Lifestyle: Lesley Nelson on hard work, determination

South Western Times
Lesley Nelson’s perseverance and strong work ethic has seen her overcome the challenges in her life to make a difference in her community.
Camera IconLesley Nelson’s perseverance and strong work ethic has seen her overcome the challenges in her life to make a difference in her community. Credit: Jon Gellweiler / South Western Times

Lesley Nelson is living proof that success is not determined by where you come from, but by the hard work and determination you put in.

The South West Aboriginal Medical Service chief executive officer grew up on a reserve in the Wheatbelt in the 1960s where her parents worked hard for little pay.

“You couldn’t enter into town after 6 o’clock or you were imprisoned,” Lesley said.

“My mother worked for $2 scrubbing floors and I would often sit outside the farmhouse and wait for her.

“My father worked emptying toilet bins, but their attitude was to have integrity and commit to your work, no matter what it is, because a job is a job, it puts food on the table.”

From humble beginnings, where she picked dead wool in paddocks and bagged salt with her family, Lesley has now forged a successful career, backed by a Bachelor of Commerce, an MBA and a Masters of Epidemiology at the Australian National University.

It has not always been an easy road for Lesley, who suffered domestic violence in her past and had to care for her son who experienced serious health issues at a young age.

“When my 16-year-old son was two, he got a tumour in his spine which ate three of his vertebrae away and he had to wear a full body brace,” she said.

“We had travelled back from Alice Springs because I had lived there for seven years so we came back home and I couldn’t work.

“I thought ‘how am I going to function, what am I going to do?’, so I looked for a scholarship at university and went back to study.

“When you are confronted with those sort of things, you just try to stay focused and get into a routine to get you through – for me that was the way I saw life.”

Despite the challenges, Lesley’s resilience saw her face battles with a positive outlook.

“I could have gone in a different direction, but I know that my innermost core is that strong that I could rebound and get back on.

“You have to think you might have nothing, but no I am going to work towards the next five years of getting a degree, getting out there and talking to people.”

Lesley has made a number of career changes over the years, including a stint in journalism in her 20s and more recently working in the banking sector as Westpac’s Indigenous Business Solutions director for WA.

Accepting the position at SWAMS saw her relocate from Perth to Bunbury.

“Health is something I am very passionate about,” Lesley said.

“I am a Noongar person and I have often seen the emerging health issues for our Noongar people.

“As a young single mum, I went back and did study because I wanted to make a difference.”

Lesley said the challenge of the move was to gain an understanding of the issues affecting the area with limited resources to combat them with.

“There has been a huge lack of services, particularly for indigenous people, injected into the South West of Noongar country,” she said.

“A lot of stuff goes north or it stays in the Eastern States.

“For me I have to be where the decision and influence making is, because if you are not a part of that, you can’t make a change.

“I wake up every day and think I am glad I am here, I want to help those less fortunate than me who don’t have a voice.”

My father worked emptying toilet bins, but their attitude was to have integrity and commit to your work, no matter what it is, because a job is a job, it puts food on the table.

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