Tottenham farmer and rural financial counsellor Fran Rowe was named NSW Premier’s Woman of the Year at a ceremony at Parliament House last month.
Ms Rowe received the award for supporting and empowering Australia’s agricultural sector during tough times.
More than 25 years ago, Ms Rowe established one of the first rural financial counselling services from her family’s property ‘Bombah’, near Tottenham.
This service, which contributed as a model for the Rural Financial Counselling Service, provided voluntary counselling assistance to farming families facing difficult times.
“(In the 1980s) difficulties resulted from the impact of high interest rates and low commodity prices,” Ms Rowe said. “This highlighted an obvious gap in services to rural communities, particularly farming families.”
Ms Rowe said farmers would go to her to get help in collating and understanding their financial information.
With Ms Rowe’s help, farmers would develop strategies to deal with the banks.
As word of the voluntary service spread, a policy adviser to the then Commonwealth Minister for Primary Industries visited ‘Bombah’ to meet with local farmers in an attempt to understand the impact of what was being termed a ‘rural crisis’.
Following a ‘Making Local Groups Work’ workshop in Canberra, the Commonwealth Government announced funding in 1986 for a National Rural Counselling program aimed at providing financial counselling support to primary producers and small rural businesses.
Upon receiving funding the service grew to what is now a national service with 14 service providers, employing more than 100 people.
Ms Rowe was also acknowledged for her contribution to a number of agricultural boards and committees including the Rural Adjustment Scheme Advisory Council, the Agricultural Finance Forum, the Agricultural and Food Policy Reference Group and the NSW Rural Assistance Authority where she was chairwoman.
On receiving the award, Ms Rowe said she was particularly honoured to receive it, particularly in the Year of the Farmer.
“It’s these rural men and women, the primary producers of NSW who have provided me with the opportunity to indulge my passion for Rural Australia and assist those working and nurturing our rural communities and our land,” she said.