Drought, Sexuality and More …
The winners of the coveted ABC Heywire Competition have been announced, with two Country Education Partnership (CEP) Rural Youth Ambassadors in the mix.
Claudia Cox (who is from Berriwillock but says she's from Sea Lake so people can find it on a map) wrote her entry for the story-telling competition at the very last-minute.
Looking back, she says her decision to write about drought was instinctive.
"It was actually Phil (CEP Chief Executive) who called and urged me to enter," she says.
"I knew instantly what I'd write about because I see it every day -- I am affected by drought, just like everyone around here is affected by drought, and people need to know what our small communities are going through.
"Of course, I didn't expect I'd win, so this has all been a shock, yes ... but I'm happy and proud to be a voice for this issue."
Fellow Rural Youth Ambassador Maggy Sessions, from Nathalia, wrote a candid piece about her sexuality.
The 17-year-old says she's been incredibly humbled by the Heywire win and only hopes her story can help other young people grappling with the "stigma of being different".
"The thing is, I get young students coming up to me in school all the time asking about how I came out, stuff like that, and, yeah, they're struggling with it just like I did," she says.
"It brings back memories of when I was in that situation, having that fear that your family won't accept you, but I'm lucky that I have a very supportive family."
This year, the Heywire competition received almost 500 entries from across regional, rural and remote Australia, with an eventual 36 chosen as winners.
Heywire Executive Producer Dan Hirst says it's an honour to receive the entries and 'feel the writer's story'.
"It's powerful stuff; we get some incredibly emotional pieces, empowering pieces and then there's humour," he says.
"This year, we had one piece from a girl talking about looking after her father who has dementia and, yeah, I got emotional when I read it and then hearing it again when she recorded her podcast, it was so much more emotional -- she got me again."
The 36 winners, including Claudia and Maggy, will head to Canberra early next year for the Heywire Regional Youth Summit.
At the summit, participants will engage in leadership and media workshops, discussing ideas to improve the lives of young people living in country communities.
The group will then present their ideas at Parliament House in front of an esteemed panel.
Claudia is ready to be heard.
"It's a big opportunity and I hope I get my chance to have a real say," she says.
"If I can be a voice for my community about this issue, about the realities of drought, then I think that's a good thing."