Find out more on the Community Future Projects and Kitchen Grants that have been awarded over the past few years by the RAS Foundation.Read more
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The lure of a country practice could be the reasoning behind sixteen of the forty-nine Rural Scholarship recipients studying medicine, nursing or veterinarian science… or is it the desire to nurture their own regional communities in the same way the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW (RAS) Foundation nurtures aspiring students through the Scholarship program.
Visiting Armidale in late July, the RASF hosted a function for 2018 Rural Scholarship recipients. Ten students from the Upper Hunter region met with RASF Board Members and staff at Booloominbah Homestead, UNE to receive their Certificates of Excellence and share their stories.
Left to Right. Michael Millner (Chair, RAS Foundation), Rob Witts, Gunnedah, Katrina Thomas, Condobolin, Naomi Kauter, Gresford, Elizabeth Munn, Leeton, Megan Coyle, Walbundrie, Claire Johnson, Crookwell and Cecilia Logan (Manager, RAS Foundation) Six bright leaders from regional and rural NSW were awarded RAS Foundation Community Futures Grants at the Foundation’s Rural Scholar’s Morning Tea during the Sydney Royal Easter Show with just under $100,000 shared amongst the group. Through sales of the Foundation Ag Bag and other activations at the Show, the RAS Foundation is able to offer these grants to community-minded individuals who are willing to partner with a community organisation in their local area. Since 2010 the RASF Community Futures Grant program has invested more than $700,000 into rural and regional communities across NSW through this program. Applications for the 2019 Community Futures program will open in December 2018. Elizabeth Munn - Leeton Partner: Leeton Show Society Project: Young Farmer’s Challenge Trailer Elizabeth Munn’s project will see her build a Young Farmer’s Challenge trailer for use by the communities in her zone so that more shows can compete in this event. The ultimate test of skill and ability, the Young Farmers Challenge gives young people the chance to showcase their expertise in a series of on-farm tasks. This can be anything from animal handling to fencing, driving tractors, putting out fires, first aid, heavy lifting and transport challenges. Elizabeth is very keen to get young people involved at community level and is positive the Leeton Young Farmer’s Challenge Trailer will get well used in the Leeton and surrounding areas. Claire Johnson - Crookwell Partner: Crookwell AP & H Society Project: New Cattle Shed Young cattle committee member Claire Johnson knows that the new cattle shed she and her committee build will be of great benefit to the Upper Lachlan Shire cattle producing community. With an increase in entries in the stud cattle competition this new facility will be more than adequate to accommodate these numbers and host a variety of other events throughout the year, bringing further economic benefit to the wider community. Megan Coyle - Walbundrie Partner: Walbundrie Show Society Project: Multi-purpose Equestrian Arena The Walbundrie Show is a popular event within the Walbundrie community and has a very well patronised horse section. Megan Coyle’s application to improve the facilities for horse events at the showground will see her hardworking group of local volunteers building a purpose-built arena with proper drainage and fencing which can be used for other events outside of Show. Rob Witts - Gunnedah Partner: Gunnedah Show Society Project: Upgrade of Showground Kitchen and Servery Local farmer and Gunnedah Show Society President, Rob Witts, acknowledges that with over 50,000 patrons attending the various events held at Gunnedah Showground the current facilities are far from adequate. Rob and his team of skilled volunteers plan to upgrade the makeshift facilities so that they can better cater for the many events held at the Showground and provide a workable space for those working in the kitchen. Katrina Thomas - Condobolin Partner: Condobolin High School P & C Association Project: CHS Agriculture – Rebuilding to Learn for Tomorrow Condobolin High School agricultural science teacher Katrina Thomas and her fiercely determined colleagues are focused on improving the ageing agricultural facilities at Condobolin High School. Katrina wants to create a positive and safe learning space for students with an all-purpose shed, chicken enclosure, hot house and aquaponics set up. Ultimately Katrina and her students hope to set up two small enterprises, a chicken breeding and vegetable/plant seedling enterprise. Naomi Kauter - Gresford Partner: Gresford District Agricultural Society Project: Stable Block Restoration The deterioration of the Gresford Showground stable block has meant that the facility is not being used to its full potential. Naomi Kauter plans on changing this by replacing the rafters and roof and installing water tanks to collect water for reuse. Naomi is sure that the new stable block, in conjunction with existing facilities, will attract out of area organisations who wish to host horse-related events in Gresford. Naomi has a well-thought-out project plan that will make use of local volunteers on weekends to complete the project over sixteen weeks.
