FRONT LINE: Army trailblazer now leads way in drought battle
THE melody of Waltzing Matilda still rings in Cynthia McDonald's ears when she relives the moment she walked through the gates with the first group of women to ever guard Buckingham Palace.
She led the contingent as the first woman to hold the Guard Commander position for Australia's Federation Guard.
Mrs McDonald represented her nation with pride that day in 2000 and now she's on the frontline battling to support Southern Downs farmers through the worst drought she's ever seen.
She is one of the women worthy of celebration for International Women's Day, as she says during times of conflict and drought women have always stepped up to keep their families and communities afloat.
It was a shocking drought that gave Mrs McDonald a push to enter the Australian Army in 1993.
Dry weather had left animals starving on her grandfather's property at Gloucester in New South Wales and made it difficult for families in the area to afford tertiary education for their children.
"I didn't just have an opportunity to be an officer, I was a leader, did a degree and received a wage," Mrs McDonald said.
A strong family connection to the military, including a great-grandfather, brother and two grandparents who served the country, also piqued her interest.
During her 16 years in the Army, Mrs McDonald was deployed to East Timor as part of a United Nations contingent in 2004.
It was one of the highlights of her military career, along with leading the first contingent containing women onto the forecourt at the Queen's palace.
Mrs McDonald said at the time, women in Britain were not allowed in the units that guarded the palace.
"It was important at the time, we were serving under the Howard government, showing that we were liberal and showing a gender balance within the military forces," she said.
"I think it's fantastic that women have the opportunities exactly the same as the men do.
"It should always be the best man or woman for the job, I haven't ever come up against discrimination and I was picked on merit."
The leadership skills she learnt in the military are still being put to good use 10 years after she left to work on the land.
Mrs McDonald has spent the past year organising drought relief deliveries for farmers doing it tough, while also working on her own property, Wingarra, at Rodgers Creek, west of Warwick.
She said women played a strong, pivotal role on the land, not only in our region but across the country.
"You will find that women are quite often, if they're off the land, are involved in a hands-on role in managing and working the property," Mrs McDonald said.
"Women have to step up because at times you'll have to go off farm (to find work) to support the farm.
"Just like during times of war, like in World War II, women would take over the roles of running the property, and you will find in Australia the women will step into that role as well (during drought)."
The mother of Alyxis, 13, and Ethan, 10, has knocked on doors, including that of Southern Downs Regional Council, to organise the support farmers need.
"I love being able to make a difference," she said.
"There's a lot of people out there that are exhausted, mentally and physically.
"Having had those opportunities I like to be able to give back to help people that aren't as fortunate as I may be."
Having started as a farm kid, Mrs McDonald encouraged young women to grab opportunities with both hands.
"I think Australia is one of the most progressive countries in the world when it comes to inclusion of women within society and the workforce," she said.
"I think it should be the best man or the best woman for the job, everybody is taken on their merit."