Meet our inspirational leaders
At last year’s Mardi Gras parade in Sydney, Love Child actress Miranda Tapsell, 30, rode atop the Darwin float and got lavished with hugs and kisses while sporting loud makeup and “quite a big Chaka Khan ’fro.”
Tapsell says, “it was an honour to be invited into that space as a heterosexual.” Although she has long fought for indigenous causes, “I have so many friends from the LGBTQI community,” she says, “it makes sense to me that the wider community needs to see the legitimacy of their relationships.”
Australia’s first female PM now serves as chairwoman of the Global Partnership for Education advocating for our potential future leaders.
“The world’s children must be equipped to meet the challenges of our globalised world, irrespective of their gender, ethnicity or location,” said Gillard, 56.
Despite the fact she only discovered that women could play AFL when she was 25—after googling the sport Greater Western Sydney Giants’ captain Amanda Farrugia, 33, has since taken the ball and run with it. After picking up a footy at uni, the talented utility soon progressed through the divisions and was well placed to join the Giants for the inaugural women’s comp in 2017.
“There’s no better time to be a woman in sport,” says Farrugia. “The recognition of our professionalism and athleticism, the profile and the opportunities are growing. I think pay parity will come, too. Sport is breaking down barriers.”
When Professor Kerryn Phelps was named president of the Australian Medical Association in 2000 she was the first woman—and first LGBTQI person—elected to the prestigious role. Professor Phelps, 60, is also an author, an independent Sydney council politician and a wife—in 1998 she wed partner Jackie Stricker Phelps in New York, before returning to legalise the union in 2011. Meanwhile, the pair campaigned relentlessly for marriage equality in Australia.
“Jackie and I fought for equality for 20 years, it’s [been] like having an extra part-time job,” she has said. Professor Phelps has also led the way to championing the health of everyday Australians. “Getting healthy cannot be a project or fad,”
She says. “There will be detours and delays but we need to catch the contagion of good health and find the new normal.”
Lisa Messenger’s name is also her very successful mission. The 46-year-old publisher, author and entrepreneur is the owner and creative director of The Messenger Group, which has published 14 of Messenger’s self-help and entrepreneurship books and is behind Collective Hub, a glossy magazine available in more than 30 countries.
“I’m the queen of let’s just jump in,” says Lisa, who grew up in country NSW and used to work in event management and PR. “It’s not been easy. I have worked my butt off to get here.”
Flash, brash and proud of her success, Jacenko, 37, doesn’t do subtle. As founder and director of Sweaty Betty PR and digital agency The Ministry of Talent, Jacenko’s business interests are worth a reported $13 million. She also oversees Pixies Bows—her 6-year-old “tastemaker” daughter Pixie’s hair-accessories range—and is also mum to Hunter, 3.
No wonder New Zealand’s 40th Prime Minister is smiling. The charismatic Ardern, 37, only ascended to lead NZ’s Labour Party in August 2017. By the end of October, in a shock election result, she became the country’s third female PM, and the world’s youngest female head of government.
A self-described progressive feminist, it was then hardly surprising when Ardern joyfully announced her pregnancy with partner Clarke Gayford, a TV presenter, in January.
When the “first baby” arrives in June, Ardern will take six weeks maternity leave, after becoming only the second female leader in the world (Benazir Bhutto was first) to give birth while in office.
As a quantum physicist, Michelle Simmons is a “woman in a man’s world,” she says. But it’s just how she likes it. Working on the frontier of quantum computer technology, Simmons, 50, who was born in Britain and settled in Australia in 1999, has found the lack of expectation in her work from male colleagues liberating: “Because they’re not expecting me to do anything ... I can actually get on and see if I can achieve it.”
What the University of NSW professor achieved in 2012 was the world’s smallest transistor made from a single atom, which led to her being named 2018 Australian of the Year on Jan. 25.
Sam Kerr was showered in glory in November when she was named Asia’s best female player at the Asian Football Confederation awards for her stellar run with the Matildas and as a star player for Perth Glory in the W-League.
