By Sarah Collier

Elise Hill, a dairy farmer from Cudgewa, never thought she’d apply, let alone be accepted for a leadership program. But she just completed her project ‘A Chair to Share’, to advocate for mental health across the north-east of Victoria.

She was part of the 2022 cohort of Alpine Valleys Leadership program, designed to assist individuals to develop their leadership capacity and prepare them to transition into leadership roles.

Elise completed the program while working on her family’s 700-acre farm, milking 200 cows in a herringbone dairy.

She was part of Team United, a group of five participants who hadn’t met before joining a group as part of the leadership program. “You get put into groups based on your strengths, weaknesses, interests and passion. I’m used to working in groups with people I already know. Whereas with this we really didn’t know each other. We just had a common goal to want to achieve and complete the project,” she said.

The team wanted to create a space and tool for community members to sit, alone or with a friend, and reflect, speak up and be present. “Our passion for mental health in our communities inspired the project,” Elise said.

The park bench is engraved with ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ to incorporate the sentiments of a different community project created by local members, and link in the importance of speaking up about mental health struggles. “We lost our son two years ago to suicide and it encouraged me to work on the project,” Elise said. “I’m really proud of what we achieved.”

The Alpine Valleys Community Leadership Program aims to foster the development of a vibrant network of community and business leaders across Northeast Victoria, its border regions and beyond. “The course really broadens your mind. It makes you think about things you would usually never think or ask about. It really advances your skills and broadens your horizon” Elise said.

Participants meet monthly to work with the region’s most outstanding leaders whilst visiting a range of locations of significance to the area. “It’s a very good networking course. It introduces you to so many networks and opens your eyes up to so many opportunities,” she said.

The course also includes three retreats, where the personal leadership skills of the participants are developed and study tours to Melbourne and Canberra, where participants are able to meet State and Federal leaders. “It’s an excellent course and I’m very grateful for the opportunity to participate,” Elise said.

Gardiner Foundation provides scholarships for up to ten emerging dairy leaders (one dairy farmer and one service provider) each year, across the five key dairy regions of Victoria. The scholarships are available for programs offered by the Gippsland Community Leadership Program, Fairley Leadership Program (Goulburn Murray), Alpine Valleys Community Leadership Program, Community Leadership Loddon Murray and Leadership Great South Coast.

Gardiner Foundation has been supporting community leadership program participants since 2004 and has funded over 60 people across the five programs over that period.

For more information on the program visit or email