Who are The Apiary Fellows?


Apiary Fellows are individuals with wide-ranging experiences and perspectives across the early childhood education sector. They join The Apiary to learn more about their own and other experiences, become leaders and take action to improve outcomes for children.

They could be part of the sector by working at an early learning centre, for a provider or for a peak body. They could contribute to the sector through research, workforce development or policy design. They could also experience the sector as a parent or carer of young children, an employer of parents and carers or through work that intersects with the sector, such as community service or health care.

They are people who:

  • are connected to and passionate about the early childhood education sector
  • are committed to creating a thriving future for children in Australia
  • are willing and ready to learn, think, debate, and act in collaboration with others
  • have aspirations to lead and influence change.
The Inaugural Apiary Fellows:

Cathrine Neilsen-Hewett
Director of the Early Years, University of Wollongong

With a wealth of experience in professional learning, teacher education and research in the sector, Cathrine joined The Apiary for the opportunity it presented to connect with other leaders who share her commitment to “high quality educational experiences for young children”. She feels that the systems approach taken by Fellows is essential and necessary for bringing about change and has found her experiences with the group to date to be “enriching both personally and professionally”.

Danielle Cogley
Kindergarten Improvement Advisor, Victorian Department of Education and Training

As an active teacher in the early childhood field, Danielle joined The Apiary for the opportunity to challenge her thinking about the Sector, while also sharing her extensive knowledge and experiences. Danielle says that The Apiary has “lead me to broaden my thinking about our sector, meet the other amazing Fellows and built my confidence to continue to advocate for children, families and our Early Childhood Sector”.

Kim Bertino
NSW/ACT State Operations Manager, Goodstart Early Learning

Coming from over 30 years of diverse experience within the early childhood education sector, Kim wanted the opportunity to engage with other leaders in an environment that “enabled a balance of provocation to ensure rigorous debate and questioning across The Apiary cohort”. She has found that the benefit of The Apiary is to enable a collective group to think about systems change and to unpack the complex ecosystem of the sector.

Michele Peden

Pedagogical Thinker in Residence, Big Fat Smile

With over 25 years’ experience working and advocating in the early childhood education and care sector, Michele joined The Apiary for the opportunity to work in “a collective group of inspiring and innovative thinkers” in early childhood. In her time as an Apiary Fellow, she has been able to broaden her “knowledge and understanding of social change theory and associated practical implications” through “opportunities to discuss the complexities of our sector from a historical and futuristic perspective…”

Prue Warrilow
CEO, Families At Work

Having had a diverse set of experiences across a range of early years settings and positions, Prue joined The Apiary to further enhance her understanding of systems change, and to engage with ways to bring about change for children. Her vision for the future of the system is one where “all children have access to affordable high-quality education and care”.

Sandra Cheeseman
Chief Operating Officer, C&K

Bringing 35 years of experience in the early childhood sector, Sandra joined The Apiary to connect with others who aligned to her interest in futures thinking and systems change. Her hope for the sector and The Apiary’s work is “grounded in what works best for children and families – working alongside families to encounter contemporary challenges and opportunities.”

2020 Apiary Fellows

We’re delighted to announce a new cohort of 2020 Apiary Fellows has been selected. As the second cohort to be appointed since the program’s inception, the 18 new additions join the inaugural group of 10 Fellows.

We asked each of our new Fellows to share their visions and hopes for what the early childhood education sector could look and feel like for teachers and educators, children and families in the next five to ten years, and this is what they had to say...

The 2020 Apiary Fellows

Andrea Christie-David
Founder & Managing Director, Leor In Home Early Learning
Non-Executive Director, Relationships Australia NSW
President, Australian Home Childcare Association

While a lawyer by profession, Andrea is currently undertaking a Masters of Teaching (Early Years) at the Australian Catholic University. Early childhood education has been a lifelong passion, from her mother’s own Montessori school in Sri Lanka, to 2018 when she developed a home-based early learning model, Leor In Home Early Learning. Leor supports children to access quality education and care in their own home, tailored to their individual needs. Just over two years on, Leor now supports children across the country who may not have access to early childhood education. This includes families on remote cattle stations, children or parents with compromised immune system, and children whose learning and development needs cannot be met in mainstream care. Leor supports children with disabilities who access their NDIS funding to allow our Educators to incorporate their therapies into their learning program and care routine. Many of these children come from vulnerable and disadvantaged backgrounds and, without Leor, would not have access to quality early childhood education.

“The future success of our sector and Australia’s children is dependent on our commitment to collaborating and advocating for systemic and societal change. However, structural change alone, including policy reform, will not be enough to create a brighter future for our children. Addressing power imbalances, removing societal biases, and adopting innovative thinking has the potential for exciting results, which will hopefully achieve greater access to education for all children. To be a success, this new approach needs to be tackled from numerous angles, with input invited from a multitude of people, organisations and perspectives.”

