8 March 2023
The days of construction being a man’s world are over, and at Rail Projects Victoria (RPV) that’s something we’re extremely proud to celebrate.
In the past 5 years the number of women working on all facets of our projects has more than doubled, rising from 316 in 2018 to 847 in 2023. Women in leadership roles has reached 36% and continues to rise. Women in the early stages of their careers is another growing cohort, with 40 apprentices, 61 trainees and 90 cadets on RPV’s books.
To mark International Women’s Day, we are proud to again showcase a selection of our women (as nominated by their colleagues) in our annual Women Of RPV series. The #EmbraceEquity branding throughout these pages echoes this year’s International Women’s Day theme and provides a thread that weaves its way through each profile.
Our women come from all walks of life and all corners of the globe and are truly revolutionising the construction industry. To honour them we’ve also given the universal symbol of women a tilt, underscoring something else we’re extremely proud of. That at RPV, our women are our X factor.
Here are our 2023 Women Of RPV.
Jess Albion, Senior Project Manager
“Independence is very important to me, the ability to overcome adversity.”
Finding a way in the face of life’s challenges has embedded an inner strength.
As far back as she can remember, it was always Jess Albion and her Mum. A maths and science teacher who’d been the first person in her family to go to university, she showed her daughter how to endure and thrive against the odds.
“Independence is very important to me, the ability to overcome adversity,” Jess says. “Growing up there was just the two of us. Things people think you can’t do, or you need support for, I don’t necessarily feel the same. I’m probably overly independent, it’s an overreaction.”
Her primary years were spent at 7 different schools, from Darwin to Bendigo, Cairns to Gold Coast, before they settled in Melbourne. Her mother completed a Masters degree, worked in superannuation after recovering from cancer, and eventually returned to tutoring. “She loved teaching, loved kids.”
Jess’s own education journey was anything but smooth. A maths-science person too, a love of reading and writing masked for a time her struggles with spelling. By secondary school it was acknowledged enough to excuse her from studying German so she could concentrate on English, but it wasn’t until her later years that a diagnosis of dyslexia helped clear the murky air.
“Everyone understood that I had a problem, no-one understood what,” Jess says, recalling students in her Year 12 English class reading out how many spelling mistakes they’d made in assignments, and the amusement her high number would draw. “No-one reconciled that I was dyslexic.”
She compensated in other ways and persevered to the extent that English was one of her best subjects. Yet she laughs that when she got into her preferred course at the University of Melbourne “I couldn’t even spell engineering”.
Curiosity has driven her through a career that started on Victoria’s desalination project while in the Thiess graduate program, has included a fly-in fly-out coal seam gas plant project in Queensland, time with VicRoads, and 7 years and counting under the MTIA banner. During the latter chunk she’s squeezed in Masters degrees in Construction Law, Dispute Resolution and an Executive MBA.
“I finish one and get toey,” Jess laughs. “I like having something happening.”
In a work sense now that something is MAR, where in layman’s terms Jess says she is “trying to work out how to build a train station at the airport while keeping the airport going”. The challenge – and not least the scale of a “ridiculously complicated” project that has been generations in the making – excites her no end.
“I still drive past a freeway upgrade I worked on (Tulla Sydney Alliance M80) and go, ‘Oooh, look at my vehicle exit!’ I’m still proud of that. And I still remember someone spilling paint on it after it was opened! This will be a whole different thing. Everyone who goes to the airport with me will have to listen to me telling them about MAR.”
Seeing her mother routinely perform “traditional” male tasks imbued a quiet self-belief. Jess laughs that she was the tallest kid in class until grade 6 and hasn’t grown since. Being small in stature doesn’t stop her from lugging heavy things around the house or diving into her chest full of tools to tackle whatever job is required. “I grew up that you could do it, why call a handyman?”
Plants fill her house and garden, while Miniature Schnauzers Hendrix and Presley nestle at her feet and betray a love of music that runs as deep as her passion for stories.
Jess has long been miffed that the number of women on the MTIA org chart thins the closer you get to the top; RPV being led for the first time by a female CEO thrills her. “It’s that saying, you can’t be what you can’t see. It’s a fantastic way for MTIA to walk the talk, they’re so women-positive.”
– Peter Hanlon
Mulenga Banda, Online Communications Advisor
“You can’t be what you can’t see and seeing Janette makes me think, ‘Yes, I can do that as well.’”
Joining RPV has provided the opportunity to work with passionate female leaders.
Her slight accent and passport identify her as a Kiwi, but Mulenga Banda’s story started far away in Kitwe, the second most populous city in Zambia.
Her journey to Melbourne has been a long one – 50,000km as the crow flies, covering cultures and continents that have contributed to the curious, creative, culinary junkie she is today.
Just 7 when the family moved to New Zealand, trips back to Kitwe were few and far between for a good reason. “My older brother and I aways got malaria,” Mulenga says. “We stopped going when I was about 10. I went back when I was 17 and that trip remains the only time that I didn’t get sick!”
Growing up in Christchurch then Wellington was a clash of cultures for Mulenga. She followed the well-worn path of other young immigrants, wanting to fit in, shunning traditional food and preferring to take a sandwich for school lunch.
At home though, she tucked into the delicacies dished up by her mother. Chikanda, a vegetarian sausage, was for special occasions but her personal favourite remains Mbalala, an irresistible peanut brittle. “I would get sick from eating too much as a child, but I could never stop!”
Travel and food are central to Mulenga’s story. She’s never met a dish she’s afraid to try, including when she succumbed to peer pressure and gulped down a garlicky snail while living in Paris.
“I’ll try everything, but I will never eat a snail again! I’m afraid of bugs and insects, but I just had to say I’ve done it.”
The snail encounter happened during her exchange at École Supérieure du Commerce Extérieur, a business school in Paris. Living in Puteaux just outside the city’s famous arrondissements while completing her degree in International Business and French, Mulenga soaked up all that the city is famous for.
She climbed the Eiffel Tower. She was bemused by the tiny dimensions of the Mona Lisa. She explored museums and galleries, while getting her fill of every cuisine available. “The best vegan restaurant I’ve been to is a Vietnamese restaurant in Paris that had a queue around the block. The best Indian restaurant I’ve ever been to is also in Paris.”
The move to Australia once her exchange finished was a happy accident sparked by Mulenga’s parents, who moved to Melbourne during her time in France and she figured “everyone in New Zealand loves Melbourne, so I may as well move there, too!”
She briefly worked at the French Embassy in Sydney before settling in Melbourne, which Mulenga sees as the perfect mix of Wellington and Paris; a city filled with art, culture and food.
The city has also delivered the female role models she craved.
“We have so many women in senior roles at RPV and they come from diverse backgrounds. Our Director of Strategic Communications, Amanda Correy, has a wealth of experience in the transport portfolio, and she’s so open and approachable. Our Deputy Director of Communications and Stakeholder Engagement, Janette Sato, is a woman of colour like me. I love seeing her in such a senior role, seeing how passionate and driven and on top of everything she is.
“You can’t be what you can’t see and seeing Janette makes me think, ‘Yes, I can do that as well.’”
With her work in social media hitting the spot, Mulenga is now pushing herself to leave the comfortable bubble she created during Melbourne’s lockdowns. True to form, that includes finding food gems. “I’ve eaten a lot! Since lockdown ended, a friend and I have been trying to eat as much as we can at different places!”
She’s also looking at reconnecting with her Zambian heritage, or at least brushing up on the language for her next visit. “Last time I was there I tried to speak Bemba and my family and friends laughed! I was like, ‘Okay, that’s not very encouraging!’”
– Alicia Byrne
Vivienne Barrett, Senior Facilitator and Coach
“When you see the lightbulbs go off, I can’t tell you what the feeling is like.”
Coaching people to be their best selves is an art form which brings rich personal reward.
In a church in Kikinda, Serbia, just across the Hungarian border, the ceiling tells a migrant story of beauty left behind in search of a better life. It bears a stunning mural and the name Laszlo Keri, the artist who painted it. Vivienne Barrett’s grandfather.
“In Australia he started a painting business, just normal interior painting,” Viv says. “It was a hard adjustment for him – he was a celebrated artist in Europe, then to come here and be a house painter. But they were so grateful for the opportunities they had.”
Viv’s parents met when her mother was 17, at a camp before setting sail for Australia. They married at St Patrick’s Cathedral in front of a handful of guests and opened a jewellery shop in Ascot Vale. While her father fixed the community’s clocks and watches, Viv hung out with her grandfather in a garage behind the Moonee Ponds home that was shared by 3 generations.
“He’d set up an easel and teach me to paint. I’m not a great artist, but I used to love doing it with him.”
She was a studious child and the first girl in the family to go to university. The day her Year 12 results arrived her surprised father said, “Oh, I didn’t think you’d do that well.” Viv knew how many hours she’d spent at her desk and wasn’t surprised at all.
In her mother Viv saw unbending stoicism cloaked in a motto of “one door closes, another opens”. She spoke Hungarian, German and Yugoslav, acting as an interpreter on the long journey across the seas. Now 92, she lives in a Hungarian aged care home surrounded by her native tongue.
“Mum was a very strong person, she always had something in her to be whoever she needed to be. I definitely saw my parents as an inspiration to do whatever I wanted to do.”
At first that was accounting, her curiosity with numbers sparked by her mother spending hours each month doing the books for the shop. Viv worked for the Smorgon family in Hong Kong, where she met her UK-born engineer husband Stephen, and for 7 years in Canada.
She loved that within 45 minutes of leaving work she could be up a Vancouver mountain, skis strapped on, looking down on her city office building. But after her children Sarah and Matthew were born she realised accounting didn’t fit her personality type, and a door to life coaching swung open.
“I wanted to work with people who move forward, helping them achieve any goals they might have and be the best version of themselves,” says Viv, noting that she’s instantly drawn to the self-help shelves whenever she walks into a bookstore. “When you see the lightbulbs go off, I can’t tell you what the feeling is like.
“It’s quite incredible – you’re on this journey of change with someone and it’s very gratifying. They’re doing the work, but you’re helping them get there.”
That Stephen worked on Metro Tunnel in its early phase amuses Viv, who laughs that he became such a guinea pig during her coach training that he’d plead, “Will you stop coaching me!” Sarah has just started work in commercial design, full of her great grandfather’s artistic flair, while Matthew is tackling Year 12. Like their mother they are Canadian dual citizens.
In coaching up to 60 RPV people each year, Viv sees women who strive to be the best leaders they can but are held back by lack of confidence relative to their male counterparts. “I feel like many women have imposter syndrome, it’s very clear that their confidence needs to lift. And that’s what I work with them on.”
With engineering still a male-dominated domain, it emboldens her to see Nicole Stoddart breaking new MTIA ground. “It’s fabulous, I’m very happy Nicole is our new CEO. She’ll inspire the next wave of women in engineering and construction. What a wonderful thing.”
