Rural Women's Award

Rural Women's Award

Award Overview

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 the major prize for each state and territory winner and provides the resources to develop each state and territory winner’s vision into a project or initiative that will benefit primary industries and rural Australia. 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

What is the AICD Company Directors Course?

The Company Directors Course is a comprehensive and credible learning program relevant to board directors and business entrepreneurs.

The course provides a thorough knowledge of the role and duties of being a board member, and knowledge of organisational performance, strategy development, risk management and financial performance, which are all critical to operating any business enterprise.

The course provides the opportunity to gain the above skills and knowledge with like minded rural women. For more information on the course, its details and commitments please visit:

What is the individual integrated leadership plan?

Leadership capacity is an inherent part of the Rural Women's Award. The individual integrated leadership plan will provide 12 months of facilitated individual strategic support for each Award winner to enhance their leadership development and the implementation of their Award vision, along with networking, media and public relations opportunities.

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.

How do I enter or nominate someone?

To express an interest in applying or to nominate an applicant call 02 6271 4132 or email 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, post or fax your entry to your state or territory contact.

What is the process and schedule?

Nominations for the Rural Women's Award open annually on 1 August and close on 30 October each year.

Applicants will then be short-listed and interviewed in each state and territory. State and territory winners will be announced at formal state presentation events to be held in March.

All state and territory winners will be invited to participate in the AICD Company Directors Course (residential) to be held in Canberra. Dates to be confirmed each year. 

State and territory winners will proceed to selection of the National RIRDC Rural Women’s Award winner and runner-up, to be held between August and September. National selection will include the state and territory winners' achievement during their term, including their project or initiative outcomes, and how they have put their leadership skills into action.

The National RIRDC Rural Women's Award Celebratory Dinner to announce the National winner and runner-up will be held in Canberra at a date to be confirmed. 

Your responsibilities to RIRDC

State and Territory Award winners will be required to sign a contract with RIRDC and at the conclusion of their Award tenure will need to submit a report on their Award activities and achievements and 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. This may take a few days. It is often good to get your ideas down in a first sitting and then leave it for a day or two before having a fresh look at what you have written. 

It may be worthwhile making contact with previous winners in your state or industry to gain their insights.

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.

Use headings

It might be helpful to begin with a rough outline under headings based on what is required. You can then jot down a few points under each heading which will get you started. Remember to address each of the three selection criteria.   

The selection criteria

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

1.  A demonstrated personal commitment to primary industries, communities and to the role of rural women in your State or Territory

Write one page about your personal commitment to primary industries and/or rural Australia, and ways you have supported primary industries and rural women in your state or territory.

The first criterion is asking you to write about your commitment to primary industries and its future sustainability. You will need to show how you are committed to primary industries and to rural women in your State/Territory. The key word here is ‘demonstrate’ so as well as talking about your background and your ‘philosophical approach’ you should try and give concrete examples. The Selection Committee will be looking for evidence of your commitment.

You might like to include things like:

  • Your participation in rural organisations and the benefits they have returned to your industry and its people
  • Your involvement in rural women’s groups and your understanding of the role of women in primary industries
  • The resources and effort you have put into your own enterprise/business and your industry
  • The long term commitment and involvement in your enterprise, an organisation or industry.

2. Potential to achieve and deliver benefits to primary industries (This is the most important selection criterion and will be weighted accordingly)

Write up to two pages about your vision and personal ambition for primary industries and/or rural Australia; your leadership capability as demonstrated by past experience in leadership and change agent roles; and how through the Award you will enhance your leadership capacity and contribution to industry. Also provide a basic budget on how you will spend the bursary.

Examples of costs that could be included are:

  • Resources required to deliver your project or initiative
  • Travel, accommodation and meals
  • Training costs, conference and workshop registration fees
  • Consultations and networking
  • Printing, promotion and postage
  • Vehicle expense

This criterion is about your vision for your industry and how the bursary will help you achieve it and how you operate at a higher level in your industry.

The Selection Committee will be looking for a clear and tangible personal vision and the dividends that vision will return through the bursary to you and your leadership capacity and to primary industries. Essentially they will want to know how the bursary is going to grow you and in turn how you will grow your industry.

So, give some thought for your vision for primary industries, if you had the resources what would you like to change or improve in primary industries today, how you could make a difference and what would be the benefits to you and to the broader primary industries.

Paragraph one

Outline as clearly and succinctly as possible your personal vision for primary industries.

Paragraph two

Summarise your experience in leadership and change management roles or your leadership potential and community contribution. It could be anything from Fundraiser at your local P and C, to member of your local Regional Development Australia or Catchment Management Committee, or initiatives or events you have effected independent of position. The Selection Committee will be looking for someone who has leadership potential and capability to enact on what they propose in this application.

