RIRDC Rural Women's Award Gala Dinner

Rural Women's Award

Rural Women's Award

Award Overview

Book your ticket to the 2017 RIRDC Rural Women's Award Gala Dinner

The RIRDC Rural Women’s Award is Australia’s pre-eminent Award for rural women. The Award identifies and supports emerging women leaders who have the desire, commitment and leadership potential to make a greater contribution to primary industries and rural communities.

The Award acknowledges women's leadership capacity in effecting change and influence through connecting and collaborating, and creates opportunities for women to drive innovation and build resilience. The Award also encourages primary industries and their communities to embrace diversity in leadership to successfully navigate future challenges.

The Award supports women both financially and professionally. Each state and territory winner will receive a $10,000 financial bursary to implement their Award vision. Each winner also has the opportunity to participate in the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) Company Directors Course and will be supported to develop an individual integrated leadership plan.

The Award is an amazing opportunity to further your leadership development, make a tangible difference and inspire others. The Award also links recipients with a positive and powerful alumni network of like-minded women across the country who are passionate about primary industries and rural Australia.

Who can enter?

The Award is open to all women involved in primary industries and/or rural Australia. No formal qualifications are required. Potential applicants can express their interest through the Expression of Interest process and gain access to mentors and feedback whilst undertaking their applications. 

The application process alone provides a leadership development opportunity for applicants to focus their passion

 What is the bursary?

The $10,000 bursary is awarded to each state and territory winner and provides the resources to bring to life a project or initiative that will benefit rural industries and communities. The project or initiative may contribute to key Award areas including:

  • Innovation
  • Creativity
  • Community sustainability
  • Education
  • Productivity
  • Agribusiness
  • Regional development

The bursary can be used for formal training in leadership and business management; overseas study tours; establishing business plans or pilot programs; developing educational or promotional campaigns; networking at forums and conferences to grow your knowledge of industries and markets; developing training programs; testing information technology initiatives and publishing books.

The bursary cannot be used for buying capital equipment (without the explicit approval from RIRDC) or further tertiary education such as a Diploma, Masters or Doctorate degree

Expression of Interest

The Expression of Interest process aims to assist applicants by providing guidance and advice around the award program and development of an applicants award vision or project. It is highly recommended that all applicants engage in this process. Applicants are encouraged to contact your state coordinator who will guide you through the application process and provide feedback on your project idea.

How do I enter or nominate someone?

To express an interest in applying or to nominate an applicant call 02 6923 6917 or email rwa@rirdc.gov.au. Contact can also be made with the relevant state or territory Award coordinator.

Applicants will also need to complete the official entry form, addressing each of the selection criteria and include the name and details of two referees.

Referees will only be contacted if your application makes it to the final round. Email or post your entry to your state or territory contact.

What is the process and schedule?

Nominations for the 2018 Rural Women's Award will open 14 September 2017. 

Details will be made available once nominations open regarding time-frames for decision-making and major milestones, including event dates that are compulsory for State and Territory Winners to attend.

Your responsibilities to RIRDC

State and Territory Award winners will be required to sign an agreement with RIRDC and at the conclusion of their Award tenure will submit a report on their Award activities and achievements, including information on how the bursary was used. RIRDC will seek reimbursement of the bursary if the report is not submitted.

State and territory RIRDC Rural Women’s Award winners can expect to be interviewed by the media and where practical attend and speak at relevant public functions.

The National winner will be given an additional $10,000, and the National runner-up will be given an additional $5,000 bursary to assist in meeting national commitments such as speaking engagements. RIRDC and relevant state/territory agencies reserve ‘non exclusive’ rights to publish any material generated from successful applicants’ involvement in the Award.

How to Enter


The first thing you need to do is set aside some time to read the application form through thoroughly.

You must be involved in some way in primary industries and/or your rural community, whether you work in broad-acre farming or intensive livestock, cropping, horticulture, fisheries, forestry, natural resource management or related service industries.

If you don’t think you meet all the criteria and are in any doubt contact your relevant state Award coordinator or the national Award coordinator (under Contacts on this page).


Ask how you would use the Award and the Bursary to make a difference.

The main objective of the Award is to help you improve your business and leadership skills so you can operate at a higher level in steering the future of your industry, primary industries and in turn rural Australia.

The Award's main objective is to support women with either demonstrated or potential leadership capacities, who have the desire and commitment to make a greater contribution to their industries and communities.

The $10,000 Bursary is the major prize for each State and Territory winner to provide resources to develop your vision into a project or initiative that will support your professional development and will benefit primary industries and rural Australia.

