International Women’s Day: Meet 10 mighty women of Geraldton and the Mid West

Lisa Favazzo & Phoebe PinGeraldton Guardian
Rhayssa Heseltine, 10, Fredrick Heseltine, 2, and Kelly Heseltine.
Camera IconRhayssa Heseltine, 10, Fredrick Heseltine, 2, and Kelly Heseltine. Credit: The Geraldton Guardian

Whether they are kicking goals on the footy field, keeping their community healthy, speaking up for the vulnerable or raising the next generation of leaders, the women of the Mid West are an impressive bunch. Lisa Favazzo and Phoebe Pin caught up with 10 of these first-class females for a special question-and- answer series ahead of International Women’s Day on Monday. While there has never been a better time to be a woman, all agreed there were still many glass ceilings and barriers to be torn down.

Mullewa GP Dr Nalini Rao
Camera IconMullewa GP Dr Nalini Rao Credit: Francesca Mann/Geraldton Guardian

DR NALINI RAO

Mullewa GP

Dr Nalini Rao fits a remarkable amount of compassion into her tiny Mullewa GP practice. On top of being a professional and mother, she is constantly advocating for rural health and lending a hand to those who need help in her community.

Who is a woman who has inspired you in your life and how?

My mother, Uma Rao, the second woman to graduate as a doctor from the Fiji School of Medicine in 1963, whose dedication inspired me to pursue medicine. Dr Shelagh Cronin, who I worked under in Long Reach, Queensland, pushing me down the path of rural medicine. And, the nurse I worked with in Weipa, Major Kerry Ayers, who influenced me to join the Australian Reserves. I’ve now completed 15 years of service!

What advice can you offer for other woman looking to excel in your field?

Never give up on your dreams and read lots of books. I went to medical school at the age of 28, having done a master’s degree in molecular biology. You’ll need determination, hard work and perseverance, but passion is the key ingredient.

What more do you think needs to be done for women in our society?

Those women in a position of power and influence should mentor, advocate and enhance equality, to bring up the next generations of both men and women in an equal society. Every woman needs access and opportunities for education. A society with educated women is a healthier, happier society. Socio-economic, physical and mental health care and other inequalities need to be urgently addressed in our rural communities, for both men and women.

Disability advocate Linda Moore.
Camera IconDisability advocate Linda Moore. Credit: Lisa Favazzo/The Geraldton Guardian

LINDA MOORE

Advocate

Disability advocate Linda Moore travels around the Mid West by caravan advocating for people with disabilities, and knitting and crafting when she gets a spare minute.

What is your favourite thing about being a woman?

Being a mother. I was a single mother at a late age and have watched my daughter grow to a strong, independent woman. I am very proud of her. She has a wonderful outlook on life and understands that people with disabilities are the same as you and I.

What advice can you offer for other woman looking to excel in your field?

This is a rewarding and hard job, made easier by a good understanding of medical and physical disabilities and treating every client as an individual. Show empathy and smile, laugh at your own mistakes, and make all feel welcome. Everyone is special and needs to be heard.

How does gender inequality affect you?

I have worked as a chef, and the pay was never the same for me as it was for men. It was a man’s world and I had to accept that or move on from the career. It got better as more women entered the field, but I had to wear a lot of jokes and discrimination. I guess it toughened me up and made me more determined to show them how I can do it better.

What is a challenge you have overcome in your life?

I have faced many challenges, including my partner’s death at a young age. My parents taught me love and understanding, giving me a good and resilient outlook on life. Laughter is always good medicine. One of my favourite sayings is: “If you don’t laugh then you will cry”.

What more do you think needs to be done for women in our society?

Women still have a way to go to be on equal footing with men in the working world. It has come a long way from when I was a young woman entering the workforce in the mid-70s. We need to teach our girls they can do anything they put their minds to. They have the right to speak up about what’s going on in their communities and families and that they can say no to injustice — not just for themselves, or other women, but for those with voices that aren’t heard as strongly, like people with disabilities.

BOS Vet & Rural cattle breeding technician Billi Marshall
Camera IconBOS Vet & Rural cattle breeding technician Billi Marshall Credit: Supplied/Supplied

BILLI MARSHALL

BOS Vet & Rural cattle breeding technician

Billi Marshall is proud of how WA’s traditionally male-dominated agricultural industry is championing women. The founder of the AdvocateAg networking and social events platform, Billi has also helped Mid West farmers and agricultural workers form new connections and develop support networks.

