NEVER underestimate the power of “ladies who lunch”, or in this case, brunch.
Since 2008 Jenny Dudley (pictured), wife of Royal Agricultural Society of NSW (RAS) president Glenn Dudley, and her passionate committee of RAS councillor’s wives have helped raise more than $87,000 through the annual RAS Charity Brunch – money which has benefited a diverse range of community projects spread across the State.
The initiative was established in Glenn’s first year of the RAS presidency and arose out of the couple’s desire to help – even in a small way – community projects in need.
By 2008 the State had been struggling through eight years of what has become known as the millennium drought, and Jenny saw this as an opportunity for the women of the RAS to collectively show support for rural communities.
“We’re all very passionate about the work of the charity and anxious to help in the bush,” said Jenny.
“I don’t think many of us realised how desperate things were during the drought and the committee’s aim was to choose a different project each year – a stand alone project – to assist a community in need.”
The committee comprises Jenny, who divides her time between the family’s property at Robertson in the Southern Highlands and Sydney; Suzanne Ryan, wife of steward-in-chief of the Sydney Royal Sheep and Fleece Show Robert Ryan, Sydney; Janelle Davey, wife of the Royal’s chairman of horses Graham Davey, Black Hill, west of Newcastle, and Sue-Anne White, wife of Agriculture committee member and RAS vice president Hunter White, Mudgee.
Invitations are sent out annually and invitees are in turn asked to send out further invites, which results in up to 175 attendees annually taking part.
Guests are treated to a menu which includes a selection of Sydney Royal Fine Food Show goodies, and spend freely on a silent auction of donated goods and a raffle.
To date the RAS Charity Brunch raised $11,000 towards funding a cancer care room at Orange Base Hospital for the Condobolin community in 2009, $14,000 to help repair the Bobadah Hall in the centre of the State in 2010, contributed $17,000 to the BackTrack program youth program at Armidale in 2011, and $23,000 for a maternity bed at Young Hospital last year, while this year $22,000 was raised to assist the Inverell Community Garden project.
“We search the State for suitable projects – those that are long term, with long-term benefits and which have the capacity to touch as many people as possible in a community,” Jenny said.
Suggestions for projects come from various sources, including contacts Jenny has who work in the bush dealing with natural disasters, while the committee also looks though the submissions received for the annual RAS Foundation (RASF) $25,000 grant.
The charity’s first project – the cancer care room for the Condobolin community – was discovered among the RASF grant applications.
“The Condoblin community needed to raise $50,000 for a dedicated cancer care building in Orange for the town before the State government would match the money on a dollar for dollar basis,” Jenny said.
“The funds we raised helped the locals achieve that target and the project went ahead.”
The Bobadah Hall project was one of Jenny’s favourites, and one she discovered through rural financial counsellor Fran Rowe, Tottenham, and her work during the drought.
“The hall is the only building left in Bobadah and the focus of the community for christenings and Christmas parties,”Jenny said.
“Locals successfully fought a demolition order placed on it and Fran had been asking them to then donate money for repairs and repainting.
“It’s such an integral part of the community one local farmer had even stumped up the cost of repairs on his personal credit card, despite battling the drought himself.”
“The $14,000 raised by the brunch was used instead, across two years and between harvests, to rebuild the hall.
“This was a project that touched a lot of people in the area, and Glenn and I went to the party for the opening – it was wonderful.
“The locals were so excited city people had done something for them, but it was not about the amount of money raised rather the fact people cared that meant so much to them.”
Jenny discovered the brunch’s 2011 recipient, the BackTrack program, while she and Glenn worked along side some of the program’s participants helping flood-affected communities – “which were not making the news” – along the NSW-Queensland border that year.
This not-for-profit organisation is headed by Bernie Shakeshaft and aims to assist young people who have lost their way with an opportunity to reconnect with their education and training, in particular indigenous youth, Jenny said.
“The program teaches vocational skills such as welding, fencing and working with dogs,” she said.
Bernie was organising a similar program for girls in conjunction with Armidale High School, with a focus hospitality and arts and crafts and Jenny wanted to help.
With her connections at the RAS among the coffee judges – Jenny is the chief steward for the Royal’s coffee competition – she brought a small group of girls to Sydney for barista training.
That year’s brunch raised $17,000 for the BackTrack program which has helped fund the visit to Sydney by a group of 20 girls for training at the Redfern Centre in indigenous art and preparing indigenous food, while the two coffee judges initially involved – Paul Manassis, Mocha Coffee in Marrickville and Andrew Mackay, Coffee Com – continue to offer barista training in Armidale.
The fourth charity brunch project supported the Young community with a maternity bed for the local hospital’s delivery suite.
“I got news the State government was installing new delivery beds in hospitals but not all, and Young missed out,” Jenny said.
“The local midwife I spoke to said the bed used in the hospital was a ‘dinosaur’ and an ‘OH and S nightmare’, but it would cost $20,000 to buy a new one.”
The committee got to work and the 2012 brunch raised $23,000 which was enough for a new bed – meaning mothers didn’t have to leave the community to attend another hospital to deliver – with money left over to go towards the purchase of an oxygenator.
Jenny hopes to see the committee continue in the future under the next president’s wife.
“We’ve been overwhelmed by the fact country people are excited by the city help ... it’s only small but its more than the money people see,” she said.
“This project is helping to bridge the city-country divide doing our small bit to bring people together.
“What’s encouraging are the letters and messages we’re getting back from the bush - people are grateful somebody cares, and that was particularly the case with the people of Bobadah.”