Championing rural communities for a better future

When Sarah Powell drove into Darke Peak, a small agricultural town in central Eyre Peninsula, after more than a decade working interstate, she was stunned by the deterioration of her home town.

The school, general store and post office were long gone, but it was the loss of the local sporting teams which hit hardest, for they were the district’s heartbeat; a place where people not only socialised and exercised, but learned how to be a positive role model and communicator.

Sarah wondered how such community spirit could be passed on to the next generation when there was nowhere to bring people together.

“Our sporting clubs are not about sport alone; they are one of the last remaining regional incubators for leadership, and a learning ground for a well-rounded human,” she explains.

Sarah Powell encourages greater social cohesion in regional towns to help keep them thriving. Photo by Amy Rowsell.

The prospect of the next generation missing out on such vital life skills spurred now Wharminda-based Sarah to draw upon her corporate background and develop Champions Academy, a leadership program harnessing these value systems for future generations by creating a culture of mentoring.

“The idea is to engage the next generation of leaders and give them the confidence and motivation to step up in their club and community, carry responsibility and demonstrate commitment,” Sarah says. “I called it Champions Academy because anyone can be a champion of change; it’s not about winning individual accolades, it’s about representing a cause greater than yourself and acting in a way that inspires and motivates others.”

Sarah Powell, third from left, at the 2018 Women and Leadership Australia symposium in Adelaide.

Being named Australia’s Rural Woman of the Year in 2015 enabled Sarah to expand the Champions Academy focus from standalone clubs to associations, and close to 700 people have now participated in programs across the Eyre Peninsula.

“It’s building relationships between clubs which are often fierce competitors, and showing them that it’s in their best interests to keep all clubs strong,” Sarah says. “Social cohesion is the critical factor as to whether or not a community prospers or collapses.”

Sarah initially planned to roll the program out across the state, but she’s now thinking big after being recognised by the Westpac Scholars Trust as one of 10 outstanding social innovators around the nation driving positive change.

Her fellowship allowed her to travel to Boston in April to undertake a series of intensive courses surrounding innovation and solutions-based thinking at Harvard University, connecting her to an even broader network of ‘enablers’.

Sarah Powell is on a mission to educate rural people that they have the power to influence positive change and better their community’s future. Photo by Amy Rowsell.

“My thinking was challenged in such amazing and uplifting ways; I’ve come home with a giant world of possibility inspired by bright minds who know the power of shared knowledge and collaboration,” Sarah says.

There is a growing global community of interest around rural contraction, decline and exodus and if Sarah Powell has her way, South Australia could very well become its epicentre.

“I’m on a mission to show rural people that they not only have the ability to influence significant positive change, they have an obligation to snap out of autopilot and become part of the solution if they want their community to move toward a brighter future,” she adds.

Feature image Amy Rowsell.

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After 40 years, Koonibba community finally has general store

Residents of the Koonibba Aboriginal Community at South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula now have access to fresh groceries locally for the first time in 42 years with the commenced trading of the Koonibba General Store.

Previously, the closest shops were located in Ceduna, over 40km away, and were not easily accessible due to lack of public transport and travel costs.

Koonibba Community Aboriginal Corporation CEO Corey McLennan says that a store within the community has been long sought after by residents as a crucial addition to its infrastructure.

“Having an onsite community store was a key priority,” Corey says. “Community demand for products and services was constant due to the lack of accessible shops and facilities. The absence of local shopping options was a clear disadvantage to the local community, economy and functioning.”

Koonibba Community Aboriginal Corporation CEO Corey McLennan, left, with Mai Wiru CEO Dennis Bate at the store’s official opening. Photo courtesy of Luca Cetta, West Coast Sentinel. 

“Very few community members have vehicles and the cost of regular travel back and forwards is significant. In previous consultations community members reiterated the need for a local store that will provide foodstuffs and healthy food options.”

Corey says the store will positively impact the communities employment opportunities, provide access to fresh, healthy foods, increase the potential for future growth and reduce travel for the elderly and other community members.

“The community has identified a clear commercial opportunity that will lead to real job outcomes and career pathway for community members,” he says. “Profits from the store will be distributed back into the community to grow its economy even further, particularly in the tourism sector.

