Information about the State Forum Speakers

The BPW Victoria State Forum is an opportunity to hear from amazing speakers and discover their personal and professional achievements.

Networking opportunities to meet women from across Victoria will continue from Friday to Sunday.

Both Members and non-Members are welcome to join us at this special event for women.

       Please BOOK HERE

Download the Forum Program here.


Carolyn Rasmussen began her working life as a secondary teacher and subsequently completed post-graduate studies in labour history and the peace movement at the University of Melbourne where she is currently an Honorary Fellow. In the excitement surrounding the sesquicentenary of Victoria in 1985 she thought she would try her hand as a freelance public historian and since then her work has ranged over the history of Victorian public institutions such as Museum Victoria and the MMBW including the history of science and technology, education history and importantly the involvement of women in all of the above.  In parallel with this work she maintained an academic engagement with labour history, but has shifted her principal focus to biography.  She is a member of the National Editorial Board of the Australian Dictionary of Biography and chair of the Victorian Working Party. Her most recent book is The Blackburns: Private Lives, Public Ambition, MUP, 2019.

Doris Blackburn MHR 1946-1949 – ‘taking up the cudgels’

Doris Blackburn joined the Women’s Political Association in 1911 aged 22.  Thirty five years later, she would finally realise Vida Goldstein’s dream to sit in federal parliament.   A deep emotional and intellectual commitment to social justice across a wide range of areas drove her activism, but women’s rights, as individuals, as mothers and as workers, comprised a significant strand in her life until her very last days in 1970.  She blazed a trail for others to follow.


Dr Kristy Hess is an associate professor of media and communication at Deakin University. She undertakes teaching and research in areas of journalism and news media.

Kristy is the author of three books with international publishers and has been invited to deliver keynote presentations and fellowships in countries such as Australia, Canada, Sweden and Norway.

She is a recognised national academic expert on media policy relevant to rural and regional news environments and is also the recipient of an Australian teaching award for her contribution to student learning and engagement. She lives in Warrnambool with her husband and three young children.

She volunteers as a board member of the Brophy Family and Youth Services and in her spare time enjoys Pilates, gardening and drinking the odd gin and tonic!


Leila McDougall is like no one you have ever met before; she has created a multifaceted life for herself and has achieved more than most people by the age of 30. Being the owner and editor of HorseWyse Magazine, a director of a charity, assisting with running the family farm and being a secondary school teacher, you would think Leila’s life is busy enough, but she has managed to find time to fit more in, much more. 

Leila is the founder and director of the not-for-profit organisation ‘Live Rural’, an organisation that supports and promotes rural Australians with a focus on health. Having a passion for supporting and helping others, creating this organisation was a life’s dream of Leila’s. Live Rural now provides free Mental Health First Aid workshops to people living in rural communities. Leila created the event ‘Mellow in the Yellow’ to raise funds to support the charity.

Leila served on the Young Farmers Advisory Council to the Agricultural Minister of Victoria for four years and was a major contributor in creating the Farmer Business Boot Camp, a program that supports farmers to develop their financial literacy skills and gain knowledge on how to run the bookkeeping and financials of a farm.

Leila was awarded the ‘Emerging Leader in Agriculture Award’ for her contributions to the Agricultural sector. 


Michelle Steere – Personal Trainer/ Zumba Instructor

Michelle specialises in fitness for older adults by providing strength training, low impact exercise sessions and Zumba classes. She will speak on the benefit of movement to music in improving the quality of life for sufferers of dementia and other similar diseases.

Michelle is a self-employed Personal Trainer as well as being employed by the Warrnambool City Council as a Fitness Instructor and Team Leader at the Archie Graham Community Centre.

Michelle’s fitness motto is ‘Keep moving - age is not a barrier only a number’.


Vicki established Peter’s Project in Warrnambool in September 2008 after the death of her husband Peter, aged 49 years, from Oesophageal Cancer. The Victorian south west regional community embraced the Peter’s Project ethos and its goal to bring vital radiotherapy treatment to cancer patients in the local region.

Peter’s Project was primarily set up as a lobbyist group to be heard by both Victorian State and Federal governments. After seven years of hard work, community engagement and fundraising, the South West Regional Cancer Centre, an integrated cancer service providing radiotherapy, chemotherapy and a community support centre, opened its doors on the 18th July 2016.  Vicki and the Board of the Peter’s Project Foundation continue to financially support regional cancer services into the future.

Vicki was chosen as the Victorian Australian of the Year Local Hero in October 2016 and announced the 2017 Australian of the Year – Local Hero in January 2017.

In January 2018, Vicki was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the Australia Day Honours for significant service to Community health through the provision of access to radiotherapy treatments for people with cancer in South West Victoria.


Growing up on a dairy farm in Garvoc, 30 minutes outside Warrnambool, has fostered Virginia to have a strong appreciation and passion for the communities in South West Victoria. Virginia attended Primary School in Panmure and later attended secondary school at Emmanuel College Warrnambool. From a young age Virginia was very keen on sport. She played both club and representative netball and was involved in local swimming, tennis and basketball. 

After a year as a Sports trainee at Emmanuel College, Virginia went to university at RMIT in Melbourne and graduated with a High Distinction in Applied Science (Physical Education). It was in her first year of teaching at Elwood College in Melbourne that she discovered a talent and love for running. Since April 2014, Virginia has been training with her coach, Liam Delany. Virginia has since  won numerous State Titles in cross country, half marathon and marathon events. 

In 2016 she won the Melbourne Marathon, National Cross Country and National Marathon events. In 2017, Virginia represented Australia in the World Cross Country Championships in Uganda and later that year ran a personal best time of 2:29.12 in the Gold Coast Marathon. This time earned her the Oceania Marathon Title, escalated her into the top 10 fastest ever Australian female Marathon runners and secured her selection in the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast. 

Virginia is passionate about inspiring rural men and women, girls and boys, to live healthy and active lifestyles and take on opportunities to be involved in their community. She promotes her message through her daily full time job as a secondary teacher, an ambassador of the Warrnambool Surf T’ Surf Fun Run and 5km Summer series, public speaking events, weekly columns for the Warrnambool Standard and as an AMP Tomorrow Fund Ambassador.   

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