Narelle Gotting, Mieke Bell and Toni McCaffery are on our list of influential women.
Narelle Gotting, Mieke Bell and Toni McCaffery are on our list of influential women. Contributed

#11-20 Most Influential Women on the Northern Rivers

IT'S time to celebrate the Northern Rivers' most powerful and influential women.

In a special editorial feature, The Northern Star is revealing the top 50 women who are making a difference in our region.

Please note, this is a subjective list. We welcome your feedback, so email with your suggestions and thoughts.


11. Liz Ellis

Liz Ellis with husband Matthew Stocks and their children Evelyn and Austin.
Liz Ellis with husband Matthew Stocks and their children Evelyn and Austin.

THE Australian netball legend has made a home on the Northern Rivers since building at Booyong in 2012.

She has run coaching clinics at schools and for junior netballers across the Far North Coast and has been a guest speaker at a number of events.

Ellis played for Australia between 1992-2007 and was captain for the last four of those years.

Her string of accolades includes playing 122 times for her country, winning three World Championships, two Commonwealth Games gold medals and several other top honours.

Ellis became the captain of the Sydney Swifts in 2000.

She was the captain for their team in 2001, 2004, 2006 and 2007 Commonwealth Bank Trophy premierships.

Since her retirement, Ellis has become a commentator on netball for both the ANZ Championship and International test level.

In January this year Ellis became an Officer of the Order of Australia for distinguished service to netball as an elite player and coach, through support and advocacy for young women, as a contributor to the broadcast and print media industries, and to the community.

In her time living on the Northern Rivers she continues to set up coaching clinics while helping develop promising players across the state.

Ellis has also written a book in that time which deals with frustration, disappointment and heartbreak of infertility.


12. Jane Laverty

Jane Laverty.
Jane Laverty. Francis Witsenhuysen

THE regional manager for the NSW Business Chamber on the Northern Rivers, Jane Laverty, stepped into the job shortly before the 2017 floods hit the region, courtesy of ex-Cyclone Debbie.

She was one of the eight people on the Lismore Business Flood Recovery Taskforce and worked tirelessly to support local business owners, workers and staff to overcome the devastating challenges.

A highly experienced strategist with a depth of experience in economic development, stakeholder engagement, project management, marketing and business/public advocacy, Ms Laverty 'walks the talk' regarding the importance of creating jobs and investment in regional Australia.

Prior to starting with the NSW Business Chamber she worked extensively across the Northern Rivers with business and industry clients, local and state government and the not for profit sector as an independent consultant and more recently as a leader in economic development and tourism with Byron Shire Council.

The former Byron Shire Council economic development and tourism co-ordinator is known for taking an holistic approach when it comes to working with businesses in the region.

Ms Laverty has also lost no time to standing up to big companies on behalf of small business - last January she was critical of Optus when every customer in Evans Head lost phone service.


13. Tamara Smith

INCUMBENT: Ballina MP Tamara Smith
Ballina MP Tamara Smith. Suze McLeod

AS THE first non-National MP to represent the seat of Ballina, Tamara Smith has held her seat since 2015 thanks to her hard-line campaign against coal-seam gas industry.

She is also the first Greens member elected to a regional seat in any Parliament in Australia.

A solicitor with a background in social justice and energy law, the fourth generation Northern Rivers resident is also a trained teacher and has worked in Ballina for almost 15 years.

The massive support for the Greens in the Byron Shire ensured Ms Smith won the battle for the seat of Ballina in the 2019 election against Nationals candidate Ben Franklin.

A fourth generation Northern Rivers resident, Ms Smith resides in Alstonville.

She was a secondary school teacher for many years and became a solicitor in 2012, working across social justice, aboriginal issues, and public education advocacy.

During her time in government, Ms Smith has been a strong opponent of the $40 million West Byron Development plan, which was rejected by the Northern Regional Planning Panel in February, and has worked alongside her Greens colleagues to decriminalise abortion in NSW.


14. Justine Elliot

MP Justine Elliot speaks to Ballina mayor David Wright about the need to upgrade the Ballina Byron Gateway Airport runway.
Justine Elliot. Marc Stapelberg

THE six-term federal Richmond MP Justine Elliot continues to advocate for the issues residents in Ballina, Byron and Tweed coastal areas.

After winning the strongly held National seat in 2004, the former police officer has held a number of positions when Labor was in government, including the Minister for Ageing from 2007 to 2010.

Ms Elliot recently retained her seat again after a strong battle against the Nationals over the newly announced location of the Tweed Valley Hospital in Cudgen, despite it being a state issue.

Always one to ask questions of the government, Ms Elliot has continued to oppose projects such as nuclear power and advocate for improving health care and NDIS services.

Before becoming a Federal MP, Elliot also worked as a Youth Justice Convenor with the NSW Department of Juvenile Justice.


15. Cate McQuillen

Cate McQuillen.
Cate McQuillen. Sassy Lane Photography

Dirtgirl co-creators Cate McQuillen and Hewey Eustace's passion for educating and encouraging people to love and respect their environment is bigger than ever, as they prepare to celebrate 10 years of the popular character launching into screens across the world, later this year.

