Cara at Peek of her game empowering youth

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Adam PoulsenCountryman
National AgriFuture’s Rural Women Award recipient Cara PeekPicture: Daniel Wilkins/The West Australian
Camera IconNational AgriFuture’s Rural Women Award recipient Cara PeekPicture: Daniel Wilkins/The West Australian Credit: The West Australian

Broome’s Cara Peek has been crowned national winner of the 2020 AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award, and she hopes it will raise the profile of the Indigenous-led not-for-profit organisation she founded seven years ago.

A proud Yawuru Bunuba woman, Ms Peek outshone an impressive line-up of finalists to scoop the award after being named WA’s top contender.

Her latest accolade recognises her work creating training and employment opportunities for First Nations people via the organisation Saltwater Country.

Saltwater Country hosts rodeos, campdrafts and country music events, but also includes a training branch called Saltwater Academy, which teaches at-risk youth in remote Australia the skills to compete in and organise events.

Ms Peek — who is chair of Saltwater Country, a successful lawyer, business owner and “part-time cowgirl” — described winning as “amazing”.

“It acknowledges the hard yards so far, but it also shows that people beyond our community see the value in it and the opportunities for the rest of Australia,” she said.

“One of the most special things was that in the room I had my mother, my sister, my good friend Steph, and our local member Divina (Grace D’Anna, MLA) who also used to be a volunteer for Saltwater.

“It was a collective celebration; all of them, plus plenty of other people — and a lot of women — have contributed to the success so far, so it was just as much recognition for them as it was for me.”

The Rural Women’s Award comes with a $10,000 prize, but Ms Peek said she hoped the notoriety it attracted would lead to more sponsorships and industry partnerships.

“Hopefully those in control of funds sit up, take notice, and understand what we have already achieved,” the 41-year-old said.

“Saltwater Country started from zero dollars and we remain an unfunded organisation in the sense we have no ongoing government funding despite the service we’re providing for the community.

“I’m going to hustle as much as possible for it (the award) to open up other doors... that wouldn’t have normally been open to us.”

National AgriFuture’s Rural Women Award recipient Cara Peek
Camera IconNational AgriFuture’s Rural Women Award recipient Cara Peek Credit: Daniel Wilkins/The West Australian

Saltwater Country is largely volunteer-run but recently employed its first full-time worker, Kimberley woman Kisha Skeen, who rose through the ranks of Saltwater Academy.

The next goal is to employ more young Indigenous people while expanding the organisation across northern WA, the Northern Territory and North Queensland.

Ms Peek said the change she had seen in youngsters like Ms Skeen had been “phenomenal”.

“Kisha can be quite shy and she’s really come into herself,” she said.

“We had a young ringer hang around after the (Rhythm and Ride) event this year... and he expressed that it gives him hope that he will be treated fairly, and hope that people who look like him and who have a similar lived experience are able to achieve something so big.

“We meet our kids where they’re at, we train them in a way that makes sense to them, we bolster their confidence, and then provide a pathway into employment or further training.”

Opposition leader Mia Davies congratulated Ms Peek, saying the Rural Women’s Award recognised “leadership and initiative”.

“The award has gained a significant profile over the last 21 years, empowering and celebrating courageous women involved in our rural and emerging industries, businesses and communities,” Ms Davies said.

“These are women who play a key role in driving innovation, diversification, creating new opportunities for business and communities to thrive in regional Australia.”

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