A Longreach grazier rewarded for his innovative approach to adversity has paid tribute to the support of his community.
James Walker was announced as the winner of the Excellence in Diversification award at the 2017 Kondinin Group and ABC Rural Australian Farmer of the Year awards last week.
A Nuffield scholar, James is highly regarded in business, tourism and community development circles for using record drought conditions as a motivator to think outside the square.
As well as having developed a Farmecco financial literacy app and hosted a number of CEO outback business summits, he has brought a 15MW solar farm to Longreach and helped build international tourism visibility for his region with the launch of the Outback Yacht Club.
Speaking after the awards ceremony with Ian Macnamara, James said the recognition of the diversification he has embarked on was an honour for the whole community he was a part of.
“They are very supportive of building opportunities for the local economy – our community supports people who are having a go,” he said.
In a poignant moment underscoring his words, James dedicated his award to the Longreach community and his two-year-old niece Willow Walker, who died in an immersion incident on the family property at the end of July.
He said the award would be a starting point to launch into bigger things.
Another well-known western Queenslander, Kristy Sparrow, received the Community Leader of the Year award for her work supporting rural Australians grappling with poor telecommunications.
Together with Kylie Stretton from Charters Towers, Kristy, based at Alpha, started up the Better Internet for Rural Regional and Remote Australia Facebook group in 2014, using the motto of a problem shared is a problem solved.
Such was the need around Australia, from other people running out of data for essential business and education purposes, losing connections and lacking service, that the group now has almost 10,000 members.
Not only that, Kristy and her team have become respected advocates in the political world as they lobby for genuine change for rural telecommunications users.
Excellence in innovation
Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce also congratulated 36-year-old Rob Cook at the awards ceremony, a fourth generation cattleman from Bucca, Queensland who, after a life-shattering helicopter accident, developed some ingenious new practices enabling him to remain on the land.
"Rob, who is a quadriplegic, dug deep and created a world-first electric hydraulic joystick control, enabling him to operate the block gate and all five way drafts in his cattle yards," Mr Joyce said.
"This is an ingenious example of innovation and has allowed Rob to stay on the land, farming 700-head of black Brangus cattle over three properties."
Rob received the Excellence in Innovation award.
Victoria’s “king of salad”, Andrew Bulmer was named the Australian Farmer of the Year.
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