Paragraphs three to five

Outline how the bursary will help you achieve your vision. You may wish to expand on what generated the idea, provide some evidence supporting the need for your vision, how it will help you be a leader and how your vision will benefit primary industries both now and beyond the 12 month period.

Paragraphs six to nine

Set out two or three objectives which focus on your vision, in other words what you are trying to achieve and what change you are trying to make.

A few examples:

  • To promote market opportunities for wool products
  • To establish new markets or partnerships overseas for olive oil.
  • To further develop leadership qualities and skills amongst women in the cotton industry
  • To develop a new rural educational program for secondary school
  • To develop a new promotional campaign to educate the urban population on primary industries
  • To write or publish a book on family farm business intergenerational issues.
  • To develop websites that promote primary industries and the rural communities they support.

Paragraphs ten to twelve

Provide a draft budget of how the bursary will be spent. Try to be realistic about costs. Do some research and get some quotes or estimates to help you plan your budget. This is an indicative budget only.

3.  Provide leadership and share skills and knowledge

Detail in one page how your Award ambition will assist you in the development of your leadership and representative capacity and how you will share your skills and knowledge to support others.

Step 4


Ensure that all the information required of you on the application form is completed and correct. You must include the name and contact details of two referees.

Step 5

Final reading

Give your application to a colleague or member of the family to read through and look for any errors or omissions. Remember that the written application form is your first hurdle so it is worth putting as much effort into it as you can.

Step 6

Send the application

Keep a copy of your application and send it to your relevant state or territory Award coordinator (see Contacts on this page). Applications close on the 30 October each year.

Application Form

Applications for the 2016 RIRDC Rural Women's Award closed on 30 October 2015.

The application form for the 2017 Award will be available on this page from 1 August 2016. It is an interactive PDF - you can directly enter your details and answers into the application form.

It is recommended that you download and then immediately save the blank application form to your computer. That way you can make and save changes whenever you want.

The completed form can be sent via email to your state or territory Award coordinator (see under Contacts on this page) or can be completed and printed and sent as a hard copy via post to your state or territory Award coordinator.


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
Jennifer Medway
Level 2, 15 National Circuit
Barton ACT 2601
Phone: 02 6271 4132

South Australia
Meredith Loxton
Primary Industries and Regions SA (PIRSA)
Government of South Australia
GPO Box 1671, Adelaide SA 5001
Phone: 08 8226 0539

Western Australia
Christine Thompson
Dept of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia
10 Doney Street, Narrogin WA 6312
Phone: 08 9881 0227
Mobile: 0427 986 351



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

Samantha Longley 
Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources
255 Ferguson Rd, Tatura, Victoria 3616
Phone: 03 5833 5254

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

National Award contacts
Jennifer Medway
Level 2, 15 National Circuit
Barton ACT 2601
Phone: 02 6271 4132

Related Links

  • Follow Rural Women's Award on Twitter
  • Like Rural Women's Award on Facebook
  • Watch Rural Women's Award videos on YouTube
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Current Winners

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Current Winners

Sarah Powell

2015 National and South Australia winner - Sarah Powell

Sarah Powell is part of a family-run mixed-farming business at Wharminda on the Eyre Peninsula. In her early career Sarah gained experience in business advisory and economic development, but soon discovered a passion for arming the next generation of leaders with skills to continue to drive and recognise the evolving needs of industry. 

As an Executive Officer on the board of the Cairns Chamber of Commerce, Sarah chaired the Young Chamber program which invested in the development of a new generation of business leaders in far north Queensland. From there she assisted in the development of this program in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. 

Following a move to the Eyre Peninsular in South Australia, Sarah rediscovered her passion for regional communities. Shortly after arriving she established new relationships through social groups, including local sporting clubs. These groups helped Sarah realise the potential of local sporting clubs as a mechanism to build future leaders, which she believes is core to keeping regions sustainable. In particular, she believes these community groups are an important vehicle for young people and women to gain essential skills and confidence and ultimately increase their community participation. She also believes that the culture of mentoring in sporting clubs empowers young ambassadors and gives them confidence and motivation to step up in their club and community. 

Sarah will use the $10,000 Award bursary to establish and manage the pilot program ‘Champions Academy’. The Academy aims to foster personal development through sport and mentoring, teach aspiring leaders how to lead by example, act with integrity, think selflessly and demonstrate commitment. It will be delivered through a culture of mentoring that engages, empowers and builds confidence and motivation for participants to take on change-agent roles. The grant will also be used to develop a community leadership succession plan to continue to build strength and resilience in her local community. 


