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Celebrating remarkable women in Hunter community


They are innovators, they are brave and creative, compassionate and hard-working, and often leaders in their field…

This 2023 International Women’s Day, we feature some of the Hunter’s female role models. 

Maria Martin

Maria Martin – Founder of not-for-profit Survivors R Us, Cardiff

In 2010, Maria fled an abusive partner with her young daughter, fearing he would harm them, or worse.

She knew she needed help, but she didn’t know where to go to find it.

Four months after fleeing, she was held at gunpoint in her workplace.  

Then, in the five years that followed, she lost her beloved stepfather to cancer and received a cancer diagnosis of her own. 

The former chef and restaurant owner said she was “completely broken”. 

“It all became too much for me,” she said. “I just couldn’t cope.” 

Maria was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress and took some much-needed time off for what she calls “healing”. 

It was during this time she founded Survivors R Us, adapting a logo of a giant phoenix, a mythical bird that lived for centuries and, even after death, was renewed to youth to live through another life cycle.

“That’s me taking my life back,” Maria said.

“Rising from the ashes. 

“And, it’s what I want everyone to know – that you can get your life back together after a traumatic experience.” 

Maria and her team at Survivors R Us have since grown and now offer an op shop, pantry with free food, showers, counselling, social events, and a women’s-only weekly afternoon tea. 

Rebecca Riddle

Rebecca Riddle – Newcastle Weekly journalist 

Travel was her first passion.

After an eye-opening trek from Pakistan through the Himalayas to K2 base camp, the then-23-year-old left her hometown of Perth for life aboard a cruise ship in SE Asia, before months spent driving around Australia in a former rally car, and a spontaneous decision to live in London for six months, turned into a four-year adventure. 

Fast-forward to marriage, two children and a move to Victoria where Rebecca (Bec) rekindled a love of journalism – an occupation she’d once dreamt of pursuing while in high school. 

Juggling babies, childcare and a new community, Bec undertook a university degree in Journalism and PR, a course she completed in four years, graduating with a Distinction. 

Her journalism career began at a local Fairfax newspaper, before a move to Lake Macquarie led her to the Newcastle Weekly

She now juggles a tween and a teen and a full-time job, as well as running her own business as a marriage celebrant. 

“Over time women have had to fight for their right to vote, to travel without an accompanying male, to wear what they chose and to have a job and earn their own money, among other things,” Bec said.

“I think International Women’s Day is an opportunity to reflect on this and feel proud about how far we’ve come, and then to encourage each other as women to keep striving for equality.” 

Emma Spencer

Emma Spencer – The Newcastle Show general manager 

She is young, she’s a woman and she’s 28 weeks pregnant, and none of these things have hampered Emma Spencer’s approach to her role as the custodian of a 121-year-old Novocastrian tradition.

As general manager of The Newcastle Show, she’s both efficient and approachable, traits that make her the perfect person for the job.   

Now in the afterglow of overseeing her second annual event that attracts more than 35,000 visitors and 130 stalls, entertainers and businesses, each year, Emma has managed to gain trust and respect from all her stakeholders. 

“Being a woman now means having the freedom to do whatever you want and have the people and support behind you,” she told the Newcastle Weekly

“You can achieve whatever you want. Whether that’s having an amazing career and at the same time a family, or it’s travelling the world, just doing whatever makes you happy, that’s what you deserve.”  

This shouldn’t be limited to just a few either. 

“Being a woman is one thing, but everyone should be able to have that freedom and the support of their community and the people around them to make them feel like they can do whatever they want.” 

Vanessa Alexander

Vanessa Alexander – Award-winning screenwriter, humanitarian

An award-winning screenwriter, a humanitarian and a mum… there’s not much Newcastle’s Vanessa Alexander hasn’t achieved.

And, she recently shared her inspiring story at the annual Lord Mayor’s International Women’s Day Morning Tea, where she was presented with the Key to the City of Newcastle.

Ms Alexander is best-known for writing on The Great (Hulu) and Vikings: Valhalla (Netflix).

For The Great, she was nominated for Best Comedy and Best New Series at the Writers Guild of America Awards (2021).

The same year, she also went on to co-executive produce Valhalla from her bedroom in Newcastle during the COVID-19 lockdown while home-schooling three kids.

Somehow, while doing all of this, Ms Alexander and a group of friends began to assist Afghan women at risk of retribution from the Taliban.

That move itself showcased her incredible story of courage and hope.

With the support of Darwish Ahmadzai, she aided others trying to do the same and was personally involved in helping more than 100 women and their families out of Afghanistan, 56 of whom are now living in or around Newcastle.

Another 32 reside in Ireland with the support of Ms Alexander’s sister, Elise.

Others have resettled in Brazil and the United States.

“While I was personally involved in helping close to 100 Afghan women and their families, the ripple effect was many-fold as hundreds more received crisis support through the network Darwish and I established with the Canberra-based woman’s activist, Susan Hutchison,” Ms Alexander said.

She continues to offer her assistance, by raising funds for refugee support service Talent Beyond Boundaries.

International Women’s Day throughout the Hunter:

Wednesday 8 March

  • 7.15am: Zonta IWD Breakfast (Brown Sugar, Warners Bay)
  • 9.30am-11am: Women’s Inspire (LIVEfree Hub, Adamstown)
  • 9.30am-11.30am: Lord Mayor’s International Women’s Day Morning Tea (Newcastle City Hall)
  • From 9.30am: Hunter Women’s Centre IWD Events
  • 10am: Cessnock’s Hidden Herstories (Cessnock City Library)
  • 11.30am: Newcastle Women’s DVCAS High Tea (NWDVCAS)
  • Noon-3pm: Embrace Equity International Women’s Day (Kahibah Sports Club)
  • Noon-4pm: HunterNet 2023 IWD Luncheon (Merewether Surfhouse)
  • Noon-4pm: IWD Panel and UNSA Expo (Park on the Hill, University of Newcastle)
  • 5pm: Hunter Business Women’s Network IWD Event (Newcastle NEX)
  • 5.30pm: IWD Artist in Residence Launch (Brough House, Maitland)
  • 6.45pm: Clare Bowditch and Georgie Winchester (Warners Bay Theatre, Lake Macquarie)

Thursday 9 March

  • Noon-2pm: USNA IWD Expo (NuSpace, University of Newcastle)

Saturday 11 March

  • 1pm-3pm: Lake Mac Women in Sport Expo (Charlestown Square)
  • 2.30pm: Sleapy’s Foundation IWD High Tea (Souths Merewether)
  • 6pm: Launch – Mistress Exhibition (Blackstone Gallery)

Sunday 12 March

  • 9.30am: Women’s Inspire (LIVEfree Hub, Adamstown)

Saturday 25 March

  • 4pm: BASS-IC (Lass O’Gowrie Hotel, Wickham)

Friday 31 March

  • 12.30pm-3.30pm: Gen Collective 2023 International Women’s Day Luncheon (Merewether Surfhouse)

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