Finalists announced for SA Rural Women’s Award

Four finalists have been announced for the 2019 South Australian AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award, recognising their leadership qualities and commitment to regional South Australian industries, business and communities.

The state finalists are Di Thornton, Michelle Verco, Natalie Sommerville and Deanna Lush,.

The award allows state and territory winners to bring to life a project or initiative that will benefit rural or regional Australia, with a $10,000 bursary from Westpac.

The winner will also receive professional development opportunities and will join an impressive Alumni network.

Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development Tim Whetstone congratulated the four finalists, all of whom have contributed significantly to regional South Australia.

“The AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award is an excellent platform for recognising emerging female leaders with the desire, commitment and leadership potential to make a greater contribution to primary industries and regional communities,” said Minister Whetstone.

“The diversity of this year’s finalists is impressive and is a testament to the broad reach of the award. Our finalists this year cover industries such as health, engineering, tourism, farming, emerging industries and communications.

“I congratulate this year’s finalists and urge them to continue being role models and helping to make a difference in their industries.”

This year’s judging panel for the state round comprises Pip Grant (AgriFutures Australia); Brad Higgins(Westpac); Bianca Jennings(Piper Alderman); and Alex Thomas(2018 South Australian Rural Women’s Award winner).

The 2019 state winner will be announced at a presentation in Adelaide on 28 March. The South Australian winner will compete for the national title against other state and territory winners at an event in Canberra later in the year.


Di Thornton

Di Thornton, from Pinnaroo in the Murray Mallee, is passionate about the health and wellbeing of rural communities. A nurse practitioner with an established health service ‘Mallee Border Health Centre’, Di wants to narrow the gap between the health of metropolitan and rural Australians.

Di knows the difficulty in securing practitioners in rural communities, and the time, money and inconvenience that community members face to travel long distances for health appointments. She would use the winner’s $10,000 Westpac bursary and Rural Women’s Award platform to enable specialised video conferencing services for her local community to access appointments with specialists, and to provide education about the role of nurse practitioners in primary health care.

Di’s goal is for this model and technology to be adopted by other rural communities, providing an enhanced service of care across rural Australia and support for local health care workers.

Michelle Verco

A civil engineer from Clare, Michelle Verco has been involved in many projects to develop safe and sustainable infrastructure for local communities, and has seen first-hand the benefit they bring to the local region.

Michelle is passionate about ensuring local communities have sustainable futures with good employment prospects, and believes the key to a prosperous community is its level of local services.

Michelle would use the winner’s $10,000 Westpac bursary and Rural Women’s Award platform, to address an identified barrier in rural tourism – the removal of waste from caravan dump points. Professional removal is cost prohibitive in rural and remote areas, making dump points unfeasible for some communities. Michelle’s goal is to develop a treatment method where waste can be disposed of in a land application area (similar to normal septic tank waste), meaning more caravan dump points can be installed in the regions. This technology has the potential to grow regional tourism – attracting more visitors and encouraging longer stays in towns – and reduce ongoing costs for waste disposal and illegally disposed of waste.

Natalie Sommerville

Natalie Sommerville, who lives near Andrews in South Australia’s Mid North, is a farmer, grazier, business owner and manager, mother and proud Torres Strait Islander.

Driven by her love of sustainable agriculture and the environment, Natalie’s focus is on influencing positive change in rural Australia and seeing greater innovation, greater inclusion of gender and age, and greater respect for diverse backgrounds. She is passionate about sharing her farming, cultural and social knowledge and experiences to improve outcomes for both current and future generations.

Natalie would use the winner’s $10,000 Westpac bursary and Rural Women’s Award platform to investigate the production of nativefoods in Australia to match their worldwide demand, by reviewing current farming systems and investigating whether nativefood production can complement farming businesses. Natalie hopes to encourage culturally appropriate nativefood production as a diverse, economically viable and sustainable opportunity for rural communities including Indigenous communities.

Deanna Lush

For Deanna Lush, a communicator and farmer from Palmer on South Australia’s Murray Plains, trust in agriculture and its producers is vital to the industry’s continued success.

As co-founder of specialist primary industries communication, marketing and events business AgCommunicators, Deanna is passionate about ensuring Australia’s agricultural industries are recognised as professional and tech-savvy, and ensuring the vital role of producers is understood, valued and trusted by the Australian community.

Deanna’s vision is to create a network of ‘trust in ag’ champions across rural Australia who will become leaders in building trust and will change the discussions in agriculture sectors about the importance of engagement. She would use the winner’s $10,000 Westpac bursary and Rural Women’s Award platform to develop a program and alumni to help producers best engage with non-agricultural audiences. The program aims to increase awareness of the need to build trust and provide training and mentoring to producers, helping them to engage and communicate with these audiences.

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