In the words of one of the most famous country veterinarians, James Herriot, “Animals are unpredictable things so our whole life is unpredictable. It’s a long tale of little triumphs and disasters and you’ve got to really like it to stick to it.” With high hopes and aspirations, ten Rural Scholarship recipients will be enjoying the triumphs and experiencing the disasters of life as a veterinarian with thanks to the RAS Foundation ( RASF ). Universities offer 1029 students the opportunity to enrol to study Veterinary Science in New South Wales each year, with a total cost in excess of $250,000 for a degree with a starting salary of $44,053 upon graduation. It is a massive commitment, financially and time-wise, and more often than not requires a shift from home (two universities in NSW offer the course – Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga and the University of Sydney). The RASF is assisting students relocating from hometowns including Wollomombi (864 kms), Narooma (433 kms), Cobar (530 kms), Kandos (468 kms) and even Penrith (456 kms) to study at Charles Sturt University. Apart from distance, all have one other thing in common –the determination to contribute to rural NSW and regional communities as a country vet. With fifteen percent of the RASF Rural Scholarships awarded to Veterinary Science students, and thirteen percent going to Medical Science students, it is fair to conclude that many did pay attention to Dr James Herriot when he advised, “I hope to make people realise how totally helpless animals are, how dependent on us, trusting as a child must that we will be kind and take care of their needs.”
In 1818 John Oxley first passed through the regional area now known as Dubbo. In 1840, Dundullimal Homestead was built, recognised as the oldest surviving slab hut house in Australia. In 1851, the census in Dubbo revealed a population of 28 males and 19 females. The Post Office was established in 1862, the first Dubbo Pastoral & Agricultural Show took place in 1873, and Dubbo was proclaimed a City in 1967. In 2017 four outstanding students from the region received Royal Agricultural Society of NSW Foundation (RASF) Rural Scholarships to help them achieve their educational goals. Harriet Amey is studying physiotherapy at university in Sydney but is going to return home to the ‘hub of the west’ with a plan to address the shortage of physiotherapists in regional hospitals. Harriet is incredibly aware of the need to bridge the gap and thanks to the assistance she has received from the RASF she is one giant step closer. The Rali Foundation donated Harriet’s Scholarship. Australia is the world’s leading supplier of red meat, and Australians eat more red meat than anyone else does around the world. Red meat plays an incredible part in Australia’s economy and the industry is vital as a major employer. Fortunately, Tyla Comerford has moved from Dubbo to New England in order to study Agriculture/Business and will return with a focus on producing a more feed-efficient line of cattle. Tyla believes better genetics in cattle production is the way forward in order to feed ever-growing numbers demanding Australian red meat. Tyla received a RASF Rural Scholarship with thanks to Moghul Brahman Stud/UNE Foundation. Promoted as an evocity (Energy, Vision & Opportunity), Dubbo is calling for new residents to boost its 51,000 population. The ‘treechange’ from city to regional living has many benefits but issues including loneliness and a sense of isolation can sometimes arise. A RASF Rural Scholarship donated by the Christopher Cuffe Foundation is going to assist Caitlin Maginnis to help people facing grief, loss and crisis in regional areas. Studying Social Work at university in Dubbo, Caitlin wants to empower families and young people with better choices and support. Life on the land has difficulties and financial problems can go hand-in-hand with rural living. Samantha Smart is studying Agricultural Production with the hopes of demonstrating this doesn’t have to be the case. Samantha is receiving assistance with her studies thanks to a RASF Rural Scholarship donated by the Rali Foundation, and would like to settle in Dubbo with a mixed farming enterprise that is both environmentally and financially sustainable.
