A new generation of changemakers are busy making regional Australia a better place, tackling issues from climate change to period inequality.
ABC Heywire is proud to recognise 18 emerging leaders from across the country who are each fighting the fight as winners of the 2020 Trailblazers competition.
They are the faces behind 11 projects strengthening remote, rural, and regional Australia in the more obvious ways — as well as those not visible to the naked eye.
At next week’s Heywire Summit, they will spend time developing their ideas before presenting them to Members of Parliament, senators, and community leaders at Parliament House in Canberra.
So, watch this space for more from these young people making waves outside the usual centres of attention (aka capital cities).
For now, here is an introduction to this year’s Trailblazers, the projects they have created, and the causes they are championing.
The Rural Compass Podcast
Samantha Meurant, at Cunnamulla, Queensland, and Tori Kopke from Cunderdin, Western Australia
Helping innovative women in isolated parts of Australia kickstart small businesses and foster connections
Samantha is based nine hours west of Brisbane in Cunnamulla which has a population of just over 1,000.
Tori lives two hours east of Perth in Cunderdin, with a population of 681.
Despite the distance between them, the pair — who met online — have turned their desire to help women in rural and remote Australia start their own businesses into a burgeoning podcast.
In doing so, they have managed to create a community of women supporting each other to start businesses in some of the most remote parts of the country.
The partners hope their work will show women across regional Australia that they “don’t have to be in an office in the city to start a business”.
“The Rural Compass Podcast aims to bring awareness to small businesses, creatives and solo entrepreneurs in our regional areas,” Samantha said.
Diamonds in the Rough
Codie Henville, based in Northern Gully, Western Australia
‘In regional areas, many people take better care of their cows than themselves’
When Codie collapsed at a friend’s place, she realised how little value she had placed on her own mental health while looking after others.
The wake-up call also made her realise how prevalent the issue was in her rural community, where she said people were often placing the wellbeing of others — their family, the farm, their animals — before their own.
Through a combination of social media and community events, Diamonds in the Rough aims to help regional WA become an open and supportive place to talk about and prioritise mental health.
Through her experience with community events including competing in ‘cutting’ horse events, Codie is taking a grassroots approach to sparking conversations.
Restoring the Pallinup River
Freya Spencer and Dimity McMorran, based in Borden, Western Australia
Repairing one of the largest river systems on Western Australia’s South Coast
The Pallinup River and its tributaries run through the Stirling Ranges and Fitzgerald River National Park.
It is far from just a river though — the land is home to more plant species than the entire British Isles combined and is recognised internationally for its biodiversity.
So, it is a pretty big deal.
Much of the riverfront is on private land; in many places it would spell an end to land care efforts.
But not here, where the whole community’s committed to maintaining the health of the river for future generations.
Led by 23-year-old Freya Spencer, the local Natural Resources Organisation is working with a whole-community approach to land management, bringing together local industries, farmers, school students, the Goreng people and other community members.
All are working toward a common goal — seeing the Pallinup River preserved into the future.
“We want to really utilise the land and bring together the farming community, scientists, private industry, as well as the local Goreng people, to band together and continue the work that people have been doing for the last 20 years,” Freya said.
Healthier Hearts and Lighter Minds
Matt Runnalls and Matthew Searle, based in Warragul, Victoria
Early intervention for mental health, through workshops for primary school-age students
Matt Runnalls lost his first friend to suicide when he was just 12 years old. Since then he has lost a total of eight friends and survived attempts himself.
He has seen first-hand the epidemic of suicide in many regional communities.
Healthier Hearts and Lighter Minds provides a wellbeing program for primary school age students, starting as early as five years of age.
Healthier Hearts and Lighter Minds workshops focus on emotional resilience and regulation, helping kids acknowledge, manage and talk about their emotions — especially the difficult ones.
They also educate teachers and parents so they can provide appropriate support to the kids, carrying the training into all aspects of the children’s lives.
“If we can start those meaningful conversations with young champions of tomorrow, as young as four, we believe we can create positive and more resilient communities — especially in high risk areas of the country,” Matt said.
“Regional and rural Australia don’t have the same access to help and support that other metro areas do.”
Corey Tutt, based in Camperdown, New South Wales
Helping Indigenous students from remote communities pursue STEM careers
At school, Corey was told by his careers teacher that if he did not take up a trade, he would end up in jail.
A proud Kamilaroi man, Corey wants to change this perception in the next generation.
He created Deadly Science to inspire the next generation of Indigenous scientists through mentoring and science outreach.
Corey started by sending books and other resources such as telescopes from his own collection to remote schools in Australia — working two jobs to fund the endeavour.
He now also sends out books and other resources he receives through donations.
On top of this, Corey runs Skype sessions and shares videos and Q&As with scientists including Professor Brian Cox and Dr Karl, so students can ask questions about real science.
More than 100 schools and foundations have benefitted from Corey’s efforts with Deadly Science, so far delivering 7,000 books and 200 telescopes to schools in need.
But Corey said this is only the beginning:
For now however, he is excited to delve into honing his leadership skills so he can become a leader his community.
Lily Harrison, based in Corndale, New South Wales
Providing sanitary products to at-risk people in regional NSW
Lily started Period Pack when she was 15. She had just started getting her period and was overwhelmed by the realisation that, for many people without the ability to manage their bleeding, menstruation is one of the biggest limiting factors in their lives.
