That's the Spirit: Sally Gavin - Cumnock NSW
A love of horses and a passion for rural life run in equal measure through Sally Gavin’s veins, so there was never any question that she’d choose the bush over the big city after leaving university. Her roots run deep in the Cumnock community and the central western region, where she says technology and a growing cohort of enthusiastic and visionary young people mean opportunities have seldom looked brighter.
Jen: Tell me about the process of being chosen for Royal Agricultural Society Rural Achievers program.
Sally: It’s by process of expression of interest followed by an application, and then an interview in Sydney with a panel of representatives who then chooses eight finalists for NSW.
(The program) is something I’ve watched with interest and thought it would be an amazing experience to be part of it. I have a strong connection with agricultural shows across NSW as well as the Sydney (Royal Easter) Show, and I thought the program would be a fantastic opportunity both to represent my town, to speak up for what I’m passionate about and to showcase more about what regional areas, and our community, are about and what we do.
Jen: And what are you passionate about?
Sally: At the moment, my main passions are to do with the agricultural industry and my job. I’m the territory manager for a (stock feeds) company and I work with farmers to basically improve their production on farms. I’m super passionate about helping farmers achieve great levels of production and do the best they can for their business and the industry.
I’m also passionate about horses – I’m the treasurer of the Australian Stock Horse Society’s central west branch and I’m really dedicated to developing the youth side of things. In January, we ran a youth camp here at Cumnock, and there were many people who thought we wouldn’t go ahead with it because of the drought, but we did and we had around 60 kids. I think it’s so important to get the kids involved from a young age and keep them involved by giving them opportunities to learn more and grow in what I think is a pretty awesome industry.
Alongside my work and the Stock Horse Society, I’m part of the Cumnock Long White Lunch committee, the show committee and other groups in town.
Jen: You spent some time away from Cumnock both at school and through university – was there ever a question about coming back to the bush?
Sally: Never. Never. I’ve always known I would come back to the bush because I just love it. I think it’s in my blood. I’ve loved the opportunities I’ve had but I always knew I would end up somewhere in rural and regional NSW and there are other lovely places I could live, but there’s just something about being here at home at Cumnock. I just love our little community here and I love regional NSW. I love the work I do, and this is the best place to be, out amongst it.
Sally Gavin, Cumnock NSW
Jen: What are you hoping to achieve with the platform that being an RAS Rural Achiever gives you? What would you like your contribution to be?
Sally: The big thing is inspiring the younger generations to just get in and get involved in regional communities. There is always somewhere that you can get involved in your rural community – it doesn’t matter if you don’t have a horse, or cattle, or live on a farm, you can contribute in so many ways, and you can help out from whatever age you choose. That’s my biggest motivation, to encourage youth within rural communities. It’s not just about contributing, it’s also a great way to meet people – you meet the best people through getting involved.
When I first moved home, I was asked to join the Long White Lunch committee. I had no idea what it was – it had never been done before – and I just thought, righto, I’ll have a crack. I went to the first meetings, and it turned out to be the most amazing thing, I’ve made amazing friends through the committee and we’ve so far run two really successful events with up to 500 people attending a sit-down lunch at Cumnock – those kinds of numbers are just unheard of here. It’s just awesome.
Jen: Who are the beneficiaries of the event?
Sally: We change the beneficiaries each year. Previously we’ve (directed proceeds to) the showground and for the coming year, we’ll be raising money for the local school. It’s all about putting back into the community to help keep the town strong. It makes me really proud that we can run an event that will generate so much benefit for our town.
(Editor’s note: Unfortunately, the 2020 Cumnock Long White Lunch was among the casualties of social distancing measures imposed due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.)
Jen: Do you believe there is a divide between city and the bush that being part of the Rural Achiever program can help bridge?
Sally: I definitely think there’s a divide, but I also think that’s mostly due to a lack of education. City people just don’t have the understanding and I think with greater understanding would become greater connection, so yes, that’s part of the aim of the program, I think.
Jen: What are some of the misconceptions about life in a small community or life in regional Australia, particularly for young people?
Sally: At the moment, it’s perceived to be a tough life, and it is to a degree, but there are so many awesome things going on in small communities. There’s a perception that the opportunities aren’t here in regional areas, but they really are. Some of the biggest opportunities I’ve been given are because I have been living in regional and rural areas. For example, Charles Sturt University in Wagga where I went to uni, is a fantastic and well-regarded university for agriculture in particular.
Jen: As a younger person, do you find the older generations are willing to mentor you into the various roles in community organisations?
Sally: I’ve been so lucky from that perspective in both my job and within the community. I have had some fantastic mentors that have been happy to support and help younger people. Take, for example, our stock horse committee – the secretary is younger than me and I’m the treasurer and then we have a fantastic president. It is very much a younger committee, but we have the utmost support from the rest of the branch in helping us in our roles. We’re never left to do everything by ourselves. It’s always all hands-on deck. We do receive a great deal of support. I think most people are stoked when younger people want to take on roles in community organisations, so they’re encouraged.
Jen: What do you personally get out of the things you do for your community?
Sally: I think it’s the joy of seeing the town going forward and things happening and continuing to happen. That youth stock horse camp for example, I attended that as a participant for 10 years, from when I was roughly eight years old and it was a fantastic experience, so I would hate to see something like that stop because other people weren’t happy to take the reins and keep it running. I just want to see our little town keep going strong, so that’s what motivates me to get involved in things like helping to set up at the local show, because that’s such an important part of the town.
Jen: Why do you think shows are so important to small communities?
Sally: I think it’s a showcase for local activity, an opportunity for people to showcase what they do whether it’s rural produce or artwork or photography or someone has a little pet dog they want to show. That’s the point: you don’t have to be a horse rider to go to the show, there’s something for everyone to get involved with and that’s so important. It’s a platform to bring everyone together and you’re all there attending the one event. You might not have a lot in common with everyone but you have that one thing in common – you’re supporting the community, you’re showcasing what you do and you’re there to support the show. I think that’s pretty cool.
Jen: This might sound like a loaded question, but has the negativity about small communities meant much of the positivity that’s out there has been overlooked?
Sally: That’s definitely the case. The bright spots of the community are not the focus, instead there will be a focus on that one negative thing about a town or an area or a region, instead of looking at the positives and saying, “Wow! There are these positive people and positive groups and they are doing amazing things and running fantastic events.”
People need to see that you can have the best of both worlds in regional communities, particularly with technology which has been a big part of enabling the younger generation to stay in the bush.
For example, with my job, I can do it all from my car or wherever I am at the time thanks to mobile phones, the internet and laptops. I can literally be wherever and send an email or pick up the phone.
Jen: Why do you still have faith in the future for young people in regional Australia?
Sally: Because of the people, definitely. There is so many awesome people living and working in regional areas – I see them daily with work and when I visit clients on farms. There are exceptional people out there and they are all having such a go, making the most of any situation that is thrown at them, and at the same time doing the best they can to put back into the communities. I have confidence in the future because of all those people who want the best for their own towns and regions. Every time I walk down the street here in Cumnock, I’ll see someone who I know is doing their best for our little town.
Jen: Why do you think small communities will survive despite the tough times?
Sally: Because the people in small communities all have a passion for where they live and what they do. The networks in small communities are so strong. People know each other and want to work together in order to head in the same direction. That’s how I think small towns like Cumnock will withstand the tough times.
NALAG's 'That's the Spirit' hardcover book features a selection of excerpts from the stories gathered from Western NSW during 2018-2020.
Sally Gavin, Cumnock NSW