“Developments into tourism will be a focus especially on the history of Koonibba and regaining artefacts that are being stored at the SA Museum to put on show for the community to be proud of and the tourists to learn from.”

The general store will provide locals with fresh produce and groceries locally for the first time in more than four decades. Photo courtesy of Luca Cetta, West Coast Sentinel.

The $850,000 project has been five years in the making and was funded by numerous sources including the Indigenous Entrepreneur’s Fund, Indigenous Business Australia, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and the fundraising efforts of Koonibba residents.

The venture was also supported by the Mai Wiru Regional Stores Council Aboriginal Corporation, which currently manages five supermarkets on the APY Lands and other remote indigenous communities with the intent of ensuring “continuous access to nutritious and affordable food and essential items”.

The store officially commenced trading on February 11, 2019 with plans to work with Mai Wiru to train a store manager and additional staff members once more positions become available.

Feature image courtesy of Luca Cetta, West Coast Sentinel. 

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A saint among Ceduna seniors

There are few things more rewarding for Leeanne ‘Twig’ Holmes than helping senior residents explore the country outside of their home on the Eyre Peninsula.

Originally part of her job as activities co-ordinator at the Ceduna District Health Service, these seniors trips were sadly no longer viable for the hospital. So in 2012 Leeanne decided to volunteer her time outside of work to ensure they would continue.

“Every time I went down the street one of the group would stop me to ask when they could go again because they were so wonderful. In the end I thought ‘oh what’s a week out of my time to take them?’” she says.

Leeanne has organised transport, accommodation and care for groups of up to 35 seniors at a time, allowing them to travel from Ceduna, Streaky Bay, Wudinna and Kyancutta (over 800km west of Adelaide) to enjoy activities that are not always accessible to them.

The group has journeyed as far as Kangaroo Island, Adelaide, and Swan Hill in Victoria to enjoy music concerts, restaurant dinners and even helicopter rides over the Flinders Ranges. For many seniors, these excursions would not have been possible without Leeanne, who also ensures all of their medical care needs are met.

Leeanne ‘Twig’ Holmes with rescue greyhound Zeppo who visits seniors at the Ceduna hospital and village. Leeanne is Ceduna’s 2019 Citizen of the Year. Photo by Kaitlin Kavanagh.

Leeanne says she believes these trips are really important for older people in regional communities, because bus tours and assisted holidays are usually only available from Adelaide, the closest major city.

“Either family have to drive them 800km or they catch a coach or plane on their own, then they have to figure out how to catch a taxi or public transport which they are not used to. Some of these people are 80-90 years old and it’s just a nightmare for them,” Leanne says.

She says the only reward she needs is to see the joy on the faces of seniors while they are travelling.

“The best thing I think is sitting around the campfire, listening to them tell stories. It’s just beautiful seeing them laughing and crying because they are so overwhelmed by it all,” Leanne says.

Despite her humility, the Smoky Bay resident has been named the 2019 Citizen of the Year in her community. The award was nominated by one of the seniors who regularly travels with Leeanne. She was awarded not only for her volunteer work with seniors, but for contributions to the local sports club, her responsibility as an emergency foster carer and her work welcoming student doctors into Ceduna.

Leeanne has volunteered countless hours for her beloved Smoky Bay Community Club, where she was first exposed to the overwhelming mateship and generosity in the community, values that have been central in every facet of her life.

Most recently, she has organised for a rescue greyhound “Zeppo” to regularly visit the seniors at the Ceduna hospital and village.

“I get back to work on Monday and the first thing I hear when I walk through the door isn’t ‘Hello Twig, did you have a good weekend?’, it’s ‘Where’s the dog?’” she says.

Leeanne continues to find new ways to bring joy to her seniors both in and outside of work and says that she cannot see herself stopping.

“I ask them all if they want to do it again they always say ‘yes of course, we’ll leave it up to you to plan.’ As long as the numbers are there I will continue. It’s just gorgeous I love it.”

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Port Lincoln cinema saved from closure

When Port Lincoln woman Angela Perin heard that the town’s only cinema would close its doors on December 31 last year she saw an opportunity to save the much-valued community facility.

