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Premier's award for woman of the year finalists

Chelsea Bonner from Manly

Chelsea Bonner

helsea Bonner is changing the perception of beauty and helping to redefine what is deemed attractive and fashionable.

Chelsea grew up knowing that she wanted to be an agent. The daughter of iconic fashion model Nola Clark and renowned actor Tony Bonner, Chelsea remembers the ‘agent’ as a magical presence, the bringer of work for her parents. She began her career as an agent at her mother’s own model agency in Noosa, moving up the ranks quickly to become a manager at a top Melbourne agency.

Chelsea soon identified a gap in the type of models agencies were representing. All of the ‘plus size’ females were older, matriarchal types. As a young, perfectly healthy and beautiful size 14 woman, Chelsea asked the owner of the agency to put her on the books as a ‘plus size’ model. Work started flooding in for Chelsea, both in Australia
and overseas.

However, Chelsea missed her work as an agent too much and jumped at the opportunity to manage one of the country’s biggest photographic agencies. It was here that she witnessed the dark side of the business: unhealthy eating, appetite suppressants, excessive exercising, bingeing and purging. And when her own sister began what was a five-year battle with anorexia and bulimia, Chelsea realised that she had to change the industry she was in. And that change was Chelsea’s own agency, BELLA, a fashion model agency for healthy, realistically sized models.

“Without healthy role models in fashion, we will end up with another generation of women with shocking self-esteem who can’t identify with the models surrounding them every day, or live up to the expectations that come with those images. The cycle of self-abuse, abuse of food and drugs, bingeing and vomiting will begin all over again with our daughters. We must try to represent a broader view of beauty,” she says.

BELLA showcases models who are extraordinarily beautiful, in proportion and most importantly, healthy. Chelsea’s models represent the majority of Australian women, not the minority.

Through Chelsea’s resolve, models from BELLA are in high demand and Chelsea continues to speak out about the fashion industry needing to embrace healthy models, models who reflect a realistic image of the average woman. BELLA’s models have gone on to be signed to some of the biggest agencies in the world and one of her models, Robyn Lawley has graced the covers of both Australian and Italian Vogue.

Chelsea is paving the way for future generations. She has already broken down barriers in both the modelling and fashion worlds and she is helping young women everywhere to see that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.

Gina Field from Penrith

Gina Field

Gina Field is a shining example of a woman determined to break down gender barriers and not only succeed but to become the best in a male-dominated industry.

At just 19 she had her heart set on being a security guard. She was told not to bother because it wasn’t a job for a woman. This did not stop Gina; she went through the training and became not only one of the first female security guards but also a mobile patrol officer, a role that was considered too dangerous and physically strenuous for a woman to undertake.

Gina moved up the ranks in several security businesses, but in 1998, after being made redundant, she started her own company. Nepean Regional Security began its life in Gina’s home in Penrith. Fourteen years later, it is one of the most successful security companies in the state, with more than 40 employees and a fleet of cars deployed across the metropolitan area.

While some of Gina’s jobs have seen her protecting movie stars such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Hugh Jackman, it is Gina’s connection to and protection of her local community that is closest to her heart. Gina is on the Penrith Valley Community Safety Partnership. Spearheaded by Gina, the group established MONDO, a project devoted to educating local kids about the dangers of binge drinking and antisocial behaviour, and working with them to combat issues affecting the young people of Penrith. MONDO has a space near the Joan Sutherland Centre where every Thursday night teenagers can get together to enjoy free entertainment.

Along with her volunteer work to ensure the safety of young people in Penrith, Gina works tirelessly for the local business community. She is on the Penrith Valley Chamber of Commerce and works closely with the Penrith City Centre Association. Nepean Regional Security has been the major sponsor of the Penrith City Festival for the past two years which attracts more than 30,000 people to the area and provides a vital boost to the smaller local shops and businesses.

Gina regularly donates security services to causes close to her heart, including the Cancer Council’s Relay for Life and Guide Dogs NSW events.

Gina’s road to success was not easy. She encountered resistance, suffered setbacks and was told she couldn’t do it. “Determination, hard work and resilience enabled me to overcome all of this.  I am very blessed every day and whatever I can give back to my community, I willingly do.”

Dr Cathy Foley from St Ives Chase

Cathy Foley

Dr Cathy Foley is one Australia’s foremost scientists, leading the way for women in science and inspiring a generation of young girls to follow in her footsteps. Cathy is one of a handful of women to hold a very senior position in science. As Chief of the CSIRO’s Materials Science and Engineering division, she is responsible for around 900 people and a budget of more than $60 million.

