Meet the young Trailblazers driving change across regional Australia



ABC Heywire is proud to announce and celebrate the winners of the 2021 Trailblazers competition.

These young people have big plans for the futures of their projects and the impact they hope they’ll each have on their corner of Australia, from helping to keep Indigenous language and connection to Country alive, to driving social change for people with disability.

Here’s everything you need to know about them and their 10 projects.

Sober Mates

Sam Wilson in South Geelong, Victoria

An educational online community to connect young people beyond the booze

A woman sits in a grey dress and smiles. She is in a booth with wine bottles lined up behind her.
Sam Wilson plans on running sober events and panel discussions in regional Australia as part of Sober Mates.(Supplied: Cameron Rosin)

Describing herself as a former “heavy social Aussie drinker”, Sam said she got to the point where she was no longer able to say no to a drink, anxiously watching her friends finish their glasses so she could order another for herself.

She eventually decided to become sober. But when she did, the 26-year-old struggled to find a community where she could discuss the issues of going sober in her mid-20s, which is how Sober Mates came about.

Sober Mates is an educational online platform that explores rural Australia’s relationship with alcohol.

It provides access to information and support services, tips on cutting down alcohol intake, advice on navigating social situations and empowering people to feel both comfortable and confident when socialising without alcohol.

Sam has already started planning sober events and panels in regional Australia. She hopes that Sober Mates will become an industry leader.

“When people want to explore their relationship with alcohol, I want people to know that they can come to us with all the information.”

Multicultural Youth Network

Panmarlar Pahthei, Kotnyin Bul Thon and Laila Hashimi in Bendigo, Victoria

Creating a refugee-led solution to racism and societal participation in regional Australia

Three women stand in a room and look to the camera. They each smile, the woman on the right does a peace sign.
Laila Hashimi, Panmarlar Pahthei and Kotnyin Bul Thon (from left to right), want to help their community speak up about their needs without fear.(Supplied: Multicultural Youth Network)

Panmarlar, Kotnyin and Laila belong to Bendigo’s three largest refugee communities: Karen, South Sudanese and Afghan.

Their project, Multicultural Youth Network (MYN), aims to equip young people from migrant and refugee backgrounds with the community-building skills they need to establish new lives in the Bendigo region.

Their work includes organising community events, skill-building and problem-solving workshops, as well as translating videos with COVID-19 information in them.

“As a Hazara woman, I [wanted to help] my community to understand their roles during COVID-19 despite strict gender roles within the Hazara and Afghan communities. Being in the public symbolises the freedom and importance of representation of people from multicultural communities,” Laila said.

Panmarlar added: “This is reflected in our work with MYN. The family picnics, the movie nights, and the videos we make.

Kotnyin finished, saying she hopes the group “will continue to help our community feel connected and to feel that they can be able to speak up and say anything that they want, so they won’t be scared or afraid”.

“We want to be able to continue helping our community and work together.”

Concepts of Country

Marlikka Perdrisat and Harry Jakamarra in Broome, Western Australia

Keeping Indigenous language and culture alive through digital storytelling and workshops

A man is seen standing behind a woman in a wide open plain, with several trees and shrubs far behind them. They both smile.
Marlikka Perdrisat and Harry Jakamarra want to show the value of connecting to Country.(Supplied: Concepts Of Country)

When Marlikka, a Nyikina and Wangkumara woman from regional WA, moved away for study, she realised just how important connection to Country was.

Marlikka will next year start her PhD in First Law, as she has seen first-hand how Indigenous issues are undermined by the current legal system, education system and within the media.

This is what sparked the idea for Concepts of Country: a video storytelling series explaining the meaning of words that are vital to living with Country.

She and her partner, Harry Jakamarra, who is a cinematographer from her hometown, filmed five educational videos.

The first series of Concepts of Country has already been distributed and assigned as coursework for the Indigenous Peoples and Public Law unit at Sydney University.

“The students then had to come to class and discuss it, and it really meant that that conversation was opening up in an academic world. And we’ve also had it presented at a series of law firms,” Marlikka said.

“If Australia understands us more, we can be supported in protecting people and Country.

“And so I really want [Concepts of Country] to transform the legal sector and the academic sector to show the value of how we connect to Country.”