RAS Foundation Scholarships provide a financial helping hand to assist students achieve their education goals. Over the past seven years 371 Scholarships - for a total of $1,721,500 - have been awarded. Students with a passion for rural issues and a commitment to playing a part in shaping the future of rural and regional NSW are encouraged to apply. Thanks to the donations from our generous supporters, Rural Scholarships are open to students of any age and embrace a diverse range of tertiary or vocation education and training studies. Amongst the 64 recipients of the 2017 Rural Scholarship recipients are the following four outstanding applicants: Bridget Bennett - studying a Bachelor of Medical Radiation Science at the University of Newcastle. “In completing my course I wish to move back out to a rural area such as Orange, or even Dubbo (if a cancer clinic is approved and built before I've finished my course) to work as a fully qualified Radiation Therapist.” Thomas Tsang - studying a Bachelor of Medical Studies/Doctor of Medicine at the University of New South Wales. “There is always a divide between rural and urban healthcare, therefore I would like to contribute to narrowing this gap. Growing up in Taree, I understand the challenges a country town faces in getting fair and quality medical services. I am keen to return to regional/rural areas, to contribute to narrowing the gap between the rural and urban healthcare.” Tamara Heir - studying a Bachelor of Veterinary Biology/Bachelor of Veterinary Science at Charles Sturt University. “ I represent part of the future of science and agriculture in rural and regional NSW and this is a responsibility I do not take lightly. I am working my very hardest to study and learn all I can.” Katherine Reid - studying a Bachelor of Rural Science at the University of New England. “My reason for studying this course is to improve the standard and quality of production, to facilitate further research and learning into different methods of producing agricultural goods. I hope this degree can give me the skills to strengthen the industry.”
RAS Foundation Scholarships provide a financial helping hand to assist students achieve their education goals. Students with a passion for rural issues and a commitment to playing a part in shaping the future of rural and regional NSW are encouraged to apply. Scholarships are open to students of any age and embrace a diverse range of tertiary or vocation, education and training studies. Amongst the 64 Rural Scholarship recipients for 2017 are the following students… Ryley Wickham, 17-years-old, has travelled 240kms from his hometown of Goonoo Goonoo to study a Certificate IV Agriculture at Tocal College. Ryley believes the future of farming and the ability to maximise the potential of the land lies in innovative technology. Kelsea Boots, 23-years-old, has relocated from Camden to Orange in order to complete her Bachelor of Dental Science at Charles Sturt University. The urgent need for rural health practitioners drives Kelsea’s goal of establishing a flying dental service to provide essential oral care to remote areas of Australia. Samuel Scarlett, 20-years-old, has moved from Cooma to Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga in order to study a Bachelor of Animal Science (Honours). Samuel wants to keep the merino industry thriving by investigating the role of genetics and nutrition in wool. Anne Johnston, 21-years-old, has transferred 400kms from home in Moree to study at the University of New England, Armidale. Anne hopes her Bachelor of Education (K-12) will enable her to teach in a rural community and help to keep youth thriving in rural towns.
Sydney Royal Wine Scholarship - applications open 1 August 2017 Established in 1826, the Sydney Royal Wine Show is one of the most prestigious wine shows in Australia. Attracting over 2,200 entries annually from over 300 Exhibitors across Australia, this is the opportunity for producers to have their product benchmarked against a cross-section of key Australian competitors, as well as the opportunity to win a coveted Sydney Royal Medal or Trophy. Along with a judging panel selected by Chair of Judges Samantha Connew and the RAS of NSW Wine Committee, Stewards play a valuable role ensuring each day runs smoothly. Acting as a Steward for the Sydney Royal Wine Show provides unique insight into the wine industry and counts as relevant experience towards an Associate Judge role in the future. The Sydney Royal Wine Show will welcome Viticulture student Hannah McKay from Charles Sturt University as a Steward this year. Employed by the iconic winery Vasse Felix in Margaret River, Western Australia, Ms McKay studies by distance travelling regularly from WA to NSW for her degree. This commitment to her education and her goal of becoming a leading female viticulturist saw Ms McKay awarded the 2017 Sydney Royal Wine Scholarship. The Sydney Royal Wine Committee along with the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW Foundation (RASF) offers an annual tertiary scholarship, which honours the memory and contribution of Graham Thorp, Chair of the Sydney Royal Wine Committee from 1984 - 1990. Sydney Royal Wine