With a fire in her belly and strong work ethic, Murri woman Kristy Masella is moving mountains for mob.

Current CEO of the Aboriginal Employment Strategy (AES), Masella was born and raised in Queensland but has lived in Sydney for just over two decades.

“I am a proud Murri … my family still live in Queensland, and I’m very fortunate that I am also part of a wonderful Aboriginal community here in Sydney,” said Masella.

Masella gained her strong work ethic learning from her family; her mother was a nurse and her father a prominent rugby league player. When her father retired, the family purchased a pub in Rockhampton and ran the business together.

“My older brother and I worked before school each day … we’d clean floors, fill stockrooms, clean out beer trays, all that sort of stuff,” she said.

“My parents worked so hard with the business, seven days a week, most days were 16 hours. They only used to have Good Friday and Christmas Day off.”

Masella lost her mother in her teenage years, and her younger brother a few years later.

“Being a close family, we worked our way through that, losing a Mum and a parent in the business. It made it hard for my Dad to look after a business and a family on his own,” she said.

“It taught us a bit of grit … it was a really challenging time for the family to get through, but we did.”

Learning the importance of education young, Masella did well in her schooling and continued on to study Journalism at the University of Queensland—a choice that was spurred from the passion she felt for social justice.

“My family taught me high standards, the idea that if you’re going to do something you have to give it your best and do it well,” she said.

“I grew up in my community with a big passion for social justice and fighting for the underdog … fighting for Indigenous rights and women’s rights particularly in my family.”

“I had that fire in my belly for social justice from the very beginning. I thought, ‘How do I use that?’”

Her first job out of university was as a writer and researcher for the Queensland Government’s submission to the Human Rights Inquiry into the Stolen Generations. Afterwards, Masella relocated to Sydney and worked for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. From there, she took on various roles.

Returning to her studies, in 2014 Masella graduated from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) with a Masters of Human Rights Law.

With her passion for education, Masella was recently announced as the Roberta Sykes Scholarship recipient. The scholarship is administered by the Roberta Sykes Foundation and provides financial support to Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander postgraduates who intend to study at recognised universities internationally.

Masella had her bags packed and ready to begin studying at Harvard University in the United States, however, due to COVID-19 her trip has been postponed until early 2021.

“I’m excited about the people I’ll meet and the experience. I think I’ll have to pinch myself. It’s all about getting out of your comfort zone and giving things a go,” she said.

Masella’s current position as CEO of AES has given her the chance to try something new and work in a field she is passionate about.

“How do I keep that fire in my belly and how do I grow as a person? … Sometimes the stars just align. Six years later I’m still loving the AES,” she laughed.

“I’m so thankful to be part of such a phenomenal organisation of social entrepreneurs that are making a tangible difference every day in communities.

“Working in policy sometimes you don’t often see the results of that work for a very long time, but in the AES and in supporting people into jobs each week I can go home on a Friday and know we have made a difference.”

“You can feel, touch and see the impact of your effort and I think that is a wonderful privilege to have. I’m loving it and am excited to see what else we can do as a company.”

Masella is also the Chair of Tranby Aboriginal College, has been a member of the Tranby Board of Directors since 2009, is the Deputy Chairperson of Qunanbiri Incorporated and a former Co-Chair of the New South Wales Reconciliation Council.

On top of this impressive resume, she is also a member of the Just Reinvest NSW executive committee.

“I have always been trying to contribute to other areas where I know we have serious issues in our community. [With] Just Reinvest, I was so drawn to that whole strategy and campaign for new ways of thinking and investment in prevention in particular,” she said.

With a wealth of experience and dedication to her passion, Masella is walking her own path the way she chooses.

“You spend so much of your time at work so why would you do something you’re not passionate about! Do something that gives you that fire in your belly, something you’re passionate about and inspires you and others.”

By Rachael Knowles