For the last 28 years, Cathy has been actively promoting the role of women in physics and science. Her determination to see women excel in the field has seen her form numerous groups including the AIP Women in Physics Group, Women in Superconductivity and Women in Science Enquiry Network. She has been the keynote speaker at the Women in Science and Engineering Symposium held at Parliament House in Canberra, she was President of the Australian Institute of Physics and Science and Technology Australia representing over 68,000 researchers, and she has served on several boards and advisory groups, including the Prime Minister's Science, Engineering and Innovation Council.

It is impossible to sum up Cathy’s scientific achievements as they quite simply cannot be confined to one page.  Her system for mineral exploration, LANDTEM, contributed to the detection of more than $6 billion worth of mines worldwide. She has boldly pursued groundbreaking research and ideas in all areas of science, winning not only numerous accolades but also the respect and admiration of her peers.

All of this from a woman who overheard a teacher in high school describe her as not being very good at maths. Dr Cathy Foley has proven that particular teacher wrong many times over. Her enthusiasm, professionalism, resourcefulness and pragmatism have made her an ideal role model for young women around Australia, especially in science where there are still relatively few women at the highest levels.

This powerhouse of science has not only been a trailblazer for women in her field, she also worked to ensure that there was enough childcare available in her community. She lobbied for government grants in order to build the Bradfield Park Child Care Centre in 1988. She also established after-school care at Beaumont Road Public School. She was an active member of Parents and Citizens Associations and School Councils. For this work, in 2006 she was recognised as the NSW Public School Parent of the Year.

Her work with young people and her community does not end at school. She has also well and truly earned her merit badge as a scout leader. Cathy started out as secretary of the parent committee for the North St Ives Scout group but since 2001 she has been a Joey Scout leader. More than 300 children have been in her group over the years and in 2007 she was honoured for her work with the scouts.

"Being a physicist has been rewarding, not only because it has enabled me to participate in all aspects of science research and its commercialisation and to witness the huge impact this has had on our society, but it has also allowed me to balance my work life with a happy family life and strong community involvement. It is becoming increasingly clear that the role of the workplace in creating the right environment for women is critical if we are to embrace the full human potential."

Cathy has upended the science stereotype to become one of the most recognisable faces of science in Australia, paving the way for future generations of women in the field.  She is proof positive that with hard work and resolve, anything is possible.

Dr Diann Rodgers-healey from Kiama

Diann Rodgers-Healey

Dr Diann Rodgers-Healey is the founder and Executive Director of the Australian Centre for Leadership for Women, a virtual centre she founded in 2000.

“As a woman, researcher, writer and activist, I have passionately pursued challenging mindsets in order to unravel and understand what is at the heart of issues of inequality so that it can be brought to the fore and addressed,” she says.

In 2006 Diann established national leadership awards for female community leaders with the sole aim of valuing women and the contribution they make to society. Since then, two other national awards were created to recognise women’s and men’s initiatives in advancing women in workplaces and the community.

The Centre holds a strong position in the landscape of women and leadership in Australia and internationally. It is free for all and run solely by Diann. She has seen it evolve over the years in scope, depth and geographic scale and as such it has become a credible avenue for women to contribute their views and insights, to be informed, to be recognised and to engage in a spirit of empowerment, learning and leadership.

Diann is Adjunct Professor in The Cairns Institute of James Cook University and Honorary Fellow of the Australian Institute of Business Well-Being at the University of Wollongong.

Diann is passionate about coaching and mentoring and values the privilege of listening to each individual’s story and helping them realise their goals and ambitions.

Diann has published numerous articles both in Australia and overseas. Her book, ‘Women’s Activism – insights for empowering women from global women activists’ will be launched on International Women’s Day (8 March) at the University of Wollongong.

Her academic qualifications include a PhD, a Masters and Diploma of Education and a Bachelor of Arts. Diann has said that her studies have enabled her “to acquire new lenses and given focus to some old ones.”

Diann is a pioneer in the study of leadership theory and her PhD thesis led to the development of a co-existential leadership model in workplaces for men and women.

“A world where women and men can co-exist with respect and are valued in all dimensions of life is possible if we reflect and learn from our thoughts and actions.”

Najeeba Wazefadost from Granville

Najeeba Wazefadost

“My journey has taught me that our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face challenges to change.”

A 24-year-old Afghan refugee, Najeeba’s journey began on a boat, bound for Australia in 2000. She was just 11 when she was held in a detention centre and then spent a further three years living under the cloud of a temporary protection visa, uncertain as to her fate. But these experiences taught her that obstacles and challenges only make people stronger.

When she arrived in Australia, Najeeba was uneducated and spoke no English. She has recently graduated with a Bachelor of Medical Science from the University of Western Sydney and is now studying a second degree in nursing at the University of Technology Sydney.

