Local leaders are helping Victoria’s regional communities thrive with new projects and ideas.
Gunditjmara and Yorta-Yorta man Troy Lovett has lived in Heywood in Victoria’s south west for his entire life and is passionate about making a difference for the local Aboriginal community.
Working as a Community Development Officer for the Victorian Aboriginal Community Services Association, Troy supports Indigenous youth to achieve their full potential through leadership programs and camps.
He is also Heywood Football Netball Club’s vice president and leads an Aboriginal dance group and boys leadership program.
Troy continues to look for ways to boost his own leadership skills to make a positive difference for his local Aboriginal community. A big step in his objective was undertaking Leadership Great South Coast’s Regional Community Leadership Program in 2020.
“This program was a chance to take the next step in developing my leadership skills,” Troy says.
“Being involved in the community was part of my upbringing and growing up in a small close community means there’s always a chance to get involved and get a lot of things done as a community.”
Thanks to the program Troy was able to work in a team to help create a war memorial dedicated to Gunditjmara servicemen and women.
The mural can be seen from anywhere in Heywood, covering an old water tower in the town. The artwork brings awareness, and empowers the local community, by acknowledging the sacrifices made by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders during the first and second world wars.
It features Troy’s relatives, Privates Herbert, Frederick, Edward and Leonard Lovett and Purnim man Reginald Saunders who was the first Aboriginal Australian to become an officer in the Australian Army.
The artwork also aims to bring attention to the Aboriginal Australians who were denied entitlements and recognition when they returned to Australia after serving.
Following a community consultation period, the mural grew bigger than was first planned.
“The mural had a great reaction and is helping unlock the full story of Indigenous people serving in the first and second world wars – it’s certainly helped get that conversation started,” Troy says.
Since it was completed last year, the tower was also featured in this year’s ANZAC day parade in Heywood where Troy was able to speak to an audience about the stories behind the artwork.
“For me, the mural instilled a bit of confidence to tackle bigger things or to put myself out there a bit more,” Troy says.
“It’s helped me become more comfortable with public speaking and to step up my leadership at work and the other groups I am part of.”
Jessica Kelly is looking for new ways to engage with her community to improve and understand the challenges that Victoria’s regions are facing.
As a Central Goldfields Shire local, she is focused on tackling food insecurity issues in towns like Maryborough through volunteer groups and programs, and as a graduate of LEAD Loddon Murray’s Leading Excellence Maryborough and Loddon Murray Community Leadership programs.
Jessica’s interest in addressing the issue of food insecurity also developed through her role as a Product Development Manager for specialty bread products at True Foods – the Shire’s largest private employer.
Established in 2001, True Foods is an Australian owned company focused on manufacturing tortilla wraps and other flatbread products. Its products are distributed to major supermarkets and hospitality providers across Australia.
“I have always felt that a leader was anyone who committed themselves to supporting those around them to create a better future,” Jessica says.
“The spark in communities that comes from strong connection and shared progress is an absolute buzz to experience, and when you stretch into leadership roles, I feel you get to create and experience that spark more often.”
The Victorian Government’s Regional Community Leadership Program has supported development of local leaders across Victoria through organisations such as LEAD Loddon Murray.
The program backs a diverse network of emerging leaders through stronger representation of women, Aboriginal leaders, multicultural community members and people living with a disability.
A cornerstone of the Regional Community Leadership Program is enabling various programs and initiatives to assist leaders in enhancing their skills in project management, public speaking, advocacy and collaboration.
Jessica graduated from the program in 2019 and has used the experience to build up her community networks to help address food insecurity.
“I investigated a collaboration between local business and community stakeholders in the Central Goldfields region, to better optimise how our local food system can connect with our service providers to more consistently meet the high demand for food relief in our community,” she says.
Jessica has since joined the Loddon Campaspe Regional Partnership as a committee member where she continues to provide her insight to the Victorian Government on how to improve the region.
The Regional Community Leadership Program also increased Jessica’s community awareness through the forums provided to hear from a diverse range of guest speakers and the opportunity to network across the region.
These skills are trickling down into her current role at True Foods where she is now able to better seek out and connect with new opportunities across the region as part of the company’s senior leadership team.
“It was great to see the program consider gender diversity and First Nations reconciliation plans through listening to guest speakers and their firsthand experiences – it really matures the conversation beyond your own lens,” she says.
For more information about the Regional Community Leadership Program, visit Regional Development Victoria’s website.