That's the Spirit: Amanda Ferrari - Trangie NSW
She has a list of community roles as long as your arm, but it’s as the founder of hugely successful fundraising event Macquarie Matrons that Trangie’s Amanda Ferrari is best known around the regional traps. Although born and raised in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, her heart and feet are firmly planted in the western plains where she has made it her business to ensure that the diverse skills women bring to the region are put to good use in support of community. Amanda talked to Jen Cowley about why she’s excited for the future of our region.
Amanda: I came out of Sydney at a young age having been to Ag college in Orange… like so many others! My kids say to me, “OMG Mum, you know everyone!” and I just say, “Orange Ag College” (laughs). But I ended up in Warren doing agronomy, although I’d done rural business at college. The plan was to stay for a season or so, and four or five years later I was still trudging ‘round cotton fields at the height of the boom when cotton was king and there were loads of new people coming to the region with the industry and they were helping to dissolve a lot of stereotypes.
It was a really interesting time to be around. I became involved with the rugby club, but I was always a bit of a clown and so people didn’t take me terribly seriously, and this is where it gets interesting because I loved talking to people and loved being around people, but I found it a little bit difficult to really find my way in with locals. That’s something I’m very aware of these days.
Anyway, after a few years I moved to Trangie, still in the rural industry, and again became involved with the rugby club where I took on a number of roles. We used to organise trips and a lot of things that had never been done before, but it was great because it brought other young people in and we were all having a fantastic time.
Then I married and started having my children, including twins, and once I was out of the workforce and at home with the kids, I realised I was really bored! I used to totter around the shearing shed or the farm, but I wasn’t from a farming background. I also noticed that there were so many fabulous women in our district who were kind of in the same boat, and you have to remember, this was in the days before Instagram and social media and we only had very new dial-up internet. There weren’t the marketing or online networking opportunities, so you very much had to rely on who was around you.
All these fabulous women – who are still fabulous to this day! – we started a group called the Macquarie Matrons. The reason that all came around is because, essentially, I was bored (laughs)!
We were all quite skilled women. I had a background in journalism as well as rural business – I’d been a journo before I went to ag college – so I’d done some editing for the Narromine paper and I started a little Trangie newsletter as well. I’m not going to say I was career woman, but I had a journalistic background as well.
Amanda Ferrari, Trangie NSW
Jen: You had skills that needed flexing and that would give you opportunities to “give back”.
Amanda: You ask any of my friends, this head being idle is just not a good thing (laughs)! It needs filling. So, I rang a friend of mine and said, “We need to start a big (social) ball event.” There were other districts doing similar things, and I remember back in the day that other places had a Matrons Ball.
Jen: Every little town had a Matrons Ball.
Amanda: Exactly. I didn’t choose the name “matrons”, the committee did, but for branding purposes, the double “M” worked quite well – and it wasn’t just for Trangie, we had women from Narromine, Warren and Tottenham as well. The women we invited to the table were married and had dropped their careers to marry farmers, who lived remotely, or who may have married the local agronomist, for argument’s sake.
Again, bear in mind this was before we had technology to bring us together, and mobile phones were just coming in and not everyone had a computer.
Jen: What year did the Macquarie Matrons start?
Amanda: The conversation began in 1997 and we held our first ball 1999. We decided to hold it every two years. A lot of succession planning went in to put things in place for the future, so for instance, you weren’t allowed to be on the committee for more than five balls, or 10 years. You had to replace yourself after that time, and if you couldn’t replace yourself, your suggestion had to come to the committee. If all that failed, the committee was then invited to replace you, but most girls replaced themselves.
Jen: You wanted it to be self-sustaining, so it didn’t just get stale.
Amanda: That was the plan, but most us pulled out after about four balls because it was really full-on. We took a very professional approach. We usually had around 20 women from all the districts on the committee and each had a role so that no one was more “important”. The marketing-and-promotions role was pretty full on as was the sponsorships role, and we made sure those who held those positions brought certain skills to the table.
It was wildly successful… we loved ourselves sick (laughs), and we raised a LOT of money.
