International Women's Day: Community Heroes

Published 2:22pm 12 March 2021

International Women's Day: Community Heroes
Words by Nick Crockford

As we celebrate International Women’s Day this week, we’re shining a light on some of the inspiring women in our community making a difference.

Mary Otto, Youth and Community worker, Deception Bay

Mary Otto, pictured above, started working with young people in 1952 on the other side of the world – and 69 years later has no plans to stop.

In fact, she began three months after Queen Elizabeth ascended to the throne (February 1952) and Mary says she will retire three months after the Queen does!

Though joking, it shows her dedication to the community of Deception Bay, which she joined in 1972 and has never left.

“I got involved with youth work in England, meeting lots of young people and it has just been an automatic thing ever since,” says Mary.

Now 86, she is still working with yourtown Deception Bay which gives support to young people and is involved with Deception Bay Neighbourhood Centre and the PCYC.

Mary is also treasurer of the Friends of Deception Bay Conservation Park and part of the group’s Bushcare in the Park team.

“Last time we planted a lot of trees and cleared weeds,” says Mary, “the weeds were awful, but I think they’re under control now.”

These are just the latest in a long line of community organisations in Queensland and the UK which have benefited from Mary’s tireless efforts.

Originally from Lancashire, she founded and became the first woman to run a youth group in the northern county.

It was through this she met the Queen and chatted about community programs, including one in her group which had similarities to Clean Up Australia.

Mary later became Queensland co-ordinator for the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme and met Prince Edward who was in Australia on behalf of the program.

She also started Girl Guides in Lancashire before her family moved to Australia … following her sister who, by then, had met and married and had her first child.

Mary first lived in Brisbane where she met her future husband and worked at the Fortitude Valley PCYC, before moving to Deception Bay.

“When we came here, they didn’t have youth workers, so I went to university to become a teacher,” said Mary.

She has supported Deception Bay PCYC since it started, founded the Girl Guides at Deception Bay in 1974, launched community youth programs since the 1980s and is an integral part of the Deception Bay History Group and Heritage Walk in the area.

International Women's Day: Community Heroes
Tracy Blair, Pine Rivers Bears Junior Rugby League finance manager

Tracy Blair, Pine Rivers Bears Junior Rugby League finance manager

For Tracy Blair, a set of new changerooms for the Pine Rivers Bears Junior Rugby League Football Club is about more than having a nicer place to shower, it’s a symbol of empowerment.

When Tracy, the club’s finance manager and unofficial project and development planner, first joined the Bears she was shocked by the dilapidated and antiquated state of the changerooms, and determined to do something about it.

It’s a journey that’s taken several years and the support of local and state government, but Tracy says the result is something the club’s diverse membership will benefit from – and she can see the benefits filtering to the broader Moreton Bay Region community.

“When I first came into the club, I said `what’s going on with the facilities?’,” Tracy recalls.

“At the time of applying (for funding for new changerooms) we had one women’s team and I looked at the facilities and thought they were not up to standard.”

Tracy says she led the charge not only for female players, but as recognition of the club’s entire membership.

“Diversity is in society and looking at our shower stalls, we had three within a 5x5m cubicle with no doors. It’s about privacy and that feeling of being fresh and clean.”

When the changerooms officially open at the Pine Shire Cup Finals at the end of the month, they will have been built to the highest level of specification – state level.

“We started thinking smaller – building to local team specifications, but ended up with the highest level,” Tracy says with satisfaction.

“As a result (of our application) Council is now looking at facilities in the wider region. It builds everybody up, it’s not just one club.”

Tracy, who has been involved in Rugby League since she was a child, says organisations such as the Bears play a crucial role in the community and the process of steering the club through the changeroom upgrade has been satisfying.

“I am starting to realise my inspiration, other than athletics coaches in school, is myself,” she says.

“I was a foster kid and I am Indigenous, and the one thing that always kept me going was being in a sports team.

“If you ever want to feel connected to a tribe, there’s sport, arts and culture. It’s really important for us to promote that to kids - they thrive on that positive stuff.”

International Women's Day: Community Heroes
Dr Catherine Yelland, Medical Director of the Medicine Service Line at Redcliffe Hospital

Dr Catherine Yelland, Geriatrician, General Physician and Medical Director of the Medicine Service line at Redcliffe Hospital

Dr Catherine Yelland has, over the last decade, seen huge changes at Redcliffe Hospital – a trend which is likely to continue.

With senior medical and management roles, Dr Yelland has been part of the team expanding services and facilities to serve our fast-growing region.

Changes include the addition of more medical specialists such as cardiologists, neurosurgeons and surgical specialists.

In June last year an Acute Aged Care Unit was opened at Redcliffe Hospital to meet the rise in older people with medical issues.

Such improvements will continue as the population grows and the State Government has already pledged around $6m for a business case for further expansion.

As Medical Director of the Medicine Service Line, Dr Yelland is part of the hospital’s management team, a role she combines with being a geriatrician and general physician.

Dr Yelland also runs a Memory Clinic twice a week, helping adults experiencing memory and behavioural changes and possible dementia – the latter being an area which has always interested Dr Yelland.

“Some days I see more patients and others I do have more management work,” saus Dr Yelland, “and there are day-to-day issues to deal with, such as having enough beds for patients.”

Dr Yelland said healthcare has a ‘high proportion’ of women and it was important to acknowledge the roles they play in all areas of the hospital.

She said it was also important to support the next generation of junior medical staff and help further their skills.

Dr Yelland graduated from the University of Queensland in 1981 and has worked at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, The Prince Charles Hospital and Princess Alexandria Hospitals and spent two years in England.

She has been president of the Australian and New Zealand Society for Geriatric Medicine and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.


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