Tough & Tender - Peta O'Neill

Tough & Tender - Peta O'Neill

“Tough & Tender describes us rural women to a ‘T’. We do it all. We are tough when we need to be in work, in adversity and crisis, but we are also nurturers and mums and carers and supports for others. It is the epitome of who we are and how we do day-to-day life. We are the perfect blend of both.”

 Peta O’Neill is the coordinator of Mustering Wellness, which aims to connect and support people in Northern Queensland to ensure better mental wellness. It’s an initiative led by the Gulf Cattleman’s Association and Centacare. As part of the wider project that supports both men and women, Peta is running a focused campaign for women called Tough & Tender.

 “Rural woman are the backbone of the bush and often lead the way in health and wellbeing,” Peta said. 

“We are seeing more daughters take on roles within the industry, not just properties and family businesses, but also roles in associations, industry organisations and local government.

 “I believe women have a unique gift of bringing a genuineness to these roles with the ability to make truly positive impacts for the future.” 

Peta is a tough and tender woman herself, opting to work with both men and women as they deal with the challenges of living in isolated regions. She’s helped men understand that being a bloke and seeking support when needed are not mutually exclusive. That’s required some toughness, but also extreme tenderness.  

That’s because in her line of work it’s often a matter of life or death. There are the accidents that happen, both on-property and on the roads. One of the hardest things Peta has had to do was witness first-hand the grief that impacted a close-knit community in the Gulf of Carpentaria after the sudden death of one of their own. And then there’s suicide.

 That’s why she’s so excited to see women taking on more roles in the industry.

 “We need more connection, connection, connection! Us ladies love a good yarn and a catch up, but often remoteness, cost of travel, work and family commitments and weather prevent it. 

“We simply do not have the access to the internet to utilise some of the great services that would make our lives simpler, healthier, and more connected. There seems to be awareness on the rise regarding Internet connectivity in the bush, but without the infrastructure, unfortunately nothing will change.” 

Peta says bush people can always rely on their resilience, a trait she sees as inherent in the country and perhaps even genetic. But, what’s important is that people understand resilience isn’t about being quiet. 

“We face huge adversity at times – flood, drought, fire – but through it we find strength in this adversity and in each other. We are taught from a young age, ‘If you fall off, get back on’ and I think this crosses over to all parts of our lives.”

 That’s the Tough & Tender way – letting yourself fall and then getting the help to get back up again.  

If you would like to know more about the Tough & Tender campaign or Mustering Wellness, visit

Story by : Megan Stafford

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