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Fairley Fellow 1997

In 1997 a group of like-minded community leaders came together to implement a program emulating their experience with the Williamson Leadership Program. What eventuated was not only providing community members an opportunity to develop leadership skills, but an initiative inspiring change in the Goulburn Murray and beyond.


Participant of the inaugural program, Graham Nickless, has been on a community leadership journey spanning time and regional Victoria. Hailing from the Snowy Mountain town of Corryong in the Victoria’s North-East, he understands the importance of community and working collaboratively to achieve critical economic and social benefits.


The former dairy farmer and rural merchandiser was a natural community leader bringing together business and groups to achieve outcomes in rural communities. His career evolved into leading economic development for local government and whilst at Benalla Rural City Council, he was encouraged to participate in a new leadership program aiming to connect “with existing leaders and glean insights into their experiences.”


What became known as the Fairley Leadership Program, “reinforced with me the importance of working collaboratively as a region to achieve critical economic and social benefits.” Graham said “there was a commitment to the regional goals and bringing them to fruition.”


“Although I don’t have the formal degrees or education”, the program helped Graham develop the critical leadership skills and provided the inspiration to initiate the establishment of the Alpine Valleys Community Leadership Program,” an equivalent leadership development program for the North-East Victoria region.


At the time there was an emerging gap in community leadership capacity and Graham believes success of the Alpine Valleys program is based on “drawing on the credibility and resources of other competent leaders from across the Alpine Valleys region,” an approach learnt through his involvement with the Fairley Leadership Program. The Alpine Valleys Community Leadership Program has been now running for 20 years.


Graham went on to be a significant contributor across Victoria working with a range of State and Federal Government funded initiatives focused on collaborating and establishing partnerships to achieve greater outcomes across communities. His involvement in the development of The Man from Snowy River Festival and many other contributions led to being recognised for leadership and innovation in the field of economic development by receiving the Public Service Medal in the 2009 Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

Graham indicated the “need to support and develop competent and well considered leadership remains the foremost challenge if, as a community, we are to achieve our aspirations for a safe, secure and prosperous quality of life.”


When asked what role the Fairley Leadership Program might play in this, Graham responded instantly, “there needs to be a network of leaders that can come together to respond to local crises and emerging needs. You need to enable Alumni to do this.”


Now residing in Byawatha following his 20-year career in local government, Graham now operates his own small prime lamb enterprise and is currently Chair of the local Best Lamb Best Wool discussion group for Agriculture Victoria.

For any Alumni enquiries, please email

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