When Megan Irving headed north with a “life passion to live at the pointy bit, at the top of Australia, where cattle stations were bigger than whole suburbs” she never dreamed of the opportunities to unfold.
Working her way from Melbourne to the tiny Cape York town of Coen, eight hours north of Cairns, she landed her first remote job as an early childhood teacher at the Kindergarten.
“In the early days the numbers were low, I knew there were kids out there - but why weren’t they coming? Were they shy or just didn’t trust me or was it more,” recalls Megan, one of few non-indigenous women in town in the early 1990’s – and soon to be mustering cattle as a weekend “jillaroo” with the country’s best ‘ringers’.
“I taught those kindy kids that they can do anything, and the classroom filled up”.
Australia’s theme for International Women’s Day 2019 is ‘More Powerful Together’, and Megan Irving reflects on the empowerment of women and how far gender equality has balanced out in recent years.
Twenty years in the Cape saw Megan help the indigenous community to establish the first Justice Group on Cape York, led family and women’s and men’s support groups, and coordinated remote area volunteers with the State Emergency Services, while completing two university degrees in the bush, with no internet.
Megan still makes a big impact in “the pointy bit” as a Complementary Programs Coordinator with My Pathway in Cairns.
“Working in an organisation like My Pathway is powerful for women with so many vast opportunities to help define and build stronger communities together,” says Megan.
“In fact, My Pathway - with a workforce of 60% females and 49% indigenous – has been recognised as an Employer of Choice, for the second year by Workplace Gender Equality Agency”.
Her experience in Coen with five different Aboriginal clan groups, now sees Megan training some of her “kindy kids” in employability skills in Cairns, and as a coordinator of programs like ‘Get Ready, Get Set, Go’ - providing employment skills to Project Booyah’s past Cairns participants - and the inaugural Defence Indigenous Development Program (DIDP) - on behalf of My Pathway.
Twelve of these DIDP graduates from regional Queensland successfully entered careers with the Australian Navy following nine-months intensive, remote employment training – the largest indigenous intake since World War 2.
Project Booyah is a community-inclusive leadership and mentor program run by Queensland Police for young at-risk women, with adventure-based learning, social and skills development training, and vocational certificates.
“We can all tread amazing paths, what matters is the difference you make”.
Megan also represents My Pathway on the FNQ Suicide Prevention Taskforce, Youth- Services Managers Network, facilitates youth action programs supported by Skilling Queenslanders for Work, and is a Justice of the Peace.
“Making change: Megan Irving (far right) - a mentor for young women on Project Booyah, in Cairns. Photo: My Pathway