2008 Winners

on Tuesday, 22 May 2012. Posted in Leadership Achievement Award for Women (LAAW)

SARAH ELSTON & Caitlin Grigsby, Co-founders of The Blue Stockings Project


 sarah-elston  Sarah Elston

 caitlin-grigsby Caitlin Grigsby

Sarah Elston and Caitlin Grigsby who are in their early twenties and are the founders of the Blue Stockings Association are the Winners of the 2008 Leadership Achievement Awards for Women. Together, they turned around a small scale Blue Stockings university event to a community celebration of women’s achievements within Gippsland to fund and encourage the education of women from diverse backgrounds, particularly students from Monash Gippsland and VCE LatrobeValley schools.  In 2007 they were successful in raising twelve scholarships and in September of 2007, The Blue Stockings Association was initiated to ensure that the success of the initial event is replicated long into the future.

 Background Information:

The Blue Stockings Association was initially supposed to be a one off project between Monash University Gippsland Student Union (MUGSU Inc) board members, Sarah Elston and Caitlin Grigsby, and a group of approximately 8 women and men within MonashUniversity and the Gippsland community. Originally the idea was to host a small in-house dinner to raise some money from tickets for a small ($500) scholarship. The scholarship winner would be decided by nominations submitted by peers.  

Co-founders Sarah and Caitlin pursued a greater aim which later evolved into a gala ball where 13 scholarships of $1000 were presented to women of diverse demographics. The event and overall project which included a week of events such as business women’s discussion panels and an alumni luncheon, were an incredible success. In 2007, the Blue Stocking project raised nearly $30,000 solely from the generous support of the Gippsland business and general community, MUGSU Inc and MonashUniversity.

After the amazing success of the 2007 project, the Blue Stocking Working Party and its numerous investors and supporters were all unanimously passionate and driven about the prospect of continuing and growing the Blue Stocking cause, and as a result, Sarah and Caitlin established the project in September of 2007 in the form of an independent Non for Profit Body – Blue Stockings Association Inc. with the vision: Empowering Women through Education.

At the time of Blue Stockings initial developments, both women were board members for the Monash University Gippsland Student Union Inc. Sarah Elston was in her second year as Womyn’s Director, and Caitlin was in the midst of her first term as Education Vice President of the Student Union. It was in this environment that both women feel they discovered the great need for support for women studying across various modes, and attribute their passion to do more, by the restrictions and barriers they both faced in their times as Student Union members.

“The financial strains on the Student Union were so much so, that we were practically left with no other choice but to seek the financial support from our business community. We were both unbelievably frustrated with the limitations we faced as representatives of the Union, in both time and funding post VSU, and it was only as a result of this experience that we sought, and most definitely found, the many volunteers and working party members that dedicated their time and often, money to our cause.” Miss Grigsby states.

“From day one we knew we hit a nerve. People were willing to invest is us, and we were thirsty to succeed. Sarah and I were surrounded by the most brilliant mentors, and encouraged by our family and friends to give it our all – so we did. The Gippsland business community really came to the plate donating thousands of dollars towards the scholarships and forums, and that support continues today”.

Both Sarah and Caitlin are steadfast that the achievements of Blue Stockings cannot be solely attributed to them. However, both women acknowledge and exude great pride in its success. “We had no idea what we were in for. The whole experience has been an amazing, tiring, frustrating, uplifting and eye-opening experience – much like a roller coaster really. But it’s all been so worth it” explains Miss Grigsby.

“The simplicity of it is, there is now a point of reference for women breaking the mould in Gippsland, and chasing their academic goals. There is a support for women looking to strengthen and develop themselves and by extension, providing significant benefit to their families and networks, by their own education.”

Their plans for the future are clear – tackle Government departments for funding and support. “Blue Stockings has the potential to be something amazing. It is our vision to see the association providing short courses in everything from resume writing to changing a tyre, right throughout the year. We endeavour to develop the scholarships on offer to more financially significant amounts, and deliver them to women across the whole of Gippsland- from VCE level to University and TAFE students. We want to facilitate networking and relationships between Gippsland Women and business, and to empower Gippsland women to take on more leadership roles within our communities. We then intend to take on the world”. Sarah and Caitlin are currently seeking legal and financial advice around the structure of the organization, setting up working parties and organizing plans for the 2008 fundraiser and presentation ball in August.