WCMX & Adaptive Skate/Accessible Skate

Timothy Lachlan on the Gold Coast, Queensland

Accessible skate and mobility workshops creating social change for all people living with disability

A man in a wheelchair is seen preparing to go down a dip in a skate park. He wears a helmet and knee pads.
Tim Lachlan plans to set up an online community for his project so he can go global.(Supplied: Timothy Lachlan)

Tim spent a lot of his life being the only wheelchair skater at the skatepark — which was a lonely experience.

But when he started reaching out to other wheelchair users in his Far North Queensland community to encourage them to come and see what WCMX was all about, the people he approached were reluctant.

This is why he started WCMX, a skate and mobility training session that sees him teach wheelchair users how to do a 12-foot drop-in and wheelchair backflips (he’s the first in Australia to do so), as well as everyday mobility tips, such as getting up and down curbs, stairs and steep ramps.

Now based on the Gold Coast, Tim is passionate about helping people with disability all over Australia pursue adventure.

At the moment, he’s studying occupational therapy. Once he becomes a registered occupational therapist, he wants to continue raising awareness about the importance of making social spaces accessible for everyone.

He also wants to start his own business, using skating and wheelchair skating as occupational therapy. And he has his sights set on creating an online community.

“I think it’s something that can help every person with a disability — even if they don’t do backflips,” he said.

Saltwater Sistas

Rhiannon Mitchell in Korora, New South Wales

A mentoring program for Indigenous women and youth in ocean conservation, wellbeing, culture and values

A woman looks to her left as she stands in a green forest. She wears a multicoloured shawl, her hair is down.
Rhiannon Mitchell’s Saltwater Sistas project sees her run beach clean-ups and teach lessons on marine ecology and human impacts on the ocean among many other things.(Supplied: Rhiannon Mitchell)

Rhiannon’s love for the ocean and all things sea life is what influenced her to start Saltwater Sistas on Gumbaynggirr Country.

The proud Mununjali woman runs empowering workshops to educate and raise awareness of ocean conservation. Activities include beach clean-ups, lessons on marine ecology and human impacts on the ocean, exploring the coastal environment, learning from elders and other ocean warriors, as well as snorkelling.

“I’d love to go around to remote communities and teach kids who live near the ocean about ocean conservation.”

Rhiannon is also keen to create a three-month program with weekly meet-ups for young Indigenous women to learn more about ocean conservation and marine life.

“I think once you learn that stuff, you become someone who’s going to look after the environment as well,” she said.

Student Mental Health Tasmania

Matt Etherington and Cari Tan in Hobart, Tasmania

A mental health program delivering education and empowerment for international and rural students

A white man sits next to an Asian woman on a set of stairs. They both look to the camera and smile, sunshine is on their faces.
Matt Etherington (left) and Cari Tan have reached out to more than 850 tertiary students since they launched their project in 2017.(Supplied: Matt Etherington and Cari Tan)

With mental health impacting one in every four students in Australia, it’s no wonder Matt and Cari, who are from Hobart and Launceston, decided to try to do something about this.

Student Mental Health Tasmania is a student-led not-for-profit which aims to increase the wellbeing of students through training, awareness, calls to action, advocacy and consultations.

The group has taken more than 850 tertiary students through accredited mental health training, and reached many hundreds more through community events and advocacy, since it launched in 2017.

The group encourages peer support, self-care, community resilience, culture change and crisis preparedness.

The program has partnered with headspace, Lifeline, the Australian Red Cross and Beyond Blue to help young Tasmanian students build resilience and thriving futures.

When asked what he hopes Student Mental Health Tasmania will turn into, Matt said: “So many things!

“We’re hoping to translate that into an ongoing connection between international students and the community.

“We’re planning to run The Sunflower Project again, where we invite students to plant sunflower seedlings and reflect on self-care as well as build awareness about the impact of small positive actions over time.”

Mozzi: Always Remember To Stay Deadly!

Dre Ngatokorua in Port Augusta, South Australia

Multimedia workshops giving a voice to young people in the Port Augusta community

A man wears a shirt and has headphones adopt his head. He stands at a DJ's deck and points two fingers to camera.
Dre created Mozzi: Always Rememeber To Stay Deadly! to prove to young people in his community that their voices matter.(Supplied: Dre Ngatokorua)

Dre is of Wnagkangurru, Adnyamathanha, Kuyani, Luritja, Deiri, Yankunytjatara, Cook Island and Maori descent.

