Heather Walker is one of the brightest and most committed young ladies you could meet. Passionate about teaching and agriculture, the farm girl from Grenfell is currently in her 3rd year of studying a Bachelor of Education (Technology and Applied Studies). She is heavily involved with the Grenfell Show Society and attends other shows as a sheep judge. She is also an avid photographer and hopes to one day combine her studies and her passion to educate more people about agriculture. Here is our 2023 Launching Star, Heather Walker.
Congratulations on your CEF Alumni Award. How does it feel to be recognised as a CEF Alumni Award winner?
Receiving the CEF Alumni Award is truly an honour. I am grateful to have been nominated by my local foundation, and I appreciate the dedication and hard work they put into supporting students like myself. This recognition motivates me to continue striving for excellence and pursuing my desired career path. I am proud to be a part of the CEF alumni community and am excited about the opportunities that lie ahead.
Can you tell us a little about your life growing up? Your family, what your parents did for a living?
Growing up wasn’t always smooth, but the challenges and triumphs woven into my upbringing have shaped a resilient and determined individual. My mother, who wasn’t born in Australia, works diligently as a cleaner, instilling in me a profound work ethic and appreciation for hard work. On the agricultural front, my father, a dedicated farmer, spent years working the land as a pig farmer and later embraced retirement as a hobby farmer tending to a few head of Merino sheep.
Despite the trials, our family’s connection to the land has been a constant, reflecting values of hard work, resilience, and a deep love for agriculture. My father’s legacy, though he no longer resides at home, has entrusted a sense of responsibility to myself and my two sisters. United by our commitment to continue his hard work, we strive to uphold the familial dedication to agriculture.
A significant part of my upbringing involved hands-on experiences, and I found immense joy working with the sheep. This direct involvement with the land and livestock further fuelled my passion for agriculture.
What do you like to do in your spare time? What are you passionate about?
In my spare time, I find joy in the simplicity and beauty of rural life. Having spent the majority of my life in a small town, I’ve developed a deep connection with the community and a profound passion for the sheep and wool industry. The serene routine of driving around our hobby farm to check on the sheep brings me a sense of peace, and I’ve even turned this into a creative outlet by capturing moments through photography.
Spending time with friends is another aspect of my life that I cherish. I’m always up for trying new things and embracing new experiences. Recently, I started an Instagram page to share the photos I’ve taken over the years, allowing me to express my creativity and showcase the beauty of my surroundings.
Another aspect of my life that brings me joy is contributing to the local farming community. Whether it’s lending a helping hand in the shearing shed or assisting fellow farmers, I take pride in being an active and supportive member of the community. Overall, my passions for rural living, photography, social connections, and community involvement shape how I choose to spend my leisure time.
What have been some of your greatest/proudest achievements to date?
Embarking on my journey toward a Bachelor of Education TAS (Technology and Applied Studies), my driving force lies in a profound passion for agriculture and a steadfast commitment to inspire others. My focus, threefold—on young people, agriculture, and using my time constructively—has resulted in achievements and accolades that reflect my dedication.
As a CEF Aspirational Influencer, I enthusiastically engaged young minds in the possibilities offered by the CEF. Beyond this, I made it a mission to encourage the youth of my community, shedding light on educational pathways, local employment opportunities, and various available courses.
My active involvement in local show events has been a rewarding endeavour. Accompanying school students to shows like Dubbo, Bedgerabong, Parkes, and Cowra, I earned accolades such as a first-place award in the Senior Meat Breeds Sheep category at the 2023 Dubbo Show and recognition at the Zone Finals in Parkes. These achievements position me to represent our region at the State finals at The Sydney Royal Easter Show in 2024.
I was honoured to have been nominated as the 2021 Grenfell The Land Young Woman by the Grenfell P.A.H. & I. Association Inc., where I passionately shared insights about the agricultural industry.
My commitment extends to active involvement in the local agricultural industry, notably at the Forbes Livestock saleyards (The Central West Livestock Exchange). Completion of various short courses, including Hayinc Rural Education, funded training through Tocal College, financial skills for youth in agriculture, shearing and wool handling, and farming and small business workshop, development workshop in Orange, underscores my dedication to continuous learning and skill development. Recognised with the Western Region TAFE NSW Excellence Awards in 2022 for Wool Classing, I received the Agribusiness Student of the Year.
My support role at the local high school is not just a job; it’s a valuable opportunity to strengthen my skills and build a robust network and foundation with teachers and colleagues. This hands-on experience makes my theoretical learning tangible and practical, reinforcing my commitment to building a rich and impactful career in agricultural education.
How important is the work that CEF does in your opinion?
The work that CEF does is immensely important, in my opinion. CEF plays a pivotal role in supporting and empowering students from rural and regional areas to pursue their educational and career aspirations. By providing financial assistance, mentorship, and a supportive community, CEF bridges the gap and opens doors of opportunity for individuals who may face unique challenges in accessing higher education.
