• Cassandra Diamond, Kirsten Banks and Naomi Cain (NITV News)Source: NITV News
NITV meets a few Indigenous women who are making their mark on traditionally male-dominated industries and inspiring the next generation of young women to follow the path they have carved out.
Keira Jenkins

The Point
11 Mar 2020 - 11:00 AM  UPDATED 11 Mar 2020 - 11:00 AM

Naomi Cain loves what she does.

The Gomeroi woman has been driving cranes at Port Botany docks for 18 years, and for her it’s been the opportunity of a lifetime.

“It’s afforded me the financial freedom and stability to have a life that I never thought as a young, single, pregnant 16-year-old that I could ever have,” Ms Cain told NITV News.

“Being able to give my son the life that I always wanted to, being able to buy my own home, being able to travel and just do things that I never imagined I’d be able to do.”

But it hasn’t always been an easy journey. 

Ms Cain is the only Aboriginal woman who works at the docks and when she first started driving cranes, she was one of just a handful of women in the industry.

She said it’s meant she’s had to work hard to prove herself over the years.

“I had to work twice as hard to earn that respect, that I was worth being down here and that I was worth receiving the money that they were receiving, that was back then,” Ms Cain said.

“I think the first time I went down to the site at White Bay no one spoke to me for like two days.

“They sent me out on a ship and didn’t give me any work and pretty much let me know I wasn’t welcome, until one fella on the next shift came up and introduced himself to me and took me out for a schnitzel at the pub and made me feel welcome.

“From then it got easier over time. I must say now the fellas here are like family. I really love my job, it’s fantastic.

“The shift work can be a little bit hard but it’s worth it, it really is.”

‘The sky's the limit’

Kirsten Banks has also jumped numerous hurdles to get where she wanted to be growing up - an astrophysicist.

The Wiradjuri woman said nothing would stop her achieving her dreams.

“I was just so passionate about it and I knew that no matter what the circumstances, no matter that I was a woman in physics or an Aboriginal in science as well, no matter how marginalised that potentially could have made me feel I was like ‘nup this is what I’m doing and I’m going to do it,'” Ms Banks said.

“I worked hard and I actually only just got enough of an ATAR (Year 12 exam score) to get into university.

“Then last year, in 2019, I did my Honours year and even then I only just got enough to get into that program as well.

“Now, even before I finished my Honours I’ve been accepted into the most prestigious PhD program at my university and the sky's the limit - literally.”

Ms Banks said she’s one of three Indigenous female astrophysicists that she knows of, but what they lack in numbers, they make up for in strength.

“Being an Aboriginal woman in STEM I feel so empowered,” she said.

“I’m just fuelled by the support that I get from my Aboriginal people and from my other Australian friends as well.

“It’s just so fantastic to have that support to continue doing what I want to do and being an inspiration for the next generation as well.”

Ms Banks said this act of inspiring upcoming generations is important to her for a lot of reasons, but not least because she didn’t have a woman to look up to in the industry when she was younger.

“I really want to be able to amplify our voices to show that we’re here and we exist so that the younger generation can see that and aspire to that as well because I didn’t have a female role model when I was growing up,” she said.

“When you think of astrophysicists you think of Neil Degrasse Tyson, Brian Cox, Bill Nye the science guy, or generally men in science because that’s what it’s been like for decades, centuries even.

“But if we amplify the voices of women in science and women in different roles around society, that gives younger generations a chance to see this and see what they want to be, and see a blueprint that can push them to achieve their goals."

‘Make it real’

The founder of the Young Indigenous Women’s STEM Academy, Cassandra Diamond, said this is one of the most important things for young women - to see other Indigenous women excelling in spaces that are traditionally male-dominated.

The academy has been running for about 18 months, and the first cohort of participants had their first camp in January.

Ms Diamond said the camps, which were held in Cairns and Townsville, Queensland, were a success, with one of the standouts for the young participants was getting to meet women who’ve already made it in STEM.

“One of the things that young women want, is they want to see young women who’ve done it before,” the Torres Strait Islander woman said.

 “It is that ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ thing, it’s about going ‘that person over there has done it and they’ve made it.

“One of the things we do with our academy camps is we have an Indigenous female STEM professional come for the whole week.

“I think the best thing about that is not that the young women were exposed to an Indigenous female STEM professional, but they got to see them over a week.

“So they got to see that they’re normal human beings who got tired, they got hot, they got hungry, just like everybody else does.

“It gives you a more realistic view of a ‘role model’. Instead of them being a bright, shiny thing up on a pedestal, they’re just a person like you or me.

“Young women have repeatedly said ‘we want to talk to people who have done this before, we want to know how to navigate these pathways’.

“The way you do that is you put people who’ve done it before in front of them and you contextualise it and make it real for them - you put Murri people in front of them.”

-For more, watch The Point on NITV (Ch34), Wednesday, 8.30pm.

The unique camps supporting young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in STEM
The CSIRO Young Indigenous Women's STEM Academy is backing young women with goals to work in STEM, through a series of on-country camps and a ten-year-long program packed with practical support.