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Sessional speakers from 2022


Elizabeth Tamwoy is the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Program Coordinator/Cultural Consultant within the Mental Health and Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Service at the Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service. She comes with 35 years of extensive experience in the health industry and has worked in Child and Youth Mental Health for the last 15 years and has worked across all settings in this space.

Elizbeth started working with the Evolve Therapeutic Services since 2017. Since then, she together with the other four State-wide Indigenous Program Coordinators has been actively working together in developing Culturally sensitive tools to support non-indigenous clinicians. She is passionate about promoting the crucial importance of a cultural understanding of the Social and Emotional Wellbeing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and its implementation within mainstream mental health and child protection services and practices.


Michael Barton is the Executive Principal of Djarragun College and Cape York Girl Academy and joined Djarragun College in mid-2017. He brings to Djarragun College the breadth and depth of knowledge to influence change and school improvement. He can bridge the gap between academic discourse and the practical application of scholarship and research in an educational setting. He is committed to making a difference for future generations and ensuring the College develops into a centre of excellence for Indigenous education. His methodological expertise is phenomenology and biographic narrative interpretive method.


Sarah Callinan is a Wangkangurru woman whose people come from the Simpson desert area of Queensland and Principal Program Officer for the Department of Education. Sarah is passionate about bringing together neuroscience research with the knowledge and lived experience of community to help children thrive.


Kimberley Harper has been working with Queensland families for over 15 years, primarily with parents and foster carers. With a background in psychology, Kimberley has worked in family counselling settings, schools, youth services, and training facilitation roles. She has done this in both the government and non-government sectors. Kimberley developed a passion for specifically working with parents over the years as she found that when parents feel supported, the entire family tends to do better.

Kimberley is also the mother to two vastly different boys, who amaze her, frustrate her, and fill her heart on the daily.


Trish is a Be You consultant with vast experience in education and has been an early childhood teacher for over 24 years. Wiith on the ground experience in philosophies such as Reggio Emilia and Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden program, she has had experience directly working with children and families as a teacher and in various leadership roles, as well as in more policy and project roles with the government.
Trish has also worked on a variety of projects and roles with museums on public education programs and has co-authored a number of resources such as wellbeing tools, news items and guides.


Kelita Choikee is a Yarrabah local. Growing up in this Far North Queensland Indigenous community, Kelita has seen firsthand how playgroups help prepare both children and families for school. The mother of two brings a positive energy to each playgroup and loves watching mothers and fathers connect with their children.


Michael Hogan is an Adjunct Professor at QUT and until recently was a Paul Ramsay Foundation Fellow. He is the Convenor of the Thriving Qld Kids Partnership, a fledgling systems coalition and intermediary. Michael has been a senior executive in the Qld and NSW Governments including as a Director-General, and was head of a not-for-profit public interest advocacy organisation. Michael is a member of the Centre for Policy Development’s Early Childhood Development Council, is a director on the board of the Torres Health Corporation, and is also involved in the Every Child coalition.


Sandi Phoenix is the founding company director and Principal Facilitator at Phoenix Support for Educators. Her framework, The Phoenix Cups, have revolutionised how education and care professionals proactively plan for the wellbeing of children and young people, and understand children’s behaviour. Sandi started studying Psychological Science in 1998 when she began working as an educator, and continues to study post-grad at Griffith university. Sandi has many years’ experience collaborating with staff and teams, delivering workshops and developing resources, to translate information from current and emerging psychology to the education and care sector. She is highly regarded nationwide as a speaker, coach, mentor and Professional Development facilitator.


Dr Christine Payard is a Neurodevelopmental Educator, the Director and founder of Integrating Thinking and Body to Brain Learning, and the INPP Australia Principal. Her passion is learning and how we learn, knowing that the body trains the brain and grows the mind preparing it for learning success, starting in Early Childhood. Christine teaches, consults, advises, and mentors educators, allied health practitioners, parents, and community groups about the ways neurodevelopment from age zero impacts learning and function at later stages and ages. Her research and teaching interests include neuromotor and sensory maturity, professional learning in Education, and, student thinking and learning processes.