Carol Bracken

2015 National runner-up and Tasmania winner – Carol Bracken

Carol Bracken is a hazelnut grower from Glengarry and has established Tamar Valley Hazelnuts with her family five years ago. The family’s hazelnut business has now grown to over 5,000 trees. Both Carol and her husband are actively involved in the hazelnut industry and are members of the peak industry body—Hazelnut Growers of Australia. Carol is also a leader in her community, having been a councillor on the West Tamar Council since 2011, and is strongly supportive of women, being a member of Tasmanian Women in Agriculture and the Australian Local Government Women’s Association (Tasmania).

She is passionate about supporting emerging industries, particularly in Tasmania, believing they boost local jobs and the diversity of industries in her state. Carol believes there is greater potential for hazelnuts to play a more prominent role in her local economy, for instance as an agricultural crop or processed into kernel, as a future tourism venture opportunity or through the development of value added hazelnut products.

Carol will use her $10,000 Award bursary to study hazelnut production in Oregon in the United States, a heartland for hazelnuts and one of the world’s most competitive markets. She hopes to gain insights from the study tour to help develop and evaluate a number of business models to market hazelnut products in a competitive environment in Australia. 

Carol is also passionate about increasing the representation of women in senior positions and in politics. She believes that increasing women’s participation in local government is a way to increase the skills and experiences of rural women.  Carol will also use her bursary to run a series of workshops and tutorials for women starting up businesses. Four regional courses will be held and will support women to develop rural women’s project management skills, including information on scheduling, budgeting, stakeholder and risk management. 


Sally Isberg

2015 Northern Territory winner – Dr Sally Isberg

Dr Sally Isberg runs her own company, the Centre for Crocodile Research, which conducts research and development programs to increase the efficiency and productivity of the Australian crocodile industry. Sally’s passion for crocodiles was realised while undertaking work experience during her studies at the University of Sydney. 

After graduating, Sally moved to the Northern Territory as a young researcher committed to work with the species. In 2000 Sally completed her PhD in crocodile genetics and since then has developed skills in running her own business and working collaboratively with industry leaders. 

Sally's ambition is to encourage more women scientists to diversify into primary industry research. Over the years, Dr Isberg has recruited both honours and PhD students for her own business and has developed a female team that is now leading crocodile research, specifically in ‘in skin’ research. 
She has a strong research focus, having co-authored 27 peer reviewed scientific papers and is an honorary associate of the University of Sydney, Charles Sturt University and Charles Darwin University. She has a personal ambition to see Charles Darwin University become a major hub for crocodile research. 

Sally’s project, funded through the Award, aims to educate non-agriculture science students on how their skills can be translated to primary industries and can lead to a lucrative career path. To support her project aim, three Charles Darwin University female students will be offered six-week scholarships to undertake mini-research projects focused on outcomes in the crocodile industry.

In addition to broadening students’ understanding of primary industries, this project will also provide opportunities for women to develop their own research areas and capacity, generate knowledge for the crocodile industry, perpetuate interest in primary industry research and advocate Charles Darwin University as a viable learning hub for crocodile research. 

Cindy Cassidy

2015 New South Wales winner – Cindy Cassidy

Cindy Cassidy grew up on a sheep and grain farm in Ariah Park, New South Wales before moving to Melbourne to work in the agribusiness sector. After a 20 year career, she returned to the Riverina region in 2013 to settle on the family farm with her young daughter and take up a role as Chief Executive Officer of FarmLink Research, a non-profit farming systems group based at Temora servicing farmers and agribusiness across the region.

Prior to joining FarmLink, Cindy worked with a number of large agribusinesses including the Australian Barley Board, AWB Ltd and co-established Wheat Quality Australia. She has been involved in stakeholder and industry committees and presented at conferences, both nationally and internationally.

Cindy’s ambition is to improve the relevance and effectiveness of local agricultural extension in order to support farmers in the adoption of innovation and to maximise returns from investment in agricultural research and development. 

She believes agricultural research and development is critical to the ongoing competitiveness of Australian agriculture. She sees farming systems groups, with their committed member base, local focus and emphasis on farmer-to-farmer learning, to be integral to the successful adoption of research outcomes on farm. 

Cindy will use the $10,000 Award bursary to explore national and international approaches to modern agricultural extension in order to improve the effectiveness of locally delivered programs. The knowledge and tools created through the project will be transferred to other farming systems groups through the current network of collaborations and partnerships. 

She would also like to establish a network of contacts in national and international agricultural organisations in order to influence the policy framework and investment strategy for agricultural extension.