Anna Whitty
Chief Executive OfficerNorthside Community Services

Anna is an experienced leader and executive in the Australian early childhood education sector. She is a strong advocate for children and for early childhood educators and the importance of early childhood education. Having originally qualified as an Early Childhood Teacher, throughout her career, Anna has worked in range of roles including as a Centre Director, Early Childhood Consultant, State Operations Manager and Executive Director. These roles and experience have given her strong pedagogical and operational/leadership knowledge. As a participant on two Boards of Directors, and as a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, Anna understands the essential need for good strategy and good governance in high-performing early childhood education organisations.

“Australia’s early childhood sector has a unique capacity to dramatically improve outcomes for children, and there is no vision for this work that is too unrealistic, or too far-reaching. My vision for the early childhood sector in the next 5-10 years is for universal, accessible and high-quality early childhood education to be available to every young child in Australia from birth, at no cost to their families.”

Barbie Bates
CEO, Paint the Town REaD

Barbie has extensive experience in the early childhood sector, beginning as a paediatric occupational therapist at primary and secondary health and not for profit community sites for children up to 12 years with a developmental delay, disability or challenging behaviour and their families, in urban, remote, aboriginal and multicultural communities, managing early intervention multi-disciplinary teams for children under school age. As the manager of a regional funding body, she supported children with additional needs in close to 100 preschools and oversaw the development of early literacy resources for mainstream, Aboriginal and multicultural families. The founding Executive Director, Barbie has grown Paint the Town REaD into a national movement that builds the early literacy capacities of children under school age, now operational in 6 States and over 80 communities.

“My vision for the future of early childhood education in Australia is for it to evolve into a strength-based, collaborative system, built to best-support children, their families and community. I believe we can build a system that not only gives every child the best possible start in life, but also sets them up to thrive once they enter the formal school setting, and beyond throughout life.”

Cara Nightingale
Deputy Vice President, Early Childhood, Australian Education Union

Cara is a kindergarten teacher of 15 years, worked predominantly with refugee and CALD children 0-5 years of age and their families across a variety of communities, demographics and service provider types. She joined the AEU Branch Council, then Branch Executive, then completed the AEU’s ‘Women in Leadership’ program. From there, Cara accepted an invitation to stand for deputy vice president of early childhood. After three years in that position, she was elected vice president. Activism, advocacy, and leadership play a strong part in Cara’s vision for early childhood educators. She sees these elements as an essential part of the educator role, but believes more members need to recognise how they can exercise them broadly, as part of everyday practice.

“In the coming years I would like to see an early childhood education system that is well-funded, operates within the best conditions, and is run by professionals who feel valued, respected and fairly-paid. For this to happen, we need to foster deeper community engagement to ensure a widespread understanding of the benefits of play-based learning. We also need to develop stronger relationships with other professionals, to enable the development of a multidisciplinary approach. Ultimately, we need to ensure the voices of children are heard, and that we keep striving towards universal access to preschool education for every child.”

Julie Madgwick
Consultant, Collaborative Training Solutions

Julie’s experience of the education and care sector spans 30 years and 5 countries. she has a passion for the education and care sector, with involvement as a mum, teacher, lecturer and leader in both government and private early childhood organisations. Originally from New Zealand, she has engaged in the ECEC sector in four other countries, leading a major reform project in the Cayman Islands and participating in similar projects in Qatar and the UAE, developing a curriculum framework, teacher standards, a performance and professional development framework and teaching resources for kindergarten teachers. Julie’s work with UAE Ministry of Education officials and consultants from the UK, UAE, New Zealand and Australia, has meant negotiating different ways of working across a number of cultures, and time zones. Julie has held senior roles in the Australian early learning system, including Head of Early Learning and Education with G8 Education, and is now using her experience in the sector to help organisations focus setting in place continuous quality improvement strategies in centres and embedding play-based pedagogies and child centred practices.

“Going forward, my vision is focused on a fundamental change to the status of early childhood education and care in Australia. I’d like to see us move further towards a government and society that acknowledges the value of the work we do and its many benefits. Ultimately, I would like to see an increased investment in research into how children learn, and for Australia to use this as the basis to become an international leader in early childhood and primary education best-practice.”