Many agreed when veteran ABC sports host Tracey Holmes proclaimed the Fremantle-born Kerr “our best footballer.”
For all the accolades and the thrill of cheering fans, the 24-year- old maintains a determined philosophy that helps keep her in winning form, on and off the field. “Someone once said to me,‘It’s not as good as it seems and it’s not as bad as it seems,’” says Kerr, who is joining the Chicago Red Stars in March. “For me, it’s a lesson about resilience, to hang on. You have to learn in life that it’s always going to change, no matter which way you’re heading. So, you’ve got to enjoy the moment you’re in.”
Head of TV’s Rafter clan on Seven’s Packed to the Rafters for five years, Gibney enjoys a similarly happy family life with husband Richard Bell and son Zachary, 13, in New Zealand. But the 53-year-old didn’t always know domestic harmony.
As a child, her alcoholic father regularly beat her mother so badly “she had bruises for six months,” the actress has said. Gibney, the youngest of six, remembers her mother trying to shield the children from violence by closing doors.
“Domestic violence is wrong. Violence in any form is wrong,” said Gibney, who offers hope to those affected by family violence by speaking openly about her experiences. “For anyone in the situation there is always someone who will listen. And you can get through it. My mother and family is testament to that.”
Growing up in South Africa gave Charlize Theron a unique perspective on the many tragedies of the AIDS epidemic—and in 2007 she started the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project to help end it.
As a kid, “I remember people dying and people not knowing why they died, and people always whispering this word,” says the Oscar winner, 42. “It was taboo in that country to talk about things like safe sex.”
Pink and Caryl Stern
"I care about kids,” says the multi-platinum Grammy winner, 38, and mum of Willow, 6, and Jameson, 1, of the driving force behind her partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund.
“UNICEF has helped more children around the world than anyone else, and in a humanitarian crisis, they’re there."
For nine years Garner, 45, has served as an artist ambassador and is now a trustee for Save the Children, which provides relief and support for kids in rural US and developing countries. Yet it’s moments in the field, alongside president and CEO Carolyn Miles, that really hit home for the mother of three.
“The people that we tend to serve are people that are out of the way ... and nobody else seems to reach out and grab for,” says Miles. “We want three things: We want kids to not die from preventable diseases; we want every child to get into school and have a high-quality education; and we want to protect kids from violence and harm.”
Growing up as one of 14 siblings in Melbourne’s tough Glenroy meant that Moana Hope didn’t have the easiest start. Losing her cherished dad to leukaemia when she was 12 was another blow. She found solace in AFL football—she first picked up a ball aged 7—and is now Collingwood’s leading goalkicker.
“I’ve never looked at myself and gone, ‘They all say you’re amazing so you must be amazing,’ ” says Hope, 29. “I play football because I love it. I’m passionate about the things I do—and my family.”
“Australia is anti-adoption. We have a shocking history with it.” Deborra-Lee Furness, who with husband Hugh Jackman adopted Oscar, 17 and Ava, 12, is done with treading carefully when discussing our low rates of adoption.
In 2008, she founded Adopt Change to encourage adoption reform and continues to advocate for children in need of permanent homes and would-be adoptive parents. “It’s a huge global crisis,” said Furness, 62. “I don’t think this is anything to do with having adopted kids. I just can’t bear to think of a child on their own in the world with no-one to watch their back.”
In the four years since her only child, Luke, 11, was murdered by his father, Rosie Batty has remained stoic in the face of a grief that would break most: “My belief is a tragedy gives you an opportunity to make a difference,” said the 2015 Australian of the Year. In the wake of her son’s death, the 55-year-old established the Luke Batty Foundation to help other women and children affected by domestic violence.
Dr Susan Carland
Academic, author, feminist, mother, Muslim; Dr Susan Carland carries more labels than most. Being one of Australia’s most high-profile Muslims—she converted to Islam when she was 19—and feminists means she attracts more than her fair share of trolls online, but she’s come up with an elegant way to combat the negativity. “In 2015 I started sending one dollar to UNICEF every time I got a nasty tweet,” said Carland, 39, who has two children with her husband, The Project host Waleed Aly. “The idea was to respond to something awful with something good.”
