Born to lead

Photos Yanni

Little did she know it, but the writing was on the wall when, in secondary school, Heather Barton was elected as the class Social Service Captain several years in a row. This meant leading classmates to choose worthy causes and organising fundraisers to support those causes. It seems that this set the course for a lifetime of community service extending over the past 60 years.

“Previous generations of my family were heavily involved in community life, so although I didn’t plan it, it’s not surprising that it rubbed off, and I’m also doing ‘my bit’ to make this world a better and happier place.”

“In my early 20’s my initial drive was to help young women navigate the difficult teenage years safely and realise their potential – this continues today,” she said. For over 25 years, as a leader of girls aged 14-18 age, she helped them to achieve their own goals in personal development and leadership. Recalling some of the adventures, she remembers weekends hiking and camping, gliding, snow camping, cooking and canoeing, and the much-anticipated all-night bus trips visiting workplaces, seeing the vital role that people who work night-shift play to keep our essential services operating.

“It was a salient reminder of how your actions as a leader can define reality when, many years later, one young woman said: ‘I still remember that weekend when, during a huge, unexpected downpour we had to walk all day in waist-high fast-running water, and you said – I think it was to try and cheer us up – we do things for the memories, not the rewards’ – we learnt a lot and that message has stuck with me ever since.”

Heather’s professional life has been in non-profit organisations, in roles where she is known for her skills in leading and inspiring individuals and teams to achieve beyond their expectations. These have included The Smith Family’s Victorian Manager; National Manager VIEW Clubs; CEO, Girl Guides Victoria and, following a move to the Peninsula, at Seawinds Community Hub and currently Sorrento Community Centre.

Heather’s enthusiasm comes through in her training roles, sharing her experiences in leadership, volunteer management, fund development and governance.

She firmly believes that through her volunteer roles, particularly in Guiding, she gained the knowledge, experience and confidence to grow her career, particularly during a five-year term as State Commissioner for Guides Victoria.

Heather admitted that she is still learning how to say ‘no’. So it’s not surprising that she is also in Rotary, currently Secretary at the Rotary Club of Rosebud-Rye, and public speaker for The Smith Family. Firm in the belief that Guiding is as fresh today as it was over 100 years ago, her Guiding role is now Mornington Peninsula District Manager.

In 1999, Heather was appointed a Member of the General Division of the Order of Australia (AM) in recognition of her services to the community and to youth.

The 2021 International Women’s Day (IWD) theme of #Choose To Challenge rings true for her. ‘There is no doubt that choosing to challenge myself to become a Guide Leader, has changed my life.

“Being a parent presents challenges as well as joys; it is no different as a Guide Leader. I remember when we went abseiling for the first time….all the girls had done their first jump but I was hanging back doubting myself. Finally the instructor took me aside and threatened that he would not help us any more if I didn’t participate….that was enough to go over that ledge!’ But the benefits far outweigh the effort.”

“In our COVID-19 world, I think people are re-assessing their priorities, looking for more meaning in their lives, and wanting to help make a difference – particularly in their local communities. It is a great privilege working with the girls as they have fun, experience new adventures and you can see them grow in confidence; their enthusiasm is infectious and you gain a great sense of achievement.”

“Now, more than ever, girls can benefit so much from the Guide program – away from the screens, out of doors, new experiences and new friendships. And they need women who will rise to the challenge and become their leaders.”

Guides caters for girls as young as 5 into teens and young adults. Units meet weekly during school terms, usually after school into the early evening. No Guiding experience is necessary; all training and resources are provided.

“They say that ‘90% of success is turning up – this is about taking up that challenge for yourself and getting involved. And in return? You become part of a supportive network of like-minded women, learn new skills, and gain increased confidence, energy and knowledge – and the memories are priceless!

And, based on my experience, being a ‘Woman in Leadership’ can lead to improved opportunities in professional life.”

Contact Heather at

Peninsula Essence – March 2021