– Peter Hanlon
Zahra Bayat, Principal Power Engineer
“For all the young women who are studying, they know this industry doesn’t belong to men anymore, they have opportunity here.”
Leaving home in search of betterment has led to a tunnel filled with inspiration.
Zahra Bayat’s earliest memory is of being a pre-schooler in Tehran at the time of the Iran-Iraq war. When the electricity went out and an alarm sounded, everyone in the street would gather in a big basement and cover themselves until the bombing stopped.
“When I look at the news about Ukraine, it brings to my mind that history is just repeating.”
School brought more settled times. Her first part-time job, when Zahra was in Year 10, was tutoring a primary school student in maths. Her pupil got an A, the highest mark in the school. “Her Mum was so happy she threw a party!”
A chemistry teacher bluntly imparted advice that was duly followed – you can either go to university and become independent, “otherwise you are nothing”. The 4 hour ‘Koncour’ uni entrance exam was a rite of passage her family knew well; of 4 sisters, 3 are electrical engineers like Zahra, the other a sports scientist.
She earned her stripes with patience and perseverance. While studying she took work recalibrating DC motors on printers. After her Masters application was knocked back, Zahra took a graduate job designing substations that required travel to projects in remote and dangerous territory on the Iran-Pakistan border.
“My manager would tell me, ‘Arrive at the airport, get a taxi to the site, another taxi to our office in the city, then a taxi back to the airport. No sightseeing, no shopping.’”
Many of her generation were leaving Iran to experience new challenges in their personal and professional lives. “I just wanted to see how I could be a better electrical engineer,” says Zahra, who with software engineer husband Reza packed everything into a single suitcase and moved to Australia in 2013.
“It was a big change, a big challenge – I’d never lived anywhere else. You can imagine how far apart this is – everything is the opposite way! For the first couple of months I was really struggling to focus on which side of the street to look when I was crossing. I still look both sides!”
Before joining RPV last May she worked with Aecom, Yarra Trams and Metro Trains, and is now relishing the everyday challenges – from design and commissioning to installation and testing, assessing risk and supporting partners CYP – that come with delivering a truly world-class rail network for Melbourne. “To my mind it’s a once in a lifetime project,” Zahra says of Metro Tunnel.
Seeing opportunity for all warms her. On visits to the tunnels and stations Zahra sees women working in maintenance and construction. In project director Linda Cantan she sees a role model for all women in the industry. All around her she sees women in leadership roles, encouragement to challenge yourself, an attitude that nothing is there to stop you.
“Everything is changing, and now we have a female CEO. This is really inspiring, for all the young women who are studying, they know this industry doesn’t belong to men anymore, they have opportunity here.”
Zahra laughs that when she and Reza came to Melbourne most of their countryfolk who moved at that time were engineers or doctors. “How boring when we get together!” They play tennis regularly, and Zahra’s love of hiking has taken her to trails from Werribee Gorge to Wilson’s Promontory and national parks everywhere in between.
The Covid-driven shift to flexible work emboldens her that we’ll embrace a future where people work from wherever suits for companies all around the globe, “like we all belong to the same country”. A future where men and women share equal footing – in engineering, politics, sports, everywhere.
“I believe in the future there will be nothing to stop people from being what they want – and it doesn’t matter if you are a woman or a man, everyone will be equal.”
– Peter Hanlon
Christine Campbell, Senior Property Advisor
“I became really driven after seeing how quickly and easily someone’s life can fall apart.”
A sibling’s life-changing moment left a resolve to make a difference.
Christine Campbell was just 15 when an unthinkable tragedy struck her large, tight-knit family, changing the trajectory of her life and giving her a new sense of purpose.
“I was in Year 10. My older brother who lived in Cairns was going out for dinner with our sister who was visiting. He dodged a fallen tree on the footpath and was hit by a drunk driver.”
The back of his head struck the windscreen, causing an acquired brain injury.
“Mum, who’s a nurse, took off to Queensland to be by his side as he spent months in intensive care. She’s an amazing human being and an inspiration. She was the glue that held us all together through the stress.”
The second-youngest of 6 children who lived across the Murray River from Mildura until she was 13, Christine was already self-sufficient. Her brother’s accident made her even more independent and instilled in her the importance of making the most of life.
“Right after the accident, I decided then and there, ‘You’ve got to do stuff and you’ve got to do it well.’ I became really driven after seeing how quickly and easily someone’s life can fall apart.”
She was also driven to study law, feeling that the system had failed her brother. The driver who left him with life-changing injuries lost his licence for 6 months and was fined $500.
A stint in WorkCover led to property law, which in turn delivered Christine a role at RPV. Her time on MAR has provided the work/life balance she’d been chasing.
“Our property team is so diverse. We have surveyors, lawyers, an historian, an economist, a librarian, and our interns have been environmental engineers. As a woman it’s a great place to be, with female directors and deputy directors. I can see equity in action – there are plenty of women in the meeting rooms and there’s an equal number of opportunities for women in all roles.
“I’m also in a job where I can make a difference, but I can have the balance to live my dreams outside work.”
The big dream right now is more stamps in the passport. A comfortable solo traveller pre-marriage, having covered Europe on her own, Christine now has a family in tow – husband of 12 years Adam and sons William, 10, and 7-year-old Ollie.
The family jetted off to Paris, Berlin and Sweden most recently, and Christine is planning her next trip around her favourite form of relaxation – hot springs.
“I’m always looking for a new adventure and new places, but I really want to rediscover Japan with the family, just for their Onsens, the natural hot springs. I love them. I’ve been getting my hot spring fix on the Mornington Peninsula.”
Her large and scattered family has also provided travel opportunities. There are siblings in Sydney, Brisbane and Horsham. Her husband’s cousin is in Sweden. There are still aunts and uncles in the Mildura area, where generations of the family have lived and where they spent last Christmas.
The trip was filled with childhood reminiscence, showing her boys where she grew up in a house attached to the Gol Gol General Store, just over the border in NSW.
“My bedroom is now a kitchen, but the rest of the house is largely untouched. Mum and Dad’s room, the bathroom, the laundry – they’re all the same as they were and it’s a tiny house. I can’t believe how many of us lived in that three-and-a-half-bedroom home!
“It was so much fun to show the kids. We may have moved to Melbourne when I was 13, but our names are still etched in the concrete out the back, leaving our permanent mark!”
– Alicia Byrne
Carmen Diaz, Project Engineer, Development
“The more you tell me I can’t get there, the more I think there is a way.”
Willpower and encouragement have been constants in a life of discovery and adventure.
When she’s sat in a line-up of surfers at her favourite coastal break, Carmen Diaz often realises she’s the only woman in the water. It prompts her to reflect on how far she’s come, and the determination it’s taken to get here.
Her mantra – overcome your fears, get out of your comfort zone and get used to it – has served Carmen well in her beloved water sports of surfing, kite-surfing and wake-boarding, and also in life. It helped her become the only girl in her class to leave the rural Spanish town of Almendralejo, where women moving away to pursue their dreams is uncommon.
“It isn’t easy to be in male-dominated environments, especially in those early stages of your career or when you are getting introduced to a new sport. In those situations I’ve felt I had to perform at my best and push my limits to eventually feel comfortable.”
At school, while Carmen’s friends talked about getting married and having children, her head swam with visions of travelling, learning new languages, seeing all the world has to offer. She can’t put her finger on where this rebellious streak comes from, but thanks her parents for always supporting her choices.
She gravitated to maths and sciences and then construction engineering at university because it fed a love of learning how structures are put together, the carbon footprint they leave behind and how it can be reduced. Carmen studied locally, then enrolled in a Denmark uni to add a civil degree to her engineering armoury. Everything – weather, language, culture – was foreign.
“That was a real big shock, it wasn’t easy. I called my Mum every second day, ‘This is too hard, I can’t do it.’ I was going to university and not understanding a word the whole day. Going back home, trying to learn more English, back to uni … the whole cycle was like, ‘Can I actually do this?’ But I knew I wasn’t going to quit.”
Every student who’d come from outside Denmark left after the first year. Carmen stayed for three, earned a double degree, then set off for Australia. After travelling for 6 months, 2 weeks before she was due to return home she sensed an opportunity was about to be lost and cancelled her flight.
Finding engineering work was another exercise in persistence. Carmen did so well working in a city clothes shop she was soon the manager, but every approach to a construction company hit a brick wall. Exasperated, she marched onto a Mentone work site, demanded to see the project manager and asked him, “How did you get your first job?”
There was no position going (and not a single woman among the 40 men on site) but they gave her a chance. Carmen worked there for 6 years. “The more you tell me I can’t get there, the more I think there is a way.”
Now she is a project engineer on the Shepparton Line Upgrade, assisting with project management, problem-solving and enjoying being surrounded by women, men and accents from all over the world. Last year Carmen did the Women In Transport mentoring program, where having a male mentor reminded her that throughout life – at university, in sport, in employment – she has encountered men who have been prepared to encourage and embolden her.
“Maybe I’ve been lucky, but I’ve always had someone giving me that little push to get to the next level. A comment that shows someone trusts you can help a lot.
“I am really grateful for that. And I would like to encourage more men and women to do that – because it can make a huge difference to a woman’s career. We can be brave, we can get out of our comfort zone and go there. That tiny push of ‘you can do this’ helps us to keep going.”
– Peter Hanlon
Regan Gilbert, Landowner and Business Support Services Advisor
“I can’t sleep after a concert. It’s the most amazing way to connect.”
A family’s challenges instilled an appreciation of load-sharing and mutual respect.
Life’s speed bumps ask us to find inner strength. In Regan Gilbert’s case, she knew from a young age the value of empathy and pragmatism.
“My older brother Travis is severely intellectually and physically disabled, so he was the focus of the family. I knew my parents had a lot on their plate, taking Trav for different treatments – sometimes overseas – and because of that I’m very independent. My parents say they don’t worry about me because they know I’m the one who’ll always land on my feet.”
If there was any void in Regan’s world it was filled to overflowing by her Scottish grandmother, Mary, whose granny flat in the family’s Donvale back yard became her second bedroom. “I was really, really, really close with my Nanna, she was a very big part of our lives,” Regan says of “an amazing woman” who could cook like a chef, pull apart electric plugs and put them back together, fix fuses and generally master whatever life threw her way.
Of the girl she was, Regan reflects that she was “too sensible, always on my best behaviour”, and laughs that if only her children, Harper and Aidan, had followed suit. She tried “heaps of activities” after school but couldn’t find any that stuck; Harper “does everything and keeps doing everything”, Aidan is happiest with bat or ball in hand.
Her brood is familiar to many at RPV. As someone who has always loved writing and storytelling, the tale of how she and husband Ian were drawn together demands sharing.
