Hetty Johnston

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Hetty Johnston is a female powerhouse.

More than 20 years ago she took a stand against child sexual abuse and she hasn't stop fighting since. Hetty is the kind of person who makes you question what you're doing with your life. Not through guilt, but by inspiring people to help, to do more, to make a difference!

When we sat down, it was our first official meeting. I caught Hetty at a significant time in her life - a crossroads. 

It's easy to see that what Hetty 'does' and who Hetty 'is' are inextricably linked. You'll understand. 

I hope you enjoy 'My 30 Minutes' with Hetty Johnston. 

Tell me about your life, what does it look like at the moment?

I’ve just stood down as CEO (of Bravehearts) so I’m in a bit of a space of thinking about what do I do next? I did it once before, but the CEO didn’t work out. This time we’ll be right.

I’ve been a CEO for too long now. I’m over... you know someone else can worry about policy and procedure and absentees and who gets what jobs and who doesn’t.

I’m playing with a few ideas at the moment. There’s a few offers on the table. I just don’t know. So I’m taking some time out to work out what I want. For the first time in a very long time I’m going to work out what I want. It’s probably taken me my whole 59 years to come to that, but I’m going to do what I want this time. But what I want and what’s best for children are intrinsic, you can’t separate it. I actually believe I am here for this reason, as spooky as that may sound to some people, I genuinely believe that and I see that all the time. Things happen and I just think ‘wow I’m supposed to be doing this’. I guess I’m just waiting to feel what I need to do next.

Life is busy. My husband is a tradesmen, so he’s a floor sander and he works hard. But then when he’s not working, we’ve got a 12 acre property so the tractor is out slashing, or fixing fences, or digging holes, or building things, which keeps him busy and he really loves it. Plus he’s a sports nut, so he’s surfing on the coast.

I spend a lot of time working, I’m a workaholic and I always have been. Since I was a kid, even in school I studied all the time. I enjoy it, I like thinking about things, I’m slightly creative, I like to explore things and I just can’t the brain off, it just keeps churning. Which is a problem sometimes.

So life is busy, it’s very busy, but the 12 acres overlooks the Albert River so all we can see in front of us is the Hinterland. It’s quite peaceful. We’ve got 6 cows, 2 horses, 2 dogs and it’s 40 minutes from the Gold Coast. So life for us is busy during the day, but when I come home it’s where I relax. We’re empty nesters so it’s me and Ian, the dogs and the animals. I just love that, I love where we live. I adore my husband as much or more than when I married him, and the feeling is mutual so we have a really good life. We have a lot of really good friends and we’re very social – we go out a lot, they come over a lot.

I’m excited by my work, I love my work, I thrive on a challenge it’s true. So if someone says to me ‘you can’t do this’ that’s the thing I’ll do.

They said we couldn’t stop the government from putting the toll road through – and we stopped it. They said Peter Hollingworth would never resign – we’ve done it. They said child sexual assault would never be a mainstream issue – it is. Now all we have to do is stop it. The job’s not done there yet. It could be if governments pulled their finger out, to be frank.

I’m angry at governments. State and Federal. Particularly the Prime Minister (Malcolm Turnbull) and George Brandis at the moment. I could just knock their heads together. That for me is the frustrating bit because I can see absolutely what can happen and how we would be the safest place in the world to raise a child, so quickly and so easily. The only thing stopping us is our politicians and their lack of engagement on this. They see this as an issue that people are not going to vote for, or it’s ‘not a vote winner’. Everything is about votes and money for them. But for me and the people I work with... we’re literally watching these kids die. 

If everything we did as a society was for the best interests of children, if we considered them first and foremost with everything we do, then we would be a much more beautiful place. Kids would be loved, kids would be prioritised, kids would be protected, kids would be wholesome.

So my decision next, is how do I progress that?

There’s these big dollar opportunities out there, but the dollar doesn’t drive me. It used to. I’ve come from a business family, and my father couldn’t believe I was giving my time up for nothing when I first volunteered. It was a foreign concept to him, he just couldn’t get his head around it. But it doesn’t drive me anymore. But everyone comes to this – you reach a T-intersection and you’ve got to decide am I going to go left or am I going to go right?

