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Mary Salce

Mary Salce is a dairy farmer in Clydebank, who has been involved in agricultural politics since the late 1960s.

Honour Roll

For about the first twenty years she was more often than not the only woman represented on committees or boards. Through her participation and observations Mary realised women's voices were not being heard.

It seemed one woman's voice was not enough, women had the ability but not the confidence or self-esteem to be heard. During these twenty years many subsidies and tariffs disappeared, hurting farming families and rural communities. In times of hardship Mary, along with other farming women, felt the men were talking only about farm expenses, interest rates and the price of new machinery.

Never was it said how farming families, including the women and children suffered stress from long hours of work for very little money. In the mid 1980s, Mary knew it was time to put her energies into assisting women to regain their confidence and selfesteem so they could be involved in trying to solve some of the problems associated within working in the rural and agricultural sector.

After much lobbying with the Victorian Government, in 1985 the Victorian Rural Women's Network was set up with the support of the State Government particularly the Rural Affairs Sub-Committee of Cabinet. In 1991, Mary travelled to Canada to seek out new ideas to enable farming women to be recognised for their invaluable contributions. She soon saw the problem of recognition for farming women was worldwide.

Mary then decided to host an international conference for women in agriculture in Australia. She felt the aims of the conference should have clear parameters defining all important aspects of farming life and promoting a cooperative relationship between Australian and international agriculture networks through women in agriculture.

She wanted to raise awareness of the contribution women make to agriculture and rural development, and increase the awareness of the economic, social, legal and cultural factors affecting their status and to provide a learning opportunity to develop new skills and access to information and networks.

Most importantly, the main aim was to raise the awareness of women in agriculture around the world. Mary had the foresight and confidence in Australian women farmers to host the conference to change the misconception of farming women worldwide. Mary knew that outcomes from such an event would empower women through the networks and information so that they could return to their communities with greater confidence and self-esteem and become involved in the decision making at all levels.

Mary's vision of collaborating and convening the International Conference for women in Agriculture in 1994 has permanently changed the lives of many women working in agricultural industries. Her influence and profound leadership masterminded unprecedented change not only for Australian farming women but for farming women worldwide.

Mary's initiative has accelerated all farming women to the forefront of being recognised as major contributors to the agricultural sector. Post Conference women are rarely perceived as 'farmer's wives'. They are respected in their own right within the agricultural industry. Since the conference's inception in 1994 a further conference was held in 1998 in the United States for which Mary assisted the Australian Embassy in Washington, USA to organise.

The scheduled event was announced in 1997 by President Bill Clinton. Currently a third conference is being planned and organised for Spain in 2002. Mary's vision and commitment to rural and agricultural industry at the local, state, national and international level has created an infinite domino effect of positive outcomes in the industry, in particular for women.

Mary's dedication, passion, tenacity and importantly her vision and strength has not only changed rural women's lives but also enabled our city counterparts to gain a better understanding of women's roles within the rural and agricultural sector. Mary has greatly assisted to break down barriers and prejudice between city and rural, men and women, government and non-government agencies.