Meron Looney is the manager of NAPCAN in the Northern Territory and has lived on Larrakia land in Darwin for nearly 30 years. She has a background in early childhood education, family support, social work and government policy, with broad experience in developing resources and coordinating programs to promote safe and nurturing relationships between caregivers and their children. Meron has been working with NAPCAN for more than five years and loves that their focus is on prevention through developing partnerships. She continues to work with organisations and communities across the Northern Territory to develop and deliver inclusive, culturally safe resources and programs to help children, young people and families thrive.


Helen Smith works as a speech pathologist within the Centre for Children’s Health and Wellbeing (CCHW) at Children’s Health Queensland. She has over 15 years’ experience working with children in both health and educational settings within Queensland. Her areas of interest include developing and evaluating strategies and responses to improve speech and language development, social emotional wellbeing, school readiness and ultimately lifelong health and wellbeing, for children in the early years. She enjoys working on speech pathology promotion and prevention interventions in partnership with a range of stakeholders, including the early years sector.


Carol Mortensen-Stokes has worked with young children since 1987, as an early childhood teacher. Since 2008 Carol has been employed with Benevolent Society and has worked closely with parents to build parenting confidence and understanding about their young children’s developmental needs. This includes sharing knowledge about child development, with a primary focus on emotional and social wellbeing, and the impact of parenting states of mind on this development. Carol works to foster parenting confidence and build strong, positive parent-child relationships. “Through the eyes of the child, through the eyes of the parent” informs Carol’s practice planning and engagement with families and colleagues.


Maree Bisby is a proud Wiradjuri woman. She has had a powerful impact on the lives of many children through her work in early education along with her current role as a Community Capacity Building Manager for Northcott; helping spread the word of the NDIS for children 0-6 years. Maree has worked in all communities assisting to break down barriers for children with Developmental Delay or Disability. She likes to empower others to achieve greatness and to embark on what truly matters to them.


Sharman Backhouse has lived all her life in the Cairns South region and has four children.  Whilst raising her children she completed her Bachelor of Education degree at JCU Cairns and has used this degree within various roles, including her most current position as a Child & Family Practitioner.  Sharman has been with the Benevolent Society since 2013 and is passionate about helping parents and professionals see that by having secure attachments as the foundation of everything they do, it can greatly improve a child’s mental health and well-being.  This then allows ‘kids to be kids’ and frees them up to learn, grow and thrive.


Sarah Malu is a lecturer and tutor in the Graduate School of Education at The University of Western Australia with 18 years classroom experience ranging from PK to Year Seven. She specialises in providing practical examples and strategies for gaining and maintaining student engagement and her teaching has been recognised by winning the Faculty and University Excellence in Teaching Award (2020). Understanding and experiencing firsthand the pivotal role parents play in the education process has sparked her current research thesis entitled “Partnerships with parents in Western Australian lower primary school classes: An interpretivist study”


Rachael Wynberg is a professional writer, passionate advocate, lobbyist, coach, wife, mother, foster mother, SLS NQ President, SLSQ State Council Member and privileged to be the Early Learning Co-ordinator for Djarragun College Cape York Girl Academy.  The Academy is the first of its kind boarding school in Australia where First Nations Mums and Bubs live, learn and grow together; growing hope for the future of some of our most vulnerable, beautiful, vibrant and inspirational First Australians and their children.   It’s a place where best practices are being tested everyday, for a better tomorrow; where opportunity and self- determination is a tangible reality.