It’s a case of money or the kids to be honest – and it’s tempting because as a CEO of an NGO you get paid rubbish money compared to what’s going on out there. And you know I’m 59 I’ve got to retire, I’ve got bugger all superannuation because I donated my time for 9 years. We donated a million dollars in time and money to the organisation back then, so we’re not sitting on the pigs back. But I’m finding it really hard – you’ve got someone over here waiving a big cheque around, and you’ve got someone over here bringing their child in who’s devastated by what’s happened to them and they’re not getting listened to.

What’s it like hitting the 20 year mark, do you ever feel any level of success or accomplishment?

Yes I do. I’m very proud that we started this thing. But it’s not me, although I’m the public face, it’s a fact – nobody does anything on their own. Even from the beginning it was my husband and I, and my family, and my daughters that supported me. It was tough. It’s so hard particularly in the beginning, because no one wants to hear from you. Those that are listening would think you were a raving lunatic. 'You’re the barking dog' they called me, but you’ve got to have stick-ability to keep going.

We have changed the way the country deals with this issue, there’s no question about it. But it’s not ‘me’, it’s ‘us’.

I’m really proud of Bravehearts, I’m really proud of the fact that we started it and I’m proud of all the people who support it and work in it and what we as a collective have achieved. Super proud. Couldn’t be prouder. I know that we’ve saved thousands of lives, I know we have. So that’s something I’m really proud of and if I got hit by a bus tomorrow I’d be happy to call that my legacy.

Do you associate the word success with Bravehearts?

Don’t really have time to associate anything, except hard work. We do, we get our successes along the way. You get your wins along the way, but you just move onto the next thing.

We’ve done some research where I just said look ‘we want Australia to be the safest place in the world to raise a child, we’ve got to know how to make that happen’. Everything I do has got to be based on fact, it can’t be whimsical. We conducted some research and measured Australia against New Zealand, Canada, the UK and all 50 of the United States and measured best practice in child sexual assault management across all of those places and then how they deal with the law, punishment and rehabilitation. We had a really good understanding of where we need to be as a nation to claim that mantle. One of the major legal firms did some work on it for us. And we do all of this on a wing and a prayer. So when we achieve what we need to achieve I will be ecstatic and then it will be a case of maintaining.

'It will never be job done, there will always be kids who are hurt.'

And there will always be perpetrators who want to hurt them, so we just have to be vigilant. The most motivating thing about this issue is it’s preventable. Child sexual assault is for the most part preventable. We just have to decide as a community and our governments have to decide that that’s what we want to do. But yes, we’ve changed this country there’s no doubt about it, and the safety of these kids.

You’ve received countless accolades – in 2014 awarded Member of the Order of Australia, in 2015 you were named Queensland Australian of the Year. How does that make you feel?

Everyone nominates me for these things because they’re amazing and they’re sneaky. It’s humbling but it’s almost.. is it weird to say it’s a bit embarrassing? I feel like a fraud sometimes because I know it’s not about me. It’s got my name all over it but it’s not about me.

So yes I’m super proud of starting this organisation with my family. No one ever does anything by themselves. But I’m not going to claim accolade for everything that Bravehearts has done because it wasn’t me, it was a whole team of people.

So I think when you ask with these awards how I feel – I feel honoured, humbled and embarrassed.

The AM I feel very personal about. I’m taking that one, I’m going to allow myself to have that one. It’s the thing I’m most proud of professionally. I wear it almost everyday if I can remember, and I’m proud of it.

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Your work must be stressful, how do you relax?

Our very first therapist taught me right in the very beginning - because I was doing everything at the time, there wasn’t staff – "when you pick up the phone you smile and when you hang up the phone you smile, they can hear that in your voice, and you can feel good that you helped that person because without you sitting there Hetty no one would be picking up that phone, and that person would be lost".

The balloon was also a good technique – you need to blow all of the ‘stuff’ into a big metaphorical balloon, all of their pain, their trauma, their tears into a balloon and just send it off. It’s almost like it sits on the ceiling like helium balloon, then one day when they ring back, you’ll pull it back down again and you’ll have all that information in your head, but you don’t keep it there, you just let it go. You have to let it go. You can only do what you can do and sometimes there is nothing that you can do. That will kill you, it will rot you, unless you understand and believe that you’ve done everything you can.

