Meet Dalby’s most inspirational women breaking down barriers
In celebration of International Women’s Day, the Dalby Herald has profiled some of the inspirational women in our region to highlight the trials, tribulations, and achievements of their lives.
From a hardworking musterer and saleyard worker to a police sergeant aiding victims of domestic violence, it takes grit and determination to break down gender barriers in pursuit of their careers and their passions.
Jenelle ‘Nellie’ Sutton
Longtime musterer and saleyard worker Jenelle Sutton has been a stalwart of Dalby’s livestock community for decades.
Commonly known as ‘Nellie’, she has worked tirelessly at the Dalby Regional Saleyards for more than 15 years, assisting in the sale of horses and cattle for as long as she can remember.
“I started there when my son went to uni, and I take the horses in every Wednesday, as well as running cattle up the laneway,” Mrs Sutton said.
“I’ve been there ever since, so I don’t think I’ve missed too many Wednesdays, except when I smashed my arm.”
Mrs Sutton tends to her property as well as her work with the saleyards, while also engaging in contract mustering for farms across the Western Downs.
Even among all of the hard work, she enjoys her career in livestock, saying it’s her “day out”.
“I enjoy the people, and it is hard work, but it’s exciting at times when you have a bull chasing you and knocking you over, or people getting skittled around you,” she said.
“It’s pretty full on, but it’s good.”
Janice Pittaway – Tolmah Rural Fire Brigade First Officer
Girl power is on show at the Tolmah Rural Fire Brigade, with first officer Janice Pittaway leading a crusade to encourage more women to fight fires and extinguish gender norms.
Originally moving from Victoria to the Western Downs three and a half years ago, Mrs Pittaway joined the rural fireys to be a part of her new found community, and took to it like a duck in water.
“I joined up to be an auxiliary firefighter, and then I ended up being the truck driver to help them out,” Mrs Pittaway said.
“After that I decided to finally become a full rural firefighter.”
When she first joined, she was taken under the wing of the first officer, and took up his role following his passing in 2019.
During her first few years, she was one of the only active woman firefighter on the ground, but since her arrival she’s been able to encourage more female volunteers.
“There’s five female firefighters including myself,” she said.
“Some days we’ll have jobs on and it’ll be an all girl crew, it’s amazing.”
Mrs Pittaway said the camaraderie partnered with the adrenaline rush led to her sticking around in the Rural Fire Service.
“You’re out there in the thick of it, and you have that camaraderie between you and your teammates,” she said.
“Then you’re working with other brigades, and you’re all working together towards that one goal.”
Marilyn Bidstrup – Western Downs Regional Citizen of the Year
Western Downs Regional Citizen of the Year Marilyn Bidstrup is the living embodiment of leadership and determination, which led to her winning the top gong at the 2021 Australia Day Awards.
Mrs Bidstrup’s efforts across multiple community groups identified her as an incredible asset to her hometown Warra in the Western Downs.
Some of her accolades include the Warra Progress and Heritage Society, the Chinchilla Uniting Church, Dalby Meals on Wheels, and several other organisations and the local cotton industry.
Mrs Bidstrup also created the ‘Thousand Step Walkway’ at Warra, and the ‘History of Agriculture in Warra District’.
Speaking about International Women’s Day, she said there were hundreds of inspiring women in the Western Downs, who have achieved so much with a strong support base.
“I think that’s why rural people get along so well because we all support each other, and we work well together, and do things together,” she said.
“With women in our region, they strive for who they want to be, they all have opportunities available to them, and we’ll always be here to help.”
Mrs Bidstrup said she has already seen dozens of younger women coming through the ranks, ready to become leaders in the Western Downs.
“We have seen some inspirational younger women coming through, because they communicate so well in their own sectors.
“They’re doing great things in our communities, and are becoming role models for others out there.”
Tanya Wittmann – Dalby SES volunteer group leader
Dalby State Emergency Service group leader Tanya Wittmann has been leading the way for females in her organisation, breaking down gender barriers in the process.
Dalby’s SES faction contains 16 members, with a quarter of them being women volunteers.
Ms Wittmann has been a part of the organisation for more than eight years, and said the percentage of women in the entire Western Downs group was quite small.
Since joining, and she has endeavoured to increase the number of female volunteers.
“When I started I was the only female member within the group for Dalby for eight years,” she said.