Committee Chair, Sally Evans, commended Ms McKay for her inspiring vision of how she plans to be involved in the future success of the Australian wine industry. “It’s wonderful to be able to offer the opportunity of stewarding at the KPMG Sydney Royal Wine show to Ms McKay, who will benefit greatly from the learnings and networks she will receive access to. She not only impressed us with her passion for viticulture but also her desire to play a leading role in encouraging more young women into the wine industry,” Ms Evans said. Ms McKay started working in the vineyards near her family home in the Southern Highlands of NSW after walking away from an office job and fell in love with the industry. Her interest lies in combining traditional farming practices with land management techniques and native species and exploring more sustainable ways of growing wine grapes in Australia. “I’m thrilled to be selected for this amazing scholarship and excited about the opportunities it will bring as I work towards my goal of being a leading female viticulturist,” “I am excited to connect with other like-minded people across Australia at the upcoming wine show and will use this scholarship to strengthen the precision and quality of Australian viticulture and wine,” she said. RAS Foundation Executive Officer, Kate Ross, said the scholarship offers a welcome financial boost to our next generation of wine industry leaders as they strive to excel in their chosen careers. “The fact that our 2017 scholarship recipient has chosen to relocate far from home and undertake distance studies while working in the wine industry shows a real commitment,” Ms Ross said. Applications for the 2018 Sydney Royal Wine Scholarship open on 1 August, the scholarship offers $6,000 for full-time study or $3,000 towards part-time education. www.rasnsw.com.au/foundation/scholarships-and-grants/sydney-royal-wine-scholarship/
A 2016 Royal Agricultural Society of NSW (RAS) Foundation Rural Scholar is causing a buzz in apiculture with her research on a disease of economic importance to Australian agriculture. Tara Needham, a final year veterinary science student at Charles Sturt University (CSU) in Wagga Wagga, has undertaken an independent research project on American foulbrood (AFB), the most serious brood disease affecting honey bees in NSW. The bacterial disease kills larvae in their cells within the hive and current treatments exterminate the entire colony; devastating to an industry contributing approximately $36 million annually to the State’s economy. AFB is an infectious disease and can be spread by interchanging apiary equipment or if bees consume contaminated honey. Beekeepers are required to notify an apiary inspector under the Apiaries Act if their colonies are infected, if left unchecked AFB will eventually kill all the hives in an apiary and will spread to other hives within flying distance. “I expect to find AFB exists at subclinical levels in many hives and that while bees are able to manage those levels, environmental factors like stress and human influence such as pesticides can cause the disease to become pathogenic,” Needham said. The research involved collecting more than 1,000 samples over 5 months along with laboratory work to monitor seasonal patterns and AFB prevalence in the Riverina. Needham is now finalising results and aims to finish the report by her July graduation. “The prospect of publishing a scientific article on a subject I’m passionate about makes all the work completely worth it, it’s amazing seeing it come to fruition,” the 23-year-old said. Needham “fell into apiculture” after joining the Wagga Wagga Bee Keeping Club to learn about the only insect that produces food for human consumption. “I thought it would be a great hobby but it turned into a passion,” she said. “Bees are incredibly fascinating creatures with complex lives. Their world is dictated by smells and seeing ultraviolet; it’s so different from ours.” The NSW Department of Primary Industry supported Needham’s project alongside CSU staff including Veterinary Pathology Lecturer, Andrew Peters, who ensured experiments were correctly designed and the scientific process understood. “Tara’s research is very significant to the future of this area in agriculture and vet science. Bees are economically and agriculturally valuable, the importance of their health should not be underestimated,” Peters said. Roughly 65 per cent of Australian agricultural production depends on pollination by honey bees, seeing their services valued between $4-6 billion. With more than 3,000 registered beekeepers and over 200,000 hives, NSW is Australia’s largest beekeeping state contributing approximately 40-45 per cent of the national honey crop. “It’s great that young vets are supported by programs like the RAS Foundation Rural Scholarship because it gives them the ability to explore emerging and niche needs within agricultural industries, Australian biosecurity and vet health,” Peters said. RAS Foundation Rural Scholarships assist individuals whose career aspirations benefit rural and regional NSW communities. More than 350 scholarships have been awarded since its inception in 2011 totalling over $1.7 