In my personal experience, the support I received from CEF, particularly from the local foundation and community members, has been transformative. Mentors and supporters, like Margret Carey, have played a crucial role in my educational journey. Their guidance, encouragement, and mentorship have not only eased the practical challenges but have also provided emotional support during the ups and downs of academic life.
Margret Carey, in particular, has been a close supporter of my studies, and her impact on my academic journey has been profound. Mentors like her exemplify the essence of community support, demonstrating how individuals within the CEF network contribute significantly to the success and well-being of students.
What do you remember most about receiving your grant(s) from CEF? What did it mean to you? How did it help you?
Receiving the grant(s) from CEF Grenfell is a memorable and deeply meaningful experience for me. In the face of various personal obstacles during the first year of applying, I remained determined to pursue my TAFE studies, and the support from CEF was pivotal in turning that determination into reality. Over the course of four years, CEF Grenfell has not only provided crucial financial support but has also been an unwavering source of emotional encouragement.
The grant made a tangible difference in my educational journey. One notable way was the purchase of a laptop, a decision that I am immensely grateful for. This device became a lifeline, particularly as I transitioned to full-time online studies. Without a reliable tool for my coursework, the challenges of adapting to online learning would have been significantly more daunting.
Beyond the practical assistance, CEF Grenfell has been a constant companion throughout the ups and downs of completing studies by distance. The emotional support they’ve offered has been a beacon of stability during times of uncertainty. Navigating the complexities of online education, especially as a school leaver, can be daunting, and having CEF Grenfell by my side every step of the way has made a substantial impact on my academic journey.
The assistance provided has not only helped me overcome practical challenges but has also played a significant role in shaping my educational experience. CEF Grenfell has made a lasting and positive difference in my life, and I am confident that their impact extends to many others who, like me, have benefited from their generous support.
Do you live in a regional area now? Do you still feel a connection to country Australia? How important is it to give back to your local community?
Yes, I currently reside in a regional area, and my connection to country Australia remains strong. Living in a regional setting has allowed me to maintain a close bond with the unique culture, landscape, and community that define country Australia. This connection is deeply rooted in the values, experiences, and relationships forged in this environment.
The importance of giving back to the local community cannot be overstated. Regional areas often thrive on a strong sense of community, and individuals have a shared responsibility to contribute to the well-being and prosperity of the community they call home. Giving back can take various forms, whether it’s actively participating in local initiatives, supporting local businesses, or volunteering time and skills.
For me, contributing to the local community is a way of reciprocating the support and opportunities that I have received. It’s a recognition of the interconnectedness that characterises regional living. By giving back, I not only contribute to the collective strength and resilience of the community but also play a role in preserving and enhancing the unique qualities that make country Australia a special place.
What advice would you give to young students in the rural and regional areas who are unsure or worried about study after school?
To the young students in rural and regional areas grappling with uncertainties about post-school study, my advice is to view this transitional period as an exciting opportunity for self-discovery and growth. Explore a spectrum of educational avenues, from university to vocational training, and delve into different career possibilities. Seek guidance from teachers, mentors, and community resources; their insights can illuminate the path ahead. Don’t overlook local opportunities or the power of online learning, as these can provide accessible and flexible options. Connect with alumni to gain valuable firsthand perspectives. Remember that it’s perfectly acceptable to start small, with part-time courses or short-term programs, and gradually build your academic journey.
What benefits do you think staying connected or reconnecting with the CEF Alumni Network can provide?
Staying connected or reconnecting with the CEF Alumni Network can offer a multitude of benefits for individuals who have been recipients of their support. Firstly, it provides a platform for ongoing networking and professional development. The Alumni Network likely consists of individuals who have pursued diverse careers and paths, offering a valuable resource for mentorship, advice, and potential collaboration. Additionally, staying connected allows alumni to stay informed about new opportunities, events, and initiatives within the CEF community.
The Alumni Network fosters a sense of community and belonging. Sharing experiences and insights with fellow alumni who have faced similar challenges can be incredibly empowering. It provides a supportive environment where individuals can celebrate successes, navigate obstacles, and continue to learn from one another.
On a broader scale, maintaining ties with the CEF Alumni Network enables individuals to give back to the organization that supported them. By sharing their achievements and contributing to the network, alumni can inspire and mentor the next generation of students, creating a positive cycle of support and encouragement.
What is next for you?
Looking ahead, my immediate focus is on completing my Bachelor of Education TAS and solidifying my career at the local high school where I currently work. The prospect of contributing to the educational landscape in my community, particularly in the field of agriculture, is a driving force for me. Additionally, I am eager to pursue further knowledge and skills by completing my Certificate III in Agriculture through TAFE Digital, enhancing my practical understanding of the industry.
A particularly exciting milestone on the horizon is my participation in the State finals at The Sydney Royal Easter Show in 2024. Representing our region is not only a personal achievement but also an opportunity to showcase the passion and dedication that the local community has instilled in me. This experience will undoubtedly contribute to my growth and provide valuable insights that I can bring back to enrich my work at the local high school.