The launch of their show Dirtgirlworld on the ABC in 2009 had an immediate impact as children's eyes were opened, and in turn their parents, to the fun that could be had outdoors, getting grubby in the garden.

It went on to be broadcast in 128 countries and Dirtgirl and her friends continue to amass a green army of followers worldwide through social media.

The live action Get Grubby TV program - which saw Dirtgirl joined by Costa and Scrapboy - was commissioned by ABC TV three years ago, and it allowed audiences to listen to real life examples of what to do in their gardens and motivated them to get outside with their children.

This year, Dirtgirl, Scrapboy and Costa travelled the country's Top End meeting indigenous rangers to find out how they are caring for Country. This project, available on YouTube and social media, is a seven-part documentary series released last month called Country Handle with Care, created for the Department of Land, Agriculture and Culture Resources.


16. Jenny Dowell

Jenny Dowell.
Jenny Dowell. Lyn McCarthy

JENNY Dowell was Lismore's mayor from 2008 to 2016.

But the end of that tenure didn't see her become any less involved in the local community.

She was awarded an Order of Australia medal in 2017 for her services to the Lismore community and to local government.

Mrs Dowell has been a champion for Lismore's LGBTIQ community and its creative arts and her efforts were instrumental in securing a new art gallery for the city.

She's currently a Mayors Mentor for Local Government NSW and has remained a significant voice for the region, interviewing Paralympic gold medallist Kurt Fearnley on stage last June and appearing as part of a local panel when the ABC's Q&A program visited Lismore a year ago. (AUG 2018)

A hotel in Lismore's sister city, Eau Claire in Wisconsin in the United States, has a suite named after her and she's been involved with Lismore Theatre Company.


17. Mieke Bell

Mieke Bell.
Mieke Bell. Marc Stapelberg

WHETHER it's her work with the Lismore Soup Kitchen or as part of the blueberry industry, there's plenty of sweet stuff in Mieke Bell's life.

Ms Bell's philanthropic family have been huge supporters of the Lismore community for decades and have also invested millions to help bolster health and education systems in Northern Uganda.

As president of the Lismore Soup Kitchen, which runs out of the Winsome Hotel, Ms Bell has helped countless members of the local community.

The organisation has offered a festive feast for those in need on Christmas Day for about three decades and continued making meals available to residents as volunteers got the service back on its feet after the destructive 2017 flood.

She and husband, Ridley, own Mountain Blue Farms and she personally named their highly acclaimed blueberry variety, Eureka.


18. Narelle Gotting

Narelle Gotting.
Narelle Gotting. Supplied

AS THE Country Women's Association Far North Coast president, Narelle Gotting's influence far exceeds scones, jam and handicrafts.

A member of the Old Bonalbo branch since 2013, Ms Gotting credits her career as a rural and remote nurse and midwife which helped hone the skills she needs to liaise with the group's 18 branches and hundreds of members.

Responsible for branches which range from Kingscliff to Evans Head and as far out west as Tabulam, Ms Gotting said it's a privilege to represent the members whom she said are integral to their communities.

Ms Gotting said she's proud to be part of the largest women's organisation in Australia which aims to improve conditions for country women and children, via lobbying for change, helping the local community, creating a network of support and meeting together in towns and cities.

"We don't judge, the CWA is trusted whether it's for our drought relief, the great work provided by our Tabulam branch members after the bushfires or the more traditional CWA values such as our scones jam and cream at Primex," she said.

"There something in CWA for everyone."


19. Toni McCaffery

Toni McCaffery.
Toni McCaffery. Contributed

TONI McCaffery and her husband, David, became a strong pro-immunisation voice after the heartbreaking loss of a child to whooping cough.

They lost their daughter, Dana, to the preventable disease at just one month of age in 2009.

She was too young to have been vaccinated.

In a bid to ensure others understood the dangers of diseases for which vaccination is available, and to push back against the anti-vaccination scare campaigns, the couple joined a national campaign to raise immunisation rates.

Dana's death sparked a review from NSW Health and pregnant mothers in NSW can now receive a free booster shot.

The Lennox Head parents were widely criticised by anti-vaccination group, the Australian Vaccination Network, during their advocacy work.


20. Knitting Nannas

Some of the Northern Rivers Knitting Nannas.
Some of the Northern Rivers Knitting Nannas. Javier Encalada

THEY were there for Bentley, formed their own coastguard and sprinkled coal dust on their breakfast.

The Knitting Nannas are a force to be reckoned with; not only are they impressive crafters, their peaceful protests have become a big part of the fabric of the Northern Rivers.

They can often be seen with their yellow knitted creations outside politicians' offices and when there's an environmental cause to back, they'll be there.

The group formed as The Knitting Nannas Against Gas on the Northern Rivers in June, 2012. At that time, it was sparked by a growing concern for gas exploration on agricultural land.

But they've since taken a stand against other issues.

"We've got the solutions, we cam make change, we don't have to relay on governments to take the decisions, we can do it ourselves," member Judi Summers said.

"We now have access to the resources of the Climate Reality Project, so we are getting some slides done and presenting them wherever we can, basically showing the impacts of climate change and presenting things people can do from their own home."