The Port Lincoln cinema had been run by youth social enterprise, Youthoria, under community organisation West Coast Youth and Community Support (WCYCS) for almost a decade.

But due to a lack of funds, Youthoria announced its looming closure causing disappointment among locals as the next closest cinema is three hours away in Whyalla.

“When the board announced that it was going to close the cinema I hoped that someone would grab it up and give it a new lease on life. But that didn’t appear to be happening and the community was really upset,” Angela says.

“I have two kids, aged 12 and 13, and we can’t imagine the town without a cinema. So I did what I’m always telling others to do and that is do something about it. I had a chat to my family we decided that we’d do it.”

Rudi Perin takes charge of the popcorn machine at the Lincoln Cinema.

As an employee at WCYCS, Angela was familiar with the running of the Youthoria cinema and had worked alongside  the youth group that took over the theatre in 2008.

She is now running the cinema as a family business, purchasing the cinema equipment from Youthoria and leasing the 90-year-old theatre building from the Port Lincoln Council.

On January 3 the movie theatre was revived under a new name, Lincoln Cinema, welcoming 200 movie goers through its doors and continuing the tradition of watching holiday blockbusters on the big screen.

“The community has been so supportive, people have come from Tumby Bay, Cummins and Cleve,” Angela says. “The support has been overwhelming.”

The Lincoln Cinema will close from January 29 until the end of February to undergo minor renovations, with Angela hoping to expand the candy bar to create a more welcoming coffee spot and meeting place for visitors.

The Port Lincoln cinema, originally known as Flinders Picture Theatre, was established in 1929. Photo courtesy of Cinema Treasures, Granola.

She says the cinema is an essential facility for regional youth as it offers them a safe place to meet and socialise.

“Going to the movies is an experience,” she says.

“You can watch movies at home but going to the movies with friends and family and seeing something on the big screen – there’s nothing like it.”

Longstanding SA movie theatre company Wallis Cinemas is the booking agent for Lincoln Cinema, which Angela says will screen some of the summer holiday blockbusters including Mary Poppins Returns.

The movie theatre on Hallett Place in Port Lincoln was established as the Flinders Picture Theatre in 1929 by Mrs R. L. MacGregor.

An article in the Port Lincoln Times newspaper on Friday, September 6, 1929, reports on the ceremony where the foundation stone was laid.

The article states, “It was recognised that a theatre of the class that was being built was essential to the progress of Port Lincoln. The hope was expressed that the venture would prove a success”.

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Old Lucky Bay shop to reopen at centenary celebrations

It was 100 years ago that Eyre Peninsula farmers first created their own summer playground at Lucky Bay.

Escaping the hot dry interior with their families, canny farmers erected ramshackle shacks along a golden, but often seaweed strewn, stretch of sandy beach near Cowell.

Now, current generations of those pioneer families will return on January 12, 2019, to celebrate the centenary of the first shacks being built – and many of their beloved summer rituals will resume.

Lucky Bay beach in 1939.

Sue Chase, who is now president of the Lucky Bay Shack Owners Association, remembers in her childhood how she sat up on the counter of Cornelius’s Shop, a pop-up deli run by the Cornelius family that would only be open for five weeks after Christmas.

Wide-eyed and excited, she loved choosing individual favourite treats for her paper bag of mixed lollies. Much later, her children’s customary treats from the same shop were freshly buttered finger buns after completing their morning swimming lessons on the beach.

Her father had been a shop customer, too, and now Sue’s grandchildren will get a taste of the shop’s wares when Shannon Cornelius, son of the original operator, reopens the pop-up for the first time in a decade, as a pivotal part of the Lucky Bay centenary celebrations.

“Going to that shop became a symbol of summer for me, and having it open again will bring back a flood of happy memories for me and a lot other people who enjoyed their holidays at Lucky Bay,” says Sue.

New Years Eve Day, 1922, at Lucky Bay.

Other attractions on January 12 will include the Lions Club of Cowell moving its monthly foreshore market to the Lucky Bay beach.