Burn out rate in this sector is massive because it’s just so overwhelmingly tragic to watch what happens to people. Human beings can be incredibly cruel to each other which never ceases to amaze me and horrify me.

How would you define personal success?

'Understand who you are. Then figure out what fills your cup'.

Do it for you, and sometimes doing it for you is doing it for others. Whatever it is just make sure it’s perfectly perfect for you. You only get one life and it’s shorter than you think, do it your way, go hard, give it everything you’ve got and whatever the result of that is – it’s perfect for you.

You’re turning 60 next year, you’ve got kids and grand kids – what sort of legacy do you hope to leave for them?

My granddaughter recently had her 18th birthday party at our property and I was standing in the kitchen watching her and remembering very clearly the day her mother told me she was having a baby. Reliving all of that and understanding that was like 19 years ago-ish, and how quickly those 19 years have passed. Next year I turn 60. Reflecting on that – my parents are 87 and 93 – reflecting on their lives, they were perfectly fit and healthy and dad was still cleaning the gutters out on the roof at 80. But after 80 it started to go pear-shaped so the realisation that at the very best, if I am super lucky, I’ve got 20 years of being able to actively participate in things and wondering what I’m going to do with that.

So with the new CEO starting, who I have total confidence in, it’s time for me to now make a change. I’m at a crossroads where I have to decided am I going to go left, or am I going to go right. There are lots of opportunities, lots of offers on the table, lots of money, some big offers – so it’s the money or the passion, or can I do both?

So I’m back in a place of giving myself the advice I would give a teenager – find out what fills your cup. I have to decide what will fill my cup for the next 20 years and then I’ll give it as much guts as I've given everything else.

A very prominent Australian businessman once told a group of people I was with, that I was frightened of nothing and he’s right!

I won’t let fear get in my way, unless it’s heights - I hate heights. 

You know what it is – I’m not frightened to walk the talk of what I believe in, it doesn’t frighten me at all.. because I know I’m right. I fact checked it already. If I haven’t got the proof in my pocket, I’m not saying it.

Nirvana for me would be that governments do the very very best for children, that that is their priority and I can believe that and trust that they will do it. I know for an absolute fact that I can’t trust that, it was reconfirmed to me recently with some dealings with government. It’s tough work but you’ve just got to get over yourself and do it. All of a sudden you’re doing a media interview – you’ve got no makeup on, your hair looks shitty – doesn’t matter what you look like, it’s what I’m saying that counts.

Someone has to speak up for these kids. A lot of people would love to but they can’t. It just seems like the universe has put me here in this place. So what will I do next? Crossroads...


*On Wednesday 1st November Hetty Johnston announced she will run in the Queensland state election as an independent candidate for the seat of Macalister.



Kate Ceberano


Here's a woman full of passion!

I met Kate for the first time when we sat down to do this interview. There was an instant connection. She's warm, funny, incredibly smart, cherishes family and has a wicked laugh. All of that on top of being a hugely successful Australian singer songwriter. 

Here's what we talked about in 'My 30 Minutes'.

I struck out at 15. I was highly committed, highly energetic. I wasn’t interested in anything that was going to hold me at school for much longer. I left school at 14 said ‘that’s it, I want to work, I want to make money, I want to be secure and I want to have it on my own terms.’ So I worked three or four gigs a week at 15. It was psycho bananas, but I felt like one of those hair dressing apprentices at a salon that knew that one day I would own my own salon. You know those ones – they’re different to the ones that are just working for the boss, they’re the ones that will be the boss.  

Paint a snapshot of your life for me?

Probably contrary to popular belief I’m actually very old fashioned when it comes to my marriage.

"We’ve been married for 25 years and I’m very devoted to my husband."

I love what we are as people. He’s a very kind person. They have to know that I actually live that everyday. He’s a filmmaker/director. We are as equally apart as we are together and we raise this free range chicken who’s the most amazing person. She’s 13. She’s got all the best parts of us. She’s pragmatic and savvy like her dad. She’s empathetic and kind, which I think I am those things. And we get up, I take her to school, I then unpack all my bags from having been on tour for the last four days. I put everything in the wash. I go and water my garden, I love my garden. Then sit and talk about what we’re going to do domestically – Lee and I. That’s my husband.