Jen: I think people would be staggered if they knew just how much money! There are a number of local and regional charities and organisations that have been extremely grateful beneficiaries of the Macquarie Matrons’ fundraising activities.
Amanda: Yes – like NALAG (National Association for Loss and Grief), Royal Flying Doctor Service, Narromine Cancer Centre, CanAssist – which we helped kick off in Dubbo…and many others.
The other aim of the committee was to help build confidence and capacity in those small towns. The idea was that women would join the committee, do a few events, build their confidence then take that committee confidence back to their local community, get on the playgroup or preschool committee, the primary school committee – have the confidence to take the roles on and love their community.
Jen: So, it wasn’t just a fundraising exercise or social event?
Amanda: Exactly – it was a training ground for community engagement. I watched it as it went along, until it folded a few years ago. There was obviously a social side to it, but there was certainly the capacity building for community aspect.
Jen: Why was that important to you and why do you love where you live?
Amanda: Oh, I just love people. I think I could love anywhere to be honest because I love people, particularly country people. I was from Vaucluse, in Sydney’s Eastern suburbs, but country people embraced me, warts and all ‘cause I was loud, although I have mellowed as I’ve got older and I’m no longer a crowd pleaser – I think that’s an over 50s thing. It’s very liberating… it’s like taking your clothes off. Anyway, I love country people. I love where I live. I love farming. I love agriculture. I love everything about it. I just always felt like I belonged. I found a place.
Jen: Why is it important to you to impart your skills and knowledge through things like Macquarie Matrons, and to see that sharing of knowledge continue?
Amanda: People need to realise that you can function very well on a committee and achieve incrementally great things for your community, but you don’t have to solve all the problems of the world or be all things to all people.
I didn’t want to be a trailblazer with Macquarie Matrons – yes, I wanted to have some fun, but essentially, I wanted to do something to help build the capacity of young married women who may have moved from the city and married a bloke 120km from Warren… or whatever.
There were so many women like that back in the day, and there still are. They move here and they don’t know anyone, they’re nervous to approach a committee because little towns can be funny. But I’ve watched women’s confidence build and then seen them take that back to their own communities and that’s been fabulous.
Amanda Ferrari, Trangie NSW
Jen: What are some of the misconceptions about life on the land and as part of a small community and the bush and how do you go about challenging those myths?
Amanda: We’re not banjo-playing hillbillies – we’re educated, we’re university graduates, we’re career people. I challenge anyone in corporate Australia to come out and run their own multimillion-dollar business, year in and year out, in challenging conditions and not go under. Come on, come out here and have a go, and see how long you last.
Don’t look at my husband (with derision) because he’s wearing a ripped shirt – he’s running a multimillion-dollar business. We are business people, we’re career people, we’re everything in the business and we also give back to our communities. And not just on the preschool committee or on the footy club committee – we’re involved in everything, and we do all this while we’re running businesses. The common misconception is that we’re a bit dense, and I’m bemused by that.
Jen: I recall you saying that your love for what you have and what you do here in the bush enables you to overcome even the most desperate of circumstances, like drought, for instance.
Amanda: That’s the comfort of knowing where you’re from. The silver lining, if there can be one, to the drought is that people really came together. It reminded us of who we are and what we stand for. I watched how the community approached it and it wasn’t with a negative mindset. It brought us together, it reminded us who we are. Two years ago, we held an annual Christmas gathering at Gin Gin (a locality near Trangie) and nearly 100 people turned up to that. Dire circumstances bring people together, it has a galvanising effect almost like you’re united against a common enemy.
There have been some great things happening in our little town – a new hairdresser, a new café, a new (art) studio. We’re not seeing our town dying we’re actually seeing people getting in and having a go.
Jen: How important is sport in a small community?
Amanda: So important. It’s all important. I love my rugby union so perhaps I’m a bit biased there. I think it’s very important because very often the young blokes will look at whether they can play sport in a town before they decide whether they’ll come back to live. And it keeps the pubs going, and gives people somewhere to be and belong, something to be a part of. Sport can really be the glue that holds a community together. We have rugby union, rugby league, a great swimming pool, the races and the jockey club, which are amazing for the town.
