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Gail Beck OAM

Your job title

Regional Development - Manager, South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council

Your biography

I am a very proud descendant of Bunderan, a direct 2000 generational maternal connection to the Wudjari, Koreng, and Yued peoples of the South West Australia - Bibbulmun country, and a mother of 5 adult children.

I am currently the Regional Development Manager at South West Aboriginal Land & Sea Council, and proudly serve on the board of the Graham (Polly) Farmer Foundation and Nyoongar Wellbeing & Sports. I also sit on the Fiona Stanley Hospital Consumer Advice Council as the Aboriginal representative and on the City of Cockburn Aboriginal Reference Group as Co-Chair.

Before moving into community development, I worked as a nurse for 23 years and am passionate about caring for others. Throughout my career, I have always sought roles where I can work with and support Aboriginal communities, complimenting my passion as an Indigenous activist.

Outline your background and role in the field you work in

I left school when I was 15, worked in a factory, then as a tea lady and later as a clerical assistant. During these years, I also did voluntary work for Telethon and St John’s ambulance, which is what inspired me to become a nurse. During my 23 year career in nursing, I met thousands of inspirational individuals and families, which is ultimately what inspired me to change my role and move into community service where I now focus on supporting and helping my people.

During my roles in community service – first as a Community Development Officer at the City of Melville and now at the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council – I co-created the Walyalup Reconciliation group, Djidi-djidi Aboriginal Women’s Corporation, NAIDOC Perth, the Strong Families program, and the ‘Meals to Music’ program for our Elders and people with disabilities. The ‘Meals to Music’ program won a World Health Organisation award, which is testament to the support and help this program provides.

Like many others, I have had a long learning journey filled with plenty of hardship, trauma, and heartache. Yet, thanks to the love of family and friends over the past 45 years, I took the step of applying to study at university and became the first person in my family to get a degree. To reach my goals and achieve success in a field I am passionate about is a truly tremendous feeling.

Why do you do the work that you do?

I am passionate about inspiring and connecting our people, giving them a sense of hope and a bright future. Self-determination needs to be achieved through a structured cultural process that lays firm foundations for our future. My career gives me many opportunities to play a part in building a brighter, stronger future for all our First Nations in the South West.

I love working with young people, helping them to be proud of who they are, and ensuring they have opportunities to grow and thrive. A good education is key: it can help young people thrive as it opens up many doors and opportunities. I am proud to be on the board of the Graham (Polly) Farmer Foundation, which has been supporting and empowering Aboriginal students around Australia for over 20 years. The Foundation’s educational enrichment programs help Aboriginal students to successfully complete school and move into positive post-school pathways, such as university, apprenticeships, and direct employment. These programs play a pivotal role in not only in helping students achieve their academic potential at school but also in providing wrap-around pastoral care and personal development.

What do you most enjoy about your field?

I love working in the Community Development space as I can see and work towards the bigger picture for Noongar people. It is hugely important for me to share the vision of our Elders past and present who worked and fought hard to achieve where we are today.

Who or what inspired you to do the work that you do?

My inspiration comes from the Stolen Generation. The anger and despair I felt when learning about my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother’s native welfare papers inspired me to want to share their stories and right the wrongs of the past.  

I became heavily involved in the reconciliation decade of change so that our stories were told and heard. The lack of respect and acknowledgment for the First Nations people spurred me on to become an advocate.

Above all, I am inspired by the strong women in my life and all the Elders I have had the honour of meeting. These wonderful people have motivated me to stay passionate, strong, focused and committed. 

What challenges have you overcome to be successful in your chosen area?

The biggest challenges I have faced have been personal experiences. Losing my mother and brother at a young age, and dealing with a difficult divorce, have been extremely traumatic times in my life. I am extremely lucky to be surrounded by wonderful friends and family who have all helped me to cope with challenges and emerge a stronger person.

In my current role in community service, I face many challenges but I choose to focus on the talented and passionate people in our community who inspire others, both young and old, to keep moving forward and stay positive. It is our responsibility to work together towards building our nation, continuing the work of our ancestors, and creating a positive world for future generations. 

What does good leadership look like?

Resilience, passion, commitment and focus are key tenets of good leadership.

For me, leadership means building strong relationships, creating a vision for a brighter future, and encouraging others to stay strong and focused.

Leaders can also be quiet achievers who do not let outside problems prevent them and their communities from reaching their goals.

What do you feel are your strengths as a leader?

I focus on leading by example, encouraging others to step forward and staying focused, even when faced with challenges and pushbacks. My ability to listen and hear what people have to say is one of my key strengths, as this allows me to learn from others and ask for help when needed.

I have a dream for my community to become united, happy and healthy, with a bright future created for new generations. I see it as my responsibility as a leader to remain focused on the big picture and achieve this dream.

Share a story that you think demonstrates or defined your leadership/leadership journey

I remain resolutely focused on helping and encouraging women to step up and break down barriers:

  • When I became the president of a junior football club - a sport sadly still viewed in some circles as a predominantly male space – I supported other women to move into executive positions at the club.
  • I also encourage many young Aboriginal women to go to university and follow their passions, enabling them to forge successful careers in their field of choice and become role models for their children and wider community.

In my role at the City of Melville, I created the ‘Strong Families’ program which assists families in crisis and empowers decision makers. I could see that the problems faced by my people were often passed from department to department with no resolution, so I took steps to resolve this and ensure that families were given the necessary support and advice.

I am very proud of my role in creating NAIDOC Perth. At the time, I could see that there was a gap left after the demise of ATSIC which had previously funded the celebration week. I became the inaugural Vice Chair and later Chair of the NAIDOC Perth committee.

Your advice to young people

If you could go back and give some advice to your high school aged self, what would it be? Why? 

Stay at school and work hard to pursue your ambitions as you have the passion and capability to achieve your dreams.

What would your words of encouragement be to another young person interested in your area of work? 

Be honest and committed to the big picture. Always see the bright side of a challenge as there are always solutions, even if you have to look hard for them. Be kind and caring but remain strong and focused. Take care of yourself mentally, physically and emotionally.

Is there any other advice you would like to share with young people about leadership?  Leadership is not always easy, but worth working hard for. Always be respectful and mindful that hurt people cannot always see past their pain. Above all, believe in yourself and remain focused on your vision. You can do it!