It was just months ago that Grace Brennan sat at her kitchen table and started an Instagram account called @BuyFromtheBush to help promote drought-stricken businesses.
Now, she’s been asked to deliver the Australia Day address, becoming the first woman from regional Australia to do so.
And the kitchen table was mentioned during her speech on Tuesday as being particularly symbolic.
“When asked recently what one image summed up the drought for me, it was a woman at her kitchen table in tears,” she said.
Brennan shared how difficult it was to provide a bio for the day, as had been requested of her by the organisers. She said she can imagine that it comes naturally to those in the audience, “but for me, it inevitably results in a pause. Then a sigh. Then a short reflection on what on Earth I’ve been doing with my life and a desire to write something like, ‘Grace Brennan… still finding my feet’.”
Brennan said she can imagine that many women across the country may feel the same way: women who’ve been working full- or part-time, managing businesses, coordinating local activities, volunteering their time for various causes and being mums, partners, friends and unofficial carers.
“[They are wondering] How do you find the inspiring in the ordinary? How do you find the value in unpaid work. How do you find the credentials in a lifetime of career decisions based more on sacrifices than ambitions?”
— Section 8 Guitars (@Section8Guitars) January 21, 2020
Brennan shared how she came to start #BuyFromtheBush, explaining how she’d long been obsessed with different collections of fashion, gifts and homewares that enabled “bush women to feel at least a little out of the loop”.
But many of the businesses selling such goods were faced with limitations, made significantly worse by the drought, so she searched for a solution,”to allow people to feel valued, the need for both symbolic and real support from the city to the bush”.
“Social media provided the solution,” she said.
Social media also enabled the initiative to build and expand quickly; the @BuyFromtheBush Instagram account jumped to more than 50,000 followers in just a couple of weeks. Businesses that have been featured by the campaign report seeing sales going up a massive 660% over the previous year.
“Buy From The Bush is less about crisis relief and more about sustainable support for rural communities in the long term. It is not about charity. It is about investment … Importantly, it invites a simple action … see it, like it, buy it.”
But Brennan said to achieve long-term impact, the ‘bush brand’ needs to be further developed and branded — to go beyond retail, to tap into services and other types of businesses being run from the bush.
Brennan also addressed the bushfire crisis, saying how difficult it’s been to watch, and how the devastation can often seem like too much to comprehend.
But she said amongst the fear and loss that we’ve witnessed, we’ve also seen inspiring stories of courage and people reaching out to support each other.
Still, she noted how the same social media channels that had been supporting the #BuyFromtheBush initiative with positivity have then been heavy with “angst, resentment and anger” since the bushfires. There are people who’ve been disappointed, who feel like they have been ignored, and are in less than subtle ways saying, “we told you so”.
Brennan cautioned against blame, saying that blame is merely isolating and disempowering.
“The foundation of the Australian identify in the bush is about doing. It’s about solving problems,” she said.
This article was first published on Women’s Agenda.