Barnardos Mother of the Year showcases the work of everyday mums in our community and the positive difference they make in the lives of children. For over 20 years we’ve been telling their stories. Now we want to tell yours. Share the amazing story of your mum at

We chat to Barnardos 2016 Mother of the Year winner Keelen Mailman, a Western Queensland Cattle station manager and author of ‘The Power of Bones’. Keelen is a survivor of abuse and the first Aboriginal woman to manage a cattle station. We sat down with her to chat about motherhood and the experience of winning the award.

What is the best thing about being a Mum?

It’s the greatest gift in the world. To watch kids grow and thrive in life is amazing. You give life to a little person and you get to be there for their sad times and their happy times. We’ve been reminiscing together over the summer about when they were young. Sharing lots of laughs and memories.

I’m so proud of my kids, each and every one of them. To see how they have had to strive. I’ve also talked with them about my past to help them appreciate what they have. Things have changed so much from back then. I’ve taught them to appreciate their Bidjara country, culture and people.

For me it’s always been about being there for my kids. In the happy times but also the sad times. If something has impacted your child it’s always good to talk it though. I say to them the world is changing every day. Never think that anything is too big or too small that you can’t talk to me about it.

A lot of people might say, put it to the side, but that’s not the case if it is affecting them. I don’t want something getting to them that might have started as a small thing. It might be a big issue to them so it’s always important to talk it through.

I like to find the best in everyone. I don’t give up on people. Parents should never give up on their kids no matter what. It doesn’t cost anything to give love and care.

If there was one thing you could change about parenting, what would it be?

I believe in discipline. Don’t disrespect your mum and dad. We seem to have lost our way on discipline. It’s hard for parents though. Some parents are just so tired. They are struggling to keep up with the cost of living. Parents are working two or three jobs to make ends meet. My daughters is a single mum. Since they have cut the kids bonus she has found it very tough. It’s hard work being a mum. I believe everyone has the potential to be a good parent. There is no such thing as a perfect parent but they are doing the best that they can.

My younger sister, whose children I fought for, she was a good mum, but domestic violence put her in hospital on life support. During her recovery she became a victim of sexual violence. That’s why my nieces and nephews came to live with me. I think if things had have been different, she could have been a better parent at that time. Everyone deserves support and it’s never too late to change.

What did you receive in your childhood that you think is important to pass on to your kids?

Respect. Respect for elders, themselves and other people. Actions shape your destiny.

My mum had a massive stroke when I was young. She was in a coma for six months. When she came back she didn’t know who we were. Our mum was a single mum but we didn’t go off track. Us kids had to be the parents ourselves. I was 12 years when it was my turn to look after my mum. She couldn’t get out of bed. I looked after my four younger siblings.

We respected our mum enough so we didn’t do naughty things. Never disrespect an elder, her or others. People today don’t have the same sense of responsibility. As kids we made our own fun. Today kids are stuck in the house worrying about themselves and spending too much time on computers and TV.

What is the number one thing you couldn’t live without?

My kids and my grandkids. That’s the number one in my whole world. To share all the laughs with them. After that I couldn’t live without my cup of tea. When I come home from a hard day’s work and I grab my tea and sit on the veranda and reflect back over the day. I think about how my family are doing. I look out for everyone, not just my own.

Why is it important to recognise the contribution mothers make in our communities?

Their contribution is huge. For dads too. A lot of times the dad is the primary carer but for a mum, she is the giver of life.

Mums forget about themselves totally because they are worried about their kids. As a mother you shape their morals, their values, their sense of responsibility and their future.

My kids often thank me and say ‘you were our mum, dad and best friend. You set us on the right path.’ It brings tears to my eyes.

Your impact as a mother isn’t just on your own kids. My niece Fay nominated me for the Mother of the Year Award. My nephew and nieces thanks me for everything. They know they are where they are today because of what I have done.

What is the one piece of advice you wish someone had given to you about parenting?

