Since meeting 10 years ago, Westpac program director Yashmin Zeini’s connection with First Nations women’s advocate Dixie Link-Gordon has deepened through a shared determination to eliminate sexual assault and family violence.
Dixie is Senior Community Access Officer at Women's Legal Service NSW, an Adjunct Senior Lecturer at University of NSW, and founding member of Breaking Silent Codes. Previously she was Executive Director of Mudgin-gal Aboriginal Women’s Centre where she had worked between 1992 and 2014. Yashmin started her career at Westpac in Fiji before moving to Australia in 1987 and has worked in a variety of roles across the bank, currently as a project manager.
This is their story.
I love watching Dixie when she's talking to a bunch of women and girls in a yarning session.
She sits on the floor with them and has this warmth around her, talking in such a soothing way, with compassion, without judgement on the perpetrator or the victim. In the worst of situations, she finds the good. Nothing is too hard for her to find a solution.
I first met Dixie when I was matched with Mudgin-gal (the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s centre in Sydney’s Redfern) where she was executive director, as part of a volunteer mentoring program offered by Westpac.
The idea was to meet up for an hour each month for a few months, to give her a bit of business guidance. Ten years later, we’re still in close contact!
When I first heard Dixie speak about her people in her community, especially the women and children, it's like something would light up in her. She is so passionate and committed to making a difference, especially to tackling sexual abuse and family violence.
She is one courageous woman. Life has not been good to her but she is a survivor.
She has experienced abuse in her life but did not let that define her. She educated herself, got a degree, raised her big beautiful family – she has 28 grandkids now! – all while leading successful projects like Tackling Violence to educate NRL football players in a non-threatening way. Rape Crisis, where she worked on “Hey sis, we’ve got your back”, a network of Aboriginal women who are working to prevent sexual violence, also stands out.
For the last three years I’ve been involved in her latest pet program, “Breaking Silent Codes”, which she recently took to the United Nations’ Commission of the Status of Women. The aim is to create a movement of awareness about the need for conversations to stop the cycle of silence among survivors of sexual abuse and family violence.
I know in the future the young girls she has helped will be talking about her and saying, “If it wasn't for Aunty Dixie, I don’t know where I’d have ended up”.
She was always upfront in saying admin was not her thing. She was all about execution, not talking about it and writing it down. I knew straight away that just one hour a month wouldn’t be enough for me to help with process improvements, so I applied for a short-term secondment from Westpac to Mudgin-gal.
Since then I’ve helped Dixie in any way I can, from simply chatting through a problem to helping writing business plans to negotiate better funding outcomes.
My life is much richer for knowing Dixie. My upbringing as a child in Fiji before moving to Australia was very different to hers, but we share so many fundamental values, like the importance of giving.
The rule in our house was always whatever fits any of the sisters, they can wear and whatever is cooked, we'll all share no matter how many of us there are. She’s taught me so much about Aboriginal culture and new ways of thinking that have been valuable to my relationship with my own extended family and my work at Westpac.
I know Dixie has aspirations to do better for affected women and families, and I can’t wait to be a part of it.
It was Yashmin who helped me start to realise what I really wanted to focus on, with a tunnel view.
And that was around finding good spaces for gathering Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Pasifika women to have more in-depth conversations around options to have healthier, safer families, free from violence.
It's like a whole village has to respond. Often our stories of sexual assault and family violence aren’t necessarily heard or seen. If we can create that space where we can have a voice and find comfort in each other, we'll become stronger. And that’s at the heart of “Breaking Silent Codes”, to build this whole network of women who can break the silence that keeps us bound in violent and unsafe relationships.
You can't do any of this without having good people around you.
I’m blessed that Yashmin is among the women I have around me, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, who are just loaded up with commitment and love.
When I met Yashmin, first and foremost I saw her compassionate spirit. It's the first thing that walked through the door for me.
I knew that this was someone I could relate to. In a way, she’s been a teacher to me. She'd never say "you're not doing this right". Her approach is to work on people's bests. She taught me a lot about how to bring out the best that people could offer and to build on that.
I'm not a big businesswoman; I’m a human services type of person, with big commitment and a lot of creative ideas.
I knew what was coming in and going out at Mudgin-gal, but I had to formalise and tighten up our policies and have a business plan. Yashmin came in and did that for us. She’s given me a much better understanding of the business aspects of what I do, and about working with what I've got. She’s always able to help me find some sort of better understanding, some sort of resolution to problems.
I think her generosity has a lot to do with her humble upbringing in Fiji. She's never forgotten that.
I loved hearing about her big family gathering for her mum's birthday a few years ago. Her mum didn't want presents so instead Yashmin asked all guests to donate to the blind society of Fiji. This type of beautiful giving is just what she does. She doesn’t say much about it.
Before I met her, she’d been supporting immigrants who were making little farms out at Schofields in New South Wales by lending her skills to work on their business plans. It takes a lot of effort and love to do that, to voluntarily help people so they can have a decent life.
She’s made the pathway for taking Breaking Silent Codes into Fiji ever more easier because she knows the Pasifika processes. We've got big plans for Fiji, it warms my heart to think about them.
I'm very blessed that she's become my friend and not just a professional who was helping out a small NGO.
I'm always going to be mates with her, there are no two ways about that.