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Formidable females: three regional women inspiring a new generation

Words by Della Vreeland
Images Supplied

Lilly Wright knows her life’s purpose. It’s to serve the local community with kindness – especially those women who are seeking employment.

‘I want to create a big, amazing dream to change the world. After all, it’s said that there is nothing you can’t do if you put your mind to it.’

Lilly Wright was born in Malaysia but made the move to Australia in 2014 in search of a more vibrant and supportive community.

But the move was challenging, to say the least. Leaving behind her family and friends, adjusting to a new culture, and living at multiple backpackers’ lounges until she could save enough to pay for a rental was no easy feat.

While Lilly says those initial months were exhausting – emotionally, mentally and physically – one need only look at where she has landed now to see the strength garnered from that time of duress.

Lilly is the cafe co-ordinator of Ballarat’s A Pot of Courage Cafe – a social enterprise dedicated to empowering and employing migrant women, harnessing their culinary talents, and serving up authentic, mouth-watering cuisine from all corners of the world.

Instilled with a love for cooking from a young age, Lilly says her work in the kitchen is a spiritual experience – for herself and the customer.

‘My mother put love and compassion in the cooking process,’ Lilly says. ‘She prays for the food to be beneficial for the people who eat it. This spiritual experience in cooking is very important for us.

‘If you have in your life something cooked by someone in your family who puts love in the food — you feel something. That’s why I found my love for food and found that food was love.’

As well as working for A Pot of Courage, Lilly recently launched her condiments business Flying Chillies – not only as a way of enhancing Malaysian cuisine in Ballarat, but of creating a connection with her family and culture.

‘I would say to all women, that if you dream of something, you should shoot to the moon!’ Lilly says. ‘Don’t ever be scared to go out and ask for help from other people.

‘I learnt so much from other women sharing their stories, and even though they struggled, they worked hard and always found a way to reach (their goal).

‘I believe that when it comes to being truly successful you should also involve your heart.’

Jackie Elliott – Founder, Rural Women’s Day

Jackie Elliott has made quite the abounding impact on the mental, intellectual and social health of women in rural and remote Victoria.

And she’s not yet 30.

As the founder of Rural Women’s Day (RWD), Jackie says her work is spurred on by the want to see all women – regardless of where they reside – afforded the same opportunities and connections as those in larger cities.

‘RWD is about recognising women in all aspects – business, community, in any role – and breaking the bias. Women can be anything, whether they’re living in metro areas, rural or regional.’

Jackie’s experience working in remote Victoria was one of the reasons she was driven to start RWD. After landing her first full-time job in a small regional community, she fell victim to workplace bullying and discovered first-hand how isolating it was living without a solid support system.

‘Being isolated from friends and family made that time more challenging and it took many years of learning self-confidence, speaking up, and personal strength to overcome those ongoing effects,’ Jackie says. ‘Looking back on this difficult time, it makes me appreciate the support I had from my family and partner. It made me more aware of mental health for myself and others.’

Jackie hosted the first RWD event in 2019 after realising that the International Day of Rural Women (marked worldwide on October 15), was not being observed around Australia.

‘October 15 is for rural and regional women who navigate different challenges to the general population of women – like geographic isolation, access to health care, education and employment,’ she says. ‘We all face different challenges, but we choose this lifestyle because we are passionate, love the communities we live in and the country we call home. We are resilient and resourceful.’

While the RWD events were unable to go ahead in-person over the last two years due to the health pandemic, Jackie says she is looking forward to bringing more people together this year as restrictions ease.

This week, her organisation is hosting a luncheon event for International Women’s Day which was quick to attract tens of women yearning for connection.

Jackie says that, more than anything, she hopes her events empower women of all ages to build solid communities and networks of support from which to launch their dreams.

‘I want young women to start reaching out in their local community. Find someone who can inspire and support them and be their mentor. That’s what I love about our events. It’s all about creating community and then collaboration – and that can turn into anything.’

Kirby Kaye – Owner, Settler & Sons

As a mother of four, an entrepreneur, a wife and a creative, Kirby Kaye knows full well the demands placed upon women to try and do it all.

Kirby and her husband Jack are the creative duo behind the brand Settler & Sons – a venture dedicated to showcasing the beauty of soulful country living through various endeavours including farmyard long lunches and boutique accommodation offerings.

Based in remote Victoria in the aptly-named Nowhere Creek, Kirby is a formidable force whose work is not only inspirational, but joy-inducing, warming, and aesthetically-pleasing.

An example of how you can pursue your passion if you do what you love, Kirby says her work has allowed her to make connections with inspirational women the country over – making it all the more easy to keep on keeping on.

‘It’s so important for women to build up and support other women,’ Kirby says. ‘I’ve been so lucky to experience this and always strive to do the same for others.

‘Girls and young women are so relentlessly bombarded with images of completely unattainable standards. We are constantly fed a narrative that we must toe the line and conform to fit into the very tight parameters of what society considers acceptable and if we don’t, we are somehow less or broken.

‘We need to instil resilience and confidence in girls so they can rewrite the story in their own words.’

Writing her own story is something Kirby so flawlessly achieves. Her ventures have never been fashioned in order to appease the masses but to imbue her own heart with joy. It just so happens that the joy extends beyond her own arterial network.

This International Women’s Day, her hope is that women everywhere also celebrate their wins, and harness their talents to inspire those around them.

‘IWD is a day of reflection, both to celebrate the wins and triumphs we’ve had in seeking gender equality but also to acknowledge that we still have a way to go. A day to be proud but also to remind us to keep fighting for progress.’

We wish to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.
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