International Women's Day. (Photos: Ali Kuchel/Contributed)
International Women's Day. (Photos: Ali Kuchel/Contributed)

LEADING LADIES: Meet the Lockyer's most inspirational women

A young 16-year-old cancer battler inspires with her positivity, a nurse changes lives of people with her caring nature, and a personal trainer with her can-do attitude gives people their life back.


A woman of power doesn't take her job for granted, a detective ensuring children have a quality life and a school sports team eager to show girls have what it takes to play football.

These women are all inspirational influencers of the Lockyer Valley.

On March 8, International Womens Day, we profile some of the women who make this region amazing.


Lockyer Valley teenager Tahlia Utz with her dog Holly. Photo: Ali Kuchel
Lockyer Valley teenager Tahlia Utz with her dog Holly. Photo: Ali Kuchel


Most 16-year-olds are looking to movie stars and athletes as inspirational role models, but in the Lockyer Valley, there's a lot that look to teenager Tahlia Utz.

Tahlia Utz is kicking cancer's butt after she was diagnosed with a rare lung cancer in February 2020.

She had her first surgery in March 2020 to remove a tumour as well as the bottom and middle lobes of her right lung.

But a follow up scan in November last year revealed another tumour had returned, and Tahlia went for her second round of surgery in December.

Last week, she went through her second round of chemotherapy to rid any remaining cells.

"It's always a shock to hear people say you're so inspiring when you're only 16," Tahlia said.

"But it definitely does make you feel good when you know your story is helping someone."

Tahlia, a bright, bubbly St Josephs College Year 11 student who loves running and playing netball hasn't let cancer stand in her way.

She said it took a few doctors to get the right diagnosis from what started as a lingering cough.

They eventually found the right doctor who scheduled a bronchoscopy biopsy.

"One day they just came in and said' we're sorry but it's cancer'," Tahlia said.

"It was a shock; I didn't know what to expect with it."

Despite spending up to four days in hospital for treatment every 21 days, Tahlia still hits the books to stay on the pathway of studying paediatric medicine.

With an inspirational mother who also battled her own health issues, Tahlia says she can only be as inspiring as everyone else around her.

"Growing up, mum had her own medical battles, so it's definitely helped to have her to look up to," Tahlia said.

"Everyone has supported me and made it at lot easier, especially having such a good family behind you."

Her mum Mell Utz said hospital handovers were like sitting in parent teacher interviews, with nurses saying she was a polite, independent young lady.

"The way she has handled herself throughout this whole ordeal is incredible for someone of her age, and her father and I couldn't be prouder," Mell said.

And Tahlia has embraced everything to do with her treatment - including loss of hair.

On Thursday last week, she shaved her head.

"The hair loss thing I never thought much about it until it was happening," she said.

"When you see someone with no hair you think 'they must be really sick', but for me when it was falling out, I wanted to take it upon myself and get rid of it.

"You don't expect to see many 16-year-old girls to get rid of their hair, but I found it more empowering more than anything because it's part of my journey."

With her senior years of school, Tahlia is also busy studying, aiming for an ATAR of about 97 to get into paediatric medicine.



Detective acting sergeant Tahnee Bursle, Laidley Police CPIU. PHOTO: Ali Kuchel
Detective acting sergeant Tahnee Bursle, Laidley Police CPIU. PHOTO: Ali Kuchel


Listening, leading but also laying down the law when required is what makes Tahnee Bursle a positive influencer to youth in the Lockyer Valley.

As a Detective and acting sergeant with the Child Protection Unit in Laidley, having a positive influence on youth and deterring them from the court system is her aim.

"We try to get them to make better choices and change their ways as a child before becoming an adult, as it limits their opportunities later in life," Detective Bursle said.

"I want to have a positive influence on the youth rather than a negative.

"As an officer, we can be seen as the big bad wolf, but we prefer to have a positive influence. Sometimes we have to be the law enforcers, but we want to make sure the kids are safe."

Being a police officer was a career the acting sergeant always wanted to do so she could make a difference and do something different every day.

Before joining the force, she worked as a children's dance teacher, then studied a Bachelor of Social Sciences because she was too young to join.

She worked in general duties for six years before transitioning to CPIU in 2009.

"I really enjoyed working with children, that's why I went into CPIU," she said.

Today, Detective Bursle works with a team of four female detectives in Laidley, which she says is a bit "unusual" in a detective's office.

"I think we're really lucky for that, we work really well together," she said.