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And then moreover I’ll go off and do this program with young artists. I’m really dedicated to helping women in music. So I bring together all the women I know, we sit together, we make music, we talk about music, we talk about gigs, we talk about how each other’s sustaining ourselves in music – have we got enough money, do we need any help? And I try plug in with them and see if there’s anything I can do to help them to be more stable financially and professionally.

I’m not a big fan of people who have high dreams but are lazy. I turn right off really fast. I have no tolerance for it. I won’t sit and have someone waffle on at me about all these things are going to be, without showing me what they’re going to do. To me you give me a kid who is showing me they’ve got five gigs that they’re doing. They’re making no money for it at the moment, but they totally plan on doing that. In the meantime they’re working in a café over here, and they’re doing composition for this person over there. It’s criminal for me – it’s like wanting something for nothing and that’s the basis of criminality. You need to know even if it all went to ruin, I could sit up here in this mall with an amp, like I did when I was 15, and I’ll put my hat out and I’d have enough money to eat.

You’re a household name in Australia. What does that feel like?

In this country that’s very honourable. People in this country don’t have the same weirdness about celebrities it seems. Well we kind of do, towards the great influencers, and the pretty people, we do honour that in one section of our world and that’s fun, that’s celebrity. But for an artist whose an all-rounder you sort of become part of the family.

People will come up to me and certainly when I’m with my kid and when she was younger – they were really respectful, like ‘we don’t want to interrupt your family time right now, but I just want to tell you we really like the way you dress, or I like what you stand for, I like your music.’ I think people like me in equal measure for a lot of things, other than just music.

You’ve been making music for more than three decades and you’ve done a lot over that time. Are there highlights or moments that make you feel proud when it comes to work, or does that exist more in your personal life?

There are moments everyday where you just go ‘wow, that was sublime’.

I did a thing with Anh Do and he said what’s your definition of happiness, or what is your advice on how to be happy, and I said ‘be easily pleased’.

Like last night when my brother Phil, who is just gorgeous,I’m in the wings and I’m looking at him and he’s working the crowd really hard, and he looks across to me and made some comment like ‘oh my sister’s not happy about her outfit tonight, so make sure you give her lots of applause when she comes out tonight because she was feeling a bit fatty boombah’. He’s already set the scene, so that by the time I get there the crowd just roars. That’s a beautiful thing.

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With all those years and all those albums, when we talk about success – do you ever feel like you’ve arrived?

No and I think that there’s an argument that I agree with that as an end goal, happiness comes from having overcome things. So when you put this marker for yourself that ‘I’ve arrived’ or 'I’m in the place that I’ve always wanted to be', I think you potentially stop being happy. I was watching this movie yesterday and it said ‘desire is a far greater motivator than happiness’ because when one is desiring or has the sensation of anticipation about what they’re going to get, or what they’ll find, or what it will feel like, or taste like.. that is actually a better definition for happiness than the end goal of happiness itself, or arriving somewhere.


Desiring to be somewhere, desiring to do something - it’s intoxicating and I hope I never lose it, I hope I never feel satisfied.


You had your daughter Gypsy it was 13 years ago. When did you get back into work, when did you feel was the right time?

I always had this sort of idea that I would be an example to working women, that I would continue to work through and after and all that. Because not every woman is going to want to have babies and they’re not going to have them as some sort of indicator that they were successful as a woman. So I wanted to make it look effortless and that was a pile of shit. It’s like the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

I loved my pregnancy, I was completely oblivious to it. I worked right up until, and right through and onto national tours. I did a television thing for the world rugby, 44 million viewers at eight and a half months pregnant. Kasey Chambers couldn’t do it and I had to fill in for a campaign she was meant to be fronting. They literally put me on a golf buggy, took me out into the middle of the field, I was enormous.


'There I was demonstrating to women ‘be proud, own your bodies, own your babies’. I was clueless.'


Then I took about eight years to learn how to actually take responsibility for parenting and the choice you make when you have a baby. And I say eight years, it took that long until she was mobile and truly independent and could speak for herself. It was a really interesting journey and I had to actually pull out of my own desire and my business, and focus on her. I had to really change my mind, which at 38 was hard, about who owns this space here (gestures to torso), she owns the space, she owns the space! You have to just manage it, and monitor it, and keep her safe, keep her warm, keep her fed, keep her alive. That is the choice you make. If you’re not going to do that, don’t have children in my opinion. It’s all about you in your 20's – have that, love that, enjoy that, eat heartily from that plate. But if you’re going to have babies, know that it’s not fair to the child or to the environment around the child, to have any of that.