He started out as a volunteer at Umeewarra Media and now has a permanent show on the radio station called The Straight Out.

Dre wants to encourage more young people to do the same and share his deadly skills with his remote community.

He runs workshops and mentorship programs through Umeewarra Media that cover everything from short filmmaking, interview skills and radio presenting to music-making. Next year he plans to run a workshop on teaching young women how to DJ.

He said it was important for young people to know their voices mattered and that was the focus of the workshops.

Dre wants to continue uplifting his community and to encourage other organisations to take on similar projects.

“I hope we get bigger in scale so we have a bigger outreach for people. It’s an ongoing process.”


Shennae Neal in Yarrabah, Queensland

A culturally safe and supportive fitness bootcamp to encourage and motivate regional communities to make healthy life choices

A woman smiles as she looks to the camera while holding a bar bell. She has gloves on and a black mask around her neck.
Shennae Neal says MOTIV8 NATION is only the starting point to continuing health education in her community.(Supplied: Shennae Neal)

Shennae, a proud Gunggandji woman, remembers noticing growing numbers of people living in her community without work, struggling with their health and lacking purpose a few years back.

And so, in 2015, she opened up the Gilpul Café and made the decision to hire only young Indigenous people in need of work.

Shennae also ensured the café was stocked with plenty of healthy options to encourage her community to make healthy life choices.

She is eager to continue health education for people in her community and is currently running fitness sessions once a fortnight with a qualified personal trainer.

With 15-20 people attending the sessions, she hopes it will continue to grow so she can include general fitness, bootcamp, healthy cooking classes and health tests in the sessions.

“If I speak to five people, maybe one of them five people continue on to live a healthier lifestyle, or say, ‘OK, I want to follow my dreams now’.

“I want to give hope through this project … this project is just the starting point.”


Emma Serisier in Lowanna, New South Wales

Making STEM cool and inventing ways to reduce emissions to protect future food sustainability

A woman stands in front of a wall of green plants. Her hand is on her waist, her hair is down and she wears a dressy top.
Emma Serisier is setting up a mentoring program and making a STEMpower app.(Supplied: Emma Serisier)

Emma invented STEMpower as a way for farmers to manage their soil and water quality and help counteract their environmental footprint.

Eggshell waste is used as a bio-absorbent and can be used to decrease the phosphate run-off into natural waterways from agricultural fertilisers and animal manure.

Emma developed a mathematical model and website for farmers to calculate cost savings and application rates of eggshells on their soils, and won the Australian Stockholm Junior Water Prize with her invention.

Next on the agenda for Emma is kickstarting a mentoring program.

“I’m on the search for people who can participate and be involved in that, and start to bring that to life, making connections between mentors and mentees and helping them reach where they want to be,” she said.

As for the science part of her project?

“I’m working on putting an app together and making that more accessible to farmers and people who want to use it,” Emma said.

Farm Vlogs

Mark Merrett in Kaniva, Victoria

A series of educational and tutorial videos showcasing daily farm life

A man wears an orange hi-vis shirt and a cap with sunglasses on it as he holds a smiling baby while standing in a field.
Mark Merrett wants to promote agriculture to people in the regions as well as the big cities across Australia.(Supplied: Mark Merrett)

Mark lives and breathes the farm life. Having grown up in western Victoria on his family’s mixed farm, it’s all he knows and loves.

But Mark knows not everyone has access to all that he’s learned living and working on his farm.

Enter Farm Vlogs: an educational video series that shares what really happens on Mark’s farm.

The aim? To promote agriculture to people in regional areas as well as in cities, and to increase the level of awareness and understanding that everyone has of farmers in Australia.

“In 2016 I started making some short farm videos for my nephews and niece in Melbourne to keep them up-to-date with what we were doing on the farm,” he said.

“Being kids, they weren’t quite as passionate as I was about the videos.

“They show some of the highs and lows of farming, as well as showing what the food we produce looks like before making it to supermarket shelves.”

Farm Vlogs’ success has already surpassed Mark’s expectations — it’s allowed him to connect with thousands of people across the globe.

But he’s not stopping there.

“I’d love to see these videos used in schools and on television, so if you have any ideas at all, please get in touch with me.”


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