The Bursary can be used in all sorts of ways, as long as you show how it will build a greater capacity within you and how it in turn will benefit primary industries and rural Australia.

Take time to define what you want to do with the Bursary and how you would go about it. Here are a few ideas of how past Award recipients have put the Bursary to use to get you thinking:

  • Build your leadership, business and management skills
  • Undertake an overseas study tour to grow your knowledge of innovations and markets
  • Attend conferences to grow your knowledge and networks with industry
  • Run workshops or a speaking tour in an area where you see a need and have expertise
  • Develop new value adding opportunities and markets for products
  • Write a book, a publication or an educational campaign
  • Develop new information technology of specific benefit to primary industries and its people

The Bursary cannot be used for further education such as a Masters or Doctorate degree or for buying capital equipment.

Step 3

Writing your application

Once you have read the application form thoroughly and are confident that you are eligible to enter the next step is writing up your application.

Contact your relevant state Award coordinator or the national Award coordinator (under Contacts on this page) to get in touch with past and current Award recipients.

Tip: Remember be specific and keep it simple. Limit yourself to what you know can be achieved in the 12 month time frame.


Application Form

Applications for the 2017 RIRDC Rural Women's Award are now closed.

Keep an eye on the website for details regarding the 2018 RIRDC Rural Women's Award.


The Rural Industries R&D Corporation is thankful for the support of the following Award partners:


Logo WESTPAC Agribusiness


Department of Agriculture


NT Govt logo
Logo NT Farmers
Logo - Tasmanian Government
Logo QLD Government
Logo Victorian Gov
Logo WA Gov


Logo Fairfax Agricultural Media
Logo ABC Radio
Logo RM Williams Outback


Each state and territory has its own Award coordinator.

New South Wales & ACT
Allison Priest
NSW Department of Primary Industries
Locked Bag 21, Orange NSW 2800
Phone: 02 6391 3620

Northern Territory
Debbie van der Rijt
Building 007, Charles Sturt University
Boorooma St, Wagga Wagga NSW 2650
Phone: 02 6923 6917

South Australia
Emily Mellor
Primary Industries and Regions SA (PIRSA)
Government of South Australia
GPO Box 1671, Adelaide SA 5001
Phone: 08 8429 0360

Western Australia
Gillian Booth
Department of Regional Development
Level 12, 140 William Street, Perth WA 6000
Phone: 08 6552 1913




Rebecca Williams
Agricultural Policy Group
Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE)
PO Box 44, Hobart Tasmania 7001
Phone: 03 6165 3070

Tracey Butcher
Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources
255 Ferguson Rd, Tatura, Victoria 3616
Phone: 03 8392 7119

Karyn Manktelow
Dept of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
GPO Box 46, Brisbane Queensland 4001
Phone: 07 3225 2770


National Award contact
Debbie van der Rijt
Building 007, Charles Sturt University
Boorooma St, Wagga Wagga NSW 2650
Phone: 02 6923 6917

Related Links

Tab 1 Content Title

Current Winners

Tab 1 Content

Current Winners

2017 SA Simone Kain

2017 South Australia winner - Simone Kain

Simone’s passion for regional Australia sparked a colourful quest to raise the profile of farmers by opening children’s eyes to agriculture through the character ‘George the Farmer’.

Inspired by her three farm-obsessed sons, Simone realised the importance of addressing the food production knowledge gap in a fun and educational way. She put her graphic design skills to work and developed the quintessentially Australian children’s character with business partner Ben Hood.

George (named after Simone’s eldest son) is also a champion of women in agriculture, and his wife, Ruby, who features prominently in the overall branding, is a talented agronomist. The duo has a strong following on social media, and star in a popular app, books, songs and live performances. George the Farmer’s free supplementary teacher resources and videos have been downloaded more than 3000 times in the past six months, educating an estimated 40,000 children in the classroom about agriculture.

Building on the vital contribution that women play in agriculture, Simone will use the Award bursary to make Ruby the Farmer the spokesperson and heroine of two new curriculum-aligned teacher’s resources. They will focus on women’s roles in Australian agriculture, showcasing the range of innovative careers available in primary industries to encourage children, and especially girls, to consider a future in agriculture. These resources will be freely accessible to teachers nationally and internationally.

Simone aspires to have George and Ruby on television screens to broaden the reach of agricultural education and further showcase Australia’s clean, green produce. 