Najeeba has been involved in a number of organisations such as ChilOut (Children Out of Detention), Amnesty International, and is currently acting as the president of Hazara Women of Australia, advocating for rights of refugee women and newly arrived migrants with their settlement. In 2010 Najeeba was a finalist of the Young Human Rights Medal Award, in 2011 she won the Young Woman of the West Award and last year she won a UTS Human Rights Award for her work in not-for-profit organisations and volunteer work. She is currently a case manager at Settlement Services International.

She helps refugee women who are living in fear and struggling for security to settle in Australia. She has volunteered for the Bamiyan Association where she assisted young children with their schooling and to get established in their new environment. She has encouraged many refugee women to learn to read and write English, to get their drivers’ licences and to stand up for their rights as women.

Najeeba is in demand as a public speaker, regularly visiting universities, schools, churches and colleges across the country. She is an accomplished writer and her short story, 'Surrealistic Nightmares' won an award and was published in the short story collection 'There's No Place Like Home'. She has also been a panellist on ABC TV’s ‘Q&A’ show.

Najeeba is continuing her medical studies and in time hopes to become a doctor. She would also like to one day return to Afghanistan to open a hospital and a university.

“I am so lucky to live in a country that has given me a peaceful life with security, liberty and freedom as a woman. I now live in a learning environment where opportunities are not defined by the boundaries of the past, but by the limits of imagination.”

Powerful and inspiring words from a powerful and inspiring young Australian.

People's choice community hero award finalists

Frances Bodkin from Tahmoor

Frances Bodkin from Tahmoor

Dr Frances Bodkin is a Dharawal woman, well known throughout Macarthur for her dedication to and knowledge of the environment and Aboriginal culture. A ‘keeper’ and educator of Aboriginal knowledge, she also has degrees in Environmental Science, Geomorphology (study of landforms) and Climatology.

"She's this beacon of light, and she's making sure that the values and the teachings of Aboriginal culture will survive into upcoming generations," says her son, Dr Gawaian Bodkin-Andrews.

Aunty Fran, as she is known, has endured many personal challenges but it is her triumph over such adversity that gives hope and strength to those around her. A member of the Stolen Generations, Aunty Fran had a number of foster homes as a child, but she kept finding her way back home, where her birth mother passed on her Aboriginal knowledge and stories until she passed away. Aunty Fran collated this traditional knowledge passed on from her mother, grandmother and great grandmother into what she refers to as ‘Indigenous Science’.

In her 30s, Aunty Fran began her studies at Macquarie University which she says was “the only university at the time that provided the courses that would confirm the knowledge that my mother gave me.” Aunty Fran’s quest was to prove that Aboriginal knowledge was indeed a science.

On her retirement in 1981, her 1200-page book ‘Encyclopaedia Botanica, the Essential Reference Guide to Native and Exotic Plants in Australia’ was published. Aunty Fran began to realise that she could bring together Aboriginal knowledge with science to teach children from kindergarten through to university students.

Aunty Fran’s work has been published many times and she regularly addresses an array of environmental and community groups, government departments and academic institutions. She is actively involved in ensuring the Dharawal language is passed onto future generations. In fact Aunty Fran says, “I want to teach everyone the beauty of our culture, as it is such a beautiful culture.”

In 2012, Aunty Fran’s life’s ambitions were realised. Firstly, the Bureau of Meteorology formally recognised Indigenous weather knowledge; secondly, the University of NSW began to use Aboriginal stories to learn about geological events; and finally, but most importantly to Aunty Fran, one of the state’s top universities began developing an Aboriginal Science course.

Aunty Fran believes “knowledge is our prime resource – we must treasure it.” Others would say that it is Aunty Fran herself who should be treasured as an outstanding example of a community hero.

Jessica Brown from Rose Bay

Jessica Brown from Rose Bay

Jessica Brown is the founder and CEO of Life Changing Experiences Foundation and its SISTER2Sister mentoring program, which has changed the lives of hundreds of young women across NSW.

For most people, it is easier just to be a bystander. Not for this young powerhouse. Jessica is committed to assisting disadvantaged and underprivileged young girls by giving them the chance to break the cycle of destitution and abuse. The SISTER2Sister mentoring and risk management program is designed to empower ‘at risk’ teenage girls to make positive choices for a better future. Each girl (Little Sister) is matched with a stable role model (Big Sister) who is a professional woman from the community.

Jessica oversees up to 50 Big and Little Sisters each year, along with a team of leaders and volunteer psychologists. Her passion and determination for this generation to have a better future is what drives her. She is the one on the end of the phone in the middle of the night, finding emergency accommodation for the girls, or counselling them through experiences no person should ever have to endure. She has encouraged young women to complete school and to pursue university studies. For some of the graduates of the SISTER2Sister program they are the first in their family to have a job.