“Fight each round, take it on the chin and never, never ever give in.”
So sang Newton-John in ‘Why Me’ of her 1992 breast-cancer diagnosis. That experience led the singer, 69, to embark on a journey in cancer advocacy and fundraising which culminated in the creation of the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre in Melbourne.
“With more and more people affected by cancer every day, I believe we are in a world desperate for healing and I’m committed to doing whatever I can to help,” she says.
Her recent campaign to out sexual predators in the Australian media and entertainment world isn’t the journalist’s first fight. In 2006 she took Network Ten to the Federal Court claiming unfair dismissal following the birth of her second child. Now, in light of #MeToo, Spicer declares it’s time to take on discrimination proactively. “Not much is going to change unless we look at the structures that were designed by men for men and really take a crowbar to them,” said Spicer, 50. “Particularly in the media but in other male- dominated industries as well. Speak out. If none of us speak out things are unlikely to change.”
“I think we all have that inner strength inside of us,” says Turia Pitt, “but we just never get tested so we never get the chance to discover how incredible we all are.” Pitt discovered her own depths of courage after suffering burns to 65 per cent of her body when she was caught in a bushfire while competing in a WA ultramarathon in 2011. Now engaged to long- term boyfriend Michael Hoskin and a new mum to son Hakavai, the author and motivational speaker vows to teach her child to fight adversity too. “The main thing I want to impart to my son is resilience,” said Pitt, 30. “The belief that he not only will go through hard times—but that he can.”
Actress turned “kick-ass” holistic wellbeing guru Melissa Ambrosini, 31, is on a mission to help women silence their inner Mean Girl. “I’m about creating a vibrant, fulfilling life, one you’re excited to get out of bed for,” says the author of the bestselling Mastering Your Mean Girl.
Polished and ultra-professional, 53-year-old Virginia Trioli is a Walkley Award–winning journalist, author and broadcaster whose smooth style, penetrating questions and wicked twinkle make her a favourite with ABC’s News Breakfast audiences.
It’s fitting that in a year when women marched, spoke out and fought for change, Gal Gadot stormed screens as the world’s first female superhero. Her sword-swinging strength in 2017’s Wonder Woman was a rallying call, but Gadot says that’s only half the story. “You can’t only empower the women, you have to educate the men, too,” says the Israeli-born star, 32.
As director of the McGrath Foundation, Tracy Bevan says she “has a little chat” with her late best friend Jane McGrath every January during the Pink Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground. “What we have achieved is huge. I do have a little cry because I’d love nothing more than to have her with me. Every year I say, ‘Here we are again, Jane.’ ”
Dr Nikki Stamp
“Women and girls need strong, smart and real role models and deserve to be encouraged into areas traditionally dominated by men,” says Dr Nikki Stamp, 37. She would know what it’s like to benefit from that encouragement—she’s one of only 11 female cardiothoracic (heart and lung) surgeons in Australia, working at Fiona Stanley Hospital in her home town, Perth.
At 16, Melbourne schoolgirl Jade Hameister is the youngest person to complete the harsh Polar Hat-Trick: traversing the North and South poles and crossing Greenland on skis. Her goal is to inspire other teen girls to pursue their dreams. She muses, “What if young women around the world were encouraged to be more rather than less?”
“I’m gradually starting to realise this impact is bigger than I ever could have dreamed,” famed primatologist Jane Goodall says of dedicating her life to the study of social and family interactions of wild chimpanzees. Through Goodall’s groundbreaking work, she has proved that animals share feelings and emotions similar to those of humans.
Dame Quentin Bryce
Her six-year tenure as Australia’s first female Governor-General is just one of Dame Quentin’s many notable achievements. She was also Governor of Queensland and one of the first women accepted to the bar there. Her stint as the federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner in the late 1980s ushered in legal reform for women’s rights.