A tribute to rural women

RURAL women gathered to celebrate their contribution to their communities this week.

An initiative of the Loddon Bendigo Rural Women's Network, the Tribute to Rural Women was held at The Foundry Hotel Complex, highlighting the important role women play in rural and regional communities.

Keynote speaker Brigitte Muir told the gathering how she overcame mountains to become the first Australian woman to climb Mount Everest in 1997, and the first Australian to climb the highest mountain on each continent.

While Ms Muir's nine-year quest included four attemps to climb Mount Everest, she told the gathering she was no different to any other woman.

"There are many women who climb their own mountains every day,'' she said.

Among those were the six women whose lives were celebrated at the event.

Annie North women's refuge chief executive and chair of the Australian Women Against Violence Alliance Julie Oberin shared her story, that of a young girl from a dairy farm in Goornong who has gone on to lead a delegation to the United Nations Commission for the Status of Women.

"I think it's really important to provide the necessary shelter and support and safety for women ... but at the same time, it's really important to advocate at a higher policy level to make sure that governments and and other parts of the community are responding appropriately,'' she said.

Sue Brown of Bridgewater was acknowledged for her roles with Zonta, the Kooyoora Women's Network, Women on Farms and the Inglewood Parish of the Anglican Church.

On top of her contribution to the community through various organisations, Sue and her husband Allan have also been foster parents to more than 100 children.

"I love my community, I love people, I love to help... I guess lots of people need some TLC,'' she said.

When Lyn Comer lost her husband Noel to cancer, the mother of three teenage children decided it was not an option to sell the family's farm machinery repair business at Goornong. 

She was heavily involved with various Goornong community groups including the Health Centre, playgroup, primary school, swimming pool, ballet group and the Goornong Water Board, but determined to continue to grow the manufacturing side of the business.

Lyn is now managing director of GE Silos and her son Jason is the manager.

"For a while there I did doubt myself, but I thought 'now I can do this - I know I can do this,'' she said.

Sue Bennett strongly believes communities should be based on village systems, where everyone has a sense of belonging. She is involved with the school council, church, tennis club, hall committee, water services committee, the Dingee Bush Nursing Centre and the Central Victorian Agribusiness Forum.

Living on a farm at Yarrawalla, Sue and her husband trialed a number of crops before choosing apples. As black spot disease became a challenge, the couple found themselves looking and expensive chemicals, but did not want to take that path. They opted to go organic. 

"My ideal wish for any community is a village system. I think we've got a perfectly sized community to make a village type situation. I think it gives everyone a sense of belonging,'' Ms Bennett said.

Gwen Miller of Bald Rock near Pyramid Hill has always been active in her local church parish, which has been a big part of her life.

But it was a tragedy in 1975 that determined the busy years that followed. Gwen's brother, his wife and their baby daughter were killed in a car crash - leaving three surviving sons, one of whom was critically injured and required ongoing medical care. 

Gwen and her husband Ernie were already raising three boys of their own, but quickly set up bunks in their hall and set about making a life for six boys.

There were many years of legal battles ahead, and the couple wanted the boys to keep their own family name so opted to become carers rather than adopt the youngsters. Their battle paved the way for other families in similar situations who were then able to access an orphan's pension.

Gwen has also fought her own health battles, including rheumatic fever, peritonitis, gallstones, a brain tumour and recently leukaemia and Alzheimer's Disease.

"Just enjoy life. We didn't have much time to think about what was happening, we just kept doing it,'' she said.

Ngaire Anderson of Heathcote was recognised as a young woman who overcame learning difficulties and found her confidence after a chance day as a 17-year-old. Ngaire came across a road crash on the way home from school one day and was called on to help the paramedic. She then went on to travel before spending 10 years working as a paramedic, complete a Masters in Business Administration and is now on the board of Heathcote Health.

"I think that if you have the opportunity to learn from and surround yourself with inspirational people who have solid values, then in one sense the other stuff will sort itself out,'' she said.

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