Adrian Pattra-McLean is a professional educator with a Master of Education (Ed. Psychology) as well as a Bachelor of Adult Education (Human Resources). He has held various senior management roles in the Early Childhood sector including Group General Manager and Education Director. Adrian has managed over 300 frontline and senior staff and believes that developing high-quality, passionate Educators is the key to quality outcomes for children. With over 20-years of experience, Adrian is a well-respected professional educator in the Early Childhood sector. Together with his family Adrian owns and operates a long day-care centre in Sydney’s lower north shore. He is a passionate and fun-loving educator and the workshop draws on his experience as well as proven theoretical models and practical step-by-step strategies


Belinda Rule is the Director/Teacher at C&K Eimeo Road Community Kindergarten, which is located in the northern beaches of Mackay.  In 2019 she was awarded C&K’s Professional Excellence award and the C&K Emeritus Professor Mary Mahoney AO Award for Excellence in Education and Care for her initiative.   This became a platform for her to start showcasing the hard work the staff, families and children did each day.  Over the last few years Belinda has written a number of articles for publication around her practice with STEM, her work with the Inclusion Tool Box and is a published author.  In her time at Eimeo Kindy there she has worked tirelessly alongside her team to embed sustainable practices within the service.  COVID had slowed down the face-to-face networking opportunities, however, critical reflection, updating the QIP and an impeding A&R has inspired the staff to reflect on this journey. 2020 saw Belinda present her first two papers at the ECTA on-line conference and with the success of 2020 presenting her first two presentations around “Our Kindy’s Journey” based on embedding Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal perspectives into their everyday practice as well as “What Inclusion looks like at a stand-alone Kindergarten for children with diverse learning needs?”, Belinda decided even during quite crazy year, that she wanted to again present the goings on at C&K Eimeo Road Community Kindergarten.   Millie the Kindy Dog is still working at the Kindy, the Kindy is still supporting a record number of little people with additional needs and loving seeing all of the children thrive even during COVID.  We continue to provide a culturally safe space for all of our children. This time around the sustainable practices the Kindy has embedded in their practice.  Again, based on the Office of Early Childhood asking her to put something together for their Mentoree’s she thought that she would again share this with a wider audience.  At first Belinda struggled to find a starting point but with a little bit of reflection started with a simple idea of a mind map and the ideas and projects started to appear.  Join Belinda as she unpacks this journey, with a couple of ideas to get started.


Merindi Schriber’s artistic practice is grounded with a deep connection to her mother’s country, Kuku Yalanji (Mossman, NQ). Language, culture and history through song, Merindi’s Bama resonance and soulful, easy-listening mixes echo her passion to educate and empower through the arts. This is a driving force behind her involvement in various community initiatives, festivals, gatherings and events. From performer to producer, participant to listener, singer to weaver, Merind’s versatile roles in the arts sector is reflective of her Yalanji name Jankaji, meaning Wealth of Knowledge – ever growing, ever learning, ever teaching, working towards the betterment for generations to follow.

Bama = People of the Land


Lynda Melville is the Team Leader, Professional Learning Development Services with Autism Queensland and National Coordinator Early Days. With over 30 years’ experience working in special education, autism education, and support services, she commenced her teaching career in North Queensland, worked in special education roles in Brisbane and the UK, as well as a teacher in Autism Queensland’s school and early intervention programs.


Rhi Sugars is a passionate educator with over 15 years experience in the early childhood sector. Proudly identifying as neurodivergent, Rhi is a fierce disability advocate and also a member of the consumer advisory group for the organisation, Syndromes Without A Name Australia. Her commitment to disability advocacy resulted in the creation of her early childhood advocacy and inclusion support consultancy, The Atypical Educator.


Rosalyn Muir is passionate about setting children up for success. With over 30 years in education, her career has spanned five continents in a variety of roles and settings. She has always had a strong interest in improving students’ thinking and helping them maximise their potential. Rosalyn brings her practical, ‘SOWATT’ approach to her PhD studies, researching self-regulation and executive functioning in the early years and aims to provide educators and parents with a new lens to develop these essential life skills.