So did you think you would go back to work?

I had no idea what was going to happen. I was so clueless I went straight into Dancing with the Stars when she was 10 months old. I literally just stopped breastfeeding and went straight on television, into a five hour a day dancing routine. Madness.

But that must have been a good way to get back out there?

At that stage I was still learning. So if there was any damage done then, I feel like I’ve been making it up since.. of the absence. Children don’t want you to be absent in those early years, they really want you to be there. They need you there. They need to know that you’re just half a foot away, so their little arms can reach out and you’re there. Even if it’s to push you away. They just need to know.

Whilst professionally it had all the right reasons, like keeping my profile out there, but in my heart it felt wrong.

So what would you say to other mums in that situation?

Marry someone rich and just check out when you’re having kids. (laughs)

Turn off all electronics and get down on your hand and knees and be on their level, because that’s what children need to be good people in this world. Fortunately my mum and dad were living with us at the time, so my daughter was surrounded by family and friends, but that’s not common for people.

I don’t regret how I did it, but it seemed like a kind of vanity.

'I didn’t even know I was so vain, or needed it career wise.'


You joke that we should marry rich and have babies, but I believe the desire in you would have driven you to keep going?

I always say to the modern woman make sure that the desire doesn’t send you in one direction, at the cost or the neglect of the things that count. I’ve got girls who are 15 years younger than me and haven’t even had a relationship yet, because there’s no time. They’re recklessly perusing their desire, which is fine no boyfriend is fine, but they don’t see their parents and they don’t call their grandma anymore. 

If you had to define success – how would you define it?

I struggle to find, because I think my mind goes out to – success as a parent, success as a wife, success as a person. I think in the end all I can say is this – If you seek to be the most honest person you can be, and have integrity in everything you do, and be trustworthy by others, I can only imagine then that you would be a success in life. Because anything other than those things is to fail. To be dishonest, to be untrustworthy, to be unable to look at yourself and your life and know I truly decided to do all of that, no one else could have decided that for me.

I think there are grades of success and grades of failure – all of which I think you need to experience because without failure you have no success. Nobody seeks to be perfectly happy, they want to have desire and desire will send you down some really narky paths, towards narky people, where you have to own it and have integrity. When you’re making those decisions and basing it on the right truths and you’re coming up with the right answers – then you’re being more successful. How about that?

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We all hope to leave some sort of legacy, or our little mark – hopefully it’s a good one – but what do you want to leave behind for your daughter?

I guess that same thing that my grandmother left for me which is that it is possible to maintain a kindness in a world that is pretty hard. If my legacy is that I tried to be as kind as I could to the people that count, really that’s it ultimately, I have small ambitions.

Just stay kind!


At every provocation there’s every reason to become those hard bitter people and end up being really judgmental, and I just don’t want to turn into one of those people. That would be the legacy I would like to leave.



Giaan Rooney

Giaan Rooney is a former darling of Australian swimming and an Olympic gold medalist.

Since retiring she's gone on to have a successful media career, alongside other entrepreneurial pursuits.  This week she also gave birth to her second child - a girl named Alexa Leigh. 

Giaan is a great friend and mentor. She came into my life in a whirlwind nearly two years ago, and we’ve been close ever since.

She has taught me so much about life, love, work ethic and how to treat people. 

I hope you enjoy 'Our 30 minutes'.

Paint a snapshot of your life for people.  

Sometimes I feel like I’ve lived a few lifetimes in one and it’s pretty much broken up between my life as a swimmer and my life after retirement. There’s two very distinct parts of my personality and my life that are very separate. Now after being retired for 11 years I can’t even put myself back there which is very strange.

I grew up in a typical family – mum, dad, younger brother. I grew up in Brisbane. We moved to the Gold Coast when I was eight. My Dad was an Air Traffic Controller so he wanted to not work shift work at Brisbane Airport, and have more routine to see his kids grow up.

I started grade three at Miami Primary, All Saints Anglican High School. Loved it. I had a great childhood, was always outdoors, was always active, my curfew was when the street lights came on.