The winners of the 2008 Centre of Leadership for Women Leadership Achievement Award, are still in shock of the recognition they have received. Miss Elton explains; “This award means so very much to the both of us. To be recognized for all of the hard work we have and continue to put in, but in particular, recognizing the hard work that our loved ones and supporters have and continue to put in, is a great validation of the challenge and of the outcomes we have attained with Blue Stockings. On a personal level, this award helps us finally digest what we have achieved and what we are capable of doing. There is such a difference to be made in our communities to benefit women and by extension; they’re family, friends and communities. To be able to speak and advocate for these women is a real privilege. But to be told that we’ve done a good job, just makes you want to work even harder”.

This Award, the winners argue, gives the greatest benefit to their cause. Miss Grigsby explains, “What we do, what we are working so hard for, is only strengthened by the support of this amazing achievement. It’s out there in a national forum, and it just makes it that little bit harder to ignore. We intend to use the confidence and encouragement we have gained from this accomplishment to invest ourselves in reaching greater audiences, helping more women, seeking more financial support from our government, and from our communities. This award highlights and confirms that our cause is a worthy one, and that all involved in the Blue Stockings Association are doing a great thing- something that deserves to be invested in. This award will bring the spotlight to the Blue Stockings Association, and to the voices of all women pursuing education and is testament to what a woman can do once empowered through education in whatever form it may take. We are so grateful for this recognition and for those who support this award. We hope that this award inspires other women to stand up and take action for what they believe in.

Sarah Elston and Caitlin Grigsby's formal note of thanks upon receiving the Award:

"Being the winners of the 2008 CLW Leadership Achievement award has been quite an amazing step forward for both of us. We have had an increase in exposure locally and have had a high amount of community stakeholders express interest in becoming involved in the Association after the CLW award was announced. The 2008 Blue Stockings Inc Scholarships are looking to be increased to $1,200; with many sponsors from last year as well as several new sponsors contributing to the support of women in their pursuits of education. Personally; the receipt of the award has provided the both of us with a rekindled enthusiasm and drive to develop the Blue Stockings Association into a sustainable body that can provide support and guidance to women within the local community in an ongoing capacity. We would like to acknowledge that without the support of our sponsors in 2007 including the birthplace of the project at Monash University Gippsland and MUGSU Inc; our project would not have been as successful as it was. We are both incredibly honoured to be the 2008 winners and commend the other recipients on their efforts in leadership - it is very humbling to be amongst such inspiring women. We would also like to acknowledge the amazing works of the CLW founder Diann Rodgers-Healey, the panel of judges and the contributions and support of CLW's numerous sponsors and key supporters."


Finalist of the 2008 Leadership Achievement Award



 Juliet Bourke

In 2003 Juliet Bourke established the Taskforce on Care Costs, a strategic alliance between business and community organisations to investigate the relationship between work and the cost of care (for children, elders and people with a disability) and to advocate reforms which were fair, economically sustainable and provided carers with real choice. 

Between 2003 and 2007 Juliet led TOCC, providing it with direction and energy.  During this period TOCC published four major research reports on work/care issues and solutions, raised community awareness of the work/cost of care dynamic (via sustained media coverage and an e-card campaign) and stimulated the adoption of key work/family election policies. 

In particular in 2007, as part of its election policy the ALP committed to increase the childcare tax rebate to cover 50% of out-of-pocket expenses (capped at $7,500 pa).  This commitment reflects a specific recommendation made by TOCC to reduce the high cost of care, and increase levels of workforce participation.

Juliet Bourke was chosen as a Finalist for being the driving force behind the Taskforce since its inception.   Her achievement brought about a profound contribution to the national debate on how to support carers.   In inspiring a wide range of business and non-government stakeholders to join together to investigate the issues around work and care, Juliet created a benchmark model for how to synthesize the talents, resources and interests of disparate entities to meet a common need. Her achievement as Taskforce Chair demonstrated clarity of vision, creativity and integrity.


Award: Short-listed Applicants 


Helen Anne Clarke

Helen Clarke has been working with rural women in the “Renewal for Rural Women” and “Women’s Wellness / Hand to the Land” projects since 2001. 