Naydia Dooley is an 18 year old Wik Mungkan and Wadjigu girl from Pormpuraaw and Woorabinda.  She enrolled at Djarragun College, Cape York Girl Academy early in 2021.   As a young mother wanting to go forward in life through her education and learning experiences, she needed a place where she could study and actively raise her daughter in a culturally safe and supportive environment.   Naydia is an amazing mother to her gorgeous 14 month old daughter, Thea Dooley.  She cites Thea as her absolute motivation to keep going through life. “I love her endlessly”


Aaliyah Talukdar is Parentline’s Cyberbullying Consultant. Parentline is a service of yourtown which provides virtual counselling to parents and carers from 8am to 10pm, 365 days a year across Queensland and the Northern Territory. Her work focuses on providing information and resources to adult carers about supporting young people’s online wellbeing and exposure to cyberbullying. Aaliyah’s goal is to empower parents and carers to feel comfortable talking to young people about what they’re doing online and provide them with the tools to best support themselves and their children. She holds a dual Bachelor of Behavioural Science (Psychology)/Bachelor of Laws (Hons) from the Queensland University of Technology and is currently undertaking post-graduate qualifications in Public Health, majoring in Health Promotion.


Dr Katie Williamson – BSc(Hons); MBBS; FRACGP; FARGP; PCME
Dr Williamson is a General Practitioner at Yorkey’s Medical, and a Medical Educator for James Cook University. She has worked as a GP and Rural Generalist across Australia in remote and regional communities, since graduating from the University of Sydney in 2005. She has also lectured for the University of Wollongong and Flinders University.
Her passion for primary care and LGBTQI+ equality has led her to undertake further study in Gender Affirming Healthcare, helping patients and families navigate their own gender journey.
She is a member of the RACGP, AMA, AusPATH (Australian Professional Association of Transgender Healthcare), and is the incoming President of Far North Queensland Lady Doctors Association.


With a background in early childhood and the police force, PGQ’s Supported Programs Manager, Andrew McMahon, travels to many Queensland communities supporting playgroup delivery based on community needs. As a father of two energetic kids, Andrew understands how playgroup helps build capacity in parents. He also believes good coffee is a parental staple.


Annie Park is a Program Coordinator at True Relationships and Reproductive Health, has facilitated the Qld Child Protection Week award-winning Do you know the signs? child protection mentoring programme, which supports early childhood education and care professionals in the area of child sexual abuse prevention.


Russell Kaplan is currently the Vice Principal (Teaching and Learning) at The King David
School in Melbourne, Australia. He has more than 25 years teaching experience
across both Independent and Government schools and across different states. He has
presented at a number of conferences and schools in the areas of Thinking,
Neuroscience and Executive Functions. Russell has been working and studying in the
area of Educational Neuroscience, with a particular focus and interest in executive
functions and how they assist the learning process.


Vicki Christopher is a Lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Southern Queensland.  Vicki works with Pre-Service Educators within the areas of play pedagogies, foundations of early childhood education, and early years creativity and the arts.  Her research is located within the Early Childhood Education field, with specific interests in early childhood learning environments, play and social justice.


Anna Crooks is a social worker and dance movement therapist with an interest in working with children and their caregivers from an attachment and trauma-informed framework. Anna has worked with a variety of populations including mental health, aged care and disability, and in more recent years, children and families in child protection and therapeutic services. Anna facilitates authentic movement practice groups, and creative dance classes for adult community groups, and also has an interest in supervising students in embodied practices.


Marianne Taylor is a social worker who has been working in the helping profession since leaving school in various roles.  BUSHkids is a not for profit organisation that has been helping children and families in QLD for over 85 years and currently Marianne is the Clinical Services Manager for BUSHkids.  BUSHkids values of child focused family centred attracted Marianne to working within the organisation.   A passion for helping parents enjoy parenting and to also empowering parents to be their child’s first and most fabulous educator is a key focus of Marianne’s practice.  Emergent literacy development is key to ensuring children have the best start in formal education.  The Read and Grow program helps build routine, builds emergent literacy skills and creates a love of books in children and is something that has been a key focus in BUSHkids and for Marianne.


