We’re profiling women working in agriculture and related fields, thanks to the excellent support of AgriFutures Australia, in line with our weekly publication for women in agriculture, The Ag Wrap. This week, meet Cara Peek, founder of Saltwater Country Ltd and the 2020 WA Rural Women’s Award recipient.
When Yawuru and Bunuba woman Cara Peek landed in Broome 13 years ago, the first thing she noticed was the scent of frangipanis and saltwater.
“There’s a sense of peace and calmness that comes from being on your own country,” says Peek, who moved to the Kimberley to reconnect with her family, after growing up in Melbourne and working as a lawyer overseas.
With floral notes of frangipani hanging in the air, it didn’t take Peek long to also notice the societal issues facing the next generation in the community. “Young Indigenous women globally are the most disenfranchised and at-risk population,” says Peek, who visited her mother’s country frequently as a child. “In the Kimberley, they face intergenerational trauma, overcrowded housing, poor health, and a lack of access to opportunities and education.”
As they say, if you can see it, you can be it. And Peek is living proof that Indigenous women can achieve anything and define their own version of success.
To help them do just that, Peek founded Saltwater Country Ltd in 2014, as a not-for-profit celebrating the skills and history of Indigenous stockmen and women with its annual Rhythm & Ride Rodeo, Campdraft and Country Music Festival.
“The pastoral industry was built off the back of Aboriginal people and that history is often overlooked or whitewashed. It’s important to recognise the resilience our people had and continue to have, so we decided to run a rodeo, campdraft and country music event,” says Peek. “And it’s just grown from there.”
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The festival has since evolved to include the Saltwater Academy; a creative industries training program helping to develop the skills and knowledge of young Indigenous people interested in events management, photography, film, sound, lighting, graphic design or business.
The organisation is having powerful impacts on peoples’ lives. For Yawuru woman Kisha Skeen, who undertook rodeo judging training with Saltwater Country, Peek’s mentorship has led to opportunities galore. “The ABCRA (Australian Bushmen’s Campdraft and Rodeo Association) were blown away with Kisha, who also volunteered at our event, attended a financial literacy for business workshop recently and will soon become our first employee,” says Peek. “We’re kicking goals and breaking down barriers.”
Taking such enormous strides is an uphill battle. Peek started Saltwater Country without any funding and continues to fight for capital and support. “There’s such a big divide in access and opportunity between rural communities and metro cities, especially if you’re Indigenous and a woman,” she admits. “What keeps me going – aside from my sheer stubbornness – is my people, my family and the wins we have along the way.”
Being named the WA winner for the AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award, and receiving alongside the Westpac bursary was one such win for Peek – and the community.
“I don’t see it as my award, I see it as our award because so many women have backed Saltwater Country and volunteered their time and skills,” says Peek, who is using the funding to put together a business plan and financial modelling, and also leveraging for more capital. “Awards mean a lot. But when one of the local cowboys, who normally doesn’t say boo, shakes my hand and thanks me, those are the moments that sit with you and force you to get up the next day and do it all over again.”
Next up, Saltwater Country is preparing for the Rhythm & Ride festival on the 24th of September and more training seminars ahead. “I hope that the next generation of Indigenous women don’t face as many barriers as myself and the women before me did,” says Peek. “I want to see my sister’s daughter (who is culturally my daughter as well) to reach for the stars and catch them.