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Rural Resources Online's Brigid Price. Photo: Queensland Country Life

USQ helping bush ladies become bosses

University management professional turned organic beef farmer Brigid Price is now, of all things, an entrepreneur.

The unlikeliness comes from the fact that while almost half of all new Australian ventures are founded in rural, regional or remote areas, only 2.4 per cent of these are started by women.

Before launching her business, Price, from Arcadia Valley in Queensland’s Central Highlands, would wake up early and sit at the computer in her pyjamas, connecting with like-minded, entrepreneurial rural women and business mentors.

As would Heather Jonsson. Prior to that, the mother of four was at a loss about what to do when she finished homeschooling her eldest child. The wife of a roving cattle farm worker, she had “no jobs [to put on] a resume”.

They did so courtesy of the 12-week component of WiRE (Women in Rural, Remote, Regional Enterprises) program: a University of Southern Queensland initiative aimed at cultivating female entrepreneurship in the bush.

Founded last year by Professor Retha Wiesner, the program is a finalist in the AFR Higher Education Awards. Alongside the 12-week online networking initiative, WiRE offers a 19-hour boot camp in Airlie Beach, as well as webinars and a ’90-day challenge’.

This is all in an effort to give these women a financial – and life boost.

The majority of women who start their own businesses (67 per cent) live in metropolitan areas. This puts rural women at a disadvantage as there are fewer entrepreneurial resources for them to access.

“The distance and isolation makes it very hard for them to find support networks,” Wiesner said. “There’s no access to mentors…[and there’s a] lack of knowledge and skills.”

Regular employment is scarce, and often, women don’t have the capabilities or the confidence this requires.

She added that older women face poverty in vastly greater proportions than men, and that this is even worse for rural women. This is where WiRE comes in: it allows these women to “create opportunities for themselves”.

Now 1,300 women strong, WiRE has not only given women the strength to go it alone; it has inspired others to do the same. They come from varied backgrounds, including agribusiness, HR and social media. Or, like Jonsson, they are “just mums”.

After completing the WiRE program, she proudly calls herself a podcaster. “I have a label, which [as a] plain old mum, I didn’t have.” Bindis n Bulldust is her brainchild. Its tagline, ‘telling stories way out back’, gives away its premise.

“Every week, I deliver a podcast,” Jonsson said. “I get awesome feedback.” Her success has given her the confidence to expand her career horizons. She now accepts speaking invitations and plans to run storytelling workshops for small local businesses.

“If I can help other people to just take that first step, that’s awesome to me,” she said.

Unlike Jonsson, for Price, her business is a side project. When she’s not breeding and herding cattle with her husband, she’s developing Rural Resources Online (RRO), a website that supports farming families.

Through WiRE, she learnt tips like adding Instagram to RRO’s social media repertoire. Most importantly, however, she gained her own social network, as well as self-assurance.

“I’m not an ‘out front’ person,” she said. “It made me hit enter.”

“It’s a group of women saying ‘good on you’, or, ‘what did you do this week?’. It’s very supportive.

“What’s lovely now is seeing those people achieve. We need some positive stories in the bush.”

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