When Tracey Rathbone is describing her family’s move to Western Australia, it’s hard not to conjure mental images of the settling of America’s wild west. Setting off from eastern Victoria in a convoy of caravans and vehicles filled with her parents, four brothers, grandparents, uncle, cats, dogs and birds, they picnicked on the Nullarbor and dreamed of a new start. Pausing in Kalgoorie long enough for her grandparents to buy a house, Tracey’s family eventually settled in Coolgardie- a small township of 850 people, about 550km east of Perth.
Skip forward 40 years and it’s easy to forget they had lived anywhere else. No one more than Tracey, who is Deputy President of the Shire of Coolgardie and a board member of the Goldfields Esperance Development Commission, among many other things!
Community service is Tracey’s happy place. After school she dabbled with the thought of studying law or psychology, but felt herself drawn into a community role, wanting to give back to the community that had given her so much.
“I was looking for a community group that really aligned with my values, but someone suggested that I run for council. I thought ‘you know what- that’s even better because I can help lots of community groups’.”
Currently serving her third term, Tracey’s list of achievements is fascinating reading, with a plethora of leadership positions and affiliations. But in her constant push for professional and personal development, the Goldfields Esperance Leading Australian Resilient Communities (LARC) program presented by the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation and the Regional Australia Institute, in partnership with Leadership WA, was irresistible.
Despite having a multitude of experience with leadership, Tracey was struggling to find ‘her style’ and the LARC course promised to align her values though principles of engagement and self-discovery.
“I was feeling perturbed and misunderstood. I always thought leaders needed to be driven, strong, bold or dominant, but I found these qualities challenging and conflictive to my nature,” she said.
“I wanted to find my own style and stand confidently in my own leadership space. The LARC program was the opportunity I was seeking, I just didn’t realise it until it arrived.”
Ultimately the LARC program gave Tracey an epiphany on her own leadership style and she found her groove.
“We are all leaders with talents and abilities that are of no value to us individually unless they are given in service- the reward is returned in the changes we see unfold,” she said.
“In the future I plan to honour my leadership style and continue to connect with those that have the skills and knowledge necessary to contribute or assist with the delivery of ‘wholesome’ outcomes.”
For Tracey, the LARC program was also an opportunity to consolidate options for her community. The Coolgardie community is essentially made up of three distinct social areas- Coolgardie; rich in historical and aboriginal connectivity, Kurrawang, an independent Aboriginal community, and Kambalda, a family orientated community built by Western Mining Corporation to meet the needs of the Nickel boom in the mid-1960s. As with many Western Australian towns, distance can be a barrier, with hundreds of kilometres separating services and the people who need them. For the Coolgardie Shire Council, transporting youth has been a long- term conundrum that Tracey tackled in the group work component of LARC.
The Whole of Goldfields Esperance Region Funded Youth Transport Initiative is working towards the introduction of a sponsored bus service that would benefit and improve community outcomes for youth aged between 12 and 17. Due to the vastness of the Goldfields Esperance region, engagement within the age group is not ideal, as they can’t easily move around and connect with other community members.
Despite the program activity having concluded, the group is committed to continuing working towards their goal within their own timeline, with a working plan mapped out and a commitment to themselves and to their community to keep them on track.
“Completion of our LARC project is important to me. We have significant support and interest, the benefits for youth in the region are immeasurable and the project aligns with so many key areas of focus in the region,” says Tracey.
“It’s also exciting to be part of the significant improvement in economic stability and liveability in Kambalda. Much has changed in the way of building connections and our group all have value, knowledge and experience to offer the unique dynamic of our community. It’s time to regenerate confidence and commitment and inclusivity in the next generation.”
Tracey’s experience with LARC has cemented concepts for her on a number of levels. Not only is she more confident with her own leadership skills, but her passion for community service has been reinvigorated. She has drawn a line in the sand and put timelines around what can be achieved personally and professionally, which has meant goals are more achievable.
“I want the whole community to strive for purpose,” she says.
“I aspire to walk along side of my fellows and dispense the fears of the past and build connection and purpose to the new; for the future.”