Julia Harpham is the 2017 winner of Rex Airlines' Regional Woman of the Year Award. Regarded as a local champion she has spearheaded an experiment to reverse the decline of her hometown: The tiny township of Mingoola, on the border of New South Wales and Queensland.
The population was down, enrolments at the local primary school were down and farmers could not find staff. “Many of us have children who work in the city and aren't going to come back to the farm because things have been so tough on the land,” she told the ABC.
Julia, desperate to revive her community, decided to take matters into her own hands. After a lot of research and a few dead ends, she came into contact with a community of refugees from Africa. At the time, they were living in Western Sydney and after hearing from her were keen to relocate to the country.
Within weeks, two families were chosen to spearhead Julia's experiment. Mingoola has a migrant-rich history, and the local community embraced Julia's initiative, coming together to help renovate several abandoned houses in the area to accommodate their new neighbours.
It was a risky move, but the social experiment has been a success. The school has even reopened.
Regional communities across NSW are looking to try and replicate Mingoola’s strategy with over 200 African refugee families now wanting to resettle.
It seems only fitting that such a bold idea, followed through with such determination would win Julia the Rex Airlines' Regional Woman of the Year Award. The award celebrates women from regional NSW who have made significant achievements in areas that are important to regional or rural communities.
Member for Lismore, Thomas George, was at the NSW Women of the Year Awards in Sydney and congratulated Julia on her excellent work. “I was thrilled to be at the presentation this morning to celebrate with Julia and her husband Philip on this wonderful achievement” he said.
“I've had no hesitation in telling the Mingoola story, trying to encourage other people to look at the same program.”
Pictured: Julia Harpham