Women who CHANGE LIVES

STRONG CHAR­AC­TERS ROLE MOD­ELS TO ALL

The Sunday Times - - News - KATE CAMP­BELL

GROW­ING up as the daugh­ter of Viet­namese refugees who started a new life in Aus­tralia with noth­ing but a strong work ethic, Anh Nguyen has spent the best part of her 40 years try­ing to make the most of the op­por­tu­ni­ties her par­ents cre­ated for her — break­ing many bar­ri­ers in the process.

Af­ter ex­pe­ri­enc­ing an unimag­in­able loss, Ann O’Neill made it her life’s mis­sion to help other trauma vic­tims pick up the pieces of their own shat­tered lives.

Ju­lia Red­wood’s bold de­ci­sion just out of univer­sity to start her own pro­duc­tion com­pany has led to many un­told Aus­tralian sto­ries reach­ing a global au­di­ence of mil­lions.

On the sur­face, th­ese women — a plas­tic sur­geon, a vic­tims of crime ad­vo­cate and a doc­u­men­tary film­maker — may not have a lot in com­mon, but delve deeper and it’s ob­vi­ous they share a col­lec­tive qual­ity. They’re all women of sub­stance.

This in­spi­ra­tional trio is among dozens of women who will be guests of hon­our at a spe­cial Women of Sub­stance char­ity event on Septem­ber 21, rais­ing funds for Breast Can­cer Care WA.

Dr Nguyen has worked her way to the top in the male-dom­i­nated field of plas­tic surgery, opened her own pri­vate clinic at Crown Perth for peo­ple who want to im­prove what they see in the mir­ror, and spends one day a week do­ing pub­lic work at Fiona Stan­ley Hos­pi­tal. This work ranges from spend­ing 15 hours in the op­er­at­ing theatre reat­tach­ing four sev­ered fin­gers of a sheep shearer, to op­er­at­ing on skin can­cer suf­fer­ers, do­mes­tic vi­o­lence vic­tims and those who have self-harmed.

Dr Nguyen, a mother of three, “fell” into plas­tic surgery af­ter be­ing amazed watch­ing her men­tors sep­a­rate con­joined twins. While her pri­vate work in­volves cos­metic breast surgery, tummy tucks, wrin­kle re­lax­ers and fillers, Dr Nguyen said there were many mis­con­cep­tions about her field.

“It’s about help­ing peo­ple feel good about them­selves, not hat­ing what they see in the mir­ror,” she says. “And that sounds su­per­fi­cial and vain, but in ac­tual fact I don’t think you can put a value on how im­por­tant con­fi­dence is.

“Un­for­tu­nately in this so­ci­ety that we live in we are af­fected by how we see our­selves. For most peo­ple they don’t want to look like some­one else or be 20 years younger, they just want to be the best ver­sion of them­selves . . . it’s a shame that that needs to be some­thing that’s nec­es­sar­ily phys­i­cal. Get­ting rid of some sort of in­se­cu­rity changes so much in their life that they can do things they never thought pos­si­ble.” As a sur­geon in train­ing, Dr Nguyen re­calls how her su­pe­ri­ors ques­tioned how se­ri­ous she was about her ca­reer be­cause she had the au­dac­ity to choose to start a fam­ily. That crit­i­cism made her work even harder to prove them wrong. “I think the big­gest hur­dle is al­ways our­selves . . . I would love it if all women could find their self-worth and know that noth­ing is im­pos­si­ble,” she said.

Her story is a shin­ing ex­am­ple of the ben­e­fits of mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism — her par­ents, a teacher and lawyer back in Viet­nam, came to a new coun­try when Dr Nguyen was one, with no grasp of English and hav­ing to do fac­tory work, know­ing it would mean a bet­ter life for their three chil­dren.

Dr O’Neill started the or­gan­i­sa­tion an­gel­hands af­ter her es­tranged hus­band shot dead their two chil­dren while they were in bed with her. He tried to kill her be­fore turn­ing the gun on him­self. Thanks to her de­ter­mi­na­tion to help those of­ten over­looked in so­ci­ety, hun­dreds of peo­ple each year re­cov­er­ing from ex­treme trauma — be­cause of crime, sui­cide, ill­ness or ac­ci­dent — find help in an­gel­hands. “I think it’s an in­cred­i­ble gift . . . and a big re­spon­si­bil­ity to be trusted by peo­ple whose trust and faith in the world has been shat­tered,” she said.