A collection of Lucky Bay memorabilia and historical photos showing various shacks and beachgoers through the past 100 years will be displayed in the local hall – along with a nostalgic display of swimwear through the decades, which Sue explains will only be a static exhibition.

“We couldn’t get any volunteers who were game enough to act as models,” she offers with a chuckle.

While the pace at Lucky Bay remains slow, things have changed in the past decade, since a harbour was dredged nearby to accommodate the Wallaroo-to-Cowell ferry.

A family outside one of the first beach shacks at Lucky Bay.

This finally brought a bitumen road to Lucky Bay, which has increased the flow of traffic and attracted more day visitors.

The centenary celebrations will hark back to simpler times, especially an array of old-fashioned events being among organised beach sports activities, with three-legged races, a sandcastle building competition and egg and spoon races for children, and a giant tug-o-war and greasy pole climbing competition for adults.

The beach activities will be completed with an IronMan and IronWoman competition, kayak races, and a fishing and casting competition.

For full details of the Lucky Bay centenary celebrations, which will include a live music concert and fireworks display on the beach after dark, visit the Lucky Bay South Australia Facebook page.

Let us know via the Brand South Australia Facebook page if you have any old photos of Cornelius’s Shop.

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Coffin Bay sea to plate experience expanded with new Oyster HQ

The unique experience of wading into an oyster lease and shucking fresh oysters plucked straight from the sea has proved so popular that Coffin Bay Oyster Farm Tours has built a striking new visitor centre to accommodate surging visitor numbers.

The official opening of Oyster HQ on December 20 – a seafood tasting and tourism centre on the Coffin Bay foreshore that can accommodate up to 85 people – is the culmination of a frantic six months for Coffin Bay Oyster Farm Tours proprietors Ben and Kim Catterall.

Having won approval from the council for the new building, they have been racing to complete the expansive glass-walled tasting room and deck overlooking the bay before summer’s high visitation season – all while their business has boomed, attracting more than double the number of customers from the previous year.

The view from the deck overlooking the oyster lease.

“It’s an idea that has really delighted a lot of people – the experience of tasting famous Coffin Bay oysters direct from the water where they are harvested,” says Kim.

“It has the wow factor that has got a lot of people from around the world wanting to come and do it themselves.”

The unique appeal of their offering is the Salt Water Pavilion, a partly submerged deck with fixed seating and bench tables that allow up to 24 tour participants to sit in industrial-strength rubber waders to learn about oyster production, the knack of how to open them (without jabbing their fingers), and then taste both Pacific and native Angasi oysters in the company of a chilled beverage.

After this, guests can linger a while longer back on dry land, on the deck of Oyster HQ overlooking the oyster lease, with the option to graze on fresh Eyre Peninsula seafood tasting plates that feature more Coffin Bay oysters with a range of dressings, smoked tuna and tuna sashimi, mussels from Boston Bay, Spencer Gulf prawns and local abalone.

The building will also serve as a hire facility for kayaks and stand-up paddleboards, while the Catteralls can provide up to four tours to the Salt Water Pavilion each day.

Ben Catterall and his visitors enjoy the famous Coffin Bay oysters sourced direct from the water where they are harvested.

This looks set to be pushed to the limit over summer, as Kim has been receiving significant early bookings for the first time, from people wanting to ensure places on specific tours.

This enterprise represents the next significant step in Ben’s aim of developing outstanding regional tourism experiences. A builder by trade, he came to Coffin Bay about 15 years ago and built the 1802 Oyster Bar and Bistro, named after the year in which explorer Matthew Flinders charted the area.

Ben later bought the oyster lease out the front of the restaurant, then built the Salt Water Pavilion and developed the aquatic tours to satisfy growing tourist curiosity in tasting local oysters at their source.

Ben and Kim then bought the shorefront Beachcomber Bakery and Café to also serve as an operations hub for tour groups, but demand has called for bigger premises, prompting Ben to build the new Oyster HQ.

It will be open daily from December 22, and serviced by hotel pickup and return transport options from Port Lincoln to Coffin Bay.

Ben Catterall pulls an oyster basket from the sea.

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Tasting Eyre Peninsula seafood luxury in a chef’s house

Kris Bunder figured the best way to show off Eyre Peninsula’s elite seafood was to invite visiting media and chefs into his home and show them how he cooks it.