There’s such a “can do” attitude in Trangie, and that’s where you get your community spirit.
Jen: Tell me about kicking off the evening branch of the Trangie CWA.
Amanda: I’ve registered an evening branch of the Trangie CWA – not in competition with the day branch, but for those who can’t get to daytime meetings for whatever reason. We’ll work with the day branch.
I am looking forward to that because I love the CWA. It’s tradition. It is part of our culture. As an organisation, it also has a political voice and I don’t think people realise that, but it really appeals to me. The CWA has been a force for change in this country, and while they don’t necessarily publicise that fact, if the CWA says it, people listen. They’re taken seriously by those in authority. There’s a misconception that the CWA is just about knitting and scones, although those kinds of activities aren’t to be discounted, they’re all part of the mix.
Jen: What are some of the other things you’ve been involved with over the years?
Amanda: My background is communications (journalism and marketing) with rural finance built in (there weren’t too many journo jobs going back in the late ‘80s in Warren). Having said that, I did eventually find myself editing the Narromine News and writing feature articles for various joint publications.
Fast forward a few years and I ended up in strategic community development, and projects that I have developed and managed (including government-funded projects) include the Macquarie 2100 Strategic Plan and Landcare (prior to Catchment Management Authority transition, although I worked with the department through the transition as a community member and employee of the Landcare Trangie based project and interviewed for our new NRM (Natural Resource Management) officers on the DPI (Department of Primary Industries) panels.
As I’ve mentioned, I was the instigator of the Macquarie Matrons, and established the model which attracted over $2,000,000 in corporate funding partnerships. I built and managed these to enable the development of women in remote and regional communities. The succession plan was put in place at the outset to ensure that not one committee member stayed beyond their use-by date and in doing so we ensured the longevity of the project. The roles were modelled on corporate roles rather than traditional committee roles, using the professional qualifications of women living remotely (this concept developed in the late ‘90s was a ground breaker).
I was also instrumental in establishing TOTS, the Trangie Long Day Care and Pre-School, having identified the need for such a facility in our town long before this model was really being considered, let alone thought of as the norm. The strategy rested with growing our community as a commuter “village”, selling the utopia of country village life with access to the major business hub of Dubbo, and you can’t do that without long day care. I project managed $1,500,000 worth of funding which was awarded by both state and federal governments following my application – I undertook this with the then Treasurer Kate Kennedy. It changed the landscape of childcare in rural and remote areas as we know it, and paved the way for replicated models. We consulted to a number of pre-schools to lead them to successful funding partnerships and the contemporary model.
There was also Desperate Gardenwives, a project that took the local P&F’s annual fundraising averages from $10,000pa to around $80,000 in less than 12 months. This involved writing and publishing a book with a generic target market that could be easily reprinted with updated editions to ensure ongoing fundraising efforts were met and in doing so, enabled exponential growth in capital expenditure beyond what government funding was providing at the time (fully developed playing grounds, gardens, contemporary and skill appropriate play equipment and computer laptops before they were even considered for schools).
Jen: How are you feeling about the future of small communities and our regional areas?
Amanda: There is a lot to be excited about, so many things. There’s a lot of hope and a lot of hope for the future – when I think about it, I get such goose bumps. Now more than ever, we have the tools at our fingertips just as much as any person or organisation who lives or operates in a metropolitan area and people are cottoning on to that fact.
Real estate is expensive (in the city), and people are starting to look at moving out. What we need is for governments to put in the necessary infrastructure to sustain that grown, whether that’s in the form of more dams or more roads or whatever. People can live regionally – there is no reason why they can’t. No impediment whatsoever.
Jen: It’s an exciting time to be living in regional and rural Australia.
Amanda: Wouldn’t live anywhere else.
NALAG's 'That's the Spirit' hardcover book features a selection of excerpts from the stories gathered from Western NSW during 2018-2020.
Amanda Ferrari, Trangie NSW