Monday, November 20, 2006

Augathella's Australian of the Year

THE Australian of the Year is often awarded to doctors, celebrities or sports stars, which is why it came as quite a shock for Augathella station manager Keelan Mailman to be named as one of four finalists for Queensland’s Australian of the Year.

"When I got the phone call and they congratulated me on being a finalist I nearly had a heart attack, it was just mind blowing," Ms Mailman exclaimed.

"There are so many wonderful people that do amazing things and I’m a pretty quiet person, so it made me feel very special to be recognised."

Almost 10 years ago Ms Mailman became the first female Aboriginal cattle station manager when she was given control of the 190,000 acre ‘Mt Tabor’ station, under license of the Bidjara people.

"When I first came out here the place was pretty run down and I didn’t have much experience working on the land.
"I copped some flack, being a single mum and a woman, but that just made me strive harder and get on with it.
"I learnt everything I needed to know from chainsawing to fencing and it’s great to see what we have achieved."

As well as running 2,300 head of cattle, Ms Mailman’s job involves identifying, cataloguing and preserving the many indigenous cultural sites on the property.

She is keen to show other traditional owners how cultural and commercial interests can work together.

"The cattle are a way to self-generate income for the property, to protect the heritage and allow us to be on the land," she said.

But her work doesn’t end with station operations. While caring for her own three children and five foster children, Ms Mailman also helps troubled kids from the Charleville community by letting them stay on the property to learn about the land and indigenous traditions.

"I’ve had a lot of indigenous and non-indigenous kids come out over the years and I try to guide them away from drugs and alcohol," Ms Mailman said.

"The greatest gift I ever got was from my mum. To pass on that traditional knowledge to the kids makes me so proud, they’re always so keen to learn and take it in."

An advocate of reconciliation, Ms Mailman said she tries to set a good example for the children by showing acceptance to all races, even when it is not reciprocated.

"I love Augathella but it’s only a small town and we’ve had to put up with a lot of racial issues.
"I don’t think people realise that their verbal abuse and insults still cut very deep, even to a grown woman.
"My mum always told me that if you want respect you have to give out respect, regardless of who they are, and that’s what I pass on to the kids."

It is not only children who feel the effects of Ms Mailman’s kindness, she has taken in several indigenous elders who expressed a wish to spend their final days on the land.

"They have a spiritual connection with the land. To see their faces glow, knowing they are where they want to be gives you such a good feeling."

Ms Mailman’s willingness to help others and determination to succeed were what prompted her daughter to submit the nomination for the prestigious prize.

"I cried when she read out what she wrote in the nomination," Ms Mailman said.

"It is a great honour to be a finalist and to know that my love, kindness and hard work has touched other people."

The winner of the Queensland Australian of the Year was announced yesterday by Premier Peter Beattie and is now in the running for Australian of the Year against other State finalists.


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