million. Needham was one of 58 scholarship recipients in 2016, which covered her textbooks, apiary equipment and study placement travel costs. “The support of the RAS Foundation has been invaluable,” she said. “I’ve networked with other recipients and was able to dedicate myself to finishing my degree to my full potential without financial stress.” Executive Officer of the RAS Foundation, Kate Ross, said the scholarship re an initiative designed to ensure an increased flow of skilled people to rural and regional NSW communities. “Scholarships support our mission to build strong, sustainable communities by providing vital funding to rural-minded students working towards their educational goals,” Ross said. “We choose students who are passionate about their local communities and have the energy, skills and enthusiasm NSW country areas need to remain sustainable,” Ross said. Applications for the 2018 Rural Scholarships open on 1 August and close 30 September 2017 http://www.rasnsw.com.au/foundation/scholarships-and-grants/ras-rural-scholarships/
There are small choices we make in our day to days lives that can change the course of things to come. Some are as simple as purchasing a latte to get you through the next two hours of your lecture, and others are far more monumental. One of these choices was the decision to apply for the JB Fairfax Award for Rural Journalism. I submitted my application thinking there may not be much of chance of winning the scholarship but at least I’d given it my best shot. It was this small decision that quickly turned into one of the best experiences of my life to date. As a part of the scholarship, I travelled down to Sydney to participate in the Sydney Royal Easter Show internship program - a fast paced two-week glimpse into the world of media. With a healthy dose of nerves, I braved the city transport and found my way to Sydney Olympic Park, where I would spend the next fortnight working in and amongst the Show. As a third and final year journalism student, the opportunities the internship program offered were unlike any other work placement I could have dreamed of. Not only did the program enable me to complete a whole unit of my degree in just two weeks, it also encouraged me to create networks that will be invaluable for an entry level journalist like myself looking to apply for jobs in the coming year. Meeting John Fairfax was definitely one of the most valuable and defining moments of my time in Sydney. Working with an array of media outlets, from television and radio to print media, I was also able to gain immeasurable experience in the journalism field as well as enhance my writing and organisation skills through mentoring. The Royal Agricultural Society and the Cox Inall staff involved in the program were knowledgeable, patient, friendly and eager to get me involved in every aspect of the job. Each and every day at the Sydney Royal Easter Show brought something new, challenging and exciting, whether it was being a part of a live television broadcast or assisting in a photoshoot. Every morning I was eager to see what the day would bring, what skills I would learn and who I would meet. During my first week of interning, I was lucky enough to be assigned to work with the GWS Giants AFL team and help the team film for their online content. This was definitely a fun night of work, watching the players battle it out on the giant slide before braving the horror house. Hanging out with the team was something I never imagined would be on my job criteria, so I was absolutely stoked to have done it as a part of my internship. Another stand out moment was starring on Sunrise with my fellow intern, Cara who was in Australia as a part of her American study abroad program. This was her claim to Australian fame, and mine I should add, even if we were in the background. But my most memorable experience of the two weeks was definitely assisting the ABC crew film an episode of Australia Wide, a television program I have long adored. I was able to see how an episode was scripted, produced, filmed and presented. On top of this, I was able to meet the wonderful host, Yassmin Abdel-Magied. As a student from the regional town of Singleton, these experiences would never have been available in my hometown which is why the program was so valuable for me. If I hadn’t participated in the program, I would never have been able to gain such a significant level of experience in so many different fields of media at such an early stage in my career. Aside from the professional benefits of the program, it was a fantastic opportunity to meet like-minded people who share similar aspirations and goals. Through interning I have made life-long friendships with people from all across the state, and even as far as New York City. Having these friends definitely made the experience, and the long train trips, all the more memorable. The whole internship was an experience I will cherish for a long time, and I couldn’t recommend it enough to other university students considering work placement. I give my appreciation and thanks to everyone who played a part in making the JB Fairfax scholarship and Sydney Royal Easter Show internship program possible.