“I had to change a few opinions of those in the community that even though we were females, we can do the same things as the blokes.”
The group leader said she had encountered instances of prejudices against women SES members, with those in need of assistance questioning the skillset of the longtime volunteer.
“Some people I’ve helped in the past weren’t big fans of women rescuing them, or fixing their roof during a wild weather event,” she said.
“We have the same training, and the same skills, so this projects helps to make sure everyone is included and empowered as one, inside and outside of the organisation.”
Mrs Wittmann was recently presented with an excellence award by Queensland Fire and Emergency Services for a program to assist women inside and outside of the SES.
“We started it to show inclusivity, and to empower women in a male dominated industry,” Ms Wittmann said.
“The program helps teach SES women and civilian women to do simple manual tasks they may not know, empowering them in the process.
“This can range from anything tarping a roof during a storm or changing a tyre.”
Kylie Bourne – Western Downs Regional Council
As a new term councillor and a long time community volunteer, councillor Kylie Bourne lives and breathes the Western Downs.
Cr Bourne was part of 12 committees at one point in her life in Miles, and eventually gravitated to the presidency of the Miles Historical Village Museum for 12 years.
“That consumed a lot of my time, with my children asking me if I was going to take my swag and roll it up there since I was there so much,” Cr Bourne said.
“In the last few years I have been heavily involved in the community, where I felt a natural progression which led to me running for council.
Cr Bourne said at first, running for council appeared to be one of the “most daunting things” she had embarked on, but rose to the challenge.
“I feel honoured to be sitting at the table, and to realise that the community saw something in me that would be beneficial for the region,” she said.
“Since my background is strongly focused on the community, I’m keen to focus on our future, while also remembering our past.
“We need to meet the challenges of the next few years head on to find out where we’re headed as a region, in order to keep our region diverse and strong.
“That’s what drives and inspires me.”
Megan James – Western Downs Regional Council
Growing up in an idyllic family life on a cotton and grain farm just outside Dalby, Western Downs councillor Megan James has been crusading for women in the workplace for decades.
The local business consultant, active community member, small business owner and mother of three teenagers grew up on a local farming property, before leaving Brisbane for university and work.
She returned 12 years later, and worked as a communications-marketing manager of regional firm BMO Accountants, while moonlighting as a former Dalby Chamber of Commerce board member.
She has worked alongside men on her farm and in the corporate business world, and always chose to challenge the gender roles imposed onto women from an early age.
“One typical weekend when Dad had said ‘boys come with me, Megan help your mother’,” Cr James said.
“I still remember saying ‘Dad, why can’t I help you on the farm and the boys stay and do the house chores?’”
“To his credit I was then regularly engaged in siphon throwing and cotton chipping, and Dad has always given me the impression that I can do anything I put my mind to.”
Inspired by the tenacity of her mum, Cr James never let her gender be considered as a factor in her working life, and never gave inequality the attention it craved in the workplace.
“If I was in a meeting of all men, which was common, I only ever thought about whether I had the skills and experience to be there,” Cr Jame said.
“Occasionally I knew that I was being viewed as ‘just the girl’, but I always combated that by making sure I knew my stuff, so they had no choice but to consider me a worthy equal at the table.
“We have come a long way since then, but sadly there are cultures where women are treated as lesser beings.
“We must ensure our next generation of boys and girls just don’t see gender as a barrier to achieving their dreams.”
Sergeant Annie Johnston – Dalby police domestic and family violence co-ordinator
Working in domestic violence has empowered and strengthened Dalby sergeant Annie Johnston to help victims affected by this insidious crime in the Western Downs for 18 years.
Sergeant Johnston is the Domestic and family violence co-ordinator for the Dalby district, and covers 51 stations in the surrounding areas, and occasionally 60 when her offsider in the South Burnett is on leave.
“I originally wanted to be a police prosecutor,” sergeant Johnston said.
“But then I got here and I found this role, and it became my passion.”
In her job, sergeant Johnston analyses and reviews domestic violence occurrence reports filed by officers in Dalby and its surrounds.
Her job entails reading every report, and making sure it complies with legislation and their operations procedure manual, while also being concise for court proceedings.
“It’s a diverse job and I love it,” sergeant Johnston said.
“You meet some amazing people, and then some interesting people, but it’s a great opportunity to help others.”
