by Samantha Townsend
When her Riverina-district hometown started losing young folk to the city, Sandra Ireson made it her mission to stop them.
Her answer with a team of local volunteers was to create Hay Inc, a school program that teaches young people how to become jackaroos and jillaroos.
The program, supported by Australian Wool Innovation (AWI), is taught by local landholders or retired farmers, who volunteer their time to give students hands-on training and bush skills to make them employable.
They learn everything from sheep and woolclassing to shearing and small engine maintenance.
“The farmers in this region have hundreds of years of knowledge between them, which you don’t get through a traditional training program,” Mrs Ireson said.
This dedication to her community has earned Mrs Ireson the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) Rural Women’s Award.
Mrs Ireson wants to develop an adaptable model of the Hay Inc program that can be implemented in other rural communities and industries including seafood and horticulture across Australia.
The mother-of-three is no stranger to rolling her sleeves up and pitching in within her community.
When she married husband Matt and moved to the Riverina town of Booligal, NSW in 1995 to help run their 6070 hectare cattle property, she launched herself into local life.
Mrs Ireson fought for the Hay Mobile Children’s Service, a vital playgroup service offered to isolated families, to keep running.
She also helped push for the Booligal Public School to reopen in 2003 after it had been in recess for three years due to low numbers.
Other achievements under her belt include being elected as the first female on the Hay Cutters Rugby Union Club and she was also instrumental in starting the iconic Booligal Sheep Races where sheep are dressed up as celebrities and raced for charity.
“When you live in the middle of nowhere there are so many opportunities to do anything and everyone makes an effort to help out and support it,” she said.