Smarts on so many levels: Cara Peek, Cressida Cains top AgriFutures Rural Women's Award


“Smarts on so many levels”. That’s how Women on Boards member, and founding Deputy Chair of AgriFutures Australia Emerging Industries Panel, Susan Wilson, has described the women taking out top honours in the 2020 AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award. 


Broome-based lawyer, social innovator and co-founder of Saltwater Country, Cara Peek (photographed top left) has been named the 2020 AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award National Winner for her work in driving employment opportunities for First Nations people in remote Australia. 

Adding to the $10,000 already awarded to each state and territory finalist, Cara will receive an extra $10,000 to further progress of Saltwater Country, an Indigenous-led not-for-profit that uses rodeo sports and country music events to re-engage at-risk Indigenous youth with their rich pastoral history.

Cressida Cains (photographed top right), artisan cheesemaker and a passionate dairy industry advocate from New South Wales was announced as the Award’s National Runner Up.

'Ingenuity and determination'

WOB member and Deputy Chair of AgriFutures Australia Emerging Industries Panel, Susan Wilson said Cara and Cressida’s achievements  “reflect the ingenuity and determination that is our regional, rural and indigenous culture”. 

“But their work brings something else to the fore – I think it's purposefulness. Innovation that simultaneously hits the mark on social, environmental, economic and consumer merits – it’s smarts on so many levels.”

“I know from my innovation career that women think differently and deliver differently, which is a definite strength, but still isn’t an easy road to travel. We are change agents and we must continue to be.

“That Agrifutures have shared their platform to shine a light on, and support female innovation and leadership via the Rural Women’s Award, demonstrates to women in Australian agriculture that Cara and Cressida can absolutely be them as well. And we know that’s something we have to continue to do to unlock our female potential – ultimately, for our collective national future.”

Incredible women

WOB member and 2019 Rural Women’s Award winner and remote work advocate, Jo Palmer - founder of job-matching platform Pointer Remote - paid tribute to all the “incredible” state finalists.

“All of the state winners are the most incredible women and although not everyone gets the crown, they are all going to have the most amazing experience and joining the Award's Alumni is one of the most beneficial parts of the program,” said Jo, who is based in The Rock, near Wagga Wagga.

She said winning the award in 2019 was a “gamechanger” for her personally, as well as for her company.

“The award gave me the confidence to grow my network and has definitely developed my leadership skills. The Award also shined a light on the work that we do at Pointer Remote, connecting organisations with professionals to fill positions remotely. We have a strong focus on the economic and social benefits that remote work generates in rural communities and it was incredible to have our organisation exposed to so many more potential employers looking to tap into amazing talent, particularly those in the regions.” 

‘Place for our people to shine’

Due to COVID-19, the national Rural Women’s Award ceremony was postponed last year. Instead, the 2020 National Winner was announced on 20 October at a virtual ceremony.

Cara, a proud Yawuru/Bunuba woman, accepted the award at a state-based ceremony at The University Club of Western Australia in Perth.

Saltwater Country currently develops and oversees a number of evidence-based programs delivered with cultural integrity, allowing students to train in the safety of their own communities across the disciplines of horsemanship, equine therapy, agribusiness, marketing and event management.

“The collective success of our people in delivering events and programs is empowering in the social, emotional and economic development and advancement of Indigenous people in the north. It provides real time experience and solutions - it's a place for our people to shine. It’s also an opportunity for training and development with transferable skills,” said Cara.

“Winning the award is great recognition of the work that we've undertaken and I hope that it will generate the network and support that we need to achieve all the things we aim to achieve. If I can create opportunities for others out of that, and play a part in the collective strength of our people, that’s what I’m going to do every day”.

“I am extremely thankful to AgriFutures and Westpac, not only for the award but for the opportunity to showcase the resilience and ingenuity of our indigenous communities in the Kimberleys. It's been great to be in a cohort of such strong, high achieving women and the support that also comes with that”, she said.

‘Real impact’

Established in 1999, the AgriFutures Rural Women's Award celebrates and inspires the next generation of female leaders in rural and regional industries, businesses and communities. 

John Harvey, AgriFutures Australia Managing Director, congratulated Cara on winning the Award and said she demonstrated exceptional leadership qualities and a passion for bettering the lives of others.

“Cara’s work is a clear conduit to a future, built sustainably for rural and remote Indigenous people, by Indigenous people. She has continued to operate in the toughest of times, whilst having real impact, and has been central to driving hope and lasting change within the Kimberley. I am confident this bursary will go some way to supporting Saltwater Country in realising its full promise”.

Stephen Hannan, National General Manager, Westpac Agribusiness also congratulated Cara for her project and winning the coveted National Award.

“Cara’s recognition as this year’s winner is a celebratory tribute to women in rural and regional Australia, whose drive and dedication can sometimes go unnoticed. We know there are thousands of women committed to making a positive contribution to their industry, and for the prosperity of their local communities, who would benefit from having additional industry support. Across Australia, it’s something we see firsthand from our customer relationships, and it is why Westpac continues to sponsor these awards,” he said.

Cressida Cains, National Runner Up, took home a further $5,000 Westpac bursary for Dairy Cocoon, a non-for-profit digital platform designed to assist small-scale farmers.

Other national finalists included:

  • Rural mental health advocate, Kelly Barnes (Dunkeld, VIC)

  • Horticultural expert, Karen Brocks (Winkleigh, TAS)

  • Business woman and livestock marketer, Elisha Parker (Clermont, QLD)

  • Rural psychologist, Stephanie Schmidt (Burra, SA)

  • Marine biologist and sustainable aquaculture advocate, Amy Kirke (Darwin, NT)



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