Real Bush Babes…
This is a get-a-coffee-and-get-comfortable length post. You’ll meet some amazing people and I promise you it’ll be worth the time…
It’s been quite a week, this week… if you follow me on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook you will have had a hint of what’s been going on. After our little drama of last week, I was waved off by my family on a little adventure Out West.
About 9 hours drive out west, actually…
I saw a WHOLE lot of this…
To THIS event. At Blackall.
(Please forgive the small avalanche of ‘selfies’ here. I had to somehow prove I had actually made it here, and was meeting the amazing group of people who also made the journey. Expect a lot of name-dropping in the next few paragraphs too!)
This local hero was guarding the venue of the 2013 Queensland Regional, Rural and Remote Women’s Network (or QRrrWN) conference – the Blackall Cultural Centre. It is a beautiful venue with modern facilities allowing a generous nod to bush architecture and landscaping.
I met all kinds of twitter and Facebook buddies for the first time – including the incredible Alison Fairleigh – rural mental health advocate and all-round top chick.
Among the 250 attendees were Ann Britton (left) who is from Boulia and is terrific photographer and ag-vocate (advocate for all things Ag) and beautiful person. On the right in the photos above and below are Georgie Somerset. Georgie is another twitter buddy whom I met for the first time In Real Life, amid much shrieking and glee. She’s the President of the QRRRWN (among many other roles), an organisational dynamo and (I suspect) almost impossible to say ‘no’ to.
And also there, as teeny and dynamic as ever, Pip Courtney (above centre). Pip hosts Australia’s foremost rural television program, Landline, is as sharp as a tack and is so petite I feel like a heffalump alongside her (luckily she is so much fun I find I can forgive her quite easily).
Pip cracked everyone (including herself) up as she modelled a ‘stylised’ size 24 Jackie Howe singlet created by one of the artists at the conference – a ‘Blinglet’ if you will. What a great sport!
The food over the three days was impeccable – delicious and healthy and beautifully presented (often served by local schoolchildren, which was lots of fun too). I kept thinking “HOW are they feeding 250 people five times a day for three days in this tiny town?” – incredible!
The main venue was large but had a great atmosphere, especially with the lights low, fairy lights twinkling and various guest speakers working their magic on stage .
I took my special photographer’s coffee cup (thanks Fleur) to ensure correct caffeine levels at all times during the packed two-and-a-half day event.
Among the guest speakers (and in no particular order) were:
I tell you, the stories this woman shared were incredible – about the goodness of human spirit in the face of disaster. About being able to see the need, fill the need, and then ride the wave of opportunity and generosity, enabling everyone else to do their part too.
What I know is that there were NO napkins on the table when she spoke. And I REALLY needed them – tears of amazement streamed down my face – at the ability of people (especially young people who galvanised to her original twitter call-to-arms and made their parents drive their baked offerings to gathering points for flood victims) to dig deep and generously and without expectation of reward.
Her example of quiet and unanticipated achievement hit home with many – women who in their own small communities often lift spirits with their own brand of assistance. To see this same quality roar into life so beautifully in a city setting was affirming and eye-opening – with a growing sense of real sisterhood across those city-country bounds.
I also adored her idea of cross-visiting. Not just city people coming to bush families to learn about farming life, but also the reverse – farmers and their families taking time to visit a city home or apartment, to get their heads and hearts around how city people live. Understanding is a two-way thing – I just loved this message!
Another speaker (and unbelievably hard worker behind the event) was my friend Jane. I went to boarding school with Jane, and THIRTY years after she had last laid eyes on me, she actually recognised me. (The beauty of having a distinctive smile – aka crooked teeth!).
Jane has been a nurse and health expert in this part of rural Queensland for most of her working life – and the girl has some stories! The one about the 70-something year old posing for the nude fundraising calendar was absolutely hilarious. I so wanted to meet this lady after Jane shared her impersonation of a remarkable woman with a tinder-dry wit.
This is Kylie – from Charters Towers and a founder of the wonderful Ask An Aussie Farmer site and Facebook page. (If you have questions about farming in Australia, her facebook page is the place to go!).
She introduced many of the attendees to Social Media in her information session. Kylie is also a little dynamo with enormous energy and enthusiasm for her industry.