  In 2007, Helen ran two gatherings in Walgett for rural women:  

  1. (1) A “Renewal for Rural Women” weekend retreat that provided between 20 – 30 women with holistic support for their physical, emotional, cognitive and spiritual lives (May 2007)
  2. (2) A Women’s Wellness weekend entitled “A Hand to the Land” which provided holistic well being supports for women.This is captured in a DVD entitled “A Hand to the Land”. (June 2007)

"Through the “Hand to the Land” and “Renewal for Rural Women” programmes I aimed to support women in isolated rural areas, physically, emotionally and spiritually.  I believe the programmes supported the women and in turn supported their families," says Helen Clarke. 

Helen is recognised as a leader in the community for reaching out to women on the land and developing support for them  in drought affected areas.


paula curotte 

Paula Curotte

"In July 2006 I set out to start a choir for women who wanted to sing uplifting music in a community setting. It was important to me that this is an inclusive activity, and that women who perhaps had never sung before, or who had been told that they had “no voice”, would feel welcomed and comfortable when joining this activity.  Because of this, there was no requirement for members to be able to read music, to audition or to have had any prior experience with singing.  

Eighteen months later, I am delighted and proud to know that we have a vibrant choir of between 15 – 20 women who have been courageous enough to share my vision.  We have joined together in fortnightly singing sessions, we have had four workshops, two performances – one in conjunction with another local community choir, made practice CDs and a DVD of our first performance and we are now looking forward to singing in Tasmania next July at the Festival of Voices.  We intend to continue our goal of two public performances a year and plan to be part of the Multiple Sclerosis Society’s “Go for Gold” Scholarship Presentation evening in 2008.

Indeed the Soufflé Sisters have achieved what our motto says:  WE RISE UP SINGING”



Danielle Ecuyer

"I set out to help create awareness on climate change and sustainability in my community. I was acting on the belief think global and act local, to create the necessary change that humanity must address as both a moral and economic imperative. My son is the light of my life and his existence gives me the strength and courage to stand up for what I believe in, which is a concerted effort at all levels of society to consider what legacy they are leaving for future generations.

We are at cross roads in humanities history, where the old model is failing us and our beautiful planet. In order to survive humanity needs to recognise that without our richness of biodiversity and the resources that many of us take for granted, we will not survive and it will be the poor and lower socio economic groups that suffer the most. In the 21st century this is not acceptable. As a species we need to evolve to a higher plane of understanding, that real personal growth and satisfaction, comes not just from houses, cars, material possessions, but it comes with giving back and make the world a better place.

When all is said and done and we leave this planet, our future generations will judge us not upon how much we consumed, but what we left for them. Surely our legacy to our children must be not only good health and an education, but a planet that they can survive in, without wars, famine and social injustice and inequity. In many ways Climate Change is a merely a symptom of the world’s greater malaise, that we just stopped caring enough about other human beings."



Rhonda Obad

It was through the death of her son Tony in 1998 to a heroin overdose that the founder of Bridge Back To Life Foundation Rhonda Obad embarked on her journey in hope of making a difference for others. Rhonda has said that it has not been arriving at the destination that has been the most important thing but the journey getting there and all the wonderful people she has met along the way.  

Rhonda in 1999 founded Bridge Back To Life Foundation a not for profit organisation whose work is devoted to the enhancement of children and young peoples lives. 

 For the past several years volunteers of the Foundation has worked tirelessly to secure builders and most materials for free to erect a home for youth at risk aged between 12 years to 18 years.  This was achieved solely through the commitment of 10 key volunteers. 

Consultations with Young Shire Council, Mayor Jerry Bailey and Tony Kelly Minister of NSW lands have helped to secure the land required to erect the home. This gesture of kindness from those concerned demonstrates a wonderful community spirit and is a further strong early indicator of the support this project has in the Young community of NSW. Building of the home will commence in 2008 and the building of the children’s lives will be ongoing.


Award: Highly Recommended


Margaret Gurry

Margaret Gurry is the Founder and Co-ordinator of the The Friday Night School which was created to give children from non-English speaking backgrounds, in particular refugee children from third world countries, educational opportunities not available to them to help them to achieve success in whatever vocation they chose. Margaret Gurry also wanted to break down the barriers of isolation and loneliness.

The Friday Night School is based around a tutoring program held each Friday night. It has developed to include camps, scholarships, textbooks and computers and to enable wider social involvement from the children's families The Friday Night School has over its eleven years, and with the assistance of hundreds of dedicated volunteers, enabled many children to succeed.