What is your favourite thing about being a woman?

I tend to enjoy activities that are stereotypically male-dominated things like off-roading, camping, hunting, physical sports, farming and, of course, smashing a frothy at the pub. What I love is that I can enjoy all these things in life, and it doesn’t make me any less of a woman. If I had to name anything, my favourite thing isn’t the fact I am a woman, it’s the pleasure of smashing stereotypes and the reactions you get from others when you do.

What advice can you offer for other woman looking to excel in your field?

My advice for women, not only those in the agricultural industry but as an entity, is simple: we’re just as good. What determines your success is not what gender you are but the level of determination you have that drives you. If you want it badly enough, no one can stop you.

What is a challenge you have overcome in your life?

From being bullied in high school, I struggled with mental health throughout my teenage years until I found a place within the workforce. I have been blessed with the opportunities I received early on in my career in agriculture, for which I am forever grateful. Yes, there are obvious physical limitations to being female and working in agriculture. But it is situations like these that challenge you to think on your feet, problem solve and, most of all, have the courage to ask for help, which in return makes you more valuable as an employee than someone with a bit of brute strength.

How does gender inequality affect you?

With men making up 72 per cent of Australia’s farmers, I am constantly outnumbered on every occasion, but does being female give me any less of a right to be there? No. Have I ever been made to feel unwelcome? No. Just because agriculture isn’t a preferred industry by women, does not mean women are not welcome. I have been fortunate to experience very little gender inequality throughout my career, and it is encouraging to see the number of women in agriculture on the rise.

What more do you think needs to be done for women in our society?

I personally think the agricultural industry is positively evolving to see a greater inclusion of women throughout numerous roles. As a society, we need to continue to encourage each other and provide learning opportunities for women to forge careers in their desired fields. I believe networking and opening communication amongst women is hugely beneficial towards encouraging women to step out of their comfort zones and challenge themselves to new careers.

Shanna “Pinkie” Smith tries on her skates for the first time after several weeks' downtime with an injury.
Camera IconShanna “Pinkie” Smith tries on her skates for the first time after several weeks' downtime with an injury. Credit: Geoff Vivian

SHANNAH SMITH

Roller-derby baddie

Shannah Smith’s life changed forever after a chance encounter at Coles Geraldton led her to roller derby. Now, she has friends all over the country, a new fierce nickname, “Pinkie”, and has been involved with the Geraldton-based Sin City Rollers and Team Indigenous Dreaming roller-derby teams.

Who is a woman who has inspired you in your life and how?

My aunties. They have taught me to just live life with fun and laughter. I try to bring the same enthusiasm to everything I do.

What is your favourite things about being a woman?

How strong and amazing we are. We are so empowering and beautiful, no matter what size or shape.

What advice can you offer for other woman looking to excel in your field?

I would say just keep pushing forward, no matter how small those steps might be, as it does get easier. When I’m skating, I feel completely free and I just want everyone to feel that too.

How does gender inequality impact you?

Gender inequality creates such a barrier for men and women alike. It shouldn’t even exist in today’s society. I believe we need to start shifting the gap and it doesn’t matter what sex we are, we should be treated as equal.

What more do you think needs to be done for women in our society?

I think more needs to be done to help us feel safe again! As a society, we shouldn’t feel scared to walk outside our house at night or worried about how our clothing makes someone else feel. We should be free to live our beautiful self without the worries of others.

Musicians Kim and Caroline Allison.
Camera IconMusicians Kim and Caroline Allison. Credit: The Geraldton Guardian

CAROLINE AND KIM ALLISON

Bandmates and sisters

Musicians and sisters Kim and Caroline Allison are the dynamic duo behind Good Strife, an up-and-coming band in Geraldton. You can find them doing what they love all over town, occasionally gracing the big stage for events such as Telethon and WAMFest.

Who is a woman who has inspired you in your life and how?

Our mother, Jo Allison, is our biggest inspiration. Being a single mother, she has taught us to defy what people expect you to be. Because of her, we have become the successful musicians we are today, and our career is still continuing to build and improve.

What advice can you offer for other women looking to excel in your field?

