New beginnings

The Country Education Foundation of Australia moves into new premises.

Continuing its long tradition of helping young people realise their potential, the Country Education Foundation Australia takes up residence in its new home in Orange.

Peter Holmes

24 March, 2020

The Country Foundation of Australia now has 44 communities around Australia and about 450 volunteers

It was the mid-1990s in the small, well-preserved town of Boorowa on the NSW South West Slopes, and things were looking a little grim. 

“The town wasn’t doing too well,” recalls Nick Burton Taylor, who hails from Boorowa. “The wool industry was struggling and the pastoral houses were leaving town. All the banks left and the young men, in particular, were drifting into the shearing sheds as roustabouts. [The town] really had a feeling of drift.”

A plan was hatched in Boorowa, and a group was formed. The town needed to help its younger residents “make the next step, and to be a little more ambitious in the opportunities that education provided”, says Burton Taylor, who began his career with Price Waterhouse Coopers, founded Hays Personnel Services in 1976, and is currently Chancellor of Southern Cross University, among several directorships and businesses involved in beef, wool and grain.

“The community supported us financially, and then we looked next door to the other small towns and thought that that is exactly what they need.”

And so was born the Country Education Foundation of Australia. The mission was to assist young regional and rural people in undertaking further education, whether at university or in an apprenticeship. And not just with cash grants, but with mentoring and a feeling of community involvement.

“We established the Country Education Foundation of Australia as an overarching supporter, and someone to provide connections to the university sector, provide sponsorship – such as we’ve enjoyed with the Audi Foundation – and provide a governance structure. We now have 44 communities around Australia and about 450 volunteers.”

Although there is a small paid staff at the CEFA’s new headquarters in Orange in the NSW Central West, each community wanting to support local university students and apprentices must help raise funds by all the classic Australian means - cake stalls, raffles, sausage sizzles, trivia nights, donations. 

The young adults may receive assistance for fees, travel, books, tools or other expenses. The grants are generally modest in nature ($500-$5,000) but come with the support, encouragement and mentoring of the townsfolk. Burton Taylor says this gives the community a sense of feeling invested in the progress of the grant recipient, and lets the recipient know “the community is saying have a go, we’ve got your back”.

“You walk into the newspaper shop and she’s given some money [to CEFA] and she says ‘Now Pete are you passing? You’re not wasting the money are you?’ It makes you disciplined, and it doesn’t do young people any harm to realise that things come with responsibility.”

Burton Taylor says the CEF has relationships with 21 universities that provide support services and scholarships. “It’s given [students] mentoring opportunities. They have to leave home to go to a bigger city or a bigger town to conduct their studies and that can be challenging as they’ve been protected in a small community, and then they’re thrust into that environment.”

Assisting apprentices, says Burton Taylor, is an acknowledgement that “not everyone is suited to university”. 

It makes you disciplined, and it doesn’t do young people any harm to realise that things come with responsibility

The CEFA’s new headquarters are in a house that was gifted by an anonymous donor

The CEFA’s new headquarters are in a house that was gifted by an anonymous donor. At the launch of the HQ earlier this month, student Cody Logan - who is in his second year of a Bachelor of Paramedicine at Charles Sturt University in nearby Bathurst - spoke about the impact the CEFA’s support has had on his ability to juggle his myriad commitments. 

“University is huge and scary and different from high school,” Logan told the crowd of donors, who had travelled from Sydney and beyond for the event. “I’m the first in the family to pursue further education and just having someone behind me to push me and make sure I’m OK at university really helped.

“This year is full-on. I have a full load of uni five days a week and I’m still working at the IGA Friday afternoons, Tuesday afternoons, and Saturday and Sunday. Throw in assessments and placements and I’m really busy. The grants help with the utility bills at home, rent and fuel to travel to Bathurst. [The CEFA] is like a little community here that represents our community and helps our community.”

When Jo Millett and her husband Chris, from Sydney’s eastern suburbs, were researching charities to support a few years ago, their interest was piqued by the CEFA. 

“It’s really important that kids aren’t sent to the city without backup,” says Jo, who attended the launch with Chris, and is a former boarding school student. “The local communities fundraise for them and it means when the kids go back to their local communities they are asked about their uni results and there is mentorship.”

It’s a community-based approached that has yielded dividends since the beginning, and continues to drive positive change in the lives of young people from rural area and the communities they represent.