Diesel Mechanic and Blast-Hole Driller aren’t the qualifications you’d expect of a Social Worker.
But after eight years in the mines, Tristan McGovern was compelled to explore an ever-present, deeper part of himself: a need to help people. Today, Tristan draws on his Indigenous heritage to serve as an advocate for children and communities. Here, he shares how working at EACH enables him to live his passion, every day.
Creating frameworks for support
At EACH, Tristan organises mental health plans for children and young people with complex psychological needs. He assesses each child’s situation to identify social, schooling or health needs that require extra attention.
“We set goals with the children on their terms. They’re in charge of what their recovery looks like. It might be joining a sporting club or getting extra tutoring. We look at their life holistically and plan how to turn it around. The first three months involve intense care – we wrap them in a tight blanket of support.”
Tristan finds his role immensely rewarding – it’s a position he’s always dreamed of. Yet, having begun his career in the mining industry, Tristan wasn’t sure if he had the skills to work in community support.
“I was worried at first. A lot of people in the sector have a university degree; I thought I was just an old diesel fitter. But my worries turned out to be unfounded. EACH has given me more confidence in myself.”
From mining to mental health
As a young man, Tristan faced his fair share of obstacles, but he found solace in his identity.
“I struggled with mental health in my teen years. I started to explore my Indigenous heritage and began identifying as Aboriginal. Before that, I didn’t know much about my background – it wasn’t something we talked about at home. But my cultural heritage saved me; the morals and values gave me my foundation.”
Tristan was developing a strong set of values, but he was still influenced by the male figures in his life – they’d always said that manual labour was the right path.
“My stepfather and brothers were in the mines as well. Our family believed mens’ work meant getting your hands dirty. In that sense, they didn’t understand my drive towards community work.”
After eight years living rurally and working in mines around Central Queensland, Tristan was keen for a change of pace. He moved to Toowoomba and took up work as a Diesel Mechanic. There, a family friend saw something different in Tristan. They suggested a career in youth work: it was just the nudge he needed.
“I never wanted a ‘job’ – I wanted a career. A job is something you do to put food on the table; but a career is something you’re passionate about and have no problems showing up for.”
Taking his first step into the world of social work, Tristan became a Youth Worker in residential care – a formative experience where he learned to connect with people of all backgrounds.
“It was a real eye-opener. I knew everyone had their own story. But I began to truly understand how people can arrive at very different points in life based on their experiences. I learned to adjust my communication style to each young person. You can’t put anyone in a category – you need an individualised approach.”
After two years in Residential Care, Tristan was ready to branch out into other areas of social work. He became a Disability and Mental Health Support Worker for the next two years. He enjoyed his role and loved his clients, but it wasn’t long before he craved career progression. So, when an ex-colleague who had joined EACH suggested there could be a position for him here with us, Tristan welcomed the opportunity with open arms.
Fostering change for a better future
“Since I joined EACH in 2019, the experiences I’ve had are expanding my horizons. I’ve set a higher bar for myself. I want to climb the ladder again.”
Tristan may have only been with us for a year, but he’s already climbed a few rungs of that ladder. One of the first steps was getting involved in the Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) group, which has seen Tristan conduct outreach in the rural town of Cherbourg.
“Cherbourg was originally a mission. Indigenous people were taken from their communities and shipped off to Cherbourg – far away from their own country and everything they knew. That intergenerational trauma is still felt today.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Cherbourg faced an uphill battle. The already high youth suicide rate was on the rise, and support was hard to come by. With his strong sense of community care, Tristan felt compelled to act.
“When I went to Cherbourg, I thought, ‘This isn’t right.’ I spoke to people at regional and state levels to see what we could do. Today, we’re preparing to enrol young people in community services and mental health studies at TAFE, so we can employ them to address what is happening in the community. The most important thing we can do is provide a sense of hope for Cherbourg.”
It’s clear Tristan has already had a real impact on the communities he’s touched during his time at EACH. And, he emphasises, his work has given him the confidence to back himself at work and beyond.
“My mum always said to me that I should go into politics. A year ago, I would have said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ But now I think, ‘What’s stopping me?’ Look at what I’m achieving.’ I’ve finally found the confidence to give things a go.”
We’re incredibly proud to have you in our ranks, Tristan. With your humility and determination, the sky’s the limit.
Are you passionate about supporting people in your community? Head to our careers page to express your interest today.