Regan did a double degree in media and psychology and moved to London the minute she graduated. She has worked variously as a make-up artist, in music publishing paying royalties, as a school PA and in commercial relations, and was in the latter role at Docklands Stadium when she complained to a colleague how hard it was to find a man who could properly punctuate a sentence.
Regan’s maiden name is Gilbee. Her workmate responded that she was mates with another ‘Gilbo’ – journalist Ian – who knew his way around commas and semi-colons. Pity was he’d moved back to England. Regan was about to head to ‘Blighty’ for a holiday, and after an exchange of emails (“he wrote the most beautiful emails …”) they arranged to meet.
“He took me on a picnic at Southbank, on the Thames,” Regan says, recalling a basket laden with homemade quiche, quail eggs, tomato, basil and bocconcini skewers, summer pudding, and lots of Pimm’s. “That was 12 years ago.”
‘Gilbo’ and ‘Gilbo’ were married on the Mornington Peninsula, and before Regan’s Nanna died aged 94 he’d well and truly found a place in her heart. “She loved Ian. Everything good I ever did later in life she’d say, ‘Oh please thank him!’ And I’d be like, ‘Nanna! I did that for you!’”
Equity abounds in what Regan calls “a true partnership”, where childcare and household responsibilities fall to whoever is best placed at the time (although Ian’s liking for ironing has convinced the kids it’s a Dad job). Regan welcomes a similar load-sharing and mutual respect at RPV, which hasn’t been the case in every workplace she’s experienced.
“Female engineers are just as smart as male engineers. It’s a very inclusive workplace – they work hard to make it like that – and I love that about it.”
Joining a Yarraville community women’s choir after being blown away by their energy has been life-changing, belting out “awesome songs” by the likes of Jamiroquai and Britney Spears, surrounded by neighbourhood mums with ABC newsreader Tamara Oudyn at the helm. They rehearse fortnightly and play regular gigs that leave Regan buzzing.
“I can’t sleep after a concert. It’s the most amazing way to connect, just such a positive experience full of all sorts of women. It’s one of the best things I’ve done in my life.”
– Peter Hanlon
Claudia Goncalves, Structural Engineer, CYP
“It doesn’t matter where we are or what we’re doing – we build Lego!”
A mother’s strength and love fostered a will to explore and soar.
The backdrop to Claudia Goncalves’ childhood is like a scene from a European novel: a young girl grows up with a single Mum, spending warm summer days amid corn and grape crops on a farm in the Portuguese countryside.
Young Claudia didn’t need to look any further than her mother Maria, “the strongest and sweetest person at the same time”, for an example of a woman challenging the status quo by running a farm alone. Their home town of Ponte da Barco is in the north of the country, close to the Spanish border. It delivers the kind of picture postcard perfection that’s irresistible to tourists in search of Medieval architecture and farm stays.
“My younger sister and I – she’s also Maria – looked after the chickens, ducks, horses and cows and pretty much did anything and everything the adults didn’t want to do! The corn was fine but my favourite thing was making wine with my Grandpa.”
Claudia stops short of calling her almost 90-year-old grandfather a feminist (you’ll never catch him setting the table) but says he made sure his 3 sons knew their big sister was the boss. “Maybe it’s because she’s the oldest, or maybe he has a soft spot for the only girl.”
A farming future was possible for a while, but at her small country school Claudia developed a love of maths and science which led to dreams of engineering and flying. “It was never just one or the other – I always wanted to do both!
“I studied engineering in Porto, but flying is ‘the one that got away’. I don’t think the air force will want me since I’m closing in on 40, but maybe I’ll learn to fly a helicopter one day!”
The wider world called when the European debt crisis hit Portugal hard. Claudia faced a big question: Canada or Australia? Australia won and has set the scene for career-changing projects and travel since 2012.
“I’ve come full circle back to Melbourne where I started my Australian life. I’ve also lived and worked in WA, Adelaide and Queensland. My last job was building bridges around Mackay. They’re not quite like the old stone bridges back home, but they’re just as important!”
The move back to Melbourne was prompted by the lure of the Metro Tunnel Project and a longing for a true 4 seasons, especially winter, which is something Claudia missed while in far north Queensland.
Working as an engineer on Town Hall Station has been a “once in a decade” opportunity that’s shown her the changing demographic in construction. The number of women is on the rise and the balancing of the scales is something she says many supervisors are welcoming.
“You hear the crew say it’s good to see females coming through because we have a different eye for things. They’re not saying it’s better or worse, it’s just different and complementary.”
Living in Docklands means Claudia has a short walk to work and is close enough to the action to soak up everything her chosen city has to offer. Her lifelong love of all things STEM makes the museums and galleries of the CBD irresistible, especially Melbourne Museum with its popular dinosaur exhibit.
“I love it! I’ve been 4 or 5 times to see the dinosaurs. I just find them fascinating.”
The coming cooler weather is also an exciting prospect. Claudia has missed the European winters and is looking forward to a trip to the snow with her friends. She loves the scenery and the chill, but if it ever gets too cold she’s well prepared to channel her inner child with one of her favourite pastimes.
“It’s Lego,” she laughs. “I had a co-worker say to me once, ‘Structural engineers, we just build Lego!’ And it’s true! It doesn’t matter where we are or what we’re doing – we build Lego!”
– Alicia Byrne
Fatemeh Hemmet Doust, Planning and Environment Officer
“Everything I’ve done in the past has helped me to be who I am now. I don’t give up even when I face adversity.”
The challenges of change created a desire to repay her parents’ sacrifice.
Fatemeh Hemmet Doust spent her formative teenage years experiencing not just one but two new worlds as her family left their birth country of Iran as refugees. At 16, Fatemeh and her younger brother started a new life in Malaysia from scratch, with new friends, school and culture.
“When we first got there it was really hard and I was quite lonely. I had just left all my childhood friends and had to learn a whole new culture and language.”
Her parents always had their children’s future in mind, but Fatemeh could tell they were worried about the upheaval and asking themselves if they had done the right thing. As the eldest sibling she felt a responsibility to enjoy the opportunity they had given her to the fullest.
“I was trying all the food and making my Mum take me to all the shopping centres. I learnt so much about the local food, culture and the language, though I can’t speak it anymore. I wanted to make sure they were getting to experience and enjoy this new life too.”
After a few years they moved again, this time to Australia, and Fatemeh experienced another difficult period learning a new culture, trying to make friends and getting out into the Melbourne streets to see what the city had to offer.
“Thankfully I knew some English I’d picked up in Malaysia but I was still extremely shy. I avoided talking and having conversions in the beginning. But I knew I had done it before in Malaysia, so I could do it all again in Australia.”
Fatemeh threw herself into all the courses and classes she could find, wanting to secure the future for herself that her parents had sacrificed so much for. Even though she was terrified of joining classes with so many different people, she pushed through her fears (and the butterflies in her stomach).
“My parents were always encouraging us to go out there and achieve the things we wanted. Having that positive energy supporting me all the time really helped me get out into the world. I wanted to show them that I could do anything I put my mind to, because they sacrificed their own lives to give my brother and me better opportunities.”
Fatemeh’s perseverance paid off and she landed her first job as a laboratory technician in a sleep aid study. She would set up equipment for appointments and prep the patients for their sleep trials. “It was a really cool job and I didn’t need any previous experience to do it!”
Her love of the environment set her on a path to complete a Bachelor of Science, majoring in environmental studies. But there was still another hurdle to overcome.
Because of her refugee background, most universities would not accept her paperwork and discredited her documentation. Fatemeh would not be deterred, and through using one of her previously completed certificates as prior recognition, she enrolled at Swinburne University.
“I learned from my parents not to give up. Everything I’ve done in the past has helped me to be who I am now. I don’t give up even when I face adversity.”
In quiet moments when she’s not pursuing her career goals, Fatemeh loves to watch movies and documentaries. She enjoys the visual aspects of film and it gives her great joy to see creative projects come to life on the screen.
“My favourite documentary is My Octopus Teacher. It’s an amazing and very heart-warming story.”
– Tyler Huth
Caitlin Jackson, D&C Land, Planning and Environment Manager, CYP
“Seeing people similar to yourself in those roles makes you consider it more seriously.”
An uncommon ambition has grown organically to unearth a rewarding career.
Caitlin Jackson wanted to be a carpenter, but only had to look around to see that wasn’t really an option. At her small all-girls private school, no other young women were even considering construction as a career option.
“I always knew I could do anything,” Caitlin says. “But at the time that ‘anything’ was probably a university degree.”
She began Natural Environment and Wilderness Studies at the University of Tasmania but stepped away and briefly became a florist. An unexpected leap, she soon discovered that bundling bouquets didn’t hold her interest and went back to the books.
Once she graduated, Caitlin spent a few years gaining environmental experience on infrastructure projects before a call from an old boss landed her with the Metro Tunnel Project. She started as a project-wide environment manager looking after audits, planning and approvals.
At the end of 2020 Caitlin had a baby and took a year away from work. She found having a little person to care for completely life-altering, and there was nothing she wouldn’t do for Charlotte. As much as she missed the variety and day-to-day conversations work provided, returning to work wasn’t an easy decision. “Although it was a relief not to be doing the monotonous cleaning of the high chair as much!”
At Metro Tunnel she took on a new role as Land, Planning and Environment Manager, with her teammates’ support that she would make an excellent leader and role model. Which is exactly what Caitlin wants to be – an example that women can lead, have children and have a rewarding career.
She knows it’s important to see different people in leadership roles and paint a picture of what people can do. That it’s not about leading like an overbearing boss but doing so in a way that is true to who you are. Caitlin describes herself as introverted and quiet, but that doesn’t mean she can’t be an effective manager.
“Unless you see it, you don’t really consider it a possibility or option for yourself. Seeing people similar to yourself in those roles makes you consider it more seriously and I think to younger women out there it just gives them the option.”
When she’s not being an awesome Mum and career woman, Caitlin’s hobby involves taking care of 5 pet chickens that have taken over her life. “I spend way too much money taking them to the vet.”
She also likes to get out into her garden and really explore her passion for the environment. She grows her own vegetables and has even pulled up her entire front lawn to cultivate indigenous plants. “I like removing all non-native plants, except for vegetables and fruit, and planting locally indigenous varieties instead.”
Caitlin gets a lot of personal fulfilment from being out in nature and through her work in the environmental profession. When she first graduated from university she wanted to use her knowledge to see construction managed in a way that benefits and reduces impact to the environment and local communities.
For Caitlin – who remains conscious she didn’t see any female carpenters when growing up – it’s extremely rewarding to have a voice in the construction industry and be listened to on environmental issues.
As a new graduate working on-site, she got to direct people in their jobs and make sure the business was complying with the law when it comes to protecting the environment. “That was an amazing feeling and gave me such a sense of accomplishment. I worked in a group towards a shared outcome and at the end of the day I got to walk away and say, ‘I built that.’”