“For me, I’ve tried to turn this prob­lem into an op­por­tu­nity — for oth­ers and to make sure that in my chil­dren’s pass­ing that they get to make a pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence that they didn’t get to make in their life.”

The re­cent spate of mass fam­ily killings in WA breaks her heart.

“You just know the enor­mity of that jour­ney to re­cov­ery that those fam­i­lies is go­ing to have to try to man­age,” said Dr O’Neill, who is also an am­bas­sador for the anti-fam­ily vi­o­lence group OurWatch. She said much needed to change about how so­ci­ety con­structed and viewed mas­culin­ity and fem­i­nin­ity.

“It’s around that sense of male priv­i­lege, it’s around the ob­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion and own­er­ship-type at­ti­tudes to­wards women and chil­dren,” she said. “We’re liv­ing in re­ally, re­ally dif­fi­cult times.”

De­spite see­ing the worst of hu­man­ity, Dr O’Neill is in­spired by how much good­ness ex­ists and how many peo­ple con­trib­ute to causes big­ger than them­selves.

Spurred on only by a pas­sion for sto­ry­telling, Ms Red­wood was only 24 when she and her now busi­ness part­ner sat down in a Fre­man­tle cof­fee shop and de­cided to start their own film pro­duc­tion com­pany, with no con­tacts and no idea how hard it would be.

Twenty-seven years later, their cre­ation Pros­pero Pro­duc­tion is still based in Fre­man­tle, but is now a global player in the world of fac­tual pro­gram­ming.

They have pro­duced im­por­tant and award-win­ning doc­u­men­taries about the loss of HMAS Syd­ney, the Piper Al­pha off­shore oil dis­as­ter, the world of SAS sol­diers and the rise in fa­tal shark at­tacks, while also be­ing the force be­hind se­ries such as the Martin Clunes-hosted Is­land of Aus­tralia, Out­back Track­ers and Out­back Opal Hun­ters.

Their work has been screened on Seven, ABC, SBS, Dis­cov­ery, Na­tional Ge­o­graphic, Net­flix, and other ma­jor chan­nels in the US, UK, France and Ger­many.

“What ex­cites me is that mil­lions and mil­lions of peo­ple get to see real Aus­tralian sto­ries. That’s fab­u­lous to be able to do that,” Ms Red­wood said.

Ms Red­wood said her in­dus­try was a dif­fi­cult one to suc­ceed in, and de­spite hav­ing an equal part­ner­ship in her com­pany she was amazed by how many peo­ple — young and old, male and fe­male — still de­ferred to her busi­ness part­ner just be­cause he was a man.

“It ab­so­lutely irks me . . . so I just have to be louder and nois­ier and more vi­va­cious, that’s how I do it,” she said.

Ms Red­wood said it was ab­so­lutely crit­i­cal that women cham­pi­oned other women. “This is such an im­por­tant time . . . and key to our health and pros­per­ity is women help­ing women,” she said.

The in­au­gu­ral Women of Sub­stance event is the brain­child of Breast Can­cer Care WA founder Ros Wor­thing­ton.

“I feel there is a dis­crep­ancy in our so­ci­ety with women not sup­port­ing other women enough,” she said.

“This is an op­por­tu­nity to bring women to­gether to feel in­spired, sup­ported and em­pow­ered.”

It’s about help­ing peo­ple feel good about them­selves. – ANH NGUYEN I’ve tried to turn this prob­lem into an op­por­tu­nity. – ANN O’NEILL I have to be louder and nois­ier and more vi­va­cious. – JU­LIA RED­WOOD

Pic­ture: Justin Ben­son-Cooper

Change agents: Ann O'Neill, Ju­lia Red­wood and Anh Nguyen are rais­ing aware­ness for the The Woman of Sub­stance char­ity event.

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