WORDS: Nicola Conville Article first appeared RAS Times November 2016 Two years ago a teacher had a vision to create a natural play space for her rural community and thanks to funding from an RAS Foundation (RASF) Community Futures Grant in 2015 her goal has been achieved. School teacher Katie Rowe was inspired to create a play area for young children at her local café, Two Eight Two Eight, in her adopted home of Gulargambone in the central west plains of NSW. The building was purchased by the local community in 2002 and has been renovated slowly over the years, evolving to encompass a visitor’s centre and café. “As the building took shape, I felt it needed something to engage the school children and help them feel proud of their community, and that’s where the idea for a natural play space came about,” Katie explains. The RASF Community Futures Grants encourage rural youth leadership by providing financial assistance for community projects. The program has been running for three years, and in that time, 23 grants have been awarded, with a total sum of $510,000 in funds distributed to help community projects come to life. When Katie learned about the Community Future Grant, she felt it was the perfect fit for her project. She put together a very detailed proposal but says the hardest part of the process was keeping it a secret once she knew the application had been successful. “I knew about it for three weeks before the announcement at the 2015 Sydney Royal Easter Show, it was hard to stay quiet!” On receipt of the grant, volunteers spent five months building the new play area, which includes a herb garden that provides for the café kitchen, and an interactive leisure and learning space for local kids aged up to seven years. “There was a lot of work to do,” Katie says. “We cut down trees, replaced the shed and put in a new drainage system – and you’d be amazed and how much dirt it takes to fill a space like this too,” she laughs. Local school children helped out by creating beautiful handmade stepping stones for the space. “It was a lot of work, but when it all fell into place it was worth every second. In April we had a launch party and Kate Ross from the RASF came down for it. The place looks amazing now – it’s so colourful, with plenty of shade and a beautiful garden.” Katie had only been living in Gulargambone for a few years when her vision for the play space began to take shape, but she had a strong desire to give back to her local community. “It’s so nice to be able to do something significant and it’s lovely that the kids have somewhere safe to play,” she says. “I love rural living for the sense of community, the fresh air and open spaces. But it’s also a beautiful environment for kids. Country living also gives them a lot of resilience and teaches them that when people work together, that’s how things get done. “The Community Futures Grant is a great initiative because even going through the process of application gets you thinking about what you would like for your community and the skills you would like to learn. I would recommend it to anyone wanting to improve their community and themselves.” In 2015 David Ryan and Helen DeCosta were also awarded Community Future Grants achieving excellent results for their communities. Learn more about RASF’s scholarships and grants .
WORDS: Nicola Conville Article first appeared RAS Times November 2016 Two years ago market gardener, David Ryan, applied for funding to lead a project in his rural community. In 2015 he was awarded an RAS Foundation (RASF) Community Futures Grant and is now seeing his hard work come to fruition. The RASF Community Futures Grants encourage rural youth leadership by providing financial assistance for community projects. The program has been running for three years, and in that time, 23 grants have been awarded, with a total sum of $510,000 in funds distributed to help community projects come to life. For David, the funding and his project has improved his community. David has a passion for sustainable living, land regeneration, food production and natural building. He has been involved with the Uralla Community Garden since its inception in 2014 and saw the Grant as an opportunity to take things to the next level. “We had been seeking grants for the community garden for a while and I felt this was the perfect opportunity,” he says. “I was in the right age bracket, it was a strong, community-based project and a unique idea. I put the effort in and was thrilled when we were told our application was successful.” David’s vision was to create an environment where young and old alike could enjoy the gardens, learn about sustainable food production and alternative building practices. He proposed to build a new shed and pond, plant fruit trees and build a compressed earth brick machine. “Community cohesion was a really important outcome for the project too,” he says. The Uralla Community Garden has been flourishing thanks to the RASF Community Futures Grant. Working bees are carried out regularly to help build and nurture the space. David has built a compressor and although it is still in the prototype stage he says it has helped him and other volunteers to build up their skills, and eventually hopes it will become an asset that can be hired out, generating an income for the garden. “So far we have built a wall using the machine and now we’re doing a small shed on a property,” he says. “We’ve also been talking to Adam Blakester from Starfish Initiatives, a charity which supports rural and regional sustainability, to see if we can work together. “Personally, I’ve come from quite a troubled background and doing good in the community has been very beneficial to me,” David says. “But inspiring people from a gardening and building perspective has been a really big thing for me too. It’s the conversations I have with people when I’m working in the garden that make it all worthwhile.” In 2015 Helen DeCosta and Katie Rowe were also awarded Community Future Grants achieving excellent results for their communities. Learn more about RASF’s scholarships and grants .