2017 TAS Rebecca Lynd

2017 Tasmania Winner - Rebecca Lynd

With no farming background, Rebecca has built her Big River Highland Beef enterprise up to be the most successful Scottish Highland beef producer nationwide. She is the owner and operator of Big River Highland Beef, which produces Scottish Highland beef for local restaurants and consumers and is the only commercial producer of Scottish Highland beef in Tasmania.  Rebecca developed the business without the ties of traditional agricultural practices - requiring research into farming techniques, innovation, marketing opportunities and land management.  In 2014, Rebecca was Awarded a Sprout Producer Program scholarship, a one year accreditation for small and start-up Tasmanian producers that involves educational units, field days and mentoring.

Rebecca is a co-founder of her local growers’ market, Big River Growers’ Market, aimed at getting local produce out of people’s backyards and into the community.  Rebecca has been a guest speaker at the Slow Food Hobart AGM and has organised and hosted educational farm tours in the Derwent Valley.  Recently, Rebecca was accepted into the national e-Leaders program delivered by the National Rural Women’s Coalition.  The program provides connections to other rural leaders, growers and has an emphasis on sustainability and management planning.  Through the program, Rebecca developed a feasibility study into on-farm slaughter and butchering facilities with the aim of improving processing options for small-scale livestock producers seeking to produce quality product for restaurants.

Rebecca will use the Award bursary to undertake a study tour to the USA to research a selection of best practice small-scale, on-farm cattle slaughter facilities to gain an understanding of the contemporary issues and practices associated with small-scale, independently owned and/or community-supported slaughter facilities with a major focus on animal welfare, WHS risk management, compliance with regulations, energy use, waste management and consumer needs.

2017 NT Kate Peake

2017 Northern Territory winner - Kate Peake

Kate is a passionate advocate for the Northern Territory having been born and raised in Darwin’s rural area. In her role as CEO of Regional Development Australia Northern Territory (RDA NT) she works with a broad range of organisations to support the sustainable development of the region.

Among other roles Kate is a NT Farmers’ Board Director and a member of two water advisory committees.  Kate’s interest in groundwater management has grown from her association with irrigators and her involvement in many water allocation planning processes.  She believes effective water management is now the single biggest factor underpinning the sustainable development of the Territory.

Kate’s project centres around the promotion of local water stewardship and the development of stakeholder-endorsed communications and strategies to foster sustainable water use across the Darwin region. Kate believes the greater Darwin area is facing a potential crisis if rapid and proactive water management strategies are not applied.  The opportunity for a preventative approach still exists, but there is a growing possibility of difficult, costly and divisive remediation in the future if something is not done soon.

Kate’s Award ambition is to improve public understanding of water resource issues in the rural Darwin area, and to facilitate a wider snapshot of public opinion to inform government’s water management policy and practice. 

Kate will use her Award bursary to develop water information resources and to conduct a stakeholder survey to capture local opinions about rural water resource issues.

Kate believes strongly in the need for local people to drive the development of the Territory through innovation and cross-sectoral collaboration.  She will deliver her project in partnership with rural residents, local producers and government - and hopes her project will be a catalyst for change.

2017 WA Tanya Dupagne

2017 Western Australia winner - Tanya Dupagne

Four years ago, Tanya moved to Kulin in the Wheatbelt region of Western Australia to start the Camp Kulin program. She saw it as an opportunity to do something beneficial with the Shire of Kulin’s under-utilised recreational and community resources. Today, Camp Kulin contributes not only to the wellbeing of young people from regional and metropolitan Western Australia but also to the local economy, with around 1,000 participants and 200 volunteers annually. A natural leader and problem-solver, Tanya has also created a mentoring program to support children at two local high schools, providing mental health support in the absence of a school chaplain.

Tanya’s project idea is to create and run a subsidised ladies camp program to support women from regional Western Australia. The program will help develop essential life skills such as leadership, trust, self-confidence, self-esteem, perseverance and ambition that the women can use in their day to day lives. It will involve an intense three-day camp where ladies can experience all the activities the Camp Kulin program offers. Support groups will be created via social media so participants can keep in touch, with alumni events to be held each year. The leadership component of the program means participants are equipped to head back to their communities and start making changes and taking on leadership roles. It will help them to not feel isolated and realise they have the power to make a difference.

The already existing Camp Kulin Kids Camps have been recognised as the leading program of its kind in the country. Mothers, and the community generally, have seen so many positive changes in their children, and they would like the chance to have the same experience to grow and develop.

Tanya says “’One person can’t change the world, but they can change the world for one person”. That’s the ethos we adhere to at Camp Kulin. We want to make a difference to regional women one at a time and support them to make a difference to others across regional Western Australia.” 

2017 VIC Kirsten Abernethy

2017 Victoria winner - Kirsten Abernethy

Kirsten has worked in fishing communities for over a decade. After training as an ecologist and working as a social scientist in fishing communities in Cornwall, Timor Leste and the Solomon Islands, Kirsten says that the past two years working in Victorian fishing communities have shown her that she’s ‘found her calling’ and this is her way of life now.

