Warren's Grace Brennan has shared the realities of drought to a national audience as part of her Australia day address.
The Buy From the Bush founder is the first regional person to be chosen for the prestigious honour.
Here are some of the things she had to say.
On her bio
One of the first requests that came through after I accepted the invitation to talk today was for a 'brief bio'.
Among the distinguished guests in the room, I imagine writing a 'brief bio' comes naturally. You can probably write a paragraph or two in an email without much thought or trepidation.
For me, it inevitably results in a pause. And then a sigh. Short reflection about what on earth I have been doing with my life. And a desire to write something like: Grace Brennan: still finding her feet.
I wonder, across the country, how many women working part time or running small businesses, coordinating childcare schedules and managing household budgets, volunteering in school canteens, organising fundraisers, being unofficial carers, good friends, loyal partners, might also pause at a request for a bio.
How to find the inspiring in the ordinary? How to find the value in unpaid work? How to find the credentials in a lifetime of career decisions based more around sacrifices than aspirations?
On the drought
So often when we talk about the bush the rhetoric is around the 'battler'. I have searched for the Aussie bush battler. And I can tell you, I haven't found her yet.
As Australians we need to start telling a different story about the bush. And about drought. Images of emaciated sheep, dry dams, defeated men, poor buggers. They sit nicely in a media reel of 'the year that was'. But is that the story of drought?
In my community, drought crept in. Great seasons turned to lean ones. Prepared farmers started to feed out stored grain. Profits turned to losses. Contractors lose their contracts. Farm employees get laid off. People stop going to town quite so much. Shopping lists contract. School fundraisers are cancelled because people aren't buying tickets.
Women return to work from maternity leave early because their husbands are out of work. It's easier to get in for a haircut because the local hairdresser says things are very slow. The odd farm gets put on the market. Young couples move away.
The new café that was going to open gets put on hold for a while till things pick up. The boutique owner lets her casual staff go and works longer hours. She doesn't go to the trade fair to buy new wares.
Banks keep calling. About machinery loans. About overdrafts. Local businesses with credit outstanding start to call their clients (their friends and neighbours) asking for debt to be repaid.
Men start to wander in search of work. They travel thousands of kilometres to work on machinery, to acquire new clients, to earn a wage.
Women work harder. Roles shift. Supplementary income becomes the only income.
And always there is innovation. Efficiencies. Savings. Learning. But there is great suffering too.
The lack of control and uncertainty brings fear and tension. Debt hangs low like a heavy cloud over the kitchen table.
When asked recently what one image summed up the drought for me it is a woman at her kitchen table in tears. Fear of loss. Fear of isolation. Fear of suicide. And stress. Lots and lots of stress.
So drought is the dry creek bed, the poor sheep. But there is more to tell. So much more.
On her campaign
Very quickly, the #buyfromthebush campaign took flight. In the first six weeks $2.6 million of revenue was generated for businesses featured on our social pages. In that period, 25 jobs were created in rural communities facing drought because of increased sales. More than $320,000 was spent at local Australia Post franchises benefitting small businesses in small towns. Businesses reported an average revenue increase of 660% on the same period last year and an average increase in visits to their websites of over 1,000%. All of this was achieved before we even reached the busy Christmas period of December.
We then launched our website and had 54,000 unique visitors in the first eight days. 'Buy from the bush' was the highest-ranking search term in NSW and the second highest ranking nationally. Australia Post reported a 40% increase in parcel postage in regional areas.
Beyond the 240 businesses featured on our page, the #buyfromthebush hashtag has had a broader impact.
All businesses need to do is add a hashtag to their social media posts and they connect with consumers wanting to support bush business.
To date, the hashtag has been used 63,000 times.
Currently there are over 400,000 people following our campaign on social media. That's 400,000 potential customers 'buying in' to bush business.
And that is important.
Buy From The Bush is less about crisis relief and more about sustainable support for rural communities. It is not about charity. It is about investment.
On the theme
The theme for this address is "everyone, every story". As Australians, when faced with great fear about our future, and a desire for positive change, I would urge us to think about the story we tell. Because a good story has great power.
Let's tell a truthful one. One that acknowledges our flaws but in equal measure celebrates our enormous successes.
A story that is not shaped by our divisions but instead weaves a narrative all the more interesting for our differences. A story that inspires progress, not perfection.
The story of Buy From The Bush and the incredible community response to our bushfires depicts an Australia where the city and the bush feel connected as one community.
We are a country of people who want to help each other. What a triumph that is.
That ordinary people, with pretty ordinary bios, can have extraordinary impact. An even greater triumph!
These are the very foundations of our society. Buy From The Bush shows that they're not just Australian ideals but Australian reality. That is the story it tells.
It is up to all of us as Australians to continue our story. To actively listen. To allow for dramatic pause. For disagreement. To tell a story that talks more about "us" and less about "them". A story that honours the grit of the bush and the flair of the city.
Let's, each of us, all of us, tell a good yarn.