Sherrill Stivano

2015 Queensland winner – Sherrill Stivano

Sherrill Stivano grew up in a cattle-farming family in the small south-western Queensland town of Injune and has gone on to be a partner in a family beef cattle feedlot operation and hay growing business near Roma. Following the 2011 live export ban, Sherrill realised that there was little understanding of Australian agriculture in both the political space and by the general public. As a result Sherrill was a founding member of the ‘Ask an Aussie Farmer’ social media campaign, bringing consumers and farmers together to build a mutual understanding of what goes into producing Australia’s food and fibre, and to address customer concerns.

Sherrill’s passion is to increase public awareness of the fact that Australia’s agricultural commodities are amongst the most desirable in the world; being free from many diseases, have carefully monitored chemical use, animal welfare is a priority, and that environmental stewardship and sustainability is integral to this process. 

She is committed to ensuring that there are not only viable and environmentally sustainable agricultural industries in her area of the Maranoa in Queensland, but is also working to improve the outlook of Australia’s agricultural industries through constructive legislation and policies. 

Sherrill is also passionate about seeing more rural women in the political spheres to assist with decision making with grass root level experience and is a member of the Queensland Rural, Regional and Remote Women’s Network which aims to help rural women find their voices and become a driving force and leaders throughout rural industries.

Sherrill has identified the need for farmers to showcase their practices and high standards and will use her $10,000 Award bursary to bring a UK-based Red Tractor program Director or Board member to Australia to discuss brand and country of origin labelling (CoOL). This will introduce Australian farmers, industry bodies and government to the opportunities offered by gathering behind one labelling system, the clarity of communication with consumers, and the benefit to everyone in the supply chain, for both domestic and international markets.


Katie Finlay

2015 Victoria winner – Katie Finlay

Katie Finlay is a third-generation orchardist who owns and operates the Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens, which grows more than 90 varieties of organic fruit. She is passionate about sharing her experiences of organic and sustainable fruit production and has developed the Grow Great Fruit Program for home fruit growers. Katie has diversified her business by writing and selling a range of information products for home fruit growers, including workshops and e-books.

Creating strong and sustainable local food systems is within Katie’s sights. Not only does she aim to encourage better connections between consumers and farmers, but also hopes to raise awareness of the food that’s grown in the community, and provide better opportunities for farmers to sell direct to consumers. 

To achieve this, she would like to support farmers to take greater control over their supply chain by taking part in farmers’ markets and using social media to share their stories, develop communities around their farms and ultimately drive demand. 

Outside of her orchard business, Katie is also actively involved in numerous community groups and organisations, primarily seeking funding to deliver community projects aimed at improving local food security. Katie also sits on the board of Melbourne Farmers Markets, an organisation engaged in changing community perceptions about farmers’ markets, particularly around them being expensive and elitist. 

Katie’s project, funded from the $10,000 Award bursary, aims to encourage more farmers’ markets, holding them weekly and using Facebook as the tool to build “strong communities” around farmers and each market. Ultimately her project aims to give farmers better control of their markets by fostering strong relationships between farmers and consumers.


Tress Walmsley

2015 Western Australia winner – Tress Walmsley

Tress Walmsley is Chief Executive Officer of InterGrain and has built a successful career in the grains industry, starting out as an agronomist at the Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia (DAFWA) before moving into grains commercialisation. Tress grew up as part of a farming community in Northam and is passionate about connecting rural and city communities through food. She believes that the Australian grains industry can continue to grow by fostering a stronger link between production commodities and the food it produces. 

Tress is also passionate about involving women in the grains industry and her previous work with the TOPCROP family’s program facilitated young female growers to undertake study tours on the east coast of Australia. The program evolved into the Partners in Grain program which assists women to participate in the decision making of their farming businesses. Tress was awarded the Telstra Young Business Women for Western Australian for her work in building these programs and is now a role model for women both within InterGrain and through her roles in industry organisations. In 2014 Tress was listed in the Fairfax top 100 Women in Australian Agribusiness. 

Tress recognises the exclusive global advantage Western Australian farmers have to grow wheat for Udon noodles. While Western Australian wheat varieties are in high demand in Asian countries, such as Japan and Korea, there is scope to increase domestic consumption. Tress’ project, funded by the Award bursary, is aptly titled ‘Oodles of noodles’ and aims to increase the demand for noodle wheat by Australian consumers which will ultimately support local growers. 

Tress will use the $10,000 bursary to develop six Western Australian grain growers into ‘Udon noodle master chefs’ and industry ambassadors. She hopes that these growers will market the product to their local communities and increase the local demand for the Udon grain.

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News and updates

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