My life really changed forever when I was 11. I was at my primary school swimming carnival. A friend of mine said I’m going to join a swim club did you want to come. I said ‘that sounds great.’ I started off at two afternoons a week, loved it, begged my parents to let me go three afternoons a week, and then begged for more. From the ages of 11 and 14 I swam during the summer and played netball during the winter. Netball was my other great love. I managed to make a state netball team.

"My swimming coach said ‘you’ve got a lot of talent, you could really do something with this but if you want to you have to make a decision now." 

As all our family decisions were made – we sat down around the dining table and it was a full family discussion. It was my dad that said ‘you can always come back to netball, but if you want to be a swimmer and have a go at going to an Olympics you have to do it now.’

I made my first Australian team the next year. It only took me 14 months. I made the Australian Commonwealth Games team at 15 years old. I got to not only swim and train and see my heroes and my idols close up – I got to room with them. I was rooming with Sam Riley and Susie O’Neill, and seeing how they operated and how they did things, how they trained, how professional they were.

That was it for me. As soon as I saw that comradery and support, and the amazing experiences that they were having I thought – I don’t ever want to not be on this team.

It was almost like I had success before the light bulb went off that ‘this is what I want to do’.

I didn’t grow up from a little kid thinking I want to go to an Olympics, I want to be a swimmer.

It was just a decision that was made out of a love of doing something that took my life in a whole new direction.

 What does your life look like now?

 I’m married to Sam who is a fifth generation cattle farmer. We met through mutual friends and when we met he was doing his helicopters pilots license. We have absolutely nothing in common. He had no idea who I was, or what I did. And I had no idea about his world.

In a lot of ways we’re complete opposites, but what I love about Sam is he is his own man. He has a strong sense of self. He doesn’t care what anyone else thinks about him. His motto is ‘I’m a good person, I know I’m a good person, I do the right thing by people, I work hard and if there’s something that someone doesn’t like about that – that’s their issue’.

We’ve been married six years this December. We have a three year old boy called Zander. He’s an absolute rat bag, he’s a million miles an hour, he’s hilarious and I hope his traits of being very strong willed and very spirited end up seeing him being successful in the right world and not leading him to jail. 

Did you feel prepared for life after swimming?

There’s been a lot of talk lately about athletes transitioning from sport to life. I never had an issue, my transition was very easy. I credit that with being a realist, and also timing played a huge role.

I retired from swimming at the age of 23. I could have kept going quite a number of years if I wanted to but it was a light bulb moment.

 "I was an athlete who loved racing, hated training." 

If I could be a footballer and compete every weekend I’d probably still be swimming. But you only had two major shots at it each year to do the part I loved, which means a lot of time to do the part that I disliked.

I had a really strong work ethic. I don’t have any problem saying I worked really hard. When I trained on the Gold Coast I was the only girl in the squad, so there was no girls session. If I didn’t keep up with the boys, I didn’t keep up. That taught me to be really tough.

I was 22 years old and training for the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. It was a home crowd, I was living and training in Melbourne at the time. But it was about six months out and I realized for the very first time that I was proud of myself. That sounds really strange but I realized I was proud of what I achieved. I was never an exceptional athlete but I felt I didn’t have any regrets and I was proud of myself. In that moment I also realized that if I was proud of myself - another medal, another record, nothing was going to change that feeling. Then I had this thought - if I died the next day and people came to my funeral is the only thing that they were going to be able to say about me was the fact that I could swim ok? I realized there was so much else I wanted to do in my life. This all happened in one training session, in a sport that’s won and lost by a hundredth of a second, so I knew I’d lost the edge.

"This all happened in one training session, in a sport that's won and lost by a hundredth of a second, so I knew I'd lost the edge."

I kept it to myself for a couple of days. Then I told my family that the next Commonwealth Games would be my last. I never trained harder than I did in that last six months. I never made more sacrifices, knowing that this would be my last one. But even my coach didn’t know this would be my last competition. I didn’t want it to affect my preparation.

At the time I was also made captain of the Australian Swim Team which was a huge honour. I only got that because Grant Hackett was injured and unable to compete, so I was very much a second choice, but I was ok with that.