You need to learn to not be afraid. It’s OK to fail, it’s OK to be different. Being vulnerable and authentic is so empowering, in performing. It’s OK not to conform to the people around you. Be yourself because uniqueness is memorable. And have fun. People won’t enjoy your music if you’re not having fun.

What is a challenge you have overcome in your life?

Kim: I have faced three major challenges: Discrimination against my disability, racism, and poor self-image. People told me I couldn’t do things because I was born deaf. I am a singer, so I’ve proved them wrong! My family is biracial and I was teased about my skin colour, my curly hair, my facial appearance, my body, leading to self-image issues. But, I’ve grown to know I am defined by my gifts, not the way I look.

Caroline: I have learnt to embrace my autism as a gift rather than a curse. It is who I am, and has shaped my personality and individuality. I’ve also embraced my transgender identity. I was afraid for so long, worried people wouldn’t accept me. I

came out two years ago, and have been able hold my head held high.

I am now transforming into the woman I am inside. My transition has just begun but, with my family and friends’ love, every step is exciting.

What more do you think needs to be done for women in our society?

We need to learn to call out misogyny, sexism, victim-blaming and racism. We need to teach young women to value ourselves, so they don’t seek gratification in unhealthy ways. We need to stop sexualising and objectifying women. Women don’t need to let a man rule over their lives telling them what they can and can’t do.

Towns' Aaliyah Jones has been a standout player in the Great Northern Football Women’s League.
Camera IconTowns' Aaliyah Jones has been a standout player in the Great Northern Football Women’s League. Credit: Phoebe Pin/Geraldton Guardian, Phoebe Pin

AALIYAH JONES

Towns Football Club player

Aaliyah, 17, has been labelled as one to watch in women’s football. With two club best-and-fairest gongs and a Great Northern Women’s Football League award under her belt, Aaliyah is well on her way to achieving her goal of playing AFLW.

Who is a woman who has inspired you in your life and how?

(Player for Fremantle in the AFLW) Roxy Roux inspires me in footy. She lived in Dongara and she has made her way up to play in the AFLW. She inspires me to just play better in footy and she makes me think that I could maybe do that myself.

What advice can you offer for other women looking to excel in your field?

Don’t be scared and just go for it.

What is a challenge you have overcome in your life?

I was doubting myself a lot and thinking that I couldn’t do it when I actually can do it. I just got out there and played footy. I just stopped overthinking it and started doing it.

What more do you think needs to be done for women in our society?

I’d like to see more support for women in AFL and more support for women in general. We need more support for women doing jobs that people think only men can do.

Rhayssa Heseltine, 10, Fredrick Heseltine, 2, and Kelly Heseltine.
Camera IconRhayssa Heseltine, 10, Fredrick Heseltine, 2, and Kelly Heseltine. Credit: The Geraldton Guardian

KELLY HESELTINE

Mother and student

Mature-aged Bachelor of Education student Kelly Heseltine is from Brazil, and gave birth to her second child while excelling in her studies, which she takes in her second language. She believes in gender equality that respects the work of women inside and outside the home, saying motherhood is her favourite thing about being a woman.

Which woman has inspired you in your life, and how?

My mother was a fighter and a conqueror. She had very little education, but she used all she had to reach many of her life goals.

She was strong and had a great perspective on life. She would set a goal and go after it until she achieved the expected outcome.

What advice can you offer for other woman looking to excel in your field?

I am a mature-age student from a non-English speaking country studying to become a primary school teacher. When I began university in Australia, I also got pregnant, so bringing up a baby while studying hasn’t been the easiest. My advice is persistence. Never give up, always finish what you begin, and pursue your dreams. If I can do it, you certainly can. Don’t be proud. Ask for help when you need it.

What is a challenge you have overcome in your life?

Leaving my family, friends, culture, language and profession behind to begin a new life on the opposite side of the planet. When I arrived in Australia, I didn’t know how to buy food. Every little thing I took for granted was a huge new challenge.

How does gender inequality affect you?

I think the gender equality agenda is so focused on professional equality that people can forget to show kindness and respect to each other. Gender equality will be more achievable when “to love your neighbour like yourself” is put in practice more often and widely. Respect will more successfully bring equality than imposition and fights.

