From peacekeeping to parenting
By Richard Waters
Former army Major and UN peacekeeper, prime ministerial adviser, AFR 2018 Women of Influence awards nominee, mother of two – Fitzpatricks’ client Matina Jewell has packed a lot into her life, but has no plans for slowing down.
In her current role as a leadership strategist and inspirational conference speaker on resilience and change, Matina Jewell draws on the remarkable experiences that have shaped her own life to now enrich the lives of others. Having herself forged a stellar career in the male-dominated military, she now also mentors CEOs and helps organisations in traditional male industries, such as mining and construction, to evolve their thinking to offer more opportunities for women.
Matina’s energy and relentless positivity permeate everything she does in her busy schedule, in something of a parallel with Fitzpatrick’s ethos of helping all our clients to ‘live life on purpose’. Yet her life isn’t all about work: when not travelling the country on the conference speaking circuit, she returns to northern New South Wales to her husband and two daughters, aged 3 and 6. Not that Matina’s home life guarantees peace and quiet. “On stage I joke that dodging bombs and commanding 500 soldiers in wartime is a walk in the park compared to raising children.”
As a leader, Matina’s credentials go back to her childhood. She represented Australia in two sports during her teens and captained every team she was in, and it was sport that led to the revelation that changed her life. “At 16 I toured China playing volleyball, which was my turning point. I’d had an idyllic childhood in regional Australia, but now I was seeing intense poverty. This opened my eyes to how lucky we are in this country, and how I’d taken for granted such basic things – like fresh water out of the tap, a house, fresh food.”
Matina resolved to pursue a career that would draw on her leadership skills, love of teamwork and desire to be involved in humanitarian aid. She also wanted a university education, but didn’t want her parents to bear the financial burden. The Australian Defence Force seemed like the perfect fit.
Her 15-year military career was nothing less than trailblazing. She worked with the SAS and American Navy Seals, tracked down militia leaders in the Solomon Islands and smuggler ships in the Arabian Gulf, fast-roped from helicopters, and became the first woman in the Australian Army to complete the arduous Navy diving course.
She was then selected as a United Nations peacekeeper in Syria and the Lebanon. In 2006, towards the end of her tour of duty, the fragile truce broke and the Israeli army began bombarding Hezbollah positions around the UN patrol base. Under fire, Matina and some of the other UN personnel made a dangerous dash for the coast, during which their vehicle took evasive action and she suffered major spinal and internal injuries that eventually forced her to leave the military.
Having already been the subject of two memorable television documentaries including the ABC’s Australian Story, Matina’s life is now to be brought to a global audience, with an Australian-made feature film of her experiences currently being scripted. “It’s a sort of crazy but wonderful thing to happen in your life,” laughs Matina. “And,” she adds more sombrely, “it’s an opportunity to honour my team mates who didn’t make it through the Lebanon war. It’s a story about all the people who risk their lives to create peace in unsettled parts of the world.”
For someone with first-hand experience of the horror and tragedy of poverty and war, Matina retains an infectious optimism about life, which fuels one of her key messages as an inspirational speaker. “One of the things I share with my audiences is how lucky we are to be Australians and how we each get to choose the lens we see the world through every day. We’ve got so much to be thankful for – but we get all bent out of shape with our first world problems. If we can shift that mindset to positive it will ripple across everything in our lives.”
“I guess that’s my attitude now as a mum. Young children wake each day with a positive attitude and that helps me say to myself ‘yep, whatever’s happening today it’s okay – we can work it out.’”