Julie Price
Executive Director, Community Child Care Association

Victorian Branch of both Australian Community Children's Services & National Outside School Hours Services Alliance

Julie started at CCC in mid 2016 to lead the establish and development of the Victorian Inclusion Agency. She has a long history of working for the not-for-profit sector. Her previous roles have given her a deep understanding of the community education and care sector, and current policy contexts. Julie set up and managed the Professional Support Coordinator Program Qld for the Health and Community Services Workforce Council. She worked as part of the leadership team for that organisation for nearly 10 years, managing workforce planning and development programs. Her other roles include four years as Director of Gowrie Qld’s Training and Consultancy unit. Prior to 1990, she worked as an educator and director in child care centres and family day care. Julie’s vision is to build on the strong history of CCC as a leader and advocate for not-for-profit and community owned education and care services.

“In five years, I hope the sector and all the professionals who dedicate their lives to it will be recognised for their extremely important work, and the vital role they play in shaping the lives of young children and their families. I would like to see this recognition extend across the broader community, with fair acknowledgement of the role we play in the development of Australia’s future. The result would be a society that is willing to invest in the resources required to provide the high-quality education and care all young children need.”

Kelly Millar
National Social Policy Manager, Goodstart Early Learning

Kelly’s focus is on the role of social policy for transforming and improving the quality of life of Australians. In her role at Goodstart Early Learning, she advocates systems, policy and funding change to improve access and affordability to quality early childhood education and care. Kelly has almost 15 years’ experience in the Queensland Government, primarily in legislative reforms and strategic funding negotiations. She has worked right across the social services spectrum, including homelessness, mental health, child safety and early childhood, with a particular focus on improving the experience of children and young people at risk of abuse or neglect.

“My vision is for an inclusive early childhood education sector that supports access to quality learning and genuine participation for all children, regardless of their background, location or family situation. For genuinely inclusive participation to occur, we need to recognise that often some children need more support than others, or support delivered in a different way. Furthermore, to ensure this can happen, our educators, teachers and service providers need access to the appropriate support and resources that will allow them to welcome any child, at any time.”

Kim Davis
Principal Advisor, Early Years at C & K

Kim’s career to date has always been within the early childhood sector. Starting out as a Group Leader in Occasional Care in the Northern Territory, to now leading the education arm ECMS, she has worked with and alongside children, families, communities and colleagues in the day-to-day delivery of high-quality early childhood programs. Kim has undertaken the role of lecturer within a dual institution, offering TAFE and higher education degrees. She has previously worked within the Inclusion Support Program, leading a regional agency and for large non-profit ECEC organisations across three states in leadership roles, facilitating high quality outcomes for children and the workforce.

“Fundamentally, the future success of the sector will be built upon strengthened government and community support. This support will be based on an understanding of the value, role and importance of education during a child’s first 1,000 days. Regulations and policy positions should be about more than simply meeting minimum standards. Instead they should be driven by what is best for our children. Evidenced-based pedagogical practice should be the standard, with contemporary professional development opportunities readily accessible. And based on all of the above, I hope to see our committed and passionate workforce appropriately recompensed for their skills and qualifications, and the impact they make.”

Lennie Barblett
Associate Professor at Edith Cowan University

Lennie’s experiences range from being an early childhood educator for fifteen years mainly in vulnerable communities (remote, rural and metro) to university teaching, research, writing and advocacy. Lennie’s advocacy work focuses on social justice and universal access to quality early childhood programs that benefit children, families and their communities.  She works with organisations (govt and non-govt), advocacy groups and with many people across a wide context of early childhood settings e.g., schools, early childhood settings, playgroups, family and community centres, government committees and projects, research centres and teaching early childhood pre-service and post graduate early childhood students.

“The early childhood education sector needs a knowledgeable, skilled, well-remunerated, and healthy workforce. This will ensure we can create and deliver dynamic programs for children, families and their communities. These programs should be universally accessible from the prenatal stage and throughout childhood. My vision for the sector is one that invites and welcomes participation and comment from a variety of audiences, to further support the journey towards transformational change.”

Lisa Chiovo
NSW State Operations Manager, Goodstart Early Learning

Lisa has extensive experience working in a range of settings from birth to twelve years and adult vocational education. She has worked for Goodstart Early Learning for the past 14 years. In her role as Operations Manager, she provides leadership, coaching and mentoring to a group of 10 Area Managers across NSW. As part of the State Leadership Team Lisa plays an integral role in the development of the State Plan to deliver on state and national priorities and initiatives in line with Goodstart’s vision, purpose and strategic plan. Lisa values the provision of quality early learning and focuses her efforts to ensuring that centres can deliver on commercial and quality goals, hand in hand and not either in isolation.

