A Mount Gambier teenager with a heart of gold, who organised several convoys of hay laden trucks for bushfire ravaged areas across the state, is in the running to be SA's 2022 Young Australian of the Year.
Eighteen-year-old Zoe Simpson said she was "gobsmacked" to be among the four finalists for the major accolade.
"I never expected to be recognised for what we were doing, but I am really proud of all our efforts," she said.
"I already feel like a winner getting this far from the top 140."
Ms Simpson was inspired to help farmers in need after watching a television interview with a young girl who was coordinating hay runs for drought-affected producers in NSW.
"She was the same age as me - 16 at the time - and I thought if she could do something I should try too," she said.
After discussing the idea with her father Scott Simpson, she began to gather hay with family friend Adam Smith and so the Mount Gambier Hay Run was born.
"When I first started I would have been happy with one or two truck loads but it just grew and grew with farmers giving hay and drivers donating their time and companies donating trucks," she said. "I am just so thankful for that."
Their first hay run in January 2020 was to properties affected by a bushfire at Keilira, followed by a big convoy to Cape Jervis for Kangaroo Island fire-hit farmers.
A year later, when more than 15,000 ha was burnt in the Blackford blaze, they sprang into action again.
Within a few days of the fire, more than 70 trucks rolled into Lucindale lifting the spirits of the community.
Several weeks later they were back with another 20 loads delivered to properties.
"Those farmers had been through a really distressing time, losing stock, feed and fences but to see the smiles on their faces when we drove in the gate - that is the reason why we do it," she said.
Ms Simpson also credits her upbringing on a farm with a desire to help farmers.
"Down here we are pretty luck with green paddocks most of the year but many areas do not receive as much rain as we do, their paddocks are often dry and bare and when they need it most hay prices are often through the roof," she said.
She says the Mount Gambier Hay Run will be ready when SA inevitably faces another natural disaster.
"A lot of farmers down here are so generous and willing to share their hay," she said.
The state's four award recipients in the Australian of the Year will be announced at a ceremony at the Adelaide Convention Centre next Thursday, October 21, which will also be livestreamed.
The 2022 South Australian of the Year nominations are vaccination researcher Helen Marshall; Living without Limits Foundation co-founder Phillip de Pinto; surgeon and entrepreneur Samantha Pillay and gender equality advocate Natasha Stott Despoja.
Up against Mount Gambier Hay Run founder Zoe Simpson in the Young South Australian of the Year category are Olympic swimming champion Kyle Chalmers; special needs dentistry consultant Trudy Lin and Renegade Records founder Bianca Nilsson.
Senior South Australian of the Year the finalists are Monarto Safari Park director Peter Clark; RSL SA ambassador Bill Denny; foster carer Dawn Jennings and educator, counsellor and author Mark Le Messurier.
SA's Local Hero will be chosen from Lymphoedema Association SA Inc president Monique Bareham; Invigor Wellbeing founder Anthony Hart; founder of the Marilyn Jetty Swim Sarah Tinney and Playford Women's Shed's Raelene Wlochowicz.
- Australian Community Media is a media partner of the 2022 Australian of the Year Awards.
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