North Shore Woman of the Year

Published on: March 2024

Record: HANSARD-1323879322-139312

North Shore Woman of the Year

Ms FELICITY WILSON(North Shore) (21:57:02):

Last week we celebrated International Women's Day, to honour and recognise the achievements and contributions of women throughout our history and the women making enormous contributions today but also to continue raising awareness for gender equality and the rights and empowerment of women. In many areas across our communities women still face many challenges, whether it is access to health care, the gender pay gap, period poverty, underrepresentation in our parliaments and the business sector, the scourge of domestic and family violence, or many other areas. While we celebrate how far we have come as a society, it is important to highlight the areas where there is still so much work to be done.

But it has also been a time to celebrate and recognise those in our own local communities. While many local women deserve to be celebrated for their outstanding efforts and contributions, I make special mention of this year's North Shore Woman of the Year, Laura Stone. That recognition is not just an accolade; it is a testament to the remarkable impact that Laura has had on our community through her dedication to local business and her unwavering commitment to conservation and the environment.

Laura is well known in my community and is completely passionate about making a difference. Laura runs the successful local business Sydney by Kayak, which offers guided tours on Sydney Harbour with a focus on environmental education and activism. My team and I have even braved the early morning start in Lavender Bay to head out onto the harbour, and it is truly one of the best ways to start the day. With a coffee in hand and Laura as our guide, we headed out onto the harbour just after 5.00 a.m., before the first morning ferry services started. I thank Laura and her incredible team for looking after us. Exploring the harbour and its history—and picking up a lot of rubbish along the way—was a great way to spend the morning.

As part of the business, Laura maintains a strong focus on the environment and marine conservation. She encourages participants on the tour to scoop up rubbish that they find floating in the water as they undertake their tour. She has also developed several conservation and sustainability programs to reduce waste in Sydney Harbour and regenerate the coastal foreshore to enhance and protect the fragile marine environment.

Finding Nemo

Since 2018 Laura and her team have contributed $15 from every Clean-up Paddle seat sold to local conservation projects, which is nearly $50,000 to date. Thanks to their success, hundreds of mangroves have been planted and thousands of kilograms of waste have been removed. Some of the funds went to initiatives such as the famous Bruce. He is not the same Bruce from —although he does have a shark fin—but he patrols Berry's Bay and picks up stray rubbish. There is also the Darling Harbour Seabin. Together with Bruce and all the Clean-up Paddles, over 5,000 tonnes of rubbish have been collected from Sydney Harbour in 2022-23 alone, which is an incredible effort.

I joined Laura in April last year for the installation of 18 new Living Seawall Boulders in Lavender Bay. That was a world-first innovation. In collaboration with Reef Design Lab, the team at the Sydney Institute of Marine Science—another institution in my community in Mosman—and North Sydney Council, the boulders were specially designed to emulate natural rockpools and create hospitable environments for a range of different marine life. Laura and her team have also teamed up with ECOBEL Sydney to support their goal of planting one million mangrove and river plants by 2040. Anyone walking around Waverton would have seen the mangrove nursery that Laura and her team have set up. From all reports, they are on track to meet that goal.

Some of the contributions that Laura has made reflect her goal to make our planet better. She focuses every single day on improving our marine environment and ecosystem. Not only has she been recognised for her contributions to the environment as an ecotourism warrior, but also for her contributions more broadly to tourism. She was recognised in the NSW Tourism Awards just last year as the Ecotourism Provider of the Year. Laura will be going to Darwin to see how she fares in the finals of the Australian Tourism Awards.

We need people like Laura who will put their energy, aspiration, passion and heart and soul into achieving such outcomes. I was really excited to join Laura—and her mum, all the way from Inverness in Scotland—at the breakfast last week to celebrate and recognise her for her contribution. It is incredibly important to take the time to recognise the women who make such a big difference in our local communities, because often the impacts in our local communities will have spillover efforts to broader society and the globe. I know that Laura is making a difference to our world, and making a healthier and happier planet for all of us and our children to come. I congratulate Laura and thank her for her integrity, her resilience and the profound sense of responsibility she brings to the community and to the environment. I recognise her achievements and her accomplishments, but she also inspires me every day as a mother, a businesswoman and a passionate conservationist.

Ms JODIE HARRISON (CharlestownMinister for Women, Minister for Seniors, and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault) (22:02:09):

— I join with the member in congratulating Laura Stone on winning Local Woman of the Year for her dedication to local business—Sydney by Kayak sounds like a beautiful way to start the day—and passion for environmental issues. As well as recognising local women and the work that they beautifully do, these awards give them a platform to continue to raise the issues that they are passionate about. As I have mentioned to other women, I encourage Laura to use the 12 months she has as the Local Woman of the Year to continue to raise the flag of environmental conservation.

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