In northern NSW, where Lily lives, many homeless people in her area are young parents, older people, and people fleeing domestic violence.
This fact, coupled with her realisation, prompted her to start collecting sanitary products and basic toiletries for those in need.
“I felt every person should have the opportunity to have those products that we take for granted every day,” she said.
Period Pack makes care packs for homeless and vulnerable people and distributes them to women’s centres, community groups, and to Aboriginal healthcare workers for people across the Bundjalung nation.
The project has grown dramatically, with regular packing drives, bag-making working bees, and drop offs.
Lily is also in the process of expanding Period Pack’s offering by creating packs for new parents and those who have recently experienced a miscarriage.
Deadly Inspiring Youth Doing Good
Semara Jose, Ferlin King and Tamika Young, based in Mount Sheridan, Queensland
Celebrating and supporting young Indigenous leaders in Far North Queensland
Deadly Inspiring Youth Doing Good (DIYDG) is a youth-led organisation working to empower and support young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Far North Queensland.
The collective say they have seen the effects that intergenerational disempowerment has had in their community, including significant rates of youth suicide, disconnection from culture, loss of identity, youth mental health issues, and youth crime.
“It’s these impacts that continue to place communities in a constant state of trauma and stress,” Semara said.
Their board looks a bit different to that of most organisations; the oldest board member is 28, the youngest is just 21, and they are proud to have seven out of eight Indigenous board members, with one from Papua New Guinea.
Their biggest event is an annual wellbeing camp, bringing together young people to connect to culture, create a sense of belonging, and foster emotional safety among the community.
Semara added those involved in DIYDG are “feeling what it means to be able to make decisions for ourselves”.
Mount Gambier Wellness and Wellbeing Festival
Tessa Deak and Shanae Coppick, based in Mount Gambier, South Australia
Supporting the health and wellbeing of everyone in the community, especially those with chronic illness and disabilities on the Limestone Coast
Tessa developed ME/CFS, commonly known as chronic fatigue, when she was 14. It put her life on hold and for many people around her, Tessa’s disease was alien.
Shanae, a chronic illness sufferer, joined forces with Tessa to devote their energy — when they had some to spare — to raising awareness about chronic diseases and the isolation and troubles they can bring.
“I wanted to spread awareness and education for people with chronic illness and disability, but also for people with able bodies because health and wellbeing are really important things that people don’t always understand,” Tessa said.
The Mount Gambier Wellness and Wellbeing Festival brings together local businesses and services that support the emotional, physical and spiritual wellbeing of the community.
The festival was created by the Chronic Illness Support Limestone Coast, making it easier for people, chronically ill and able-bodied alike, to discover, connect and get educated about the resources available to them.
After a successful first year, Tessa, Shanae and their committee of support group members will run the festival again in 2020.
Beyond this, Tessa said it would be amazing if events like it were not even needed one day.
“Taking care of themselves the best they can, being the best version of themselves that they can be, and also understanding chronic illness and disability properly”.
Most importantly, she wants the stigma around chronic disease and disability “to have disappeared”.
E-Raced Mount Gambier
Chanceline Kakule and Lily Coote, based in Mount Gambier, South Australia
Combating racism through storytelling
Following the success of the award-winning E-Raced program, originally started in Queensland by refugee Prudence Melom, the South Australian chapter is working to combat racism there through storytelling.
The group, run by refugee Chanceline Kakule, is made up by a team of young people from various backgrounds.
They travel to schools and attend events, sharing their personal stories to try and combat racist attitudes, unconscious bias and to build empathy.
The team wants to create a fun and engaging program to share their various cultures, through a combination of storytelling, music, and dance.
In 2020 they are planning to visit schools across the Limestone Coast.
Dirranbandi Christmas Project
Amber Stewart, based in Dirranbandi, Queensland
Helping a drought-affected community come together to celebrate Christmas
Dirranbandi has been doing it tough in recent years. Drought in western Queensland has devastated the area and with no end in sight, community spirit is low.
Amber and her team wanted to bring the community together for a reason that had nothing to do with the weather — to give them something to celebrate.
Dirranbandi’s Christmas Project aims to deck out the main street of the town, installing permanent lighting, a Christmas tree, and beautiful decorations created by the whole community.
The project will help the drought-affected community cope with the stress of the lack of water while drawing tourists and contributing to the local economy, strengthening community wellbeing in the process.
Amber said she aspires to increase the impact of the project across a wider range in the future.
I Am, Movement
Tanika Davis, based in Forster, New South Wales
Producing culturally-sensitive educational resources for kids with autism
When Tanika’s son was diagnosed with autism, she did not think her life would change too much.
But then the countless doctors’ appointments, NDIS visits, therapy appointments, and nutrition consultations came piling in.
She also discovered the stigma which surrounds autism, especially in Indigenous communities.
From that realisation, Tanika created the I Am, Movement.
Her project is all about creating culturally sensitive resources to help young people with autism.
The resources include flash cards featuring artwork by Indigenous artists, depicting native animals and environments.
“Culture and connection to it is vital to our healing and growth,” Tanika said.
Tanika and her partner are raising funds to travel to five communities in NSW in 2020 to culturally upskill doctors, therapists, and educators about autism.
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