Jessica is regularly asked to comment in the media about women’s issues, and offer parenting advice on key topics relating to teenagers such as bullying, cyber safety, teenage crime and most recently the dangers of ‘sexting’.

In 2010 Jessica suffered her own personal tragedy when her younger brother was killed in a violent crime. Jessica’s extraordinary compassion was further established when she found out the man convicted of killing her brother had experienced a life of poverty, violence and abuse. This fuelled her passion to ensure that vulnerable teenage girls are given the necessary support to overcome domestic abuse, strive for an education and are prepared for motherhood.

In 2011, Jessica co-wrote her first book, ‘Cooked with love: Recipes my mother taught me’, with all the proceeds from sales of the book going to the SISTER2Sister program.

No matter what the obstacle, Jessica finds a way to ensure her work continues. As she says: “By helping one vulnerable girl at a time, we are positively changing the lives of future generations to come by turning walls into bridges.”

Jessica Brown has changed the course of hundreds of young women’s lives. This makes her a true community hero.

Rebecca Morgan from Leichhardt

Rebecca Morgan from Leichhardt

People have described Rebecca Morgan as “dedicated”, “an inspiration”, “positive”, and “amazing”. This tenacious young woman, President of Little Wonder – Parent Support and Fundraising Committee for RPA Newborn-Care, absolutely lives up to all of these descriptions.

After her son Connor was born prematurely at 32 weeks, Rebecca became a founding member of Little Wonder. This group is dedicated to providing support to families who have experienced a premature or ill newborn baby, and to increasing awareness of the wonderful work RPA Newborn-Care does on a daily basis.

Juggling family, work and volunteering, Rebecca’s drive to ensure the continued success of Little Wonder has resulted in the group raising more than $50,000 for vital life-saving equipment and the refurbishment of rooms in the neonatal intensive care unit. Rebecca has organised numerous fundraising activities including Ladies Day high teas, cinema nights, stalls and raffles.

She has also been instrumental in establishing Little Wonder Playpals, a support group for families once they have been discharged from hospital.

Rebecca never turns away from those who need her most. She has found donors to provide gifts for babies in the hospital, recruited hundreds of new supporters and ensured that Little Wonder not only provides immediate support to patients and families but will continue to help those in need for many years to come.

Rebecca’s emotional connection to Little Wonder inspires other parents faced with similar circumstances to give back to the hospital that saves babies’ lives on a daily basis. Last year Rebecca managed the renovation and fit out of a room for mothers of premature babies to express breast milk. The Director of RPA Newborn-Care named it the Little Wonder Expressing Room in honour of Rebecca’s tireless work.

Last month, Rebecca and her husband Kieran welcomed their second son, Lucas. He was also born prematurely at just 31 weeks and he is currently being cared for by RPA Newborn-Care.

Rebecca says that the work she does would not be possible without her husband and her family who are “extremely supportive both to me personally and of the work of
Little Wonder.”

Rebecca’s dedication to caring for the families of the many ‘little wonders’ born every day makes her an ideal nominee as a community hero.

Mary Slater from Walhallow

Mary Slater from Walhallow

“Respect your elders, respect your peers, but most importantly, respect yourself.” Mary Slater’s words echo this incredible woman’s journey to transform her community’s attitude towards domestic and family violence and child sexual abuse.

Never one to shy away from difficult or controversial issues, Mary has galvanised the communities of Walhallow, Werris Creek and Quirindi to tackle these critical issues – common to all of Australia – head on.

Having grown up in Walhallow, Mary knew that the only way to effect change in attitudes among these communities was by adopting an integrated approach.

She established a number of different groups so that there were avenues for everyone in these communities to have their voices heard. She was a key part of setting up the Guurrama Women’s Support Group; she formed the Aboriginal Men’s Group; and she engaged Aboriginal Elders to ensure their input into decision-making processes.

Mary oversees the Malagan-Yinarr Girls Mentor program at Quirindi High School. This program helps more than 30 Aboriginal students with issues including health and wellbeing and career development.

A graduate of the University of Technology Sydney, Mary has successfully brought together representatives from government and the non-government sector to ensure a community approach is taken to address community issues. Mary currently works for Aboriginal Affairs NSW as Community Program Officer.

It is her unwavering support and passion for the welfare of the people of Walhallow, Werris Creek and Quirindi that makes Mary a household name in these communities. Mary promotes trust among everyone that she brings together.

When asked to sum up Mary’s impact on these communities, her friends and colleagues describe her as “a quiet achiever, instrumental in driving change in the communities of Walhallow, Werris Creek and Quirindi, in particular around Aboriginal child sexual abuse, family and domestic violence.”

Mary is quite simply the very essence of a community hero.

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Last updated: 24 Sep 2019