An ecstatic reaction to this impromptu promotional event, conjured a few years ago, has convinced Kris, the chef and owner of Del Giorno’s – a popular dining institution on Port Lincoln’s foreshore – that such an engaging and intimate culinary event represents the next lofty level of experiential tourism for visitors to the lower Eyre Peninsula.

Now, by creating Del’s Private Kitchen With Kris Bunder, this experience has been made available to the public.

Del’s Private Kitchen With Kris Bunder overlooks the Port Lincoln marina.

Structured as a seafood masterclass and private dinner in Kris and Brenda Bunder’s waterfront home in the Port Lincoln marina, it places the unique flavours of the Eyre Peninsula in the context of where the seafood is caught.

“When people come to Port Lincoln, they want to taste all of the seafood that this place is famous for – although most wouldn’t be confident enough to buy and cook for themselves,” says Kris.

“We’ll do it for them, so they can relax and enjoy it as guests in our home. We love showing off the best that Port Lincoln can offer in food, setting and hospitality.”

The Bunders have long been pivotal figures and innovators in Eyre Peninsula’s culinary scene. When Kris and Brenda started Del Giorno’s Cafe and Restaurant on the Port Lincoln foreshore in 2004, it was difficult for any diner in town to order fresh fish caught by local fishermen.

Some of the premium, fresh South Australian seafood that guests enjoy at Del’s Private Kitchen.

The expensive marine harvest used to be exclusively shipped for export, until Kris pleaded with local mates on tuna boats to provide him with a few fresh-caught bluefin.

Once local tuna finally arrived on the plate at Del Giorno’s, it sparked an instant positive reaction, and prompted Kris to shine a light on the provenance of fresh local seafood by listing all his suppliers on the menu.

The same suppliers provide Kris and Brenda’s home kitchen with fresh, seasonal fare that focuses on extravagance and quality – bluefin tuna, Coffin Bay oysters, Spencer Gulf King prawns, Kinkawooka mussels, Hiramasa kingfish, and the option of southern rock lobster and green lip abalone, which Kris prepares three ways (sashimi style with lime juice and olive oil, marinated then pan seared, and steamed).

Chef Kris Bunder shares preparation and cooking techniques for some of the best produce the Eyre Peninsula has to offer.

Even more important than enjoying the taste of such exotic fare is learning correct techniques of how to prepare and cook each ingredient, which Kris says is a blind spot in the home cooking skills of most people.

Therefore, Kris demonstrates how to shuck oysters from the shell (“the only way to eat them,” he insists), through to carving tuna sashimi-style, stuffing and baking a whole kingfish and cleaning and de-bearding mussels.

He then cooks everything in front of his guests while they enjoy quality wines and beverages, before everyone settles at the table for an extravagant seafood banquet.

The Del’s Private Kitchen Seafood Masterclass, which costs from $150 to $230 a person depending on menu choices (for a minimum of four people), can be booked via the Del Giorno’s website, or emailing Kris directly at

The best part? Enjoying the seafood feast.

Header image features Brenda and Kris Bunder, owners of Del Giorno’s Cafe and Restaurant and its spin-off Del’s Private Kitchen.

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Port Lincoln students prepare for aquaculture workforce

Eyre Peninsula students will have access to hands-on training in the aquaculture industry through a partnership between the Port Lincoln High School and TAFE SA.

The joint initiative will allow senior students to enter the workforce earlier, with students able to complete a Certificate II in Aquaculture in Year 11.

By Year 12 students can then complete the units from the Diploma of Aquaculture at school, before completing the one-year diploma in six to eight months after graduation.

Students will then be equipped with the skills to enter the workforce or go on to study marine biology and aquaculture at Flinders University.

Previously, students were only able to complete the Certificate II at school before waiting until finishing school to tackle the diploma.

The majority of training will be undertaken at the Port Lincoln High School’s aquaculture training facility.

Port Lincoln is regarded as the seafood capital of Australia and is home to one of the largest fishing fleets in the southern hemisphere.

Photo: PIRSA.

