I grew up in a small rural town in Queensland called Toogoolawah (prize to the first person to pronounce this correctly at the mentoring launch breakfast). Toogoolawah was (is?) as brutal as it is quaint. I suspect this may be the case for many a small, rural town. The prosperity of everyone hinges on the success of the farmers, which in turn needs mother nature to cooperate. She often does not.

Country people look after their own. You don’t just know your neighbours, you know everyone. Life exists on a set of simple rules, which include above all else integrity and hard work. The simplicity of country life is perhaps what makes it bearable during the long droughts and the flooding rains that usually follow.

I didn’t fit in. At all. Simple was not something I could grasp. Just accepting what I was told was not in my nature. I questioned everything. You don’t do this in a small town. You quickly become the weird kid. These towns survive because the status quo is not questioned. And I questioned it alright.

When I was fourteen, and in year 9, a man who I can best describe as sparkling entered my life. He was 22, young and so energetic. Recently graduated from university, with all the passion and eagerness of a newly anointed teacher. Sean Lubbers became my mentor of compassion (and drama, but that’s another essay). He showed me compassion. He answered my questions without being annoyed I was asking them. We talked about the challenges various minorities face. He was the first openly feminist man I had ever met. Sean showed me that I could have compassion for farmers facing the hardships of many years with no rain, while also seeing and feeling for the displaced drug addicts who so often find themselves in small towns.

I could fight for my rights as a (young) woman, and fight still for the plight of the elderly in rural towns, far from the medical support they need. I could feel compassion for the LGBTQI+ members of the community, the ‘goth’ kids, who like me just didn’t fit in. Compassion, Sean showed me, has no limit. It is not finite. It cannot run out. My heart can break in equal pieces for victims of the Mexican earthquake as it can for Syrian refugees. It’s ok not to take sides. It’s also ok to take sides, but still feel compassion for those on the opposite.

For three years, as a confused teenager who knew life was bigger than the one I was presented with, Sean taught me the importance of the arts. The totally human necessity of expression. Most of all, he taught me it was ok to be different. Sean is a gay man. When we met he was a young, gay man teaching in a small country town. Sean had compassion for those who would not extend the same regard to him.

In the years that have followed Sean has become my friend. And he continues to be a mentor. He was an excellent teacher even back in 1998. Now he is an outstanding example of leadership both in the teaching community and drama landscapes across the nation. He continues to be a beacon of compassion. A man who puts his everything into his career, showing those ‘weird’ kids that feeling, that expression, that compassion, are the very foundations of what will make a great life.

Come along to the launch of the Women in Strata Mentoring Breakfast to hear more about how great mentors, and how being a mentor, professionally and personally, can influence and change your life.

We also have a Share the Dignity Handbag with Heart to be won as a lucky door prize. Not only a beautiful, practical handbag, the Jane Bag is a story of survival and compassion. We’re delighted to be giving one away. Our mentoring program is open to everyone. Suppliers, strata managers, anyone working in the sector, and you are welcome to apply to both as a mentor and a mentee. If you are even a little-interested come along to the launch breakfast to learn about the program.

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