That’s a hard one, simply because I was a mum at a young age. I had to be a mum to my younger brothers and sisters when my mum was sick. No one told me what to do. The mothering instincts were in me. I just did the best I could. I would get up each day and send them to school.

Family is the most important thing. You have to stand by each other no matter what. I’ve done that from a young age. I fell into the role. No one told me what to do. I just knew I had to be there for my younger siblings and Mum.

It doesn’t cost anything to give love. People are so caught up with material possession that they can lose sight of who they are inside.

Never strive for success so high that you lose sight of who you really are inside and where you come from. I’m not knocking anyone that is successful. We all bleed the same blood. We treat people how we want to be treated.

What do you miss about your life before you became a parent?

I had it in me all along. I’ve always been a mother. I dedicated my life to doing the best that I could for my younger siblings and Mum. I didn’t think about me.

I tried to go to school but I couldn’t keep up with it because I had to stay up late hand washing everyone’s clothes. I’d be up to 1am some nights.

I had my first child at the age of 16 but there was nothing that I had before that I miss. I wouldn’t change anything for the world because I have my beautiful son that I’m so proud of. It was meant to be for all the learnings and lessons I had. I believe my life was planned out for me by the ancestors before I was born.

What did it mean to you to be recognised as mother of the in 2016?

I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t get my head around it. It was so beautiful of my niece to nominate me. To win the Queensland final was overwhelming. To actually win it for all of Australia was an absolute honour. Especially to be the first Aboriginal woman to win the award.

For my people it was important. It’s been an interesting journey. I was just going with the flow, I didn’t realise how proud I made some of them. I’ve run into a lot of Aboriginal people who say to me, ‘Do you realise how proud we are of you Aunty?’ As a black fella, to see your face on the TV, that means a lot to our people. I always encourage them to nominate their mum too.

I’ve also been recognised by people from lots of other cultures.

It’s important to recognise mums. It never changed me though. Being a mum is doing your job I believe.

How did you find the Mother of the Year celebrations and the experience of being pampered for a day?

That was overwhelming. The Barnardos staff were just beautiful to me. It was a moment of treasured memories. Here I was, this Aboriginal girl coming from almost nothing. My family got trashed because of racism. So to come to Sydney and be pampered like that, it made me feel very special. It was then that I realised that I was deserving.

As mothers we tend to forget about ourselves so it was brilliant to have that experience. I wouldn’t have done it for myself. It was all new to me. I felt like a doll.

I think I threw the stylist because I said, ‘don’t worry about the hair, love, because the hat goes on.’ My hat is my signature.

After the award there was a photo of me on the cover on Woman’s Day and the kids didn’t recognise me because I didn’t have my hat on. I thought it was so funny.

Why would you encourage someone to nominate a mother they know?

Because some women never had that recognition and they deserve it. They have worked tirelessly. Not only in their home with their own family but out in the community. It’s hugely important to nominate for all of the love and care that a mum has given. When your children grow up it doesn’t stop. You will do it to the end of your day.

Your mum is a winner just to be nominated. I believe all mums are winners.

About Barnardos Mother of the Year

Barnardos Mother of the Year is the largest and most recognised national awards celebrating mothers. The awards publicly acknowledge the critical role mothering plays in keeping children safe, nurturing them to help realise their potential and shaping the future of Australia. Celebrating its 22nd year, Barnardos Mother of the Year is the charity’s flagship campaign and aims to drive a social movement around the importance of mothering.

For more information or to nominate go to
Nominations Close February 26th 2017.

About Barnardos Australia

Barnardos Australia is the leading child protection charity in Australia, committed to stopping child abuse. A non-government, non-denominational charity, we have been at the forefront of child protection for over 130 years. We believe all children deserve a safe and stable home. We work with families and communities facing issues such as violence, poverty, mental illness and homelessness to keep children safe at home.

Barnardos Australia’s extensive range of services include, family and domestic violence support, mental health support, emergency accommodation, parent education, counselling, foster care and adoption. Our evidence-based research and dedicated caseworkers and carers ensure Barnardos is well equipped to fully support, care for and nurture children in need. For more information or to donate go to: