Rachel Downie

2020 QLD Australian of the Year

Educator and social entrepreneur

Rachel Downie founded Stymie in 2014 after losing a Year 9 student to suicide. In the aftermath of the tragedy, she learnt that students were often afraid to come forward with life-saving information because of peer expectations.

From then on, Rachel made it her life’s mission to support young people in speaking up when things aren’t right.

Stymie is an online platform that is now used by students nationally and internationally to report family violence, bullying, depression, harassment, self-harm and harm to the community.

We spoke to Rachel about receiving the QLD Australian of the Year Award, what everyday inspiration looks like to her and how to nurture a culture of care in schools.

What did it mean to you to be named QLD Australian of the Year?

It’s a blessing on my life and a privilege I cherish. But with it comes the responsibility of modeling what I have been recognised for which is speaking out and speaking up, upholding empathy and supporting the rights and voices of those who need to be heard.

How has this recognition helped you further spread your message?

Bullying transitions from the schoolyard to the workplace in Australia. One in four kids are bullied at school. This becomes one in three women and one in five men being bullied or harassed so badly at work that they can’t fulfill their job duties.

The publicity has led to more school communities and workplaces reaching out to us for help in tackling the endemic problem of bullying and workplace harassment. This is wonderful.

What does everyday inspiration look like to you?

People who are willing to have difficult conversations and get comfortable with discomfort, especially right now. The collective kindness of Australians is mind-blowing but as individuals, our ability to speak up is pretty poor. Everyday inspiration is someone who speaks out even if it’s against a family member or best mate. Right now, we’re far from that.

When have you seen resilience in action?

Watching schools deal with bullying on a daily basis. Watching kids have the courage to say something without knowing what’s going to happen next. Building a caring culture that is empathy-filled means being vulnerable. Vulnerability is directly linked to courage but it requires resilience too.

What we’ve found is that kids are frightened to show vulnerability or empathy because of how they’ll be judged by others. They know how the story of bullying goes and are worried about speaking up against it. We need to teach them that kindness is an action. If they don’t want other kids to be harmed in their school then they need to do something about it.

We all have a sense of self-protection, whether as children or adults, but we can’t carry on being a bystander. If we’re not changing it, then we’re choosing it.

What would you like people to know about nurturing a culture of care in schools?

That it’s a village effort. Over my 25 years in education, I saw parents gradually dropping this mindset. We only ever hear from them when something goes wrong. We need to remember that we’re on the same team – the kids’ team.

Teachers turn up at school every day because they’re on that team. Nurturing a culture of care is about prioritising what’s right, not what’s easy – because I can guarantee you that what’s right isn’t easy.

What does the Australian of the Year Award matter?

This award values the people whose work is often the catalyst for change in areas of national significance. It’s so important to recognise the amazing Aussies who put themselves out there to have the difficult conversations and show courage.

What should Australians think about in their nominations for Australian of the Year?

Think about someone who is truly inspirational and is a real doer. We need people who take action. They must also live their values. I cannot ask people to stop being a bystander if I’m not willing to live that way myself. The Aussies who deserve a nomination are those who are courageous, empathy-filled and want to get something important done.

Nominate an inspiring Australian

Do you know someone who deserves recognition? Nominate them for the 2021 Australian of the Year Awards. Nominations close 31 July 2020.