Kimberley Furness was determined to start a print magazine, regardless of what the market was saying on the future of media and despite friends saying they hadn’t purchased a print product in years.
Having started her career in newspapers and determined to get the stories of regional and rural women heard, Furness wanted to see such stories in hardcopy.
She founded OAK Magazine in 2017 as a quarterly print magazine, initially taking a huge personal risk on printing the 24-page first edition to distribute at an event. It’s since grown to being 100 pages plus, and now encompasses an online community, events and a podcast called, A Friend of Mine, where Furness hosts conversations with women from all over the country.
In a deliberate shift away from male-dominated media stories so often shared across rural Australia and especially in agriculture, OAK elevates the diverse lives of real women. The magazine features women with disabilities, women of colour, people in the LGBTQI+ community, rural women, athletes and creatives – all to meet Furness’ goal of having all women seeing something of themselves within the pages.
“The media shows us a very biased lens of gender and postcode,” she says. “It’s typically men telling our stories as well. We need to take that back and write and present our own stories.”
The magazine’s underlying support of rural women comes from Furness’s own experiences. Being a long-time resident of Bendigo, Victoria, she says rural areas have always been a big part of her life.
And she can trace her love of telling stories in print back to high school. Undertaking work experience at the local paper in year ten, she went on to complete a professional writing and editing course at TAFE, and later commenced a career in corporate communications and journalism.
Her idea for Oak came when Furness was travelling rural Victoria and New South Wales to run social media workshops. The women she met would talk about their businesses, and Furness would come home excited to tell other people what she’d heard. After some time, she wondered why their words had to be condensed into 2000 characters across social media and decided there needed to be a longer form medium to share the content.
“Before I even decided to commit to the magazine, I asked a group of friends if they’d read a print mag recently, and 99 per cent said, ‘No, just do digital!’ I said, ‘No, I love print!’ There is nothing more exciting than standing in front of a magazine stand, looking at the covers.”
But while standing in front of these magazine stands, Furness never saw anyone that looked like her– a woman in business and mum of four living in regional Australia. She launched OAK magazine to showcase the resilience and wisdom of under-represented women and empower others to break down barriers and create change.
“It comes back to this idea that you can’t be what you can’t see,” she says.
With the magazine, Furness also aims to show a different face to what is typically thought of as a ‘rural women’. She hopes that stories of women succeeding in male-dominated industries like mining and construction inspire others to apply for leadership positions, and that stories of women succeeding with a disability or those leaning into their cultural heritage, can also help to further remove stereotypes.
“My long term aim is for OAK to become a number one resource for regional and rural areas, where a third of Australian women live,” she says.
Furness is well on her way to this goal and was recently named the Victoria National Finalist for the 2022 AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award, the leading award empowering and celebrating the inclusive and courageous leadership of rural women across Australia.
Awardees receive a $15,000 Westpac grant to help expand their work and Furness plans to use the money to launch an audio version of OAK Magazine and employ a journalist based in the bush to produce that content.
An audio version of OAK is meant to help bring the magazine to life for anyone with a visual impairment, learning difficulty or low literacy– an undertaking in line with the work Furness does to ensure her magazine is creating space for people of all different backgrounds.
Women’s Agenda is profiling all seven of the finalists of the 2022 AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award and promoting the work of women in agriculture, as part of our partnership with AgriFutures Australia.
You can see more on our profile series here.
The 2022 AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award Gala Dinner & National Announcement will be held at Parliament House, Canberra on Tuesday, 6 September 2022. Ticket sales open on Monday, 2 May 2022. See here for more information.