– Tyler Huth
Meagan Lechucki, Senior Advisor, Communications and Stakeholder Engagement
“Everyone was contributing, and it was someone junior who came up with the solution.”
A treasured relative’s refusal to yield has left a powerful imprint from head to toe.
When she needs inspiration, Meagan Lechucki thinks of her Croatian grandmother and all that she’s overcome. Not least defying a prognosis several years ago that she would never walk again.
Meagan’s ‘Baka’ was in her mid-70s when she had 2 rods inserted in her back after a fall. While she was in hospital her husband – who she’d been with since they were teens in their homeland – went into care with dementia. All that lay ahead seemed grim. But not to Baka.
“The hospital was so decrepit, she was in rehab, there were 4 other people in the same room … one of the beds was on the floor because they were having psych issues,” Meagan says. “There were people screaming in the middle of the night. And Baka was sitting there smiling and saying, ‘Look at me, I can move my feet!’”
Now in her early 80s, Baka is back home, living alone, cooking and baking for all and sundry. Doctors still can’t fathom how she’s done it. “She’s just such a force to be reckoned with,” Meagan says. “(In hospital) she was like, ‘Everyone else can stay in this place, I’m going home.’”
Tackling life’s barriers with unbending zeal is in Meagan’s DNA. After dreaming of owning a fairy shop (“it’s funny – I’m not like that at all now!”), she danced from age 4 to adulthood – ballet, jazz, tap, even some hip-hop (“which didn’t convince anyone”). All with feet so flat she still tells friends who are blessed with beautiful arches, “You don’t need them! I needed those, dammit!”
Her calves were like a soccer player’s, bulging from the effort of compensating. But she loved everything about it, not least being on stage – just as her grandfather had been in Croatia before the war. “Sheer discipline got me through my ballet years – I was very disciplined and just loved it so much.”
A similar approach to school meant she didn’t need to be told to do her homework. After a false start studying marketing, a love of writing led to a communications degree that required an internship at its tail end. Meagan’s uncle was boxing coach at Collingwood FC; she knew the power of the brand but nothing about the inner workings of an elite football club. Thirty-five hours turned into 6 years of seminal experience.
After a stint in digital she became the AFLW team’s first media officer and revelled in helping tell the stories of athletes for whom everything was new and exciting and nothing too much trouble. At times – perhaps as the only woman in a meeting – she felt the hangover of football’s traditional maleness. A senior male colleague imparted vital lessons around the value of being supported.
“He had my back. It was so cool to know – you’re in this environment full of men, but you know you’ve got someone quite senior going, ‘Regardless of what you do, I’m here.’ That gives you confidence when you’re handling yourself in that environment.”
Within weeks of joining RPV in 2021 Meagan found herself in a meeting where she couldn’t believe the diversity in the room, and the equal voice that all around the table enjoyed. “Everyone was contributing, and it was someone junior who came up with the solution to the problem. Titles didn’t matter, it felt like everyone was equal.
“I remember sitting in that room thinking, ‘I’m really happy with where I’ve landed.’”
The long-term nature of RPV’s projects, after the (often stressful) weekly results-fix of football, has imbued a sense of calm. Tapping into her Collingwood contacts, she’s been seeing the club’s movement specialist with an eye to making a comeback.
“They do amateur classes at the Australian Ballet, my goal is to dance again.”
She won’t be held back by a lack of resolve.
– Peter Hanlon
Annitta Lin, Graduate Engineer, CYP
“My Grandma and I watch a lot of Chinese dramas, mostly in Mandarin, sometimes in Cantonese.”
Combining cultures has brought variety, appreciation and a splash of colour.
As a little Aussie kid spending a couple of months at school in China during a New Year family holiday, Annitta Lin stood out for all the wrong reasons.
“My Chinese wasn’t great,” she admits with a laugh. “The teachers would give out red scarves for kids who did well and had good behaviour. I never got one, but my sister did. She would walk proudly through the school gates with her scarf, and I would scuttle in after her with my head down looking suspicious, saying ‘I’m just trying to get to class’!”
Born in Melbourne, Annitta grew up in the northern suburbs with her parents, her sister and her maternal grandmother. She soaked up both of her cultures, combining the food and festivities of her Chinese ancestors who came from Guangzhou and Fujian with the relaxed, outdoor lifestyle Melbourne offered.
Weekends were spent exploring the city with Grandma, heading in on the tram for a spot of shopping in Bourke Street Mall or something to eat in Australia’s oldest Chinatown. “We were regulars at Yum Cha, which Grandma loves to this day. She would be speaking Cantonese and all the waitresses would know her. They still know her because she still goes with her friends!”
These days, Annitta’s trips out for Yum Cha are reserved for special occasions like Chinese New Year. Her ‘Grandma time’ now involves a novel way of improving the Chinese that denied her that red scarf as a child.
“My sister studied Chinese at school, so I have some catching up to do! My Grandma and I watch a lot of Chinese dramas, mostly in Mandarin, sometimes in Cantonese. There’s even one about a quantity surveyor, which is a little too close to work!”
It was work and the opportunities Australia has to offer that brought the Lin family to Melbourne. Her father is a research scientist, while her mother has worked as a nurse. They met here, married, and moved Annitta’s grandmother out to join them.
The STEM-based focus of her parents set the tone for Annitta as she chose her study path at Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar. “Being at an all-girls school is great if you’re interested in STEM. Focusing on maths and science wasn’t unusual or special – all the girls were doing it.
“At Melbourne Uni during my degree and masters there were more male than female students in my class, but it didn’t impact me. Thanks to my experiences at school I was already set on my path.”
That path featured a student exchange in Birmingham, where Annitta gained her first taste of independence. Day trips with friends included visits to London, the site of the world’s oldest underground rail system where work was underway on the long-awaited Elizabeth Line.
On arriving home, she set about finding practical work and landed the perfect position in November 2019 with CYP D&C on the Metro Tunnel Project, starting as a cadet. She spent 2 years at the Anzac Station site before moving to Arden, working on contract administration with the commercial team and as a site engineer.
She’s seen the acquisition of architectural bracketry for CCTV and lighting at Arden through from procurement to delivery, but it’s an early experience from her time at Anzac that provides Annitta’s most amusing anecdote. She may just be your go-to girl if you ever want to paint your walls TBM yellow.
“I’d just started on the project in February 2020 when I had to find the correct Metro Tunnel yellow colour to tidy up TBM Millie’s cutter head for a photo opportunity. There was a lot of attention on the TBMs early in the project. I was working in procurement and the job of getting the paint fell to me!
“I think it’s more an interesting story than something to add to my CV!”
– Alicia Byrne
Ebony Manusama, Senior Advisor, Communications and Stakeholder Engagement
“The sum of my experiences has led me here, but who the hell knows where it’s going to take me?”
A journey filled with adventure and the search for answers has only just begun.
Ebony Manusama isn’t bragging when she says, “I’ve had an extraordinary life, a very colourful life.” Nor is she exaggerating.
One of five, she grew up in a half Indonesian, half Scottish-Australian home with parents who were famous Indonesian pop stars. Her mother had moved there as a girl with her family, while Ebony’s father was a sponsor child who dragged himself out of poverty, selling fried bananas on the street to school himself. “His story belongs in a movie.”
He sold everything he owned to buy Ebony’s mother a ring and spoke little English when they arrived in Australia. They were soon performing in Carols By Candlelight and on TV shows like New Faces, before walking away from showbiz to start their own church.
One of Ebony’s brothers lives in Los Angeles and writes songs for Kesha, another is a professional bass player, a sister a prolific R&B soul singer who performs iconic Aretha Franklin tribute shows. Ebony’s own musical talents took her to Nashville, LA and San Francisco. But she was never going to be confined to a single stream.
She started her first business at 19 with her ex-husband, a software developer, and they sold 3 businesses for a profit while she was still at university. One was an online store for British children’s show characters Charlie and Lola, whose domain name they bought when no-one else had, liaising with the BBC as they sold merchandise out of their Mont Albert garage. Ebony is still part-owner of a coffee rating app called Beanhunter.
“I had a few divergent paths,” she says, having worked as a media advisor for a Federal MP, and with student coaching aid Elevate Education. When her ex landed a job with Apple in Silicon Valley, Ebony spent 18 months there with a tech start-up. It was the full modern workplace cliché – yoga classes, beanbags, table tennis, big dog slumped on the floor. But they also provided a master class in business development, communications and sales.
“Then I came out and left my husband,” Ebony says of a tumultuous time that saw her work in hospitality, open a café, run a restaurant with a friend and manage a bar in Melbourne’s CBD. She attempted a return to the music industry in a marketing role, but the environment was so toxic that for a time she couldn’t even touch her room full of instruments. “You can get too close.”
An advertisement for a Landowner and Business Support role with RPV caught her eye, and now she feels like a hand-in-glove fit working in Comms and Stakeholder Engagement with RRR.
In 2019 Ebony married Emily, who she used to tease about working in the public service, asking, “How are your emails today? How many discussions have you tabled and circled back to?” That she’s now VPS too makes her chuckle, yet she feels inspired by the culture and people around her.
Just before Christmas the couple welcomed their first child, Finley.
Casting back to her own childhood, “as a young queer kid grappling with my understanding of who I was”, Ebony remembers frustration at her male friends getting put forward for opportunities that she was keen on but never had the chance to pursue. She sensed inequity all around her, and it embedded a fierce passion for social justice.
“I hope I can raise my kind and curious kids to live in a world where they can have access just as much as the person next to them. And if they see any discrepancies, if they’re ever in a position of privilege, that they will take steps to bridge the gap for others around them.”
Ebony has done much, and she’s not finished.
“I want to do something meaningful. The sum of my experiences has led me here, but who the hell knows where it’s going to take me?”
– Peter Hanlon
Maryanne Martin, Senior Facilitator and Coach
“When you see people growing a little bit, it does something for you too.”
Connection to land and her people have charted a lifetime of learning and teaching.
On a farm at Yambuk, near Port Fairy, Maryanne Martin walks the paddocks with her 2 grandchildren, forever moved by the part this land has played in her family’s story. “It’s quite special to think they’re the sixth generation of Martins to walk there.”
In keeping with the grounded and respectful outlook of her kinfolk, she acknowledges those who were there for many thousands of years before. “I’m always struck that it’s the Gunditjmara land anyway.”
Like her father, Maryanne is captivated by family history. Her mother’s people were Scottish crofters (“nearly everyone has been a farmer”). Wilson Martin, whose son John took up almost 1000 acres at Yambuk with his wife (also Maryanne), met an Irishman on the boat to Australia who said he was going into politics. That man was Gavin Charles Duffy, who became Victoria’s eighth Premier.
