These women prove it’s never too late for a career change

The Weekly meet four remarkable women who prove it’s never too late to follow your dreams.
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Are you thinking about a career change at 50? These four women have done so with resounding success. They tell The Weekly their stories.

Nadine Bush: Creative director to model

Nadine Bush after changing career to become a model.

The year was 2007 and Nadine Bush, now 60, was in a hotel room in China when she received a phone call that made her jump up and down on the bed with excitement. She was working as the creative director of Jamie Durie’s landscape business Durie Designs, and Jamie was being asked to host a sustainability and spiritual conference with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Australian Conservation Foundation.

From a spiritual side, it was amazing,” Nadine says. “I went to that conference and was able to meet His Holiness and shake hands with him.” Nadine had been working for the landscape business since 2005, having wended her way there from a career that began in the offices of Sheila magazine in Sydney. Growing up, she’d never had a burning desire to be a doctor or a lawyer or anything in particular. Whenever anybody asked Nadine what she wanted to be, she’d reply “happy and healthy”. But at 53, after 11 years at Durie Designs, she was feeling burnt out.

“I loved my job, but it felt like it had reached its end,” she says. “It just felt like I needed to fill my own cup.”

Nadine Bush before her career change, working as a creative director.

Then, one morning in 2016, Nadine read an article about the Silverfox Management Group, a modelling agency representing older women.

“They were recruiting. I thought maybe I could get the odd job once in a blue moon,” Nadine says. She filled out an online recruitment form. Within half an hour of Nadine pressing ‘submit’, she received a phone call from the agency.

“Even before a contract had been signed, they booked me for a job,” she says. Since that day, Nadine has worked consistently, appearing in print and TV campaigns for brands including Westfield, R.M. Williams and even in The Weekly. She shot a bohemian-style wedding campaign at Tamborine Mountain in Queensland and worked in the Flinders Ranges in the South Australian outback.

Nadine Bush after her career change, with other models for a Berlei campaign.

“It’s been amazing,” she says. “Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to be getting regular work.

“One of my highlights was a Berlei campaign for undies, with a whole group of very diverse women – all different ages, different sizes, different cultural backgrounds – all just hanging out for a couple of days in our undies and dressing gowns and slippers,” she laughs. “That was very liberating.

“I haven’t regretted making the change,” she adds. Nadine is a grandmother to Esther, 17 months, and her new career has freed her to spend more time with her. “You do reach a stage where you want to live on purpose,” she says. “I think that’s what was calling to me.”

Alison Wotherspoon: Filmmaker to fencer

Alison Wotherspoon made a career change from a filmmaker to fencer.

Alison Wotherspoon paints a vivid picture of her years studying drama at the University of NSW. She wanted to be an actor and would sometimes walk past the fencing club and think about joining. She wasn’t sporty, but fencing held a certain charm, “because I had visions of becoming this great theatre actor and needing it for Shakespearian roles,” she laughs. “But then as a slack arts student, you know, we’d drink coffee and smoke and drink cheap wine rather than be sporty.”

She realised she wasn’t going to make it as an actor, so she got involved in stage managing. She moved to London, where she worked for the BBC, then came back to Australia and worked for Film Australia, the ABC and SBS. Later, she went to film school to retrain as a producer, and taught filmmaking.

In 2016, Alison was working at Flinders University when she started a new relationship with a man who was a professional fencing coach, Leon Thomas. Intrigued, she asked him if he would teach her, but he said he had a rule not to coach people he was in a relationship with.

Alison Wotherspoon at her university graduation before she became a filmmaker.

“I thought, that’s fine. I’m going to do it anyway,” Alison says, and at age 57 she enrolled in a beginner’s class.

Fencing defied all her expectations.

“I grew up reading [historical and regency romance novelist] Georgette Heyer. It was quite different and much more physically demanding than I realised,” she says. “[It’s] also mentally so complex. It’s like physical chess. You’ve got to be able to respond to what your opponent’s doing in time and space.”

Alison loved fencing, and in 2019, when she was made redundant from her university role, she became even more involved in the sport. She started competing in tournaments and coaching others, and she is currently Secretary of Fencing South Australia.

Alison Wotherspoon after her career change to a professional fencer.

“I’ve managed to come last on two continents now!” she laughs. “I come last at a national level. I do win at a state level.”

For Alison, fencing is less about winning and more about learning, growing stronger and getting better every day. The combination of physical and mental acuity it requires is fantastically
challenging, and it has led to some amazing opportunities, such as competing with “this great group of women called the Sword Sisters”, and travelling to Daytona, in Florida, to represent Australia at the World Veteran Championships.

“I got to wear the Australian tracksuit and had my name and ‘Australia’ on the back of my uniform,” she says. “I came last, but it was still fabulous … One woman [who] I got zero against in a bout went on to win the gold and I thought: ‘I feel perfectly fine losing to her!’.” A few days after speaking to The Weekly, Alison gets in touch: “Fun news! I won silver in the Australian national fencing comp as part of the South Australia women’s veteran team.”

Cathy Hamilton: Farmer to artist

Cathy Hamilton had a career change from farmer to artist.

Cathy Hamilton, 63, has always been creative. “As a child, the minute I picked up a paintbrush or a pencil I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” she says. But at the time, an art