I was excited about life after. At the time I was sponsored by a major television network and had a great relationship with the sport department there. They had always said to me ‘whenever you hang up your bathers, you come and see me. We will have a chat about what you want to do after. I reckon we can do something for you’. So I had that in the back of my mind.

As it turned out it was a horrific last competition. My pet event was the 50 metre backstroke. I was so motivated to win this one last time and walk away with a Commonwealth Games medal around my neck.

I started well and I remember finishing and knowing that I’d won. I looked up at the scoreboard and the scoreboard had my name first and then as I was watching it, it changed. It then had Sophie Edington my fellow Australian first and me one one hundredth of a second behind her. I’ll never forget I just kept staring at the scoreboard, and Soph started going nuts with excitement. But I kept thinking ‘it’ll change back, it’ll change back. I know I won this race, it’ll change back’. And it didn’t.

I got out in a complete state of shock. I didn’t show any leadership or Captain qualities at that time. That was my last ever race and no one knew that except those closest to me.

I walked through the marshalling area. It’s my biggest regret because I walked straight past Nicole Livingstone in tears. At that point I couldn’t comprehend what had happened, I still thought there was going to be a mistake and it was going to fix itself.

"As it turned out in the wash up, the touch pad had failed. Video footage showed I had won by half a foot. They don’t take video footage into account. I lost that race."

Omega timing ended up sending me a very expensive watch to try and say sorry but that was my moment, my last ever moment and I felt so robbed.

On top of it I got absolutely blasted by the Australian public and the media, and probably rightly so, in my position as captain for being a bad loser and dealing with it so badly. So I then had to come out and explain it was my last race and that’s why I was so devastated.

It wasn’t a great ending. It was my only bad time in my whole career and it happened to be my last one.

Does it feel to you like you’ve achieved success?

 I find success a really hard word to define. It is so individual to a person.

I look back and I’m proud of what I achieved in my swimming career. I had a degree of success but I’m such a realist and there were so many athletes who did so much more than me and were so much more exceptional.

I had a quote on the back of my bathroom door that said ‘The harder I work, the luckier I get’.

My school friends used to say you’re travelling the world, you’re doing this and you’re winning medals - you’re so lucky. It really used to annoy me. If you want to do what I do, and get up at 4:47am every morning of your life, when it’s cold and it’s wet, your body aches and you smell of chlorine – you could be lucky too.

There is always an element of luck. For me it’s been timing, but nothing is achieved without a hell of a lot of hard work.

What I gleam as success out of my swimming career is everything that it taught me. It taught me how strong I am. It taught me that I have a great work ethic, if I need it. It taught me that I need to back myself. It taught me about my strengths and weaknesses - knowing your weaknesses is more important. It taught me also that you can’t have everything all of that same time. There’s a lot of sacrifices to get anything in life.

"What I gained out of my swimming career is another career. I couldn’t be doing media without that."

But it taught me that more than anything I’m going to be ok in my life.

How would you define success?

I think of myself as a 95 year old woman, still with all my marbles, still with a degree of health and looking back and having no regrets in my life. Being proud of the person that I am and looking back and saying I raised my children well, my grandchildren, my great grandchildren. And that I got through life without causing anyone else any pain or distress and that hopefully I added something to some people’s lives.

 What kind of legacy do you want to leave for your daughter?

We’ve got women standing up for ourselves and we don’t accept any less just because we’re female.

Men and women are so different, so I don’t believe we always have to be on par. We bring such different skill sets to all that we do, we are biologically so different so we’re never going to be exactly the same. I love the fact that, especially women in sport these days, there’s women’s football leagues, the Rugby 7’s won the gold medal in Rio, I love the fact there are equal opportunities.

"Hopefully I can teach her that as long as she’s proud of herself – that’s all that really matters."

Karen Gee


I never thought I would write a blog, but I feel incredibly passionate about understanding what makes women tick. How do they define success and what does it feel like?

So when I decided to to interview successful Australian women and hear their stories – there was one person who was already having an influence in my life. 

That woman is Karen Gee. 

If you’ve never heard of Karen, she is an Australian fashion designer who specialises in custom made pieces for the modern woman. 

I’d describe her style as chic work wear, but there’s no limit to these designs. 

