Gunnedah EIMEX Women in the Workforce features entrepreneur, ARIA nominee

From the Namoi Valley Independent // 4 November 2019 // Article & Photo: Vanessa Höhnke

Self-belief, hard work and perseverance are the qualities that landed Julia Rennick and Penny Crawford on the stage at Gunnedah’s EIMEX Women in the Workforce breakfast.

The two local women shared their stories with more than 100 guests alongside business owner Jacinta Mannion and Tambar Springs farmer Penny Haire on Friday morning at Gunnedah Showground.

Emcee Keli McDonald introduced Mrs Rennick as “the energy in the room” and the crowd wasn’t disappointed – the music teacher instantly had them on their feet, singing and doing actions to match.

It’s something Mrs Rennick is accustomed to in her role at the Gunnedah Conservatorium.

She has been developing the children’s music programs for about 20 years and was recently nominated for an ARIA Music Teacher of the Year Award.

Mrs Rennick, originally from Scotland, started out as the director of the Gunnedah Music Centre (now Gunnedah Conservatorium) in 1994, charging $10 an hour for lessons.

The board approached her about running childhood music classes after the teacher backed out, and though she had a “pretty good musical knowledge, being an educator is a whole different ball game”.

Mrs Rennick was mentored by Jill Watkins and Mickey Morrison and, within in six years, completed an early childhood degree then a post-graduate diploma in music.

“I’d had three children, but I wanted to understand early childhood development and Macquarie [University] was the top in this field,” she said.

She went on to complete a post-graduate diploma in music and kept her knowledge up-to-date in the coming years.

Mrs Rennick has taught toddlers to senior citizens, people with disabilities, and even ran a special class for locals with Parkinson’s disease. She runs workshops for early childhood and primary teachers, and is part of the National Music Teacher Mentoring Program.

“Through hard work and experience, I’ve become very proud of my music program. I’m extremely passionate about music education and strive to remain at the cutting edge of this exciting field,” she said.

“I feel like I’m alive when I’m teaching music. It’s as though I’m not nearly 60, it’s as though I’m five years old; age falls away – and it’s what I’m meant to do.”

Mrs Rennick said “music makes a huge difference in people’s lives” and “the joy these experiences can bring is priceless”.

She loves to share her knowledge because “you can’t take it to the grave with you”.

“My philosophy is simple: always give 100 per cent and attempt everything with joy and enthusiasm,” she said.

“I don’t consider myself to be the best in my field – I still have so much to learn – but I’m the very best that I can be.”

Entrepreneur and podiatrist Penny Crawford knows all about doing the hard yards – she has spent eight years designing, developing and spruiking a specialised gumboot for underground mining to fill a “huge gap in the market”.

As part of the process, she developed the WedgeTech Personalised Lock-Fit System, which has been trialled at Whitehaven Coal’s Narrabri mine.

Mrs Crawford’s work was recognised at the NSW Minerals Council’s 2019 Health, Safety, Environment and Community Conference Awards in April.

While it may seem an overnight success story, it was in fact a long, arduous process, which greatly taxed Mrs Crawford and landed her in financial difficulty.

“I would really love to say every step was one in front of the other, [but] I’ve done U-turns, I’ve hit road blocks, I’ve gone off on tangents and I’ve had two cases of what I refer to as ‘severe death wobbles’. It’s been a really important part of my journey,” Mrs Crawford said.

“Sometimes the rejection I received, whilst I still had to spend a bit of time licking my wounds, it can result in finding a better alternative and a better solution, and sometimes you’ve just got to pick yourself up and keep going.”

Mrs Crawford said she sometimes found herself questioning why she had started the journey in the first place.

“Everybody goes through tough times … and I think it’s really important to recognise whilst you think on the outside, ‘That’s a successful business or a viable business’, there’s always times when we go through these death wobbles and it’s how we pick ourselves, and how we react and recalibrate, which is really important,” she said.

When a Malaysian company wouldn’t manufacture the boots, it threw her for six.

“I kept thinking, ‘Why would they say no?’ … self-doubt starts to creep in – ‘What am I doing?’,” Mrs Crawford said.

“It got to the stage where I was thinking, ‘This is too hard, I can’t do this. This is not meant to be. This is ridiculous. I’ve wasted all this money’.”

But she pushed through, went “back to basics” and spent time developing an insert for the boot. This secured her success with the manufacturer for the boot, but she had to find another manufacturer to produce the insert.

The second “death wobble” happened last year when she and her husband found themselves without an income and made the “heartbreaking decision” to destock their property because of the drought.

The “silver lining” of the sale was funds for the first shipment of boots but, financially, they were “drowning” and self-doubt reared its ugly head.

Mrs Crawford said she wondered whether she had been “too cocky” in her “great leap of faith” and started to panic.

It was a text message from her son telling her to “go for it” that proved to be “a turning point”.

“It was a matter of pulling up your big girl pants and just getting on with it, which is what I did,” she said.

Mrs Crawford and her husband now spend their time on the road spruiking Crawford Boots on “a shoestring budget”.

“I’m very passionate about my product [and] I wanted to make it happen,” she said.

“I’m very ordinary … I’m the same as everyone here. If I can do it, anyone can do it. It’s just a matter of looking at what you want to achieve and putting one foot in front of the other.”