“My vision is for an Australia where all children have access to high quality early education, regardless of their geographical address, family situation, or social status. All children should have access to active participation and involvement in early education opportunities and have the confidence to start school successfully. A particular priority is making sure this is the case for children with additional needs and for children experiencing vulnerable or at-risk circumstances. We should take this opportunity to come together with the common goal of advocating and influencing government policy. We should push for investment in new research and commit to sharing strategies that will continually build the capability of the sector. The ongoing improvement of child safety and protection measures within our learning environments should also remain a top priority.”

Lisa Walker
Cultural Design Lead, Goodstart Early Learning

Lisa Walker is a Galibal woman from the beautiful Bundjalung Nation on the Far North Coast of NSW, she is a descendant of the YuinYaegl and KabiKabi Nations, who are all saltwater people on the East Coast. Lisa works on the Grassroots level as it is her way of giving back to her mob as she supports jarjums (children) in their learning and advocates for their families by being their first point of call and breaking down cultural barriers within the wider community. For the past 4 years Lisa has been a Senior Educator with Goodstart and has now taken up a role as Cultural Design Lead. Locally, she is on the Board of Directors at Jumbunna Early Intervention and Community Preschool, she is a trained facilitator in various parenting programs and a Cultural Consultant within the Bundjalung Nation. Nationally she has joined the Big Steps – United Workers Union Special Learning Reference Group and Globally she is currently working on a Nationwide Advocacy Project as a Global Leader for the World Forum Foundation in America as well as representing her people in the World Forum Foundation Indigenous Peoples Action Group. Lisa believes we have the most important role as Early Childhood educators in changing this country and moving forward. We have the next generation in our hands who are open minded and willing to learn, so let’s teach them, it’s time.

Most Australians are increasingly wanting to learn more about our true history and diverse culture and, like all learning, the best place to start is in the early years. They must work alongside us to better understand the true richness across our nation so we can move forward together on our cultural journey.

Mel Hill

General Manager, Playgroup NSW

Mel dates her passion for ECEC from her first engagement working on the floor in the toddlers’ room of a long day care centre. As Centre Director of an employer sponsored long day care centre, she focused on the critical importance and value of relationships with families, always acknowledged that parents were their child’s first teachers. In her current role as the General Manager for Playgroup NSW, Mel is in awe of the potential of her organisation for impact within the broader early childhood sector. She is leading Playgroup NSW through a complete transformation of their early childhood strategy and vision for young children, their families, their communities and is keen to leverage off the reach they have established to almost 40,000 families, and 20,000 children that attend playgroups across NSW.

“Influencing sustainable change is the basis of my vision for the sector over the next five years. I want to see a deeper analysis of the challenges we face, and give the right people a seat at the table, who can work collectively in leading authentic improvement. At the core of my vision is that children’s voices are heard, listened to, and actively engaged with as we make crucial decisions around the evolution of our practice. For parents and families, my hope is that they only ever have to tell their story once. Beyond this, they should expect we will remain committed to working with them in an ongoing and holistic manner, connecting them to appropriate services, and establishing strong relationships that are centred around meeting the needs of their children.”

Nicole Pilsworth
Executive Manager, Early Learning, Gowrie Victoria

Nicole is currently the Executive Manager, Early Learning at Gowrie Victoria and member of the committee of the Victorian branch of Early Childhood Australia. She has previously been a Board member of the Early Learning Association of Australia (now a life member). Nicole has worked as an educator, a teacher and a manager of early learning services. Her recent experience has included working in local government as both a Pedagogical Leader and Manager of kindergartens and an engagement at the University of Melbourne in a research role, co-authoring the final research report for the Victorian Advancing Early Learning Study (2017). Nicole has also co-designed and facilitated a range of training programs for early years professionals focused on the Abecedarian Approach Australia (3a) across several jurisdictions.  In her role at Gowrie Victoria Nicole leads five early learning services focused on operations as well as developing strategy focused on building capability of the early childhood workforce with the ultimate goal of supporting learning and development for all children. She has a specific interest in building capacity in the early childhood workforce, with a particular focus on emerging leaders.

“If I had to sum up my vision for the early childhood education sector with one word it would be ‘impact’. I believe the sector can continue to build and raise its profile, not only amongst potential new teachers and educators considering a career in the sector, but more generally within the community as a means of positively influencing the trajectory of our children’s learning and development outcomes. We must continue to strive to raise the quality of the programs and services we offer, particularly in areas where children and families experience the most vulnerability.”

Apiary Alumni

In addition to our current Fellows, we also recognise Fellows who have stepped out of an active role within the collective as Apiary Alumni.

Apiary Alumni

John Cherry

Lucy Davidson

Georgie Dent

Emma Forbes

Alexandra Harper

Jen Jackson

Paul Mondo

Amanda Walsh

Kylie Williams

Hannah Barber

Margaret Rutherford

Elizabeth Death

Nicki Garret

Stacey Fox