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2015 REX Regional Woman of the Year

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Four outstanding women in regional NSW have been selected as finalists for the 2015 REX Regional Woman of the Year.

This Award shines the spotlight on women who have had a significant impact on areas which are important to rural communities.

Read about each of the finalists below.

Barbara Cowley (Winner)

Barbara Cowley

Barbara Cowley helps young women in the Hunter Valley develop their own personal worth, strength and purpose through a group mentoring and personal development program called SHINE. SHINE aims to help young women realise their potential and prevent problems such as drug and alcohol abuse.

Barbara became a volunteer with the program in 2013 and, realising its far reaching potential, a dedicated fundraiser shortly after. In 2014, in lieu of regular birthday celebrations, Barbara created a new fundraising event called ShineWALK180.

Over seven days she walked 180km from Cessnock to a suburb in Sydney's north. The distance represented the 180-degree turnaround that she saw in the lives of women and girls who attended the program. The $27,000 she raised has helped expand the program throughout the Hunter region. From an initial goal of 10 Hunter girls she has raised enough funding for 385 girls and women to shine. She will repeat the walk in June this year.

Barbara also volunteers her time with Father Chris Riley Youth Off the Streets Reading program, and has organised women's empowerment nights within the Hunter Valley region.

She recently arranged a Breast Cancer awareness event "Unite to Fight" as well as a pop up shop to provide care baskets to women undergoing breast care treatment in local hospitals. She is on the Maitland City Carols organising committee which attracts more than 5000 people annually from across the region.

Barbara is driven by her desire and her belief that the Hunter Valley can, and will be, a location that really encourages and facilitates women to SHINE.

Barbara is also a wife, mother, marketing director and marriage celebrant.

Catherine Daley

Catherine Daley

CEO Catherine Daley makes a difference to rural Australians by her leadership of integratedliving, an organisation that helps older Australians and people with disability live independently in their own homes. Integratedliving provides services including physiotherapy, speech pathology, cleaning, meal preparation, counselling, home modification, transport, social activities, respite and telehealth services.

Her leadership of the not for profit enterprise has seen a small regional organisation grow into a multi state business expected to turn over $50 million this financial year. Since becoming CEO four years ago the business has grown 200 per cent, winning significant government contracts that will see health dollars flow to rural Australians. Catherine employs more than 780 staff and 315 volunteers.

A bold and innovative CEO, she has a fierce and deliberate commitment to servicing only regional and rural communities and is driven by the belief that people in regional Australia should have the same access to health and well-being services as their city cousins.

Catherine and her team are pioneering new technologies to achieve this goal. She has pursed a broadband-based strategy to help Close the Gap for indigenous health. The $2.3 million Telehealth Pilot Project called Staying Strong remotely monitors older Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians' vital health signs in their own homes. Integratedliving has since secured funding to expand the project in rural and regional QLD, NSW, ACT and Tasmania.

Catherine sees this project as the tip of the iceberg. Integratedliving has recently completed a small trial providing tablets to seniors over 90 years of age to help them connect with family members and friends across Australia using email and Skype. Catherine is also planning to introduce sensors that monitor the activities of clients in their home, such as whether clients are eating.

Whilst able to advocate and pursue innovation at a sector-wide level in a range of state and national forums, Catherine never loses sight of the local picture. She leads integratedliving in the practical support of a range of local events and services, including those which provide support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander older people, veterans and older migrants and people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

Catherine is also a firm believer in building the capacity of small locally based service providers, often sharing resources and providing pro bono support to them.

She is committed to listening to the needs of regional communities, then finding practical solutions whenever possible. The Aboriginal women's "walking group" and the community Dementia Garden in Port Stephens are examples of initiatives that make a significant difference to the lives of older people in those communities.

Kate O'Callaghan

Kate O'Callaghan

Riverina-based business leader Kate O'Callaghan has played a leading role in the development of the cotton industry in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, by building the capacity of local growers through collaboration, education and innovation.

An agronomist by profession, Kate is well-respected in the traditionally male-dominated agricultural sector. The combination of Kate's commercial expertise and relatable approach has been credited for supporting the potential for cotton production in the region.

Passionate about agriculture, Kate was recruited by Southern Cotton to nurture a new industry for the Murrumbidgee Valley community in southern NSW. Within a year, Kate had helped transform a paddock into a $26 million operation through the development of a cotton ginning business. This year 36,000 hectares of cotton has been sown in the Murrumbidgee Valley, with more than 500,000 bales processed at the facility since 2012.

In a region traditionally dominated by rice production, the opportunities presented by an alternate industry means growers, and in turn the wider community, benefits. As general manager, Kate oversees a staff of up to 50 at Southern Cotton. When not working at this property, she grows rice and cereals with husband Owen on the family farm at Yanco.

Recognised as one of Australia's top 100 Women in Australian Agriculture in 2014, Kate is secretary of the Southern Valleys Cotton Growers Association and represents Southern Cotton at Cotton Australia.

Kate wants locals and visitors to understand the quality, sustainability and excellence of agriculture in the region and represents agriculture on the Riverina Regional Tourism board (RRT).

Through her role at Southern Cotton and representation of agriculture on the RRT, Kate has been instrumental in addressing the misinformation in the public arena on cotton and irrigated crops.

In the future, Kate looks forward to developing leadership and education opportunities, not only in the cotton industry, but in all irrigated-agriculture industries.

Christine O'Mahony

Christine O'Mahony

Christine is well known in her local communities of Wallerawang, Portland and Lithgow for her efforts to help the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.

Christine has been extensively involved in the St Vincent De Paul Society for over 31 years and was recently appointed President of her local region. In addition to providing food, clothing and crisis accommodation, Christine also provides much needed emotional support. She believes empowering people, not blaming them, is the answer to combating poverty.

Christine has been a member of the Portland/Wallerawang Social Justice Group for 16 years and is currently the Secretary Treasurer. As a voice for this group she has instigated community initiatives to address difficulties facing the local community such as homelessness and unemployment.

Under Christine’s guidance the group has raised money for a number of social justice projects including “The Lojan Home for Girls” in Papua New Guinea. This home receives young women from poor families who have limited access to education, and face significant risks such as forced marriage.

Christine has also been instrumental in arranging guest speakers to visit the local community to raise social justice awareness. Past speakers have included founder of the charity ‘Youth off the Streets’, Father Chris Riley and former NSW Children's Court Magistrate, Barbara Holborow.

Christine was also a volunteer for the Portland Agricultural Show Society for 34 years and she taught in the local community for 40 years, all whilst caring for a family of her own and attending to a farm. More recently, a shortage of church clergy in her local town, prompted Christine to qualify to assist with funerals and church services.