Living and working in a rural area is a rich and rewarding experience in so many ways, but it can also be isolating. When Jackie Elliot moved to Byaduk in Victoria’s Southern Grampians, finding her people was difficult.
However, she went on to do more than simply make personal connections – founding the Australian brand of “Rural Women’s Day”.
The event is celebrated during the month of October with local gatherings highlighting the United Nations International Day of Rural Women on October 15. A lot has happened since the inaugural gathering in 2019 and Jackie’s vision has grown into an Australia-wide event.
The drive to create the event happened as a result of her own experience, when her parents moved to Byaduk in 2011. At the age of 18, Jackie wanted to make new connections but found it very difficult.
Her now husband was the ‘farmer next door’ but beyond that, meeting people was hard. “It was really difficult moving properties. The property that we sold as a fifth generation was through a family partnership dissolving. So, it wasn’t by choice. It was somewhat of a forced move for my family.
Finding your people
“Trying to fit in to a new community, navigating a new career, making decisions as an adult was hard,” Jackie shares.
I could have packed my bags and run away and put things behind me. But I stuck it out and I’m so glad I did.
Jackie remembers that period being really tough on her mental health. At an age where she wasn’t at school, didn’t play sports and hadn’t had children, there weren’t many opportunities to fit in to any community group.
Jackie decided to do something about it, setting up the first Rural Women’s Day four years ago. “I thought we’d get 40 to 60 people together at a social gathering. I’d never planned an event before! I gave myself 12 months to execute it, promoting it on social media, and it kept snowballing. I sold out with 170 attendees.”
It made me realise this is what other people need. I wasn’t just creating an event for what I needed
What was originally set up as a one-off event has become an annual tradition.
Unfortunately, Covid made the subsequent years challenging. Given that, 2023 is the biggest yet. Women around the country have put up their hands to host bespoke events suited to their own communities. “It’s not someone from outside that community coming in to run an event with what they think works. This is someone within the community.”
This year, 10 locations across Australia will be celebrating across five states during all of October. Between Jackie and her mum, they plan to attend almost every single one in person.
The events usually run over a weekend with guests sharing a meal, networking and hearing from guest speakers who donate their time to share their story. “Personally, I have made so many beautiful connections. They are long lasting relationships because we’ve all chosen to be there.”
Some women have travelled up to 3,000 kilometres to attend a weekend for Rural Women’s Day.
The success of Rural Women’s Day is all about the women and local businesses who donate their talents to events across the nation from guest speakers, to flower arrangements and gift bags. It’s important to note, even Jackie herself does this in a volunteer capacity. Her efforts earned her the Rural Community Leader of the Year award in this year’s Farmer of the Year gongs.
“To create that connection between incredible people. That’s how I want Rural Women’s Day to be,” she says proudly. “Women have so much to offer our communities and if we can embrace that in rural and regional Australia, we’re going to be better for it.”
Jackie believes the best thing you can do for other women is to include newcomers to the region into your own network. A call to us all – to look out for our neighbours.