She admits some of the incidents she witnesses are quite unbelievable and harrowing, but it reminds her how important her role is in the community.
“We see a lot of victims put up with certain situations because they think they’re doing the right thing by staying in the relationship for the sake of the kids,” sergeant Johnston said.
“But what they’re doing is subjecting the kids to horrible things which isn’t good for them.
“In my role, we’ve been able to help families separate from this violence, and help kids and victims in the process.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic or family violence, contact White Ribbon on 1800 RESPECT or go to www.whiteribbon.org.au
Rebecca (Reedie) Williams – Auxiliary Firefighter
Auxiliary firefighter Rebecca Williams has been on call for Dalby for the past 13 years since her move from Toowoomba.
First joining the fire station upon her arrival to town, Mrs Williams was eager to do something “exciting and a bit different”.
She is now one of two women auxiliary firefighters, but was originally the only woman at the brigade.
“I’ve learnt a lot of new skills and made a lot of friends in the process,” Mrs Williams said.
“I’ve been very lucky because everyone’s been very accepting, and I believe the fire service has improved over the years with encouraging women to join.”
Mrs Williams acknowledged how the lifestyle can be difficult for a woman with a career and kids at home, and how this can be a strain on their time.
“I have a supportive husband at home who can help when I’m out on call, and I can see how this might not appeal to all women.
“But if they do want to do it, there is no impediment, with training given to anyone who wants to join.”
“I would encourage more girls to give it a go.”
Mrs Williams said that even though adrenaline and excitement are some of her main motivations for joining, she has found a new passion within the auxiliary firefighters.
“I love doing the school talks the most, where we teach the young ones about stop, drop, and roll, and on the ground and go go go,” she said.
“I believe the most important thing we can do is educate our kids on what they should do during a fire.
“It can be a scary thing when firefighters turn up in their suits and breathing apparatuses, but if we can help them understand the situation, and get them out of the house, then I think we’ve done a good job.”
Mabrey Ann – Goondir Health Services board member
Spending most of her time nowadays singing and swimming, Goondir Health Services board member Mabrey Ann was instrumental in helping the Indigenous organisation reach its atmospheric heights in the past 20 years.
After she left Telstra following 30 years of employment, Ms Ann grew impatient of retired life, and put her hand up to be on the board of directors in 1991.
“I’ve seen it grow since our little office in a house on New St … we’ve expanded so much,” Ms Ann said.
“When we built our new building (on Jimbour St), we thought we would’ve had plenty of room.
“But to be honest we could’ve went another story higher.”
Ms Ann sits on six of the seven boards run by Goondir, chairing two of them.
She also divides her time between three choirs in the Western Downs, while trying to keep her fitness up with swimming three times a week.
Looking back on how far the Indigenous health service has come, Ms Ann believes Goondir will continue to be an vital part of the Dalby community.
“Our service is important for the indigenous people in our area, to help them with their healthcare needs,” she said.
“We will continue to do this in Dalby, and through our services in Oakey, and St George.”
Carmen Evans – Helping Hands Dalby
After emigrating to Australia from South Africa and New Zealand, local charity founder Carmen Evans identified an urgent need in her new found community, leading to the creation of something special and life-changing for many.
Helping Hands has been operating as a drop in centre for domestic violence victims and a dollar boutique since its humble beginnings in 2013.
Mrs Evans’ inspiration for creating the charity stemmed from some of her personal experiences in her life, and her need to help others.
“I started myself for the first three years, and I came from a background where I’ve seen and had personally experienced some of the things that these mums have gone through,” she said.
“I left South Africa 18 years ago … and I lived in New Zealand for five years, then I got my citizenship.
“My family then came over to [Australia] then my brothers came … then I followed them here.”
When she first moved to Dalby, Mrs Evans quickly realised there was a need that wasn’t being met by other organisations circa 2013.
“I saw an opportunity specifically for those mothers and women who were affected by domestic violence,” she said.
“When they go to the crisis centre, they’re helped with financials, a place to live, how to keep herself safe, but when she walks out she only has the suitcase of clothes she brought.
“The crisis centre send them to us, and we deck her out with her physical needs, such as food, school clothes for the kids, kitchen items, linen, and more.
“It’s those necessities they need the most that we help with.”
Mrs Evans has now been in Dalby for a decade, raising her family in the Western Downs and providing a helping hand to domestic abuse survivors, and those in need of assistance.