nea Worrell's sore eyes.
After years of soul-destroying drought, the crops can't grow quickly enough for 72-year-old Nea, who helped hold the Central West NSW community together as co-ordinator of the CWA-organised Baradine Drought Aid Pantry during its operation from July 2018 to March this year.
"The town is still doing it tough, until we get a harvest. But we live in hope," says Nea, who set up the pantry in the town hall on short notice when the "Doing it for the Farmers" social media campaign inspired hundreds of city residents to deliver supplies to towns in need.
Nea whipped into action, turning the hall into a pantry and forming a committee to co-ordinate distribution.
"One weekend we did 90 hours to unpack stuff," says Nea, who rears sheep, cattle and crops with her husband Gordon. Margaret Williams is one of the concerned city residents who delivered donations to Baradine, and was "in awe" of Nea's efforts. "She is an inspiration to so many in her community," Margaret says.
Convincing locals to accept the food and essentials was another problem Nea tackled.
"When we went out asking who needed help, we got the usual, 'I don't need it, so and so needs it more'," Nea says. "We eventually got them in. Then they'd tell us about other people."
For her, the pantry's biggest accomplishment was the grassroots mental and emotional support it provided. "It really brought the city and the country together," she says.
Bendigo Foodshare manager Bridget Bentley from Bendigo, Victoria, is also a finalist in the Grace category.
FULL LIST OF 2020 SHINE AWARDS WINNERS
COURAGE AND OVERALL:
Carmel Beresford, grazier and author, Eulo, Queensland
Simone Dudley, occupational therapist and co-founder of Therapy Connect, Deniliquin, NSW
Georgia Foster Eyles, fire recovery volunteer, Nymboida, NSW
Lauwana Blackley, dialysis nurse, Palm Island, Queensland
Kate Davis, food events organiser, Ballarat, Victoria
Meg Clothier, farm caretaker, Orroroo, South Australia
Originally published as NSW's most inspiring rural women