The pathway to becoming a Detective wasn't a walk in the park.

When Detective Bursle joined the Queensland Police in 2004, it was a male-dominated industry, but the opportunities were there if you looked and had a go.

"In the police service I had a female role model, someone that was in the same position, she was probably the one that took me under her wing and opened up to my eyes to what the possibilities would be," Detective Bursle said.

"I always say girls bring different things, we know our capabilities, and we bring different things to the table than a man."

She said Queensland Police Service had change significantly during the years, now boasting a much more diverse workforce.

"I had nothing but a positive experience," she said.

Detective Bursle said her advice is nothing is handed down on a platter.

"If you want it, you've got to go and get it and be the best person you can," she said.

"I also strive to treat people the way you want to be treated."



ALF Personal Trainer and business owner Amanda Friend. PHOTO: Ali Kuchel
ALF Personal Trainer and business owner Amanda Friend. PHOTO: Ali Kuchel


During the past six years, Amanda Friend has learned she is inspiring to other women, even if it wasn't her intention.

The personal trainer runs ALF Fitness, a women's-only fitness group in the Lockyer Valley, and has created an inclusive, non-toxic, supportive environment for women on their health journey.

Amanda draws inspiration from her clients, just like they draw inspiration from her.

"We are too cruel to ourselves in our heads and we just need to be who we are and the people who are meant to be with us will be a part of our lives," Amanda said.

"You can have bad days and you're still enough, just show up, we're human, we're women, and we're not expected to go 100 per cent all the time"

Amanda has been a personal trainer for about five and a half years and decided to help others after she had her own children.

"I introduced exercise and better nutrition after having my own babies and realised how much better it made me feel," she said.

"I wanted to bring something to the Lockyer Valley where I could cater to the mums who were feeling a bit 'blah' like I did."

Amanda said about 95 per cent of her clients were mums, and sometimes, it was just about turning up for a session.

"You can have bad days and you're still enough, just show up, we're human, we're women, and we're not expected to go 100 per cent all the time," she said.

"Hormones, cycles, our energy levels and strength fluctuate, I've helped people embrace they don't have to be super charged every day."

With body image in mass media playing a huge role on women's physical and emotional behaviours, Amanda is a big believer in everyone being unique, different and appreciating all body sizes.

She said it was refreshing that major companies, such as Bras n Things and Exotic Athletica were using a more diverse range of body types in their promotions.

"It's great they're bring in different imagery of body sizes, because it's normalising that everyone looks different," she said.

"Even when we do selfies and Instagram posts, you always post the best photo with the most flattering angle."

Amanda's advice to her 13-year-old self is to "trust in what makes me happy".

"I'm a big people pleaser, so I put my needs, wants, emotions and feelings into what I thought everyone expected of me," she said.

"I'm probably learning that more so in the last few years. It's important to make me happy rather than the people around me, because the longer you're not doing it for yourself, the more damage you're doing."



Gatton Hospital director of nursing Deb O'Brien.
Gatton Hospital director of nursing Deb O'Brien.

We don't shine brighter by blowing out someone else's candle - those are the wise words from Deb O'Brien, the director of nursing at the Gatton Hospital.

"It sounds corny, but women need to unite and support each other, encourage each other to always learn and grow to be the best human you can be," Ms O'Brien said.

"We don't always get it right, but when we do, we are unstoppable."

Ms O'Brien has been a shining light as a nurse since 1990, where she was part of the second last cohort of hospital-trained nurses at the then Royal Brisbane Hospital.

Her role to nursing came to fruition when she realised, she couldn't become a vet.

But it's that healing and caring nature that led her into nursing 30 years ago, as well as relatives in New Zealand who inspired her career.

"I love what I do," Ms O'Brein said.

"I am honoured every day that I get to go to work and make a difference to someone else's life.

"Whether it be mentoring colleagues, reminding them they all have a superpower and to play to their strengths, or heading to the emergency department to help out when they need a hand."

Ms O'Brien has spent three decades at the frontline of nursing, mostly in rural settings, and calls herself a jack of all trades.

But it's her leadership journey that has added "so much more depth" to what she believed nursing was about and has contributed to her personal development.

"Being able to influence things and rising to challenges such as COVID-19 make me feel connected to my purpose and grateful for the position that I have and the opportunities I have every day," she said.

"I also love a challenge, so am usually the first in line for something new."