Duffy left his homeland worn down by the fight for land rights; matters of equity have long been central to Maryanne’s family compass. In the early 1900s the Condah football team, to the north-west, featured several indigenous players. Someone wrote to the local newspaper saying they shouldn’t be allowed to play, signing off as ‘Fair Play’. Several letter-writers responded.
“Nobody signed their name, except for one person – my great uncle, captain of the local team, who stood up for the Aboriginal players and signed his letter Norman McLeod.”
Maryanne’s parents were progressive. Her father was vocally anti-war, at one time hiding Vietnam draft resistors on the farm. While most of her female contemporaries left school, got married and had children, they dismissed this as a ridiculous convention and insisted she go to university. She was the only Port Fairy woman in her year who did.
Her father, Ian ‘Bull’ Martin, played 498 games for local clubs, turning down offers from the big league because he had to stay home and run the farm. Maryanne remembers watching him play when she was home from uni on weekends.
When her mother wanted to pursue nursing, Maryanne’s grandfather (who was general manager of Port Fairy Hospital) insisted she go to the Royal Melbourne because the standard in regional hospitals wasn’t high enough.
She finished with a nursing degree, and post-graduate diplomas in midwifery and mortuary. Maryanne recalls someone dropping a bag of potatoes at the house after a family member died at home and her Mum prepared the body for burial.
“My parents were different, but they were also accepted in the community through their long history. And they both had leadership positions, through football and nursing.”
Her mother had a heart attack when Maryanne was 14 and a stroke 4 years later. She’s aware that was the cue for a young student to return home to help. “But my parents didn’t expect that. I eventually did come back, taught at the school I’d been to, got married, had kids and stayed for quite a while.”
A canny principal inspired her to move again, leading to 3 years in Shepparton, a spell with the Department of Environment, and a teacher release to industry that featured a communications role in a heated setting. “People said it was career suicide, just the most controversial position. I stuck at it, and they asked what I’d like as a reward.”
Maryanne nominated a coaching course, which at length brought her to RPV running leadership development programs.
Now she lives in Ballarat and has recently gone back to running, a one-time obsession that saw her compete at Stawell and over every distance from 400 metres to a marathon. She trains kelpies for sheep dog trials and feels blessed to have helped people to better themselves too.
“When you see people growing a little bit, it does something for you too. I got a lovely message from a foundation member thanking me for the program. He said not only am I a better manager, I’m also a lot happier. People are pretty awesome.”
– Peter Hanlon
Sarah McDermott, Package Director, Corridor and Maribyrnong River Bridge
“You learn so much more from a project that doesn’t go well than one that does go well.”
A formative early construction experience showed the value of being supported.
When she speaks to graduates about what shaped her career, Sarah McDermott recalls an experience that could have broken her, but ultimately underscored the power of being supported in your workplace and staying true to what you value.
As a young engineer in Ireland, Sarah worked on a road upgrade project overseen by a contractor from hell. He railed against having someone so young – and female – hold him to account. The bullying was appalling; at its worst she was followed home from work.
“Everyone has the right to go to work every day and enjoy what you do, (but) this was just a shocking and terrible environment. I’m stubborn, absolutely stubborn. Their intent was to drive me off-site … there was no way they were going to do that.”
Two things kept her going – a boss back in the office who had her back, and a group of colleagues she’d meet for lunch every Friday who buoyed her spirits without fail. “They were my support network. It took longer to drive there and back than the hour we’d spend together, but they got me through.”
Experience and reflection have shown Sarah how she might have approached things differently, not least around communication. She has been heartened in 18 months with MAR that attitudes align with values she applauds – respect, equality and diversity.
Years on, the hard-won gains from that formative experience haven’t left her. “You learn so much more from a project that doesn’t go well than one that does go well. There’s more than one way to do a lot of things.”
Sarah grew up in Dublin with a twin sister and 4 siblings who followed over a 20-year stretch; she was in college when the youngest, who is studying nursing, was born. Their mother was a physiotherapist and their father a surgeon, with annual European holidays geared around getting him away from Ireland so he couldn’t keep working. They left rich memories of nature walks, breathtaking scenery, the Arctic Circle’s endless summer days.
As part of her civil engineering studies Sarah spent 5 months in Boston working on the ‘Big Dig’, a $15 billion project that moved the city’s clogged road network underground. It was both an invaluable experience and patently a different time; a sign at each site entrance detailed when the last death had occurred, and how many lives had been lost overall.
“Imagine saying, ‘No-one’s died in the last 6 months, we’re doing a good job.’”
That nightmare road project fuelled a need to travel, so she set off with Mike, a Mayo man and fellow civil engineer, with a loose plan to be gone for 18 months and spend 6 of those in Australia. “We’re still here a decade later, now married with 3 children.”
Evin is 8, William 6 and Cian 2. Their mother hopes they’ll avoid her penchant for minor accidents and scrapes that have left scars down her arm from cooking mishaps or fingers needing attention after they found their way into a blender or came off second best using a new set of knives. “I would more often than not go to bed with my fingers all bandaged up.”
Raising empathetic and respectful young men has been on her mind. Conscious that you can’t have all the answers all at once, Sarah is committed to talking with them, debunking any gender stereotypes that arise, opening their eyes to the wonders little and large that all can achieve – girls and boys, women and men.
Mike works as a contractor with the Level Crossing Removal Project, where Sarah spent 5 years before joining MAR. Her focus is the corridor that will feature a rock star element of the project – a new bridge over the Maribyrnong River. “It’s a landmark – people know that old trestle bridge. The new structure will be an icon.
“It’s exciting to be involved in a project that has the ability to touch so many people.”
– Peter Hanlon
Tracey Mendoza, Project Coordinator
“You don’t have to be the senior executive, you just have to be strong in whatever you’re doing.”
A sense of place and connection through sport helped forge a resilient approach.
Tracey Mendoza laughs that she grew up in Ringwood and has lived in Lilydale for the past 30 years, “so I haven’t moved too far!” Staying local has its benefits, not least when you’re close to your community’s beating heart.
Childhood memories are filled with family activities that invariably centred around sport – netball for Tracey, cricket and footy for her older brother, their father in the middle of it all.
“Dad was the treasurer, the president, the secretary, whatever was needed,” Tracey says of North Ringwood, a veritable second home. “We were never at home on the weekends, always at practice or games. All my memories really are around being a well-raised family with good morals and values and doing the right thing. And lots of fun at sporting events.”
A generation on, Tracey and daughter Hannah coordinate night competitions for the Lilydale and Yarra Valley Netball Association, which takes out Tuesday and Wednesday for games and Friday nights rounding up umpires for the next week. “I thought I’d have a bit more time now the kids are older, now I’m not so sure!”
Tracey remembers being surrounded by strong-willed women, in her mother and grandmothers, who put their heads down and forged ahead no matter the obstacles in their path. They were soft-spoken, yet their influence ran deep. “You don’t have to be the senior executive, you just have to be strong in whatever you’re doing. That’s a key point for me.”
Her father, a printer, lost his job several times as the industry changed, “and Mum never blinked – you just kept going”. Hannah and brother Caleb, who work in local bakeries, were raised to prize resilience. “When I think about the way I raised my kids it was the same – the woman was the strong person in the family who kept everything going.”
She dreamed of turning a love of cooking into a career as a chef, but a taste of pressure-cooker kitchens soured that plan. Retail fed a love of helping people; Tracey worked for Bras N Things then Adairs, where she moved from the floor into a buying role, then in a local council records department.
Even just 15 years ago, notions of equity in the workplace were different. “There was no such thing as flexible hours – I tried to start at 10am so I could drop Hannah at school, that didn’t work for them.”
A willingness to muck in for the greater good is a hallmark of Tracey’s work and has led to some memorable experiences. Her last retail job was for the company that imports the Elf On The Shelf books, where pre-Christmas duties included answering phone calls from children in various states of distress. “Why hasn’t my elf moved?” they might ask, often without their parents even knowing they’d called.
Now, among the many strands of her role with MAR is keeping directors in lock-step with their calendars. To see the likes of Ben Ryan blocking out time to be with his young family heartens her that we are evolving and our workplaces are moving with us.
Tracey revels in bringing people together and tapping into different ways of thinking that foster inclusion and a sense of feeling valued. The “awesome humans” who surround her day-to-day are an inspiration, especially the women. In a world that craves connection more than ever, it’s an environment to be celebrated.
“I’m excited by seeing how many people just sit in a room together and you don’t feel less than or more than, you’re all there on the same level, playing in the same field together.
“I sound so old when I say it but seeing young people working so hard and wanting to forge a way, it’s exciting. You think, it’s actually going to happen!”
– Peter Hanlon
Naomi Monks, Document Controller
“ I never had a notion that you couldn’t do something because you were a woman.”
History, education, a world of experience and love of a laugh add up to a fulfilling life.
Naomi Monks admits her earliest memory is really her father’s. He was a history teacher with a social conscience. It was Canberra, 1975, and Gough Whitlam was about lose the Prime Ministership in spectacular circumstances known as “the dismissal”.
“The day Whitlam was sacked, all the teachers said, ‘We’ve got to get down there.’ I can’t claim to remember it, but I was a little toddler playing on the old Parliament House lawn while that was happening.”
She is grateful to her parents for her appreciation of the value of education, and a love of museums and history that had her dreaming of becoming an Egyptologist. Another story she was too young to recall is of tiny Naomi running up to a particular museum exhibit and staring, stock still, her Dad kneeling beside her to explain what it was.
“Apparently I turned around, looked at him and just said, ‘Ssshhhhh!!’ My Mum loves that story.”
After aborting finance and economics studies, an honours degree in Near Eastern Bronze Age Archaeology brought deep learning and fond memories. At her graduation she wore her grandmother’s gown, which was passed through the family. One of the first women in England to graduate from university after studying literature in the 1930s, she was Naomi’s hero.
“Her parents encouraged her, and that’s flowed through in our families. I never had a notion that you couldn’t do something because you were a woman. I was taught very early that’s what she did.”
Rather than pursue the path of her degree, Naomi “just went out into the working world”, sampling engineering administration, IT in Dublin, even teaching English during several years in Israel. That stint coincided with a 35-day bombing of Haifa, when sirens would send the occupants of her apartment building into shelters.
“You’d sit there and chat to your neighbours, to their kids, listen to the radio. It was a bizarre experience, because of how mundane it was.”
Back home Naomi joined Maunsell, beginning a construction journey that has weaved through several large contractors on a range of projects, many with an environmental bent. A highlight was designing a port area in Ghana working in a team based in Melbourne, Toronto and Paris.
“I’ve really learnt engineering on the job,” says Naomi, whose role as a document controller essentially involves quality-checking drawings to make sure they’ll do what they claim.
Her mantra is be yourself and don’t take life too seriously – we all end up in the same place. Routine exchanges at work regularly put smiles on colleagues’ faces. “I need to have a bit of fun at work. I need to be absolutely professional and do the best that I can do, but I’ve got to make it so it’s not a chore.”