Yamatji woman Lenny Papertalk
Camera IconYamatji woman Lenny Papertalk

LENNY PAPERTALK

Yamatji woman

Lenny Papertalk ispassionate about making a difference. She is now completing her social work master’s degree and hopes to inspire other women to pursue a career in the health industry.

Who is a woman who has inspired you?

My mum is an inspiration to me. She gave me a really great start in life from a baby to where I am now. I really look up to her for how strong she is and how resilient she is.

What is your favourite thing about being a woman?

I think what I love about being a woman is that I have connection to my culture, my family, and I know who I am and where I am from.

As a woman, I can be a role model for other young women in the community, guiding them and supporting them into a health space career.

What is a challenge you have overcome in your life?

The biggest challenge for me was losing several of my close family members. Those sudden deaths rocked my world but you have to soldier on. I have to think of my own mental health, and by talking to my mentors, I feel good after having a big talk with them.

How does gender inequality affect you?

When you are sitting in meetings and the majority are men around the table, you go to say something and you can see they are undermining you or trying to roll their eyes. I don’t let them get to me because I have better things to worry about.

What more needs to be done for women in our society?

We still have a long way to go for women. I would love to see the first female Aboriginal prime minister. Women are the heart of the family, and what better people to understand the world we live in today?

City of Greater Geraldton deputy mayor Tarleah Thomas
Camera IconCity of Greater Geraldton deputy mayor Tarleah Thomas Credit: Supplied

TARLEAH THOMAS

City of Greater Geraldton deputy mayor

Cr Tarleah Thomas operates in the traditionally male-dominated spaces of agriculture and local government, but that has not stopped her from achieving success.

Who is a woman who has inspired you in your life, and how?

All women inspire me. I am inspired by a woman that’s passionate about where they live despite their daily challenges, I am inspired by the woman who packs my groceries so preciously, and I’m inspired by a mother that studies at university while raising a young family. I’m grateful to all the strong women that have guided and supported me to become the best person I can be.

What is your favourite thing about being a woman?

My favourite thing about being a woman is the ability to be adaptable whilst still being feminine. I live on a farm in equal partnership with my husband. One minute, I’ll be driving a header, spraying, bookkeeping or cooking for workmen, the next I’m on council making large decisions that can impact our community, or meeting ministers, or chairing committee meetings.

What advice can you offer for other woman looking to excel in your field?

Just do it. When I first started in local government, there were two women on council. Now, we have four amazing hardworking women and one is the deputy mayor.

Last year, the farm employed two women, and this year we’re training two young females to drive the large seeding rigs.

What more do you think needs to be done for women in our society?

The inequality gap within the workforce and some employment opportunities needs to decrease, and this needs to come from higher levels of government. The good thing is we have some amazing women in government today that hopefully will continue to push this. We all need to do our bit and continue to support the next generation; they will be our leaders in the future.

Greenough Wildlife Park owner Michelle Jones feeds a crocodile.
Camera IconGreenough Wildlife Park owner Michelle Jones feeds a crocodile. Credit: Geoff Vivian The Geraldton Guardian

MICHELLE JONES

Greenough Wildlife Park manager

Whether she is taming crocs, wrestling goannas or catching venomous snakes, Michelle Jones is obliterating gender stereotypes every day.

Who is a woman who has inspired you in your life, and how?

Dr Jane Goodall is one of my inspirations, just because of what she did to protect what she loved even when she got so much backlash. I also had a good mum who supported me, even when I brought a kangaroo home at 14 years old and it slept on a bed.

What advice can you offer for other women looking to excel in your field?

Never give up about what you are passionate about. Be passionate, volunteer, get your name out there and learn as much as you can about the wildlife in your area so you can be the go-to person.

How does gender inequality affect you?

The men I have been around have obviously been raised in the correct way because they have raised me up rather than dragged me down. I have been fortunate in this industry, given that it is male-dominated. You get the odd laugh from guys when they see what you do but they are probably thinking “she has more guts than me”. I am passionate about what I do and I am not afraid to jump into anything when it comes to wildlife.

What more do you think needs to be done for women in our society?

We in Australia have come a long way in giving equality, but I still read about pay grades and how they are different for women in the same occupation as men. There are also people having children who think they can’t work and have children. Things like that I think we need to take a good look at.

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