The Hay Times

There is no doubt that being born of the land gives you a tenacity that stands you in good stead throughout your life. I was reminded of this again on two occasions this week; at the 2017 NSW Rural Women's Award gala dinner at Parliament House and, in an address I gave to the Sydney Hills Business Chamber.

2017 NSW Rural Women's Award

The RIRDC Rural Women’s Award identifies and supports women who have a desire, commitment, and leadership potential to make a greater contribution to primary industries and rural communities. It is Australia’s pre-eminent award for rural women, where each state produces a finalist who then goes onto the national award. Every year, the stories are inspirational, showcasing just how innovative our rural communities are and the capacity of their citizens to dig deep and make change happen. 

The NSW winner in 2017 is Sandra Ireson, who hails from Booligal, the small Riverina town made famous in the Banjo Paterson poem "Hay and Hell and Booligal," first published in The Bulletin on 25 April 1896. The poem compares Booligal unfavourably with the nearby town of Hay and even Hell (most likely a nearby property called "Hell's Gate" at One Tree) and was not popular with the local residents. The phrase "Hay, Hell and Booligal" has become part of Australian folklore - used to sympbolise the drought, dust and desolation that western rural communities can so often experience.

Tough and resourceful men and women are born in places like Hay and Booligal. Your scribe was briefly one of them, living there until I was six months old. Sandra Ireson is another. Concerned about the lack of opportunity for young people in the region, Sandra co-developed the Hay Inc. Rural Education Program to give them the skills, education and experience they need to pursue a career in agriculture. Check it out at

The other finalists, Rebecca Barnes of Ballina, Emma Doyle of Armidale and Hayley Purbrick of Deniliquin, all had excellent projects that once again show the resourceful nature of rural women. 

The guest list for the occasion was impressive; the NSW Premier, various Ministers, many politicians and CEOs. It also included the three women who sit on the board of the NSW Farmers Association - Lyn Dalton, Lisa Minogue and Rebecca Reardon.  An all male body in the days I knew it, NSW Farmers is symbolic of how times are changing with 33% of board positions now held by women. The body has also had a female president, Fiona Simson, who in 2016 became the first female President of the National Farmers Federation in its 37 year history.

Celebrating Women at the Sydney Hills Business Chamber

Rouse Hill is a long way from Booligal, the scene of my second event this week where I was one of the guest speakers at the Sydney Hills Business Chamber Celebrating Women lunch. I was speaking alongside Pauline Nguyen, owner and co-founder of Red Lantern, the most awarded Vietnamese restaurant in the world. The Red Lantern story – ‘From Extreme Adversity to Success’ is Pauline's story of how her family escaped Vietnam on a boat, survived a Thai refugee camp, faced real poverty and intractable racism when they came to Australia and through persistence and tenacity went on to great success.

Hers was an inspiring story. Mine picked up on her themes and focussed on how as a young woman growing up in rural Australia, the values of responsibility, respect and resilience are ingrained from childhood. Responsibility to those around you, respect for all and the resilience to face hardship and change.

I give thanks every day of my life that I grew up the way I did. Combined with a strong sense of reciprocity this has given me the tenacity to keep going when times get tough and to identify and support other women going through similar circumstances. Goes to show, you can take the girl out of Hay, but you can't take Hay out of the girl. 

With the very best of wishes to the women of rural and regional Australia from your city sisters.
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