Away from 9-5 life Naomi loves getting out with her partner and their dogs, playing golf, and the release of whacking a heavy bag at her local boxing gym. “I can just swing my arms around and get my frustration out.”
She remains a passionate “museum nerd”, is “covered in Egyptian tattoos” and will watch anything and everything about Egypt. Visiting the ancient land with her Dad before he passed remains a life highlight. “That we got to do that together.”
Naomi has happily watched the landscape in construction change, recalling that women weren’t allowed to wear trousers at the first company she worked for, only skirts. She welcomes RPV’s appointment of a first female CEO but looks forward to a time when it is no longer noteworthy, rather the norm.
“I want to be in a place where it’s not a big deal. I’m really happy but I still feel like we’re not there yet. I wish we didn’t have to celebrate it. I’m a lesbian, I wish we still didn’t have to have Pride, that we were further down that path. But it’s a step, we’ll get there.”
– Peter Hanlon
Nicole Muir, Deputy Director, Media and Digital
“Now it feels like being a woman going for a sports job is a positive.”
A diverse media career has played out against a sporty backdrop.
As young Nicole Bland, a Canberra childhood was a grown-up Nic Muir’s outdoor idyll. Cricket in the street with neighbours, slip’n slide on the front lawn, bike-riding to the shops with friends, hanging out and talking the days away. There was always sport, too.
Her father managed venues that housed Northern Suburbs rugby union club and Australian Rules locals Manuka FC. A vivid memory is sitting at the footy with her Grandma, rug over their knees, Thermos at the ready, playing kick-to-kick on the ground or racing out to the huddle at breaks in play.
Her Dad took a set off the great John Newcombe as a youngster and might have played tennis professionally if his parents had the means to help him climb the ladder. Family holidays were planned around sporting events; Melbourne was a favourite – for footy in winter, cricket and tennis in summer.
“We always talked about sport and we always watched sport,” Nic says. “When I started at 3AW, it was my first job and my dream job.”
Media appealed, bringing together a flair for writing and that deep love of sport. Nic did work experience at 3AW while studying the first pure journalism course in Australia, at RMIT. Her first live cross was from a water police boat, but she was soon in the sports department alongside a young Anthony Hudson, covering Wimbledon and the Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games, relishing every day, especially the annual Australian Open fortnight.
“I was getting paid to be at the tennis for the whole 2 weeks! You were very grateful for every opportunity, you just wanted to get on air and work.”
She became a regular on the evening sports show hosted by Gerard Healy and the late David Hookes, the stage for an incident that betrayed a different time – and how proprietary men can be when it comes to sport. Hookes made several sexist comments on air. Nic was having none of it and said so in a carefully-worded response.
“I thought he’d just laugh, but it went down badly. He told me on air you’ll never work on this program again.”
Their relationship repaired and the threat was never acted upon. Yet the reaction was telling. Nic received support but many critical letters too, the nastiest from older women telling her to stay in her lane. Station management didn’t discipline her, but made it clear they believed she was in the wrong. Nothing happened to Hookes.
More than 2 decades later, the landscape is much-changed. Nic was touched when sports caller Kelli Underwood told her she’d been an inspiration. “I remember feeling the struggle of trying to get an opportunity. Now it feels like being a woman going for a sports job is a positive.”
From AW she worked at Channel 10, at 3AK producing Derryn Hinch, and for 13 years helped run the newsroom at Channel 7. Over time she saw the banter and humour that sustains such a high-pressure environment give way to burn-out among staff; a stint as a media manager in the Premier’s office was a change of gears, and now she’s happily riding the RPV media train.
Nic and husband Jules, a New Zealand native, met on a blind date. At the time he was living in Eureka Tower putting his cooking talents to full use in a huge kitchen. Now they’re in a Yarra’s Edge apartment that’s conducive to long walks along the river and into the city, or to the MCG to watch her beloved Carlton. They love finding new places to dine as much as eating in with a view. Getting their scuba diving tickets is on the horizon, and making up for lost time by travelling overseas again.
Nic welcomes seeing more women in construction, and outdated stereotypes melting away. Of RPV she says, “It’s such a warm and welcoming place, such a great culture.”
– Peter Hanlon
Catrin Muis, Project Manager, Building Services
“I know I can have a chance to be in that kind of role too. What’s going to stop me?”
Forming pictures in her mind fired imagination and kick-started a career.
Where her talents would lead started to take shape when Catrin Muis was 14, and it dawned on her that she understood how electricity is produced. Her earliest memory feeds into this awakening like a plug in a socket.
“I had a very small radio, analogue, you had to twist the dial to find the frequency,” Catrin says of her childhood in the North Sumatran capital of Medan. Power blackouts were common; it was the norm for night-time entertainment to feature reading a book by candlelight or listening to her battery radio in the dark.
The offerings were from another age – radio plays full of aural effects that fired her imagination. “The sound of a door closing, someone walking, cars being turned on … somehow I could understand it. Nowadays we need TV, right? But then, you make do with what you have.”
Her mother was “a typical Tiger Mum” – Catrin played piano from age six, and studied English, Chinese, maths and sciences. Her older siblings were already in Australia, and she followed them at 17 to study at RMIT and live with her sister on campus at Latrobe University. The change in environment was stark.
“My hometown doesn’t have government public transport – people just rent out a van to pick up passengers,” Catrin says, recalling her sister’s instruction to catch a 7am bus on her first morning of classes, which required a 15-minute walk to the bus stop.
“It was still dark and I was scared, remembering my mother telling me to scream and run if you hear someone following you. Everything at home is just concrete, and I had to walk through a heavily-treed area through this park, there were birds everywhere … When you’re scared everything is amplified.”
Her first post-graduate gig was as a document controller on Eastlink as the transformative freeway neared completion. Electrical engineering work followed, then building services design for a consultancy firm that included a year in Perth during the mining boom. “I realised Perth didn’t suit my lifestyle, so I came back to Melbourne and took a job on Regional Rail Link. Then Metro Trains, now RPV.”
Designing communications systems for the first underground stations built in Melbourne for nearly 40 years is exciting. Catrin says the first step is “to understand the purpose of the room”, which fittingly for communications requires talking to those who will use it most. “Talk to the station staff, figure out what they’ll need, what they want to monitor – the trains, the people, the entrances but also inside the room.”
When she started at Eastlink Catrin saw few women around her. Over 3 years with RPV she’s welcomed not only more female engineers but more women in positions of authority that have historically been held by men. The arrival of Nicole Stoddart as RPV CEO has swelled her chest with joy.
“It lets me know that I can do it as well. I know I can have a chance to be in that kind of role too. What’s going to stop me?”
Her experiences at home and abroad have taught Catrin much, and she reflects that her personality was shaped by the discipline that was needed to learn piano and play for hours every day from the age of 6 to 17. “You need to practise all the time, not only the piano but how to read sheet music, familiarising yourself with classical songs.
“I finally did it, I got a diploma out of it. I don’t have a piano – my house is small and the walls are pretty thin! But when I go back home I like to play. It brings me enjoyment now every time I play, rather than ‘I have to keep practising.’”
– Peter Hanlon
Dom Ng, Deputy Director Safety
“I’m very conscious of how our work leaves a legacy of options for the next generation of young women.”
Construction’s changing face inspires hope for a more equitable future.
When she taps on and takes a seat for her first trip through the Metro Tunnel in 2025, Dom Ng will be living the major project worker’s dream with a sense of déjà vu.
As she takes in the expansive new stations currently taking shape under the Melbourne CBD, Dom will be seeing her second rail tunnel become reality.
“I spent years working on London’s Crossrail but I haven’t seen it since it opened,” Dom says. Heading to London with the family next month, she has one firm plan. “Going from one end to the other on the Elizabeth Line, taking the kids and showing them what I was working on all that time.”
Crossrail and the contacts she and husband Jarrett made there set the scene for a move from one city’s transport network to another. Dom’s introduction to Melbourne’s rail scene was at Metro Trains, while Jarrett made the first move to RPV as a project manager.
“It’s a very small world. We had connections that helped us come here and settle in really quickly. They had done the reverse in London, moving from Melbourne to work with John Holland on Crossrail.”
Working at Metro Trains through the recruitment of female train drivers was an early highlight of Dom’s time in Melbourne. It was the first time she had seen equity in action, which she feels was “very successful”.
“It was accepted that giving women a short-term leg up to balance the numbers would benefit diversity. Because it wasn’t something academic, I think it opened more opportunities up for women who didn’t go down the academic route.”
The growing number of women in construction safety roles is another thing that has stood out to Dom during her time in Melbourne and specifically at Rail Projects Victoria. As someone who studied law and French but was drawn to construction instead of an office cubicle, Dom’s early career was marked by a male-dominated environment.
“At RPV, we have probably the highest number of women I’ve ever worked with in a safety team. When I started as a graduate in London, I was the only young lady in the safety team I joined. That was a big principal contractor – the biggest in the UK. It’s amazing to see how it’s been flipped on its head now.
“We’re showing women you don’t have to be office-based. You can be out on site in safety or as a project manager. You can also have a flexible workplace that supports you when it comes to childcare and other caring arrangements.”
While safety is her passion, Dom is also keen to embrace equity by influencing the next generation of young women to consider careers in construction. Metro Tunnel HQ’s Education Program, which mixes fun with facts for primary and secondary students, is one of the ground-breaking ways to broaden young horizons.
“Outreach is so important. We’re doing more of that as an industry, getting out into schools, looking at what subject girls choose to take, reinforcing that science, technology, engineering and maths subjects are career options.”
Dom doesn’t have to look far to see just how big an impact STEM can have on young girls. Her 2 daughters, nine-year-old Ava and six-year-old Isla, are already stepping in the right direction with great enthusiasm.
“They love seeing the female train drivers. They’ve also come along and put on the safety glasses and hi-vis vests to see bridge building or whatever I might be working on.
“It’s great to see, because I’m very conscious of how our work leaves a legacy of options for young women of their generation.”
– Alicia Byrne
Simone Norris, Design Agency Manager
“I’m letting them live their own life and chart their own path, I want to give them that power from a young age.”
An innate talent has opened the door to a world of unexpected wonders.
Simone Norris came into the world knowing exactly what she wanted to do. “Just drawing.” As it turns out she’s done a whole lot more.
Growing up in ‘Kelly Country’ at tiny Greta South, she’d sit in her room for hours on end feeding a fascination with people, their faces and expressions coming to life on the paper before her. At her school of 36 she’d draw everyone and everything in sight. It brought recognition – “oh Simone – the arty one” – and planted a seed of escaping to bigger things.