She was also one of the many who felt much more comfortable calling me ‘Bush Babe’ than ‘Amanda’. It was very funny and I began to get used to it by the end of Day 2 (lovely to know so many bush women read me here!)
This is Robyn Pulman – a woman who enjoyed success in the corporate world before falling in love with her (now) husband and moving bush. She is incisive and funny and has incredible posture! Robyn ran a ‘Design Your Destiny’ workshop which really stopped me in my tracks. There is nothing as uncomfortable and yet intriguing, frightening and exciting, as putting a magnifying glass to your own life and your habits. Let’s just say I have plenty of room for improvement… and that the list-making is underway!
I also have her book “Outback Wisdom from a City Slicker’ which I have at the top of my ‘to read’ pile…
Queensland Governor Penelope Wensley addressed the crowd too – she was stylish, funny, focused and thought-provoking. I know I thought: Goodness, she is nowhere NEAR as dry as you’d expect a Governor to be!
I need to mention the woman who ‘hosted’ and MC’d the event Annabel Tully (at left in pic above) and Alison Mobbs who worked tirelessly to ensure what many called ‘the best conference they had ever been to‘.)
My fabulous friend Alison (2013 Qld Rural Woman of the Year and generator of The Great Cafe Challenge) took to the podium too, peeling back the myths around mental health, with stories of real people in the bush who have shaped her path, and shocking us all with the statistics that hit close to home for us all:
“Suicide rate among Queensland’s agricultural workers – including farmers, farm managers, farm hands and shearers – was over twice the rate of those in other occupations.” (source)
I know. It’s why isolation needs to be combatted with good, healthy communication – social media is helping (but of course can also be negative). Alison is doing great work to create support networks and awareness.
The main guest speaker on the Gala Dinner evening was Catherine Marriot.
Have you ever come across a person that can FILL a room with their presence without doing a thing? By just arriving? That is Catherine Marriot.
I don’t know that I can do justice to her presentation here, other than to say it LIFTED 250 of us almost-literally off the floor of that auditorium – she jokingly refers to herself as ‘Cyclone Catherine’ such is her enthusiasm and energy. There is nothing chaotic about her brand of inspiration though – she wants to help build stronger communities across the nation. She dreams big, she talks big, she achieves big.
And she makes you feel like you can do the same too! And, on a personal note, the girl is enormous fun. I suspect there will be a night or two ‘on the town’ together in our futures.
For me, among so many wonderful, inspiring speakers, Pip Courtney was something else.
For a woman who spent much of her impressive journalistic career staying out of the limelight, letting people ‘tell their own stories’ without getting into the frame, Pip held us all in the palm of her hand.
She shared her journey from Tasmanian childhood and early farming experiences with her grandfather, to her current role. And, girding her loins and pinning us all to our seats, she shared her very personal tragedy in losing her husband and soul mate (ABC cameraman) John Bean. She told the story behind the story – of how people galvanised to support her through the worst time in her life – visiting, ringing, sending food, writing notes. People she knew and many of whom she didn’t. She is still astonished at the tsunami of support she received:
“You know, I couldn’t have fallen down, even if I had wanted to.”
She explained that even the most awkward of efforts were treasured, and her message was this: don’t wait for the right time, the right words, to reach out to someone in grief. Each effort knits to the last and the next to make the difference.
I am still incredulous at her bravery in sharing her difficult story, and her absolute generosity in making sure it helps others. I am in awe of the way she has forged on, making sure great rural stories are taken to the masses each week.
How lucky was I? How amazing are all these girls? (There were many more whom I didn’t photograph but who were equally inspirational – check out the program here). Each woman has their own links to the bush, each contributes enormously in their own special way, each rose above natural reservations to step forward and fill a void where their skills and experience could be used.
I am so glad that I overcame my reservations about attending (when I felt I should be home instead, after last week’s incident).
I was mentally and emotionally exhausted by it all, but (strangely) invigorated too. So much to think about. To contemplate. To savour. To change.
So excuse me while I deal with the mega-laundry fallout from being away for four days… apparently that is where my skills are best used at the moment!
My questions for you:
What has inspired you lately?
Who has inspired you?