Fiona Leo is a Clinical Psychologist. She completed her Master of Psychology (Clinical) degree at the University of Adelaide in 2006. Fiona’s main interest has been in the child and adolescent fields – in particular, working with children and young people who have experienced abuse and neglect.

From 2006 she worked within Families SA (the Department for Families and Communities) with children and young people in the care of Child Protection. She later spent several years working with young people within the youth justice system (in South Australia and with the North Queensland Adolescent Forensic Mental Health Service, Townsville).

Fiona currently holds a position at Evolve Therapeutic Services (ETS) of Senior Mental Health Clinician.


Tessa is a paediatric speech pathologist in Melbourne; works clinically with preschool and school-aged students supporting their language and literacy skills. She also works as a research assist at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and is a part-time PhD candidate at La Trobe University. Her PhD research examines the role that early childhood teachers have in supporting preschoolers with their oral language and emergent literacy skills.


Mandy Edgerton has been a part of the Goodstart family since 2012. She holds a Diploma of Early Childhood Education and Care and is currently the centre director of one of the national 15 research focus centres; Goodstart Manunda. During her career, she has had the opportunity to work in many roles with different age groups and across a variety of areas, building skills and knowledge to provide children and families with an engaging and rewarding early learning experience. The success of our children – and the centre – is the ability to engage with families and the broader community to ensure that they are doing everything to provide an enriching, highest quality early learning experience.  Every day is different, and every child should have the chance to develop as an individual. Mandy and her team share the same passion for seeing children meet their potential.


Sue McLaren is an author, researcher and the Director of “Animal Fun” which is an early intervention program designed Curtin University in Perth. She has a Social Science background and has extensive experience of working with children and families – especially children with special needs. Sue shares some of the current research together with her personal experience and knowledge about the importance of developing motor skills in the early and the benefits of implementing early intervention evidenced based programs in helping children to be ready for the demands of formal schooling.


New Zealand born Henry Leafa moved to Australia as a teenager and has lived in Cairns for the past 35 years. Married to Helen, they have 7 wonderful children and 2 amazing grandsons. Henry has extensive experience working with young people as a mentor and motivational speaker and has been an active community capacity builder for many years. He is the founder and lead facilitator of the Strengths Fathers Program; where hundreds of men have participated in the Strengths Program and the Strengths Intensives over the last 7 years; the program has been delivered locally and internationally. Henry is passionate about supporting and equipping men to become fully engaged in their roles in family and the community. His vision to build an online Strengths Academy that would enable men from all over the world to engage in the program.


Susita Vout is a neurobehavioural specialist, social scientist and psychoanthropologist with over twenty years of experience in neurodisability care and therapy. She is the director of Three Brains Centre, a specialist precision Brain and Behaviour Clinic servicing clients in metropolitan, rural and remote Australia and overseas. A skilled scientist-practitioner, she integrates lived experience of a parent-carer, psychological, neuroscience, cultural and epigenetic determinates of neurodisability to support her clients comprehensively. She has worked with NGOs, government agencies, police, ATSIC, in private practice and James Cook University.


Shelley Turner is a team leader at The Benevolent Society Cairns Early Years Centre. Her background is social work and she is passionate about working with children and families.  Shelley was born and raised in Cairns, she is a wife, a mother to 3 boys and a grandmother to 2 girls.  When Shelley began her career with The Benevolent Society in 2014 she was fortunate to complete the Circle of security facilitator training and it change the way she viewed relationships, not only with her children and family but with her peers, colleges and in all aspects of her life.


Jo is a social work academic with practice and research interests in embodied understandings of professional and supervision practices, well-being, and mentoring. She has previously worked as a social worker in Child Safety and Relationships Australia and has more recently co-edited a special edition on Social Work and Embodiment in the Australian Social Work journal. She is also a qualified yoga teacher and is interested how yoga can contribute as an embodiment practice in improving professional engagement with clients.


