Christine Weston has a knack for seeing the opportunity in adversity.
Whatever the challenge – and whatever the scale – this once high school teacher turned international marketer and innovator has carved for herself a reputation for making things happen in regional and rural communities.
Christine, who was the guest on Project Leap’s Episode Five is a master at creating the proverbial silk purse from the sow’s ear – or at least putting the sow, and other fabulous animals, on bikes for a tourist trail with a difference.
Her home town is Cumnock – a pocket of food bowl production, with wheat, canola and barley as well as Short Horn, Wagu and Angus cattle, Merino sheep and lamb.
It’s about an hour from Orange and, in another direction, an hour from Dubbo.
“When you are passionate about keeping your home town … keeping your school and your school bus, your industries and the jobs … I think there is a strong woman in every town who will make things happen when they want these things and are passionate about keeping their town alive,” Christine said.
Christine’s idea of the One Dollar Farmhouse was a simple one that worked.
From a single conversation this is a project that grew and grew – to today where there are more than 25,000 subscribers to the project newsletter and it has gone nationally.
It was a concept that started as what Christine calls a “social experiment”.
She said those who were keen, needed to meet criteria around being a family with kids who would attend the school and be prepared to stay for three years, community involvement in everything from the pony club to volunteer organisations, skills and credentials to rebuild some of the rundown farm houses they’d call home for three years, and the mettle to live in a rural community with only rain water, a septic and few of the trimmings of city life.
The experiment worked and 10 years later, the project is still going strong, with Christine on hand to help other communities hoping to make a difference through the project.
“I was very aware of the magic of the $1 concept and it was an old-fashioned way of attracting attention – but it had a lot more meaning,” Christine said.
“Here we are, 10 years down the track, and we still have the school open, the bus run and the café is still going and we have new businesses opening!”
The project not only saved the town, it was a big step toward putting it on the map.
But it was just the beginning.
Animals on Bikes was next – a concept to attract tourists back to Cumnock from the Dubbo Zoo, after the main road was diverted away from the town.
“It’s all about reinvigorating our little town … it’s about building a stronger community.
“It’s easy to sit back and just think, what will be, will be.”
But while all these projects define a strong public persona – one underpinned by a literal world of experience – there is a deeply personal motivation for Christine.
For Christine, who had “married her farmer” and swapped the world’s brightest lights for the peace of the Aussie bush, the skills she’d amassed over a career in media, marketing, web development and branding suddenly too on a whole new – more imperative – meaning.
Yes, it is about building the “brand” of her region. Yes, it is about events and attractions.
But at the heart of everything Christine does is a simple and vital concept: keeping small, regional and rural communities like Cumnock relevant and alive; telling their story, building their brand, taking that to the world.
Every single project is about community. It’s about changing the dialogue and the conversation in town. It’s about town pride and getting the naysayers, the loathers and, importantly, those at risk back into the fold and getting people involved.
“Without a doubt, we haven’t had rain in this area for a long long time and things are quite dismal. But every one of these projects are a bit of light relief.
“It is hard though, I don’t think farmers or the local people are going to pop down and tell them their problems, so the subtleness of events and the things that make you laugh, makes us stronger.
“It’s still a challenge and I don’t know the answer, but this is something.”
It might be a town under threat, a relocated highway, drought, a need for attractions (and decent internet) or the perpetual challenge of wellbeing, mental health and a sense of community.
It might be a lot of hard work.
But Christine is all about leveraging the adversity and the strength of the bush – and those who call it home – and making good things happen.
Her next focus, while juggling what she already has on her plate, is taking the Cumnock brand to the world.
“With the world of online we can actually tell our stories now and there is huge opportunity and we need to make sure we have our high standards and maintain those high standards.
“It’s so rewarding when you actually see the results. You have actually saved your town, or you have saved your school … and there is a place for our kids to grow up.
“It’s what we love and it’s what they love.”
And really, that right there, is motivation enough.