At 14 she did work experience at the local paper in Wangaratta, beginning a love of newspapers that will never die. Around Year 10 she thumbed through a careers book, landed on ‘graphic design’ and thought, “That’s me, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Getting into university was a triumph (one of 50 successes from 3000 applicants) but the cost was prohibitive and she lasted just 6 months. Book-keeping filled a gap, along with continued casual work at the North East Telegraph, until she wrote a letter to the Herald Sun hoping even for a chance in the mail room. Impressed by her small Monash portfolio, they took her on as a third-year cadet. “I started in 1994 and worked there for 17 years in between children.”
Nineties newsrooms tended to be raw, under-evolved environments; Simone learnt quickly to read the room, roll with the punches, and work hard. Ahead of the 2000 Sydney Olympics she toiled for a year alongside designers from all over the country, making such a mark that the job of designing a free afternoon commuter paper called MX was hers. Then Lachlan Murdoch brought her to the US to work on the New York Post and commemorative editions in the wake of 9/11.
“I spent 7 months there, living in Times Square, jets flying over all the time, frequent ‘Orange Alerts’, threats that bombs could go off. Surreal experience for a young country girl, but amazing.”
With husband James, a News Corp entertainment journalist, she has 3 daughters – Laila (17), Tessa (15) and Lucy (12). Laila was such a good sleeper that Simone “got bored” and started an online retail store which a decade later grew into a shop in Yarraville. An image and content design agency followed, but when the pandemic hit the shop was sold, the design agency closed, and a reset beckoned.
“I’d been self-employed for 8 years, that’s a rollercoaster, feast or famine,” Simone says of the decision to join Monash Health in search of stability. Rolling up her sleeves and helping with the Covid response brought job satisfaction she’d never imagined.
Simone has no doubt her girls will enter a more equitable workforce than their mother did. Attending Footscray High, a school that champions equality and has one of the country’s highest transgender rates among its cohort, has helped set them on a broad-minded and empathetic path. “I’m letting them live their own life and chart their own path, I want to give them that power from a young age. I think something my parents did really well was, ‘The world’s your oyster, what do you want to do?’ I can say that to my girls and know there’s more truth in it than ever.”
Career-wise, the experience of effectively taking stock and starting again has been cathartic. Where drawing people once consumed her, now Simone draws fulfilment from collaborating with those around her to reach the best outcome. Advice for her team echoes the philosophy she leans on herself – to live without regret.
“Be brave. I look at the broad career I’ve had, all those experiences have come from making bold choices that were risky. I quit my job and the following week opened a shop, much to my husband’s horror. That was bold, that was brave, and I learnt so much. And I do not regret a second of it.”
– Peter Hanlon
Shashika Pathiranage, Communications Support Administrator
“Having a manager, Deputy Director and Director who are all women has been really empowering.”
Connection to culture and the past underpin a future filled with opportunity.
Her first name might mean ‘beautiful moon’, but as a child Shashika Pathiranage was a little confused about the lunar calendar of her parents’ homeland which delivered the Sri Lankan New Year months after the rest of the nation celebrated with fireworks and festivities.
Marking a second New Year in Autumn at a Buddhist temple at Yuroke was a momentous cultural occasion filled with the sights, sounds, scents and sweets of her ancestors. It’s just one of the things that set Shashika apart from her Catholic school friends in the northern suburbs.
“Our New Year is in April, which is a little random,” Shashika laughs. “I always ask my mum why and she says, ‘That’s just the lunar calendar for Sri Lanka!’”
Random it may be, but it is one of the highlights of the year for Shashika, bringing childhood memories of fun with young friends from her Buddhist Sunday School.
“We would play games and win prizes – tug of war, potato sack races, egg and spoon races. My favourite was like Pin the Tail on the Donkey, but instead it was Dot the Eye on the Elephant. We would put on a blindfold, get spun around, and attempt to dot the eye on a big picture of an elephant!”
The food was another highlight with everyone bringing a special dish to the temple. Milk rice traditionally known as Kiribath was popular, but it was their mother’s Mung Kawum – a mung bean sweet – that was the favourite for Shashika and her older sister Tisara.
The temple gave the young Pathiranage sisters a taste of their family’s traditional language and culture, far removed from the day-to-day of growing up in suburban Fawkner. Their parents worked hard to live the lifestyle of their new country while also instilling a sense of their Sri Lankan Buddhist identity.
“My sister and I went to very European Catholic schools and finding people of a similar culture at school was difficult. We relied on our religious upbringing to connect us with other kids who were also first-generation Australians with Sri Lankan parents.”
The temple provided a sense of familiarity on the Pathiranages’ occasional visits to see family in Sri Lanka, including Shashika’s maternal grandmother – her ācciammā in Sinhalese. Those visits also cemented her parents’ reasons for moving to Australia.
Her father, a mechanic, arrived in 1991 and her mother, who has worked in nursing homes, in 1993. They encouraged their girls to make the most of the opportunities available to them as the first generation of the family born in Australia.
Tisara, older by 6 years, is a neurological physiotherapist. Her work ethic, compassion, passion and resilience inspire Shashika who, to steal that most Australian of phrases, is kicking goals of her own in her role as Communications Support Administrator. She’s learning from strong female role models who are showing her the vast opportunities open to women in the construction industry.
“Having a manager, Deputy Director and Director who are all women has been really empowering. It shows that equity is alive and well at RPV and it’s something that was really comforting when I was starting in this industry.
“My manager Emma Steele is a mentor and a friend. She and the team know I’m still studying outside work hours, and they are giving me the support I need to be my best at work and at university.”
While her job is far from her childhood goal of being a PE or dance teacher, it does give her flashbacks to pre-school-aged Shashika who rummaged in her mother’s wardrobe and make-up for some creative playtime.
“I’d pretend to be an ‘office lady’ with a handbag and a play laptop, wearing my Mum’s high heels and lipstick. I’m sort of living out that dream of being an office lady but now I’m wearing my own clothes and make-up and carrying my work-issued laptop!”
– Alicia Byrne
Shannon Roma, Director, People and Inclusion
“That’s the biggest lesson around authenticity – showing up and being yourself and contributing the best you can do.”
An enduring passion lays bare the power of teamwork and playing your role.
The sensory overload of Friday night outings at Parramatta Speedway left such a mark on Shannon Roma she can almost close her eyes and smell the fumes. This was family bonding time with her 4 siblings, and it fed a love of motor sport that continues to not only entertain but inspire.
They’d watch the winged sprint cars fly around the dirt track, then race down to the pit and meet the drivers. The weekly fireworks would send little Shannon cowering under a camp chair, but the whole experience was intoxicating.
Now she loves formula one, and in this sport of utter precision sees a diligence and load-sharing that would make any workplace better.
“If I had my career over again, I would be a team principal for an F1 racing team, calling the shots on how they drive the car. It’s absolutely the pinnacle of teamwork – there’s no room for error.
“You watch a tyre change or a refuel, how fast it is, the precision and the trust. The underlying trust from each person to know your role and go and do your role. Don’t try to do someone else’s role, or there won’t be a tyre on that car.”
People coming together to achieve a desired outcome has been at the heart of what Shannon calls an accidental career as a people and culture professional. A natural competitor, she was drawn to key positions and leadership roles in strong softball and netball teams, and initially studied social science before switching to primary school teaching.
“I did my first prac with grade 2 students and realised I was better with adults than small humans.”
By now in Brisbane, Shannon travelled before taking a hospitality job at a services club. Two years later she was leading their HR team, which led to 8 years with John Holland when the construction giant’s Queensland arm was still quite young. Team bonding was Friday afternoon drinks in the office kitchenette followed by karaoke; when a new project was won, a bell would ring and everyone would stop work to toast their success.
Her road to RPV has been full and varied, dotted with industrial relations experience that took her to an employer association, rail with Pacific National, and overseeing the People function of the east coast coal operation. For a time it demanded so much travel that Shannon burst into tears when told her frequent flyer status had hit platinum. “It just showed how much I’d been away.”
She was with Cross River Rail when Box Hill Secondary College called to discuss eldest son Jonah’s application for a Year 11 scholarship. It was the first she knew of it. Shannon and her Fijian-born ex-husband have 3 boys (also Gideon and Zeke); they sat down, decided they could work from anywhere, and moved to Melbourne.
It feels like a playground, with beach, books, café-hopping and a nice wine all in Shannon’s wheelhouse. They welcome Melbourne’s diversity and every evening nominate a “high, hero, ha” (highlight and hero of the day plus something that made you laugh). “There’s a lot of terrible things that happen, but we try not to look at the adversity in something, look for the light.”
As a woman in a leadership role, Shannon is grateful she’s never had to be anything other than herself. “That’s the biggest lesson around authenticity – showing up and being yourself and contributing the best you can do. Bring what you have to the table, be curious, ask lots of questions. Just stay true to that, it will always get a better result.”
Her boys are growing up with an appreciation of equity in all its forms. “We talk a lot about bravery – be the person who’s brave enough to call something out, don’t wait for others to do it. If something doesn’t feel or look right, say so.”
– Peter Hanlon
Hanife Serin, Senior Project Manager, Signalling
“The point is to leave something behind that is positive, to make a change in the world.”
A growth mindset led to a burning desire to make a difference.
As a child Hanife Serin loved learning so much it almost hurt. “I used to feel so strongly about it, sometimes it was so intense that I would wish I had more lives to achieve what I wanted. Not just for myself, but for society.”
For a lifelong learner, Hanife’s educational journey had an unconventional beginning. The eldest of 6 children born in the Turkish capital Ankara, as a child she looked after her 5 siblings while her parents ran her father’s business. She didn’t start primary school until the age of nine.
“I had a lot of responsibilities. I think about kids now, there is no way I could leave one of my children to look after the other one when they were nine, no way I could leave them alone. But they were the times.”
By the time she started school Hanife was a more adept reader than children who had a three-year head start. When the teacher set holiday homework – consisting of basic letters and words – she pointed to the ‘Printed and Published’ section at the start of the book and asked if she should read that too?
“No, you can’t read that,” came the reply.
“Yes I can,” Hanife retorted, and proceeded to do just that. Soon after she was promoted into Year 2.
A love of literature was so innate she would pick up scraps of newspaper off the street and read every word. Maths didn’t come so easily, but determination and an inquiring mind soon took care of that.
Studying a language in secondary school was a lottery – you didn’t get to choose. “It was a raffle, and in the raffle I got French.” Her father had 2 brothers living in Australia, and Hanife pleaded to be allowed to learn English.
After she finished high school they moved as a family to Perth, and the contrast was stark. At the time, women weren’t allowed to go to university in Turkiye while wearing the head scarf. In Australia she attended a migrant education centre to improve her English. “I went as I am, with my scarf. No-one made me feel like I had to change.
“Teachers in Turkiye used to say, ‘Why are you even studying if you want to wear the head scarf? Just stay at home, have kids, be a housewife.’ And it would just kill me. What has this got to do with how your brain works, how productive you can be?”
