Rural Community Leader of the Year Award: Kristy Sparrow

THE FIGHT for farmers’ rights to better internet access sees Kristy Sparrow, co-founder of Better Internet for Rural, Regional and Remote Australia (BIRRR), win the Kondinin Group and ABC Rural 2017 Rural Community Leader of the Year Award, sponsored by Market Check.
Rural Community Leader of the Year Award: Kristy Sparrow Rural Community Leader of the Year Award: Kristy Sparrow Rural Community Leader of the Year Award: Kristy Sparrow Rural Community Leader of the Year Award: Kristy Sparrow Rural Community Leader of the Year Award: Kristy Sparrow

Staff Reporter

Based on a beef cattle property in Central Western Queensland, Kristy co-founded BIRRR during 2014 to address the telecommunication issues faced by people who live and work in rural and remote Australia.

“The issue of internet access first came to my attention when personally, I wanted to know why my data was disappearing,” Kristy said.

“I started the Facebook page with fellow admin Kylie Stretton to see if I could find a solution and as I researched, I found more people with more issues. They ranged from farmers not having access at all, to those with ridiculously slow internet speeds and those who needed system and technology advice.”

Since BIRRR’s establishment, Kristy has personally assisted more than 1000 members in getting their telecommunication issues resolved.  The page now has nearly 9500 members.

“BIRRR has grown to become a national advisory group that provides technical, practical and even emotional support to its followers via Facebook,” Kristy said. “With our members’ support, we are able to lobby for viable and sustainable solutions to a wide variety of telecommunication shortcomings and failures.”

Kristy and her team have kept the conversation going on social media by instigating the often-trending hashtags #datadrought and #fixbushinternet. She assisted in the creation of the BIRRR resource website designed to help regional Australians navigate the often complicated and expensive internet access options.

Through her hours of unpaid dedication to BIRRR, Kristy has established connections with service providers, government and industry groups, and has successfully raised the profile of the #datadrought. 

Brett Stevenson, Managing Director and Founder of Market Check, said that Kristy’s dedication to improving internet access throughout regional Australia showed incredible community leadership.

“There are thousands of rural Australians who, possibly without realising it, rely on Kristy’s advocacy to grow their businesses, educate their children and be digitally innovative in agriculture,” Mr Stevenson said.

“Generations to come will be thanking Kristy for her tireless work and Market Check is thrilled to be able to help shine a light on her achievements.”

Chair of Queensland’s Agforce telecommunications committee, Georgie Somerset, said that Kristy goes above and beyond to help people she doesn’t know.

“Kristy has been completely tireless in advocating for bush telecommunications; it really hasn’t mattered what people have posted on the Facebook page, Kristy has just tried to find a solution,” Ms Somerset said.

“Kristy keenly shares her knowledge and skills, and actively mentors and encourages others to make a difference in their communities to ensure that regional Australia remains vibrant and viable.”

Kristy acknowledges that BIRRR is a community and it relies on a team of people to keep it going.

“I am not a one-woman-band and without the other committed volunteers, BIRRR wouldn’t be where it is today,” Kristy said.

“On behalf of the team, I am honoured to win the 2017 Rural Community Leader of the Year Award. It will help us raise awareness of the telecommunication issues that still affect thousands of Australians who would otherwise struggle to find a voice.”