TAFE SA aquaculture lecturer Brent Smith says with continued growth in seafood demand domestically and globally, it’s more important than ever to ensure the future aquaculture workforce has the highest level of skill and training.

“More than 2/3 of the state’s aquaculture workforce is employed in the Eyre Peninsula region alone,” he says.

“There is strong demand for workers on tuna, mussel, oyster, kingfish and abalone farms as well as many more in hatcheries, processing, marketing, transport and other related activities.”

Students will learn a range of skills including filleting fish, feeding, handling and harvesting stock, developing an aquaculture breeding strategy and various other maritime skills.

Port Lincoln High School aquaculture teacher Chris McGown says the partnership with TAFE SA will give students the basic skills needed to work in the industry or pursue further study.

“We have a massive aquaculture industry on our doorstep – most of the town is employed in some way through aquaculture,” he says.

“There are oysters, abalone, and tuna farms as well as factory workers – there is an abundance of opportunities and students haven’t previously had access to this sort of pathway.”

According to the Department of Primary Industries and Research SA (PIRSA), the aquaculture industry is one of the largest primary production sectors in the state.

The majority of SA’s aquaculture farming lies in the coastal waters of the Eyre Peninsula, while 81% of the state’s regional aquaculture workforce is employed in the region.

For more information visit the TAFE SA website.

Want to know what it’s like to work in Port Lincoln’s seafood industry? Check out the I Choose SA video below!

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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Streaky Bay’s Courela Clothing keeping shearers happy for 30 years

Enter a shearing shed anywhere on the Eyre Peninsula and it’s likely you’ll spot the Courela Clothing logo slapped on a shearer’s trousers.

The Streaky Bay business has been a shearer’s brand of choice for 30 years, with customers in the US, UK, Europe, New Zealand and Israel donning the South Australian-made gear.

Courela Clothing has come a long way from its beginnings in the 1980s in Kerry and Noel Johnson’s lounge room.

Kerry began making shearing clothes from home for her husband Noel – a former shearer also known as ‘Grub’ – while their young children were at school.

Word soon spread throughout shearing sheds about the comfortable and hard-wearing pants, made from breathable, stretchier ‘shearer’s denim’.

Kerry Johnson of Courela Clothing. Photo courtesy of the West Coast Sentinel.

“We would drive miles and miles to sell gear at regional shops and rural areas,” Kerry says.

“There wasn’t a lot around because there was no internet then. Thirty years ago you couldn’t just Google things, you had to use the Yellow Pages.”

The Courela Clothing line consists of three key pieces – shearing trousers, singlets and jumpers.

Made from a stretch denim cloth, the trousers are high-waisted and can withstand greater wear and tear compared to typical denim jeans.

“They are long-lasting and the fabric doesn’t catch prickles which can be in the sheep’s wool and perforate through normal fabric,” Kerry says.

“Shearers often pick up a sheep with their hands and the sheep rests on their legs as it is shorn, so there is abrasion on the inner legs all day.”

Kerry says the designs have evolved over the years, with Noel and her son often giving feedback on the clothing after being out on the job.

“They’d come back and say the fabric wears out here, and this needs to be fixed,” she says.

With the word about Courela – which is also the name of their family farm – having spread throughout the Eyre Peninsula, it soon became a well-known shearing clothing brand across Australia and overseas.

“Shearers travel overseas a lot, and that’s how the word spreads,” Kerry says.

“We have a local man here who has travelled every year to Italy for the last 25 years to shear.”

Kerry estimates that Courela Clothing has sold “thousands” of items over the past three decades.

A team of five staff work from the Courela workshop at the Johnson’s Streaky Bay property.

Noel also sells and repairs shearing tools and equipment.

While the rural town isn’t as renowned for shearing as SA’s Limestone Coast, Kerry says it’s still home to many mixed farms.

She is one of four daughters who all were taught how to sew by their mother from a young age.

Aside from handling a sewing machine, they also know how to work the shears.

“I wasn’t a prissy little girl, my dad taught me how to shear when I was about 12,” Kerry says.

“Shearers are a very diverse bunch, but they’re generous and really down-to-earth, hard-working blokes.

“It’s predominantly a man’s world, although not as much these days as there are many women shearers.”