Jen Rapier is the Program Coordinator of Family and Child Connect at Act for Kids in Far North Queensland. Jen and her team are dedicated to providing the ‘right service, right time’ to families in the community in need of some support. Previously, she has worked in various counselling roles including individual, relationships, family, addictions and dispute resolution. Originally from England, Jen and her Kiwi husband live in Cairns with their two teenage sons.


Jamie Finger is a Head of Department at Bentley Park College in Cairns, Far North Queensland. He has led early childhood projects for over six years, including transition to school, underpinned by strong community partnerships. Recently, he was a member of FNQ’s K-2 regional team to lead the K-2 agenda in accordance with the statewide priority to give all children a great start.


Sonia Adolphs is a qualified Social worker with over 17 years working experience with a diverse group of clients including people with disability, young people, parents/carers and families. Her initial introduction in the social sector was supporting prisoners and their families, Sonia discovered her passion to work closely with the most vulnerable and marginalised people in the community. In recent years Sonia has been employed in both profit and not-for-profit organisations in disability and family services where she has developed a strong desire to work with parents and carers to improve family wellbeing. Working with Parentline has enabled her to share her knowledge and skills to support families, parents/carers, children and young people by focusing on approaches based on connection, regulation, attachment and trauma informed practice. Sonia and her husband Troy are parents to their 12 yr old son and are living the roller coaster of parenthood.


PGQ’s Paula Castle is passionate about supporting communities by focusing on family. With a background in both early years’ learning and emergency services, she understands how early intervention and parental engagement can impact a child’s life. As the Coordinator of Accessible Playgroups and Special Projects, she oversees the program’s delivery from Mackay through to Far North Qld.


Melissa Akmentins is a Partnerships Facilitator (Early Years) and has been working in Far North Qld (Department of Education) for seven years. Melissa started her career as an Orientation and Mobility Specialist (Vision Australia), before moving to Disability Services and across to Education. She has a passion for connecting with community to co-develop partnerships between all those who work with and support children aged 0-5 and their families. Change is evident when children, families and community are invited to share their stories, and when we acknowledge their lived experience. Melissa also has a eye for data, and using the data to support communities to advocate for change.


Kym Dunstan is a paediatric speech pathologist with experience working in Australia, New Zealand and the UK providing clinical services to children with a wide range of communication difficulties. Kym has worked in the Early Childhood, Education and Health sectors, community organisations and private practice. Kym’ current role in the Centre for Children’s Health and Wellbeing team (Children’s Health Queensland Hospital and Health Service) involves bringing together what is known about the Social Determinants of Health and the importance of the early years to improve health equity, especially for vulnerable children. This involves applying a speech pathology perspective to develop and evaluate strategies and responses to improve communication outcomes for all children.


Kylie Ellison is a registered counsellor and play therapist with over 17 years experience in the human services field, working with children and families across both Government and non- Government sectors before establishing Centre for Play Therapy in 2016 alongside business partner Doug Ivins.


Rod Soper has over twenty years experience in the field of education as a teacher and head of school. Currently, Rod heads up Thinkers.inq and is the principal adviser with Thinkers.inq consulting. He is also the chief investigator of The Playing with Gratitude research Project, a wellness endeavour supporting change in about 3500 Australian children, families, and teachers. Thinkers.inq is an early years school dedicated to offering 21st century teaching and learning through transformational play and wellbeing. Rod is also an author, speaker, and leadership coach.


Louise Kelly is an early childhood teacher at Natural Beginnings Childcare in Gordonvale. Her professional interests include the educational projects of Reggio Emilia, nature pedagogy and the benefits of risky play. Louise bases her philosophy and pedagogy around the the belief that children must be taught how to think, not what to think.