Ms O'Brien said influential people are emotionally intelligent, empathetic, kind-hearted and give their knowledge freely in order to help others.

Ms O'Brien's list of influential women would be "very long" but includes her mum and several (she means lots) of aunties who taught her various life lessons.

"My mum is always there to support and guide me, to listen to my troubles and be proud of my achievements, even when things don't go to plan," she said.

"I have been mentored by amazing woman as an adult and as a professional as well, so the list would be very long if I strayed here."

As for delivering advice, Ms O'Brien said she would tell her 13-year-old self to believe in herself.

"I'd tell her to develop courage to who she wants to be as well as compassion and empathy for others and to follow her heart, learn from mistakes and don't ever stop learning or trying."



Lockyer Valley Regional Council mayor Tanya Milligan with her daughter Savannah Shaw. PHOTO: Ali Kuchel
Lockyer Valley Regional Council mayor Tanya Milligan with her daughter Savannah Shaw. PHOTO: Ali Kuchel


It was the lack of disability access to the Laidley Post Office that urged Tanya Milligan to put her hand up for council.

At the time the now Lockyer Valley Regional Council mayor was working for Anuha as a disability support worker.

The Commonwealth Bank announced its closure leaving the Laidley post office to pick up the pieces as the bank's agency.

But locals with disabilities couldn't gain access.

Instead of being a noisy minority, Cr Milligan believed she could put her hand up, have a crack and make a difference.

That was in the year 2000, where Cr Milligan was elected to the Laidley Shire Council in a by-election following the passing of former councillor Marilyn Ward.

Being a woman in a predominantly man's world wasn't easy, but Cr Milligan said she was there to do a job just like every other councillor - regardless of their gender.

In an exclusive interview with the Gatton Star, Cr Milligan said her journey to mayor was never planned, but is not taken for granted.

"I didn't think I'd end up being mayor. Even when I was Steve Jones' deputy, I enjoyed being Steve's deputy and being a councillor," she said.

"With his unexpected passing, there was a sense of obligation and responsibility. He would have been disappointed if I didn't put my hand up."

As an influential woman in a high-profile role, Cr Milligan said leadership roles had a duty to "give back".

"It's about bringing people with you. You've got to think about the succession, and with my case, what will be good for council and the community," she said.

"I don't believe in gender quotas. I think give the job to the right person.

"If you give the job to a woman purely because she's a woman, you've taken us back 50 years and probably discriminated against a man."

When asked what advice she would give herself at age 13, Cr Milligan said "believe more in myself".

"I say that because initially when I did become mayor, even with Steve's passing, it took me a little while to feel like I belonged," she said.

"I felt like I arrived there by default."

And even our leaders look up to other inspirational women.

For the mayor, it's her mother.

"She was 38 when dad passed, she raised three children on her own. We never really had a lot, but we never really went without either. She was a really strong woman," she said.

As for an inspirational leader, Cr Milligan credited New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

"She's top of her class. Not because she's a woman, it's because she has strength, softness, empathy, she's doing her job at the same time as being a real person, parent and wife."



Faith Lutheran College Total Rugby girls team with Brisbane Broncos Ali Brigginshaw. PHOTO: Ali Kuchel
Faith Lutheran College Total Rugby girls team with Brisbane Broncos Ali Brigginshaw. PHOTO: Ali Kuchel


Training with inspirational Brisbane Broncos halfback Ali Brigginshaw was a dream come true for a handful of Faith Lutheran College girls.

It was especially inspirational for Year 7 student Aliya Hassienden, who has looked up to the football star throughout her childhood.

Brigginshaw's visit to Faith Lutheran College on Friday was a step towards the girl's rugby team developing their skills and sportsmanship in their first competitive year of football.

"I've always looked up to Ali, when I was young, I thought she looked like me and I loved playing football," Aliya said.

"I've always wanted to do a training session with Ali - it's great she's come to Faith.

"Faith has given us a program and an opportunity."

The Total Rugby program has allowed Faith's youngest girls to take to the field, learn skills and develop as leading sportswomen.

For Aliya, it's not only a dream to play for school, and one day the Broncos, but a chance to work emotional skills.

"With football, I know when passing you should call names. I'm really bad with talking with my anxiety and names," she said.

"Footy helps me with my anger issues as well because I can use the game to get rid of them."

Faith sports captain Hailey Kellam said the program was a great stepping stone for the girls.

"Before this, we would have to travel an hour either way for girls to play any football," Hailey said.