Dangerous Women: Keelen Mailman OAM

Warning: This story contains colourful language that may offend.

Keelen Mailman OAM is one dangerous woman as Holly Zwalf discovered when she travelled to Goorathuntha or Mount Tabor, a 180 000-acre cattle station Keelen manages outside Augathella, Queensland. Holly interviewed Keelen for the first episode of State Library’s podcast Dangerous Women and was intrigued to find out more about this trailblazer whom she noted ‘shoots and skins roos for pocket money and makes her own bullets, for God's sake!’

Goorathuntha/Mt Tabor Station property manager Keelen Mailman outside the Ellangowan Hotel and Augathella Palms Motel, February 2020. Photographer: Erin McBean. (State Library of Queensland collection)

Keelen is a woman of many talents and experiences. A mother and grandmother who has raised eight children, she was the Australian of the Year Queensland finalist in 2007, wrote her autobiography The Power of Bones published by Allen and Unwin in 2014, became Barnardos Mother of the Year in 2016, and was awarded an Order of Australia in 2020. Keelen’s achievements coincided with her taking on one of the biggest challenges of her life – 23 years ago at the age of 30, she became the first Aboriginal woman to run a cattle property.

.. I get out there and get taken to Lost City and just fell in love with the place. When I climbed up on top of the arch and looked out and seen the wattle everywhere, I just thought, this has f**king won me. Tabor captured my heart and that was it."

Keelen Mailman explains the history and importance of Dickradee to Holly Zwalf while standing next to a large sandstone formation on Mount Tabor Station, Queensland, February 2020. Photographer: Erin McBean. (State Library of Queensland collection)

Mount Tabor or Goorathuntha as it is known in the local Bidjara language, is a landscape steeped in rich culture, stories and Bidjara history stretching across millennia. One of several significant sites on the property, the Lost City is a series of monolithic structures hiding caves adorned with rock art stencils and engravings. As a Bidjara woman, Keelen became custodian of her people’s cultural heritage, delicately balancing this with the commercial interests of the property as she navigated the transition of full ownership of the property to Bidjara people in 2016.

Keelen has lived a life of struggle and survival, all experiences she takes in her stride, due to her deep connection to her ancestors, country, culture, and language. Dangerous Women takes you on an outback journey with Holly and one of Queensland’s most inspirational women.

Listen to Dangerous Women on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts and Soundcloud.

 

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I have just finished reading Keeken’s raw, uninhibited and emotional Autobiography. Wow what a remarkable woman, I can’t believe that one woman can endure so much pain and racism and still have the capacity to forgive and love. Her chronicle of her complex and challenging life had me laughing and crying (many times). Her use of authentic profanity to describe the constant racism and obstacles she faced is very refreshing in this world full of so much political correctness. This book has touched me deeply and made me a better person. Thank you Keelen