WORDS: Alexandra Malfroy Article first appeared RAS Times November 2012 The community of Narrandera, in southern NSW, benefited from a community kitchen thanks to the initiative of resident Ashley Murphy and support of the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW Foundation. In 2011, 21 year-old Ashley Murphy, a farm labourer from Narrandera, had an idea. Greatly involved with his community in the Riverina district, he had visions of restoring their town's community kitchen to create a healthy, positive environment for the people of Narrandera. "Having grown up in the community and been involved with the local youth group for some years now, and more recently in a leadership role, I became aware of some of the needs in the community - especially for our youth and children," says Ashley. Among some of the social problems facing Narrandera are a higher than average level of single parent families, financial hardship for many in the community and a lack of basic life skills among many of the youth, which Ashley says he has seen first-hand through his youth work. "The Community Kitchen idea came about as a way to address poor nutrition and irregular meal patterns, while instilling positive family values," says Ashley. "Simple things like sharing a meal as a family, working together to prepare meals for one another and basic cooking skills are important for children and young people to learn." Narrandera's old community kitchen, housed in the town's old cinema as part of the local Christian Community Church, was out-dated and not compliant with health and safety standards. Demonstrating initiative beyond his years, Ashley applied for a Royal Agricultural Society of NSW Foundation (RASF) Community Futures Grant. His application was successful and he was awarded $25,000 dollars to kick-start his project. Then Ashley was dealt another positive surprise. Bunnings, the supplier of the 2012 Sydney Royal Easter Show exhibition kitchen in the Woolworths Fresh Food Dome, generously offered to donate the kitchen to a rural community. There was clearly no better home for it than the Narrandera Community Kitchen project. "I was overwhelmed with Bunnings’ generous offer and the quality and size of the kitchen," says Ashley, who inspected the kitchen with his father Trevor, at the Show. The donated kitchen included all of the cabinetry; cook tops; a sink, oven and microwave; and a smaller outdoor kitchen. Shortly after the 2012 Show, the kitchen was packed and freighted to Narrandera where it has been installed. "The kitchen, with its shiny red and grey exterior, has a modern and stylish look about it," says Ashley. "It's such an improvement of what we had before; it just looks so great." With the kitchen in place, new lighting and the new floor in progress, the kitchen and hall are set to be officially opened later this year. With the RASF's $25,000 grant Ashley and his committee were able to replace the rusty roof on the hall that houses the kitchen, as well as re-line the walls and install lighting and a new floor. Despite the project idea coming from Ashley, the humble man is quick to point out it has been a team effort. He says the project has brought many people from across the community together, from the youth group, local flooring company and electrician and the entire church community. "So many people have lent a hand and hammered a few nails, painted a wall, wired in new lighting and maneuvered the new kitchen cupboards and appliances into place. Everyone has donated their time," says Ashley. Ashley has big plans for the kitchen, including a weekly 'soup night' to provide a healthy meal for families facing financial hardship, as well as cooking classes for young people to learn basic skills. He also says the community has plans to use the new facility for other events, such as functions, dance classes and art festivals. "In a small rural community such as ours, to have programs and activities that provide safe, family-orientated activities is important," says Ashley. "I really hope some of the programs we can now run for our youth and children will develop skills so they can have a brighter future." The project has also taught Ashley new skills and increased his self-confidence. "It's a really good feeling to do something for your community that you know will benefit so many people," he says. "I encourage other young rural people to think about what they could do for their community and have a go. It's amazing what can be achieved and the difference you can make."
WORDS: Nicola Conville (This article first appeared in the October 2015 edition of RAS Times) Founded in 2010, the Royal Agricultural Society Foundation (RASF) Rural Scholarship program has helped 230 students achieve their educational and career goals. We catch up with four past recipients to find out how the scholarship impacted their lives.