Jodi McKay may be the new State Labor leader, but she's just a country girl at heart.
"I couldn't have done it without growing up in Gloucester," Jodi said.
Just like thousands of children in regional communities around the country, Jodi grew up in a town where everyone knew her and her family.
"I grew up on Gregson Street. Everyone knows I grew up there," she laughed. "I did all my schooling in Gloucester from preschool to high school."
Jodi and her family were involved in many things in town from the sporting community to the church community.
"I was heavily involved in the (Thunderbolts) swim club and held a few records," Jodi said. "I believe I still hold one or two."
"I was the school captain in year six at Gloucester Public School and completed my HSC at Gloucester High School."
Jodi even wrote a column for the Gloucester Advocate when she was in her last year of school.
She believes that being raised in a regional town is what has given her opportunities in her career, despite thinking otherwise as a child.
"Growing up I always worried that someone in the city was getting a better education and would have better opportunities," Jodi explained. "It took me a long time to learn that wasn't the case."
Growing up I always worried that someone in the city was getting a better education and would have better opportunities. It took me a long time to learn that wasn't the case.Jodi McKay
She vividly remembers going for her first job interview outside of Gloucester. It was for a news library position at NBN Television in Newcastle and she was 18-years-old. She remembers what colour dress she wore and how nervous she was going up against all the other applicants.
"I got the job. Years later I asked my boss why he hired me and he told me it was because I was a country girl. He said he knew I would be a hard worker and appreciate the opportunity," Jodi explained.
She worked her way up to a news reader position and was the face of the North Coast by the time she was 19-years-old. After leaving journalism, she worked for a series of not-for-profit organisations before turning to politics in 2007 and found herself in the Labor seat for Newcastle.
"It was a huge leap for me and it wasn't easy," Jodi recalled.
In 2011, Jodi left Newcastle and politics, returning to the not-for-profit industry in Sydney until she was swayed back into the political limelight in 2015 and she won the seat of Strathfield. On June 29 this year, Jodi was announced as the new State Labor leader after winning in an historical vote of the Labor membership.
She reckons the switch to politics may have had something to do with her journalism background.
"When your a journalist you're inquisitive. You're always questioning things."
As she continues to excel in her career, with her eyes fixed on winning the 2023 State election, Jodi remains firmly connected to her country origins.
"I spend a lot of time in Gloucester," Jodi smiled. "We have property there and my mother's there."
Jodi and her husband, Steve run cattle and horses on a property that overlooks Gloucester and they recently purchased another one.
"The idea is that Steve and I will retire there," Jodi explained.
Steve may spend a bit more time in the area than Jodi at the moment, but she comes home as often as she can.
"I always feel safe in Gloucester. When I'm there I'm just Colleen and Bruce's daughter. I'm just Jodi," she said.
But when she's in town, it's not always for social reasons. She is often found speaking at events for local groups or sharing her words of wisdom with the Gloucester High School students.
She sees herself as a roll model for young people growing up in regional communities and isn't shy about giving them suggestions on how to achieve their own goals.
"I want young people to know they can do anything. I encourage them to leave, learn and come back if they want to.
"I had to leave to get a job. My mum was adamant that we all had to leave."
Jodi has three siblings, none of whom currently live in Gloucester, but all return regularly.
Jodi strongly believes that in order for children from regional areas to reach their full potential they need to go and learn about the world and themselves. Then they can return to their communities with their knowledge and experiences to help nurture and support the new generation.
"I owe Gloucester so much," Jodi said. "I had a lot of support through the Lions and Rotary clubs with public speaking and leadership.
"They wrapped their arms around me and showed me support."
It's this same kind of feeling that Jodi feels every time she returns. She is stopped in the street by people saying 'hello' and will often be given a hug when picking up a few supplies at the grocery store.
Thankfully growing up in a small town, where everyone knows everyone else's business, has somewhat prepared Jodi for the media onslaught she has taken on with her new leadership role and she is very comfortable taking frankly about her life as a country girl.
In fact, she makes a point of mentioning her hometown in nearly every political speech she makes.
Did you know?
After Jodi's career as a journalist she entered the private sector in corporate communications and marketing working with a former Gloucester resident. She also served on the board of Hunter Medical Research Institute, the University of Newcastle Research Associates and Hunter Manufacturers' Association prior to entering politics.
While holding her seat in Newcastle from 2007 and 2011, Jodi held a number of junior ministerial responsibilities, including serving as the Minister for the Hunter, Tourism, Small Business, Science and Medical Research, Commerce, and Women, and Minister Assisting the Minister for Health (Cancer).