The improving gender balance in the shearing industry was made evident this week when TAFE SA announced that a 25-year-old woman had become the state’s first female to complete a Certificate III in Shearing.

Kerry says one of Courela Clothing’s biggest achievements was its ability to survive in the manufacturing world.

“Our biggest achievement has simply been surviving as a small business, that to me has been the biggest challenge,” she says.

“It’s hard work, and we strive to keep our quality.

“Supporting small local businesses is so important because it means jobs for our towns.

“Plus, people know they’re getting something that is Australian-made.”

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Regional exhibition tackles stigma around men’s mental health

A local politician, a surfer, farmer and fisherman are just some of the men who appear in a photographic exhibition that aims to break the stigma around men’s mental health.

About 30 men from across the Eyre Peninsula have been snapped for the Rotary Men’s Wellness Campaign, which aims to encourage men to talk more openly about mental health and life’s struggles.

Port Lincoln photographer Robert Lang took the portraits of the men in their ‘places of wellness’, from farms to fence lines, beaches, boats, cars and veggie patches.

The exhibition is travelling to venues across the Eyre Peninsula until October.

One of the men photographed is Michael Traeger, from the small town of Cummins, who finds solace while on the farm.

Michael, pictured above, tragically lost his wife Kirsty in a car crash two years ago, just months after the birth of their first child, Zac.

Michael Traeger says it was his wife Kirsty’s life ambition to remove the stigma associated with mental health. Photo by Robert Lang.

Kirsty was passionate about speaking up about mental health and often shared her own struggles with depression and anxiety.

She was instrumental in establishing Mentally Fit Eyre Peninsula in 2014 under her role at West Coast Youth and Community Support (WCYCS).

The Rotary Men’s Wellness Campaign is an initiative of Mentally Fit EP.

Michael says carrying on Kirsty’s passion for helping others “means everything” as “it’s keeping a part of Kirsty alive”.

“It became her life ambition to help other people and remove the stigma around mental illness,” he says.

“A lot of people now know of the program (Mentally Fit EP) and know where to get help.

Dallas Waters of Wudinna is one of the men photographed for the exhibition. Photo by Robert Lang.

“When she got crook we had no idea what to do or who to talk to. Now the facilities that we have have changed a bit and we’re headed in the right direction.

“We’re giving people more knowledge, and everyone’s starting to talk about it more and have the conversation.”

Michael says the Rotary Men’s Wellness Campaign aimed to break down the shame and embarrassment men might feel when talking about their feelings or sharing their struggles.

“Men are a bit more sheltered about what they share and there is that big stigma with blokes that if they do have a problem they don’t talk about it,” he says.

“We have lost a couple of young fellows over the years to suicide and no one was any the wiser as to what was going on.

“If women are struggling they’ll talk about it, but men won’t. Nine times out of 10 it’s a ‘toughen up’ scenario for men.”

Dennis Peck of Tumby Bay finds his wellness on the water. Photo by Robert Lang.

The idea of the men’s wellness exhibition was the result of a “2am brainstorm” of Port Lincoln woman, Jo Clark.

Jo is the CEO of WCYCS and says she believes mental health issues and suicide are not isolated to regional areas.

“The impact is deeper because of the isolation,” she says.

“Regional areas rely heavily on certain economic conditions … if it’s a bad year it’s felt far and wide.”

Not all of the men in the photo exhibition have had experiences with mental health issues.

Jo says that Mentally Fit EP often relied on the local community for funding, with Bendigo Bank and Ramsey Brothers stepping in, while the State Government has also provided funds.

Member for Flinders Peter Treloar is another of the local faces. Photo by Robert Lang.

Michael encourages people to check in with friends, family and people in their community and ask if they’re OK.

“Instead of remaining quiet, if you do know someone who is struggling, have that conversation and show them that you care,” he says.

“All it takes is for one person to show that little bit of compassion and they might just save someone’s life.”

The Rotary Men’s Wellness Campaign is showing at Cowell Institute from May 18–31 before moving to Kimba, Lock, Cleve, Elliston, Streaky Bay and Tumby Bay before finishing up in Port Lincoln for Mental Health Week in October.

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