Kirsten couldn’t be prouder of her state’s seafood industry. But she believes there is one resource the industry isn’t utilising well, and that is the women who work in it. Fifty-five per cent of fisheries workers are women, but they hold less than five per cent of the industry’s executive positions.

Kirsten knows women are motivated, passionate, and great communicators, and that they understand intimately the contribution the seafood industry makes to regional communities. Yet they are largely invisible in the fishing industry. Kirsten wants to change that. She wants to give women the confidence and skills they need so they can tell politicians, the media and funding bodies about the industry they love. She believes women in the fishing industry have different perspectives to offer, and wants them to be as much a voice for the industry as men are.

Kirsten will use the Award bursary to work with women in the fishing industry to determine what information and training will help them better engage with the community and take on greater leadership opportunities. She wants to capitalise on the pride and passion of women in fishing, and help build their capacity and confidence. This will be through developing and piloting a needs-based platform, co-designed with women in fishing.

Working with women in fishing will inform both what is needed, and how it should be delivered. The platform will focus on ways and tools needed to build social acceptability of fishing in communities and engage with decision makers. She hopes to give women in the industry the skills to promote the fresh and sustainable seafood that is available throughout Victoria. 

QLD winner Jacqueline Wilson-Smith photo

2017 Queensland winner - Jacqui Wilson-Smith

Jacqui is the Global Innovations Manager at McCormick and Chairperson of the Food and Agribusiness Network (FAN), a not-for-profit food network that she co-founded in 2015. Jacqui has dedicated her 20-year career to developing food and wine brands in Australia and overseas. In 2009 she returned to the Sunshine Coast to raise a family and lead the innovation and marketing team at Botanical Food Company. Within this role she was instrumental in launching the company’s innovative and highly successful Gourmet Garden range of herb and spice tubes and dried spices.

Jacqui’s international career has led to her interest in ‘Design Thinking’, a customer-focused mindset of bringing to market new ideas, products, services or business models that solve complex problems and delight customers. She is confident the adoption of Design Thinking could greatly benefit Queensland primary industries, by encouraging innovations that will add value, increase food security and build resilience in rural and regional communities.

Using the Award bursary, Jacqui will partner with educators, government and industry to create an online training platform to connect rural food and agribusinesses.  The platform will deliver practical and engaging content to provide time-poor companies with the skills and tools to make more informed decisions around innovation, resulting in fewer failures, higher sales and increased exports.  ‘Design Thinking’ will be the pilot topic.

The online platform will be piloted initially within the Food and Agribusiness Network, with the long-term aim of broadening the range of topics offered and accessibility to other regional networks and communities. Jacqui hopes the project will address the tyranny of distance faced by more isolated FAN members and encourage a sense of belonging through a virtual network. She also hopes the project will help to connect and inspire other rural communities to create their own FAN hubs. 

2017 NSW-ACT RIRDC winner Sandra Ireson

2017 New South Wales / Australian Capital Territory winner - Sandra Ireson

Sandra, from the Riverina town of Booligal in NSW, has a keen interest in developing pathways for younger generations to gain a start in primary industries. 

Throughout her career Sandra recognised that young people had limited opportunities to gain the basic hands-on training and bush skills to make them employable, resulting in diminishing numbers of young people entering or staying in agriculturally dependent communities and townships like Hay.

To address this challenge, in 2014 Sandra co-developed the Hay Inc. Rural Education Program to give young people the skills, education and experience they need to pursue a career in agriculture. The program provides hands-on training modules that cover all the necessary skills of stockmanship in sheep, cattle and farming skills, ongoing mentoring, and access to rural networks and landholders, which young people can use as a spring board to a career in agriculture.

The program has already delivered substantial benefits to Hay including: raising the profile of the local agricultural industry, enhancing tourism, greater recognition and understanding of the importance of food and fibre production, and enrichment of the social fabric of the community and surrounding district.

Building on the success of the Hay Inc. Rural Education Program Sandra plans to use the Award bursary to develop an adaptable model that can be used by other communities across Australia, ensuring their long-term sustainability.

Whether off the farm or from the city young people will have the opportunity to learn all the practical agricultural skills they will need – from shearing management and wool classing to fixing motorbikes and fences.

The model will not only provide a pathway for young people wanting a career in agriculture but it will also provide a network between district landholders, employers and trainees, and the opportunity for ongoing mentoring of trainees into the future, positively assisting in the long-term viability of agriculturally dependent communities. 

Tab 4 Content Title

News and updates

Tab 4 Content