The frustration of running out of data every month and the effect it was having on the education of her twin children gave Kristy Sparrow an idea to begin a Facebook group for people in a similar plight to share their frustrations and to seek possible solutions.
In just two years that’s become a group collective of 7800 members that has addressed over 1000 rural internet connectivity issues, all administered by a four-person volunteer group known as the Better Internet for Rural Regional and Remote Australia, or BIRRR for short.
When Kristy addressed the the Queensland Rural Regional and Remote Women’s Network conference in Roma on the weekend, the Alpha grazier joked that the acronym had been likened to a burr in the side of politicians and telecommunications officials, but for many in similar situations, it’s the only prickle that’s having any effect as much-vaunted technological advances fail to live up to their promise.
The absolute dedication Kristy has put in to helping desperate families around Australia who have not been getting satisfactory answers from the organisations charged with delivering a new and improved internet experience was recognised to loud acclaim on Friday night when Kristy was announced as the QRRRWN Woman of the Year.
The award was one of 10 presented during the group’s gala dinner as part of its Strong Women’s Leadership program, which for the first time incorporated a number of youth awards.
The Woman of the Year award recognises a woman who has or is influencing significant change in rural regional and remote communities or the rural industry.
St George’s Emily Martin, the author of The Gift, which shares her recovery journey from a serious bike-riding crash and subsequent brain injury, was the runner-up for the award.
Kristy paid homage to her team, including Condamine feedlot operator Kristen Coggan, Monto bush blogger Amanda Salisbury, Charters Towers grazier Kylie Stretton, and Julie Stott, each with their own specialities, saying they were achieving much more than she could on her own.
“The definition of ironic has to be using technology to solve a problem about technology,” Kristy told the QRRRWN conference.
BIRRR took to social media to get its message out in 2014 and has “created a monster” in Kristy’s words.
She estimates that she and her team have contributed 8000 volunteer hours, as well as making over 1700 tweets and having over 86,000 hits on the website resource they’ve created.
Kristy alone spends countless hours each day from her Alpha cattle property personally troubleshooting telecommunications issues and being the voice of bush internet frustrations.
Her efforts have raised the profile of rural Australia’s #datadrought and in conjunction with ICPA, has successfully lobbied for Telstra to unmeter internet usage for education usage, and for nbn’s Sky Muster to have education ports for distance education needs.
Kristy and BIRRR have established valuable connections with service providers, government and industry groups and she is a finalist in the 2016 Queensland Regional Achievement & Community Awards in the Innovation and Leadership category.
“Please join us,” she urged the conference. “Be brave and make our words loud.”