Hanife believes inclusion should come as naturally to adults as it does children, who see only people, not colour or difference. “I went through it in the country I was born – I was the other person and I wasn’t included. Diversity is good – wherever there are gaps you should fill them.”
After moving to Melbourne when she was a systems engineer working for Hitachi, she pivoted to signalling, found her way into rail, was a design manager on multiple level crossing removal projects, and is now a senior project manager with MAR on the Sunshine-Albion package.
She will forever be a learner, and a competitor. Hanife says if you’d seen her playing tennis against her 2 daughters from afar when they were younger, you’d have sworn she was the child and they were the grown-ups. “I wouldn’t call it angry … tantrums maybe,” she laughs. “I feel that I need to win, I’m very competitive.”
Her daughters Zeynep and Sumeyye are both pharmacists (“they thought engineering was boring”). Zeynep lives in Sydney and has just welcomed Hanife’s second grandchild.
She encourages her daughters to have a growth mindset, to not be satisfied with small wins, rather to strive to leave something meaningful behind.
“I personally achieved something, so what? When I die it will go away. The point is to leave something behind that is positive, to make a change in the world that won’t die when you pass on.”
– Peter Hanlon
Nicole Stoddart, Chief Executive Officer, Rail Projects Victoria
“Sometimes the pathway isn’t the paved pathway, you’ve got to find a different way.”
Old-school construction experiences have informed a ground-breaking career.
There are many tales from her time as a young engineer that betray Nicole Stoddart’s resilience and determination to see things through, no matter what roadblocks might appear along the way. None are more instructive than her time in the Philippines.
She was 25 and learning on the job at warp speed, building a power station in an environment no university degree could prepare you for. The only woman on a site that was controlled by the local barangay, her duties included securing approvals from the port authority.
Months of trying to gain type approval for navigation beacons ended when the port boss produced a karaoke machine and told Nicole she could have them – if she sang. “It was 10am … I’d never sung karaoke sober. I sang, and he signed off on the beacons.”
Her song of choice? Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive.
On other major projects in Thailand, the UK, Europe, New Zealand and Queensland – and in her recent stewardship of the Suburban Rail Loop Authority – Nicole has survived and thrived. Her career is a marker of the industry’s evolution: she recalls being sent into drainage pits filled with rats and spiders; a foreman giving her white gumboots with flowers on them; a project in Queensland where the men said she’d disrupted the eco system because they had to change the way they spoke around her.
“It’s been an interesting journey of trying to fit in and just be yourself.”
It has emboldened rather than embittered. Those early memories also brim with characters, of being driven around project sites “by old superintendents in their 4WDs singing country and western”, the lessons they imparted along the way. She encourages young engineers to spend time with the old hands “because you can’t google their knowledge or build those relationships without engaging”.
Competitive determination was instilled early, whether playing cribbage for copper coins with her grandparents, or table tennis with her 2 siblings against their pennant-level Dad. “Balls would be smashed at you, you had to fight back. He just wouldn’t let you win. I’ve done the same thing with my 2 children – if you want to win you’ve got to be better.”
She was drawn to her glove-making seamstress grandmother, “a really strong woman”, and inspired by the grit her mother showed to get back into the workforce after her parents’ divorce. A careers teacher was influential too, encouraging her to pursue engineering when few girls did. Nicole bumped into her at the races a few years ago and reported that she’d taken her advice. A delighted Miss Smith responded: “Tick!”
A thorough understanding of the landscape underpins her work, just as it did when school-aged Nicole sought out an A-Z careers book and immersed herself in it. “I read from ‘actuary’ down to ‘zoologist’, researching the jobs and trying to understand what they meant.”
Now she takes the reins at RPV, overwhelmed by the response from the market and the support from near and far. Nicole feels blessed to present as a role model that didn’t exist when she was a young engineer and is looking forward to being surrounded by good people and delivering on RPV’s projects in an inclusive and collaborative way.
On that formative Philippines project, she witnessed an environment where fear of failure impacted productivity. In welcome news, her leadership embraces honesty without blame, owning up to mistakes and learning from them, and resolving to reach the finish line together.
“We’re all in this, and if we commit to something we get there. Sometimes the pathway isn’t the paved pathway, you’ve got to find a different way. But we can’t say ‘we can’t’, we need to say ‘we can’. Because we have to.”
– Peter Hanlon
Quinnie Trinh, Senior Project Manager
“In a lot of ways we had to mature a lot faster because our parents weren’t around to do things for us.”
The hard-working example of parents forged a will to find a successful path.
Some of Quinnie Trinh’s most formative childhood moments were spent cross-legged atop a huge chest freezer in the kitchen behind her parents’ Moorabbin restaurant. From this lofty perch she would tackle her daily homework, while the nightly chaos clattered and hummed around her.
“My siblings and I lived in the back of the restaurant pretty much every night because we were too young to stay at home,” Quinnie says, recalling oppressive heat in summer, and a miniature TV screen they’d watch in between school assignments.
When her older sister and brother reached mid-secondary school they were allowed to stay at home, eating meals cooked by their parents before they’d left for work. They would get themselves up and off to school while Mum and Dad slept in after exhausting late nights in the restaurant. “In many ways we had to mature a lot faster because our parents weren’t around to do things for us.”
Now Quinnie jokes with her sister’s children that they don’t know how lucky they are. “When I was your age I’d been making sandwiches since I was in grade two!” she tells them, recalling slapping Kraft singles and Vegemite between slices of bread. “I made my own breakfast, then I’d make noodles when I got home from school.”
She feels blessed that her mother and 7 siblings (one with a baby) and their parents, as well as her father and his family of six, all made it safely to Australia after spending 2 years in refugee camps in Thailand. Theirs is a very Australian story of the time, yet it’s not so much their history as the example they showed Quinnie that forged a resolve to make the most of her life.
“Seeing them do very long hours, work very hard, that definitely drove me to study hard. I tried to pick a successful field, and that came from them just being very hard-working.”
Quinnie’s decision-making in work and in life is founded in logic, practicality and efficiency. Being an analytical thinker who avoids grey areas made engineering an obvious career path. “Things have to make sense and be efficient. Maybe that’s my math brain going, ‘You’ll need to feed yourself in the future so go study engineering,’” she laughs.
She is grateful for a three-year graduate experience in the water industry that brought valuable skills around planning, modelling and data along with time in maintenance and construction. “Now that I’m in the rail industry it’s the same principles just with different assets.”
Her partner Melvin’s mantra of giving something a go and learning from it even if you find it’s not your thing has led to some colourful moments on their travels, including trying sea pineapple in Korea out of respect for their hosts. “We’re big on seafood and thought it would be tasty. It was disgusting.”
The couple share a love of board games, with a collection that fills a dozen compartments of a wall unit and continues to grow. Quinnie says crowd funding has exploded the board game scene, allowing independent developers to design and produce games with the backing of players from all over the world.
“We’ve got one coming towards the end of the year that’s costing around $800 – most board games cost $50-$100, but this one is special, quite intricate with little models.”
Having been taught Chinese chess and card games as a child she graduated to European strategy board games as the hobby continued to grow. Monopoly felt monotonous (“people remember the fights more than the game!”) but entering a fantasy world of battles and monsters fuels a perfect balance of stress and enjoyment. Even if a single campaign can take a very long time.
“The game we’re waiting on takes 36 hours to play, you need a few sessions! But you need a bit of a challenge, otherwise it’s not worth doing. You have a good feeling at the end of the game, even when you’ve competed and you’ve lost.”
– Peter Hanlon
Evelyn Yung, Project Manager
“I love talking to people, working with people, solving problems together.”
Every experience adds another string to a much-travelled bow.
When Evelyn Yung’s family made the uncommon move from Hong Kong to Ararat when she was 14, she laughs that they doubled the Chinese population of the south-west Victorian town. “It was a bit of a culture shock, but we managed to survive.”
The motive behind the migration – work, and taking it where and when you can – was instilled at a young age. Back home her father was a baker who worked 3 jobs, starting early and finishing late, to help feed the family of six. “I guess he had no choice, but we appreciate that.”
Her mother combined home duties with a job at a clothing factory, often bringing fabric home to sew together before little Evelyn would accompany her to drop off finished garments and pick up more material for the next batch. Working hard came as naturally as drawing breath.
“When we asked Mum and Dad about this they would say it’s just normal, everyone is doing it,” Evelyn says, recalling neighbours in their apartment building also working multiple jobs, and everyone pitching in to look after each other’s children. “It was a very friendly and supportive community.”
An uncle inspired the Ararat move when he bought a Chinese restaurant and needed help; Evelyn’s father was granted a visa to join him as a chef. She started school in Year 8 with limited English, yet by Year 11 was contemplating studying medicine.
She’d dreamt of being an artist as a child, until someone said you only become famous if you die “which killed that option!” She thought about becoming a flight attendant too, but settled on engineering. The only problem was deciding which discipline.
“Electrical? No, I don’t want to get electrocuted. Mechanical? My brother was doing that, we don’t need two. Chemical? I thought I might mix the wrong chemicals and cause an explosion. By a process of elimination I came to civil – it seemed quite safe, and if something collapses the engineers usually aren’t there!”
A sense of humour has sustained her through a career that started slowly as Evelyn graduated amid a construction downturn that prompted a return to Hong Kong where she practised in structural design for 6 years. Moving back to Melbourne after obtaining chartered civil and structural engineering qualifications she yearned for respite from the long hours, but a stint working for a cost-driven contractor and difficult architect was deflating.
The upside was it kick-started her project management career, 9 years with Yarra Valley Water followed by a rail entrée with Victrack and on to RPV. She condenses her vast engineering experience to simply “trying to solve other people’s problems” and likes that she now works exclusively on projects that benefit the general public.
“I love talking to people, working with people, solving problems together. I can’t deliver the project myself – I don’t even have the energy to pick up a spade and do some digging!”
Evelyn sees capability, not gender, and views engineering as a discipline that men and women bring different qualities to and in which both can excel at. At home, she knows husband Reuben is best to tackle some jobs, and she’s better at others. “We have different functions, we will never be equal to me.”
They met through music. A decade ago Evelyn bought a violin, took lessons from scratch and later joined a community orchestra. When Covid hit she stopped playing but picked it up again after realising her memory had slipped since having 4-year-old daughter Hilda. “It involves a lot of coordination in a split second, it keeps my brain sharp.”
Reuben plays viola. Before they knew each other, they would exchange a passing “Hi!” as he was leaving a lesson and Evelyn was arriving at the studio. He stopped going soon after, and they didn’t see each other for months.
“Then one day we bumped into each other at a concert. I couldn’t even remember his name. But I remembered his face!”
– Peter Hanlon
Thanks to all of our 2023 Women of RPV
Stay tuned for the next celebration of our people.