Marie Stuart is the State Social Inclusion Coordinator QLD at Goodstart Early Learning. She has been working in the area of Early Childhood Intervention since 1983 and  postgraduate teaching in the Macquarie University Down Syndrome Early Intervention Research Programme. With parenthood, Marie moved into long daycare centres as an inclusion worker, and taught early childhood education for several years. With postgraduate family therapy study, Marie has managed a Child Protection and Domestic Violence therapy service, provided consultancy to early childhood programmes, taught in adult education facilities, and has spoken at conferences and published in the areas of; Early Childhood, Early Intervention, Parenting, Positive Discipline, Child Protection, Protective Behaviours, Family Support, and response to children in domestic violence and emergencies.  Key experience projects while working twelve years for Save the Children as Early childhood technical advisor pacific region, were the development of an international strategy for the abolishment of physical and humiliating punishment, and the development of early childhood programmes and policy in Australian off shore detention centres. Marie currently sits on the executive committee for ECA QLD.


Lia Pa’apa’a is an artist who hails from Samoa and the Luiseño nation of Southern California.  She is a Creative Producer and Community Arts Cultural Development practitioner who community empowered multi- artform projects with Pacific Islander, culturally diverse and Indigenous Australian communities across region and remote contexts. Lia has been highly successful in delivering dynamic programming across community cultural festivals and projects that focus on community empowerment, capacity building, intergeneration exchange across art forms.  Lia lives in Cairns and is reinvigorating and reimagining ancestral practices to support her family’s and community’s health and wellbeing.


Marcia Hedanek was born in Cairns and raised in Yarrabah; her hometown with her 6 younger siblings. Marcia is mother to 3 adult children and grandmother to 3 little boys (one due in July) whom she adores. She has been a part of the National Disability Insurance Scheme Partner in the Community Mission Australia team for around 3.5 years and her original position was that of a Local Area Coordinator, then was provided the opportunity to transition to the Early Childhood Intervention team focussing on the southern corridor, in particular Yarrabah. Marcia’s background is youth and adult mental health, so having no prior experience working with the 0-6 years cohort, was daunted at first. She says “If I was asked 10 years ago, would I ever work with young children in the future, my answer would be a clear cut “no” but now I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”


Karen Salam is a confident Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Dean of Campus at Cape York Girl Academy. Karen has extensive experience in leading and being involved in policy and operational levels of Indigenous organisations, including Chair of Warringu Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Corporation, Queensland Justices Association as a member and Justice of the Peace Magistrate and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Gathering. Karen has also represented various Queensland Ministers as their representative in the Queensland Department of Child Safety through the Indigenous Child Protection Task Force.


Elissa Cordukes is originally from Sydney but has been in Cairns for 25 years. She is married with two daughters in their early twenties. Elissa completed her Bachelor Degree in Early Childhood Education at JCU in 2014. She has been working at The Benevolent Society Cairns Early Years Centre and Kindergarten in the role of both a Child and Family Practitioner and one of the kindergarten teachers for the past eight years. Elissa is passionate about providing a holistic approach that nurtures children and families social and emotional wellbeing through the lens of the Circle of Security program.


Lesley Wood is an experienced Social Worker currently working as a Team Leader with the Benevolent Society Early Years Centres. She has extensive experience working with children and families, in the Tertiary, Secondary and Early Intervention sectors. Lesley is a dedicated professional who, having been a young parent herself, has a strong passion for working with and, supporting young expectant and new parents. She leads on the work at the Benevolent Society’s Maternal and Child Health Hub focusing on young parents 21 years and under, enhancing service delivery to provide wrap around supports to parents at the start, and throughout their parenting journeys. Working alongside a multidisciplinary Team Lesley is very passionate about early intervention and improving outcomes for children and their families.


Chris Borrell joined The Fathering Project in 2019 as he was drawn to the believe that we will change a generation through this project. He is a North Queenslander; raised in a family of all boys with an emphasis on sport and the outdoors. This fostered a childlike passion for all things ‘rough and tumble’, with most of his energy going into rugby union and surfing which he still enjoys. Chris has been married for 8 years and has two beautiful children, a daughter and son. Prior to joining The Fathering Project, Chris worked as a practising solicitor, then later after obtaining qualifications in finance he worked with a major finance institution in Brisbane. He has an enormous passion for fathering and especially working with the fatherless.