Women stand up

Women stand up

More than 100 local women from numerous organisations gathered at Bairnsdale Racing Club last Friday to celebrate International Women’s Day and its theme, Balance for Better.

The women (and a few men) had the pleasure of listening to the stories of Dr Aunty Doris Paton, a board member of Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation (GLaWAC), East Gippsland Shire mayor, Cr Natalie O’Connell, and Dr Bethany Roberts, Gippsland assistant fire chief officer with the Department of Environment, Land Water and Planning (DEWLP).

Aunty Doris, a local Aboriginal elder, shared her story of Aboriginal women in western society and cultural education, where the foundation was created by her family.

“My story is only part of a greater story, a story of generations,” she said.

“In our lives we are guided by our ancestors, by our elders and with cultural responsibilities. I am particularly inspired by our next generations. My mother says they are our eyes and our footprints for our future.

“In many ways I think I’m still learning from my experiences in western society, but I’m strongly connected to my cultural ways; the ways I think, behave, learn, listen, speak, and mostly live my life.”

Cr O’Connell touched on her childhood growing up in Omeo, which she said was no challenge, but “a real asset”, before moving on to secondary school at Gippsland Grammar, where her “leadership excelled” as a house captain and prefect.

She then spoke of her initial career in the agricultural industry, moving to Orange and then Albury. Cr O’Connell then transitioned into teaching, returned to the agricultural industry and eventually moved back to Omeo to be closer to family.

Cr O’Connell stood for council soon after and would rise to the position of mayor in 2018 – the first from the Omeo region.

She revealed she is a passionate St Kilda supporter, an avid snowboarder since the age of nine and she plays piano, among other hobbies.

Dr Roberts touched on how her mother, a teacher, and the challenges she faced starting her career in the 1960s.

“Mum tells a story about how at the end of her degree there were a series of seminars organised on superannuation, and all the men in her class were invited, but not the women,” Dr Roberts said.

“So my mum marched up and said ‘why not?’ And the faculty said to her quite seriously ‘your first posting as a teacher is likely going to be in rural South Australia and you’ll likely meet and marry a rich farmer and probably won’t have to worry bout super, will you?’

“The flexible workplace we enjoy now simply was not an option for mum and the legal requirements around what she needed to do were very different.

“When she was married and every time she went on maternity leave, she was required to resign from her permanent role and each time leave all the perks.

“Every time, mum would return to work as a temporary employee and work her way up the ladder again.”

Dr Roberts spoke of her mum pushing boundaries and bringing philosophies to her school and teaching around providing the best education for children, regardless of socioeconomic backgrounds.

PICTURED: Department of Environment Land, Water and Planning (DEWLP) training coordinator, Sarah Van Der Velden, DEWLP executive assistant, Melissa Johnson, DEWLP Gippsland assistant chief fire officer, Beth Roberts, and mother, Jan Hammond, at the International Women’s Day breakfast held at Bairnsdale Racing Club last Friday. Dr Roberts was one of three guest speakers at the breakfast.