Having the “vision, influence and strong leadership skills to achieve success”

Having the “vision, influence and strong leadership skills to achieve success”

By Maree Wallace

Maree Wallace

I first met Mary Salce when I became involved in the Women Who Mean Business (WWMB) project in 2004. We bonded immediately and have been friends since. Mary is warm and friendly to everyone but also very persuasive and focused. With Mary’s encouragement, I participated in the Warragul workshops conducted by Rural Women’s Network (RWN) which led to the Linear Park Arts Trail project. Mary is a driven person, determined to fight for social justice and the rights of rural women. Her great desire is for women to be acknowledged for their work on farms and in the community.

Mary is renowned for setting up the RWN in 1994. She organised the first International Conference for Women in Agriculture that year. She had the “vision, influence and strong leadership skills to achieve success”. 

Mary is a former board member of West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority and former Deputy Chairperson of the Lake Wellington Rivers Authority. 

Having lunch at Mary’s home is like dining in an up-market restaurant – so many courses. Mary loves gardening and preserving her fruit. Visitors always go home loaded up with fresh vegetables, fruit, relishes and cuttings from Mary and her husband Reno’s bountiful garden. For Mary, the garden is a place where she relaxes and contemplates her life’s journey. 

Mary knew I was going through a rough patch recently. My favourite colour is purple so she presented me with three packs of purple tulips. Mary loves meeting for a coffee and cake and is generous to a tee, often paying for everyone’s meals. 

Mary is a wonderful companion. She has the capacity to listen and be empathetic. She taught me to seize every opportunity that comes my way, to live life to the fullest and to look after my health. We enjoy long telephone chats in which we discuss everything from the state of the world, our health and emotional well-being, meal plans, farming issues, education and the health system. Family is the number one priority for Mary who needs to be reminded to take care of herself as well as others.

Mary is inspired by rural women. She dislikes hypocrisy and people who are arrogant and unapproachable. Mary herself has a strong connection to the whole Gippsland community. She can be feisty, especially when it comes to feminist issues. 

Mary cannot sit still. She likes to be kept busy. For instance, in 2018, Mary helped people with gambling addiction. She put her financial skills to good use by planning their budgets to get them out of the ‘red’ and to give them strategies to overcome the desire to gamble.

Mary loves going to Melbourne for concerts and exhibitions. One of our latest cultural adventures was a viewing of the Terracotta Warriors at the National Gallery of Victoria. Another time, I visited the Invisible Farmer project held by Museum Victoria in Melbourne and happened to mention that I was a friend of Mary Salce. The curator, Catherine Forge, replied, “Not the Mary Salce?!”

I admire Mary’s sense of style – she is always immaculately dressed in the latest trendy clothes. 

Mary is actually a Dame. She received an AO in the Queen’s Birthday Honours awards for her “leadership and advocacy roles and her distinguished service to women, especially in rural communities”.  When I tease her about dining out with a Dame, she is modest and dismissive. Mary remains deeply interested in contemporary issues facing rural Australia and its future. 

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