AIM: This paper is a report of a study to explore rural nurses' experiences of mentoring. BACKGROUND: Mentoring has recently been proposed by governments, advocates and academics as a solution to the problem for retaining rural nurses in the Australian workforce. Action in the form of mentor development workshops has changed the way that some rural nurses now construct supportive relationships as mentoring. METHOD: A grounded theory design was used with nine rural nurses. Eleven semi-structured interviews were conducted in various states of Australia during 2004-2005. Situational analysis mapping techniques and frame analysis were used in combination with concurrent data generation and analysis and theoretical sampling. FINDINGS: Experienced rural nurses cultivate novices through supportive mentoring relationships. The impetus for such relationships comes from their own histories of living and working in the same community, and this was termed 'live my work'. Rural nurses use multiple perspectives of self in order to manage their interactions with others in their roles as community members, consumers of healthcare services and nurses. Personal strategies adapted to local context constitute the skills that experienced rural nurses pass-on to neophyte rural nurses through mentoring, while at the same time protecting them through troubleshooting and translating local cultural norms. CONCLUSION: Living and working in the same community creates a set of complex challenges for novice rural nurses that are better faced with a mentor in place. Thus, mentoring has become an integral part of experienced rural nurses' practice to promote staff retention.