Natascha Wernick's Story - The Invaluable Contribution of Rural Women to Community Development

Twenty-two years ago, Natascha Wernick made a life-changing decision, leaving her city life in Brisbane for a deeper connection with nature. She drove across regional NSW with her 4-year-old, seeking a new home. Struck by Northern NSW's beauty, she settled on a serene 13-hectare piece of land beneath a sacred mountain. Here, Natascha found tranquillity, watching the platypuses in the river and the fireflies on warm summer nights.

In the early 2000s, during the "bead fashion craze," Natascha launched Barbereki Beads. She hosted interactive bead parties on weekends, selling her recycled handcrafted creations. While exploring the area, she noticed artists in Uki village needed help with balancing art and business. Natascha launched "Babareki Business" and "Ukitopia Arts Collective" to support them. Through the arts collective, she organised events like the Ukitopia Arts Festival and "Songwriters on the Song Line." The impact was profound; "people expressed how grateful they were for events like this finally being in the area," Natascha says.

Five years of managing events in Uki, led Natascha to the establish of "Creative Caldera" a not-for-profit organisation encompassing the entire Tweed Shire, which boasted the highest proportion of artists outside of a capital city in NSW at the time. Creative Caldera supported events like the Murwillumbah Art Trail, where artists took over empty shops, transforming them into vibrant exhibitions for ten days, drawing in thousands of visitors.

In 2018, after years of community volunteering, Natascha shifted her focus, continuing as a business mentor with the Murwillumbah Chamber of Commerce. The 2019 bushfires and subsequent floods thrust her into a community leadership role again, founding the Byrrill Creek Community Resilience Team in 2020.

Reflecting on her community initiatives, Natascha humbly stated, "I felt that I needed to give back, start new things and create something for the community that welcomed me." Her work has always been deeply rooted in listening to community needs, which Natascha continues to do as a community development facilitator for Australian Business Volunteers.

Natascha still has a cupboard filled with beads in her office, a colourful reminder of how it all started. Even after a decade since closing her bead operation, Natascha was surprised when a woman approached her in a restaurant, wearing her beads. The woman still carried the card Natascha gave her in her wallet, which had the meanings of each bead written on it, a touching reminder of the lasting impact that Natascha has made on people's lives.

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