She was kind enough to give me 30 minutes of her time while she was in Brisbane for a showcase. (I did also sneak in a styling session to pick up a few new pieces for myself.)

My plan was to ask a series of questions and give you her responses, but we share a mutual love of wanting to empower women, so our chat flowed without too much structure. 

Here’s what I learnt about Karen Gee..

Karen is 43 years old. She was raised in Rockhampton by entrepreneurial parents who always ran successful businesses. 

She’s been married for 22 years to husband Andrew. Together they have 5 kids – yes 5 – 4 boys and one girl. 

She launched her fashion label on Logies night in 2013. She dressed Home and Away star Demi Harman in a sleek, structured white gown. That was the beginning of a wild ride. “Our whole website crashed because everyone was hitting it. That was my first big thing.”

From there she went on to dress the likes of Melissa Doyle as the host of Channel 7’s Sunrise. During Mel’s last week on the show she wore Karen Gee everyday. Yep, everyday. I’m talking Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and her final ever Friday.

“That was a month and a half into launching this brand. So she’s certainly been a big part of this growth.”


But you don’t need to be a celebrity to wear Karen Gee.

“It gives me just as much joy… there was a woman who was a size 18 or 20. She came in and was in tears and she said no one can dress me because I’m big and I feel fowl. And I said – watch me. So we put something together. And she was just in tears, she said no one has ever made me feel that good.”

But there’s no denying Karen’s success on screen. The structure and colour of her dresses make them perfect for on air. 

Now the American market has come calling. 

You might have heard of this little news organisation called Bloombergs? Well their head stylist has heard of Karen Gee!

“She contacted me and said… no one does what you do. So we’ve come to you in Australia.”

Now she’s dressed all the top female anchors in New York, has just received a huge order for their Hong Kong talent and will soon dress their London presenters as well. 

On the day we met, the Queensland Premier, Annastasia Palaszczuk also requested an hour of Karen’s time to discuss arranging some custom made pieces. "The woman that called said, 'for her to give you and hour, she must think you’re ok.'”


So why is her business so successful? 

First of all – her business model is very different to most other fashion designers. 

“You pay for your dress first before we even start it. So my cash flow has never ever been a problem. Where people run into problems is they might be great designers but they haven’t got a lot of business sense and that’s where I am very good because that’s all I know, that’s what I was brought up to do.”

She’s been approached countless times by retail giants, but refuses to become a sell-out. 

“If I went into a department store I’d be jeopardising the reputation of the brand in terms of customer service. I would go in at Christmas and things could be thrown on the floor. So do I want to do that? Do I want to commercialise Karen Gee? Probably not.”

But when you boil it down, there’s one thing that sets this brand apart. 

“People come to us because of customer service, and if you generalise it you damage the brand. Things would go on sale and I never go on sale, because I don’t want someone to custom make a dress and then seeing it on the shelf for half price, there’s no value in that, you’re devaluing your brand."

"Media would always ask for things for free and I said no, because that would devalue the brand. So everyone pays.”

Karen Gee on marriage:

“Andrew and I have been married for 22 years this year.”

“If you marry someone that has the same values as you, and you’re quite clear on that, you’ll get there.”

“We have the best marriage we’ve ever had now, we go on date nights and spend time with the kids.”

Karen Gee on children:

“They’re so amazing and they’re so easy and I’d have 5 more if they were going to be like that.” 

“They’re my biggest joy in life. We are so close the 7 of us.”

“We do have a live-in housekeeper, but because we work some much we do that so we can chat and be with the children and I know that’s a privilege, but I can give my kids the time of day and they can see how hard we work to put them through private school.”

“We have family dinner on Friday night and we all have to be there. We go around the table and have the highlights of the week and talk about what’s coming up.”

So let’s boil all this down…

How would you define success for you as a female?

“Definitely happiness. Not money. Money comes if you’re happy and you’re doing something you love. So I think the emphasis has to be taken out of success being about money.”

“If I’m happy – everyone around me is happy and then all the money and all the toppings are going to come.”

As a successful Australian woman, what do you think sets you apart? 

“I run my own race.”

“The moment I decided to run my own race and not copy what they’re doing that’s when I started my journey. In particular, my personal journey of discovering who I am and that I can actually do something.”

“You’ve got to put yourself in there, not just think it – you’ve got to do it.”