‘The Women That Inspire Me’ By The Inspirational Cassandra Kelly

Today is March 8 which is International Women’s Day. The focus is on recognising and celebrating women around the world across a wide range of achievements: philanthropic, social, cultural, economic and political, and it’s an occasion for fostering respect and appreciation toward and between women, like one mass scale Spice Girls pep rally.

Cassandra Kelly is one of the inspiring ladies repping the Australian contingent as a successful businesswoman, philanthropist and recipient of the 100 Women of Influence award in 2012. This week she spoke in Canberra about International Women’s Day and later this month will be one of the many influential speakers appearing at the Sydney Opera House’s “All About Women” festival. In honour of this day, we asked Cassandra Kelly to tell Pedestrian about the women who provide her with inspiration…

There are several characteristics that inspire me: courage, compassion and resilience.

The first two that inspire me are my two grandmothers.

One I didn’t know, my mother’s mother- she died when my mother was only 18. She was Austrian and Jewish and taken on the Kindertransport as a refugee to Great Britain. To be torn away from your family as a young girl, to be on that train with other scared people who had hidden things on their bodies so they could take something, anything with them, must have been quite an ordeal. She had to rebuild her life. She went from being in a family with some standing, to being a servant in an English household, to the owner of a milk bar in Bathurst, Australia. She was strong willed, very intelligent and determined. She worked hard to look after her family.

My father’s mother was Australian. Born into quite an uneducated, unsophisticated family that was unsafe and very unsafe for her in particular. She lived as a young girl in Bargo, NSW. She was expected to look after all the boys. She was, at times, their slave. 

The boys were allowed to continue into high school but for my grandmother, even though she was intellectually more capable, she wasn’t allowed as her duty was to the home, where she was to look after the boys, including her father. She sensibly escaped the abusive environment, found some kindness in other people, who provided her work and shelter in Sydney. She worked hard, very hard. She was honest and fair. She saved for a rainy day, she didn’t accept charity, she purchased a house for her family. Her boys ended up both as criminal barristers with a strong sense for justice. She died very sick but very proud.

My mother? Well she is a very clever woman. She is a proud feminist. She is principled, compassionate, determined, and courageous. She has insisted on me fulfilling my potential.

She won a Commonwealth Scholarship but without the mentors that existed today and no mother to shine the light, she didn’t take up her scholarship. She pursued the path of teaching, a noble career and one that was considered to be most fitting of a woman in those days.

My high school principal, Judith Wheeldon, came to my school. She blew in like a fresh breeze. She saw the need for cultural change. She wanted to teach to the gifted students not just to the average. She insisted on excellence, and she resisted mediocrity. What a courageous woman. There was the birth of extension classes. Teachers had to work harder and the students benefited from greater stimulation. She taught me that you didn’t need everything to be regulated and so she ripped up the school rules. She had three simple guiding principles: does it reflect well on you, your school or your family. If the answer was “no” to any of these, then you just shouldn’t do it.

The other women who inspire me are those that live in communities without access to some of the basic needs that we take for granted, such as adequate food and water. 

The women who are quite often not afforded the basic human rights that our legal system tries to enforce. They carry heavy loads, walk for hours sometimes for fresh water. They are often the glue in the community. You can visit these countries, pass by these women, see them smiling and laughing making the very best of what they have. Yet when I walk outdoors in busy cities, and look around at relatively fortunate individuals, I am often struck by the look of unhappiness on the passing faces.
These women with so much less inspire me. They remind me to be more appreciative of what I have and also to be appreciative of what I don’t have to put up with.
To see Cassandra Kelly’s talk “How To Help Other Women Succeed” at the All About Women festival purchase tickets here.