TWO south-west women have been nominated as finalists for the state's coveted AgriFuture Rural Women's Award.
Jackie Elliott from Byaduk and Kelly Barnes from Dunkeld are among four Victorian women in the running for the award, which will see the winner take home $10,000 to implement an innovative idea to support rural and regional communities.
When fifth-generation farmer Jackie Elliot moved to the south-west, she was struck by the isolation experienced in the farming community.
To combat this, she hosted the region's first International Rural Women's Day event at Dunkeld last year which saw around 140 women from across the district attend.
Now she wants to create a toolkit for other regional communities to host their own IRWD celebrations.
"After having 140 women partake in the event I realised how important it was for rural and regional women," she said.
"Being a new person to a rural community and being a young woman I found it difficult to find like-minded women especially in the agricultural industry.
"There were lots of women around but we weren't in one space. Out of the IRWD I feel like I found my tribe of real genuine rural women in the Western District there to support you in everything."
The successful event featured 13 presenters and two panel sessions from women on farms across the region.
Out of the event grew lifelong friendships and small business idea collaborations.
Ms Elliott said the event fostered a kind of solidarity between women living on the land and the struggles of everyday farm life.
"Isolation is always going to be a problem in regional communities, and if you're like myself who is not part of a local sporting group it can be difficult to form new friendships and networks," she said.
"If you've got a good community around you and unite together as rural women, we all make a pretty powerful team.
"We do need other women in our lives of all age groups to talk together and understand things better."
Dunkeld's Kelly Barnes never goes anywhere without her trusted kelpies.
The loyal working dogs not only help her with her day-to-day farming tasks but have been a big support in her battle with mental health.
Ms Barnes wants to establish a working dog training school to help rural people build resilience and connectedness in their communities.
"I've always worked on farms and always had working dogs," she said.
"Looking through old photos I realised most of my pictures were of me and my dogs, it made me realise how much they have supported me through my personal struggles.
"Being on a farm you can feel isolated and with chronic pain and fatigue my dogs have been my lifeline.
"Dogs are a really good source of support and therapy and a lot of people don't understand how to use their dog's full potential.
"They're an untapped resource that every livestock farmer has."
The school, a small group training formula of six one-day sessions over a 12-month period, would provide practical skills in a training environment that supports social interaction and networking with like-minded people.
"Whether it's with older farming men who experience high suicide rates, or high school kids looking to get into farming, it could be tailored to different kinds of groups," Ms Barnes said.
"It's all about creating bonds with your dog and breaking down the stigma that working dogs should be stuck outside on a chain or that you have to treat them mean to make them work.
"They work better when you have bonds with them, there's an urban myth that a working dog can't be your pet and that's simply not true."
The Victorian winner of the Rural Women's Award will be announced at a ceremony on 24 March and will receive $10,000 to implement her project.
The national winner will be announced at a gala dinner in Canberra on 15 September.
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