Ngarrindjeri woman Judith Lovegrove is among 20 South Australian trailblazers to be recognised on this year’s SA Women’s Honour Roll. She shares her inspiring story, from leaving school at 15 due to racist bullying, to improving service provision and health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
What’s the SA Women’s Honour Roll?
The SA Women’s Honour Roll, published biennially since 2008 by the State Government, shines a light on outstanding women contributing significantly to the South Australian community. This initiative celebrates women leaders in various fields, particularly those in less visible or recognised roles. The 20 inductees this year include activists, volunteers, researchers, and clinicians, each with a unique story detailed in a downloadable e-book.
Judith Lovegrove, a Ngarrindjeri woman and one of the 2023 inductees, says being on the SA Women’s Honour Roll means a lot, and hopes her story will inspire other women.
“I didn’t have many role models growing up, but I feel so uplifted when I’m exposed to the stories of strength and resilience in women that rise above,” she says. “It’s the real-life stories of struggle and understanding the barriers they’ve broken down that are really empowering.”
Judith’s own story is a tale of resilience, perseverance and hard work. She grew up in regional SA, where years of racist bullying meant she left school at age 15. A few years later, as her career in hospitality was taking off, she was confronted with serious racist workplace bullying for the first time. It triggered a major depressive episode – “I was so low, I hated being black,” she says.
But she found the strength to apply for a job at an Aboriginal health organisation. That became the start of her stellar career in Aboriginal mental health and wellbeing, where she advocates for a holistic, trauma-informed approach that taps into her own lived experience. It hasn’t been easy, as she’s often been juggling study with full-time work, but she’s now Executive Director Aboriginal Health for the Southern Adelaide Local Health Network.
Just a few of her many roles include counsellor, university lecturer, government advisor, training provider and spokesperson. Among her many projects, she’s especially proud of initiating the South Australian Whole-of-Government Anti-Racism Strategy. She’s also Co-Chair of the Vulnerable Families Working Group for the State Government’s Aboriginal Affairs Executive Committee.
Judith views her success as a shared victory: It’s not just her triumph, but also a tribute to the strong women of previous generations who never had the same life chances.
“Thinking about my grandmother and all of the Aboriginal people before me that had their rights and opportunities stripped from them, I feel I walk with so much privilege today,” she says. “Even though I still experienced racism and had my challenges, I am really fortunate to have had access to education. And although my schooling was really horrible, I’m proud to say I’ve now got 12 qualifications, and two of those are psychology degrees.”
The importance of female leadership
Empathy and kindness are traditionally female traits that are invaluable in leadership positions, says Judith. “I’m a really strong believer in trying to get people to tap into that inner instinct they’ve got. We definitely need more women in leadership roles – they’re roles women shine in.”
Judith – who’s in her 30s – says she’s proud of what she’s achieved so far, but excited about what still lies ahead.
“Nothing can stop you from being able to achieve,” she says. “You only get one life, so if you get an opportunity to do some stuff, then you can plant a seed and hopefully leave a legacy in your community. It’s really about making the world a better place.”
Judith’s career advice to young women
“Regardless of how dark times are, or how bad you might feel, being honest and true to yourself is the most important thing – always do what aligns with your values,” Judith says.
Surrounding yourself with genuinely supportive people is just as important, she says. Celebrating small victories along the way, learning from constructive criticism, and accepting discomfort as a part of growth are also important. Most of all, she says she wants all young people to understand that “to get to where you want, you have to do the work: Hard work always pays off.”
2023 SA Women’s Honour Roll inductees
Dr Jacqueline ‘Jackie’ Amos: Building intergenerational trauma therapies into social casework to support vulnerable families.
Hayley Ann Boswell: Passionate advocate for policy change and mental health in the veteran and defence community.
Stella Braund: Dedicated service and contribution to improving mental health and social services (and 2024 SA Australian of the Year nominee).
Michaela Cynthia Caird: Steadfast support and service to migrant and refugee communities.
Dallas Colley: Influence, dedication and contribution to domestic and family violence policy and practice.
Dr Janet ‘Jan’ Kay Edwards: Advocate for gender equality, disability, social inclusion and civil society engagement.
Phyllis ‘Terese’ Edwards: Tireless advocacy in support of single mothers.
Carmen Anne Garcia: Leading social entrepreneur and advocate for migrant, refugee and vulnerable communities.
Natasha ‘Tash’ Hemmerling: Promoting, supporting and mentoring women in the construction industry.
Dr Michele Jarldorn: Leader in research impact and integrity, and tireless advocate for criminalised women.
Judith Lovegrove: Improving service provision and health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Lisa O’Malley: Steadfast and unwavering advocacy on behalf of foster carers.
Dr Elizabeth Puddy AM: A lifetime commitment to infant, child and family health and wellbeing.
Julie Redman: Leader in family law and champion of legal initiatives to support women and children.
Dr Mary Retallack: A champion of environmental stewardship practices in the winegrape growers’ community.
Christine Robertson OAM: Inspirational leadership and service to volunteering and animal welfare.
Kathryn ‘Kate’ Strohm: A leading voice of support for siblings of children and adults with disability.
Catherine (Kate) Margaret Swetenham: Clinical leadership in palliative and end-of-life care.
Sophie Thomson: Educating and engaging communities in the health, wellbeing and environmental benefits of gardening.
Rachael (Rach) Zaltron OAM: Tireless support of children, young people and families who have left their homes due to violence and other hardships (and 2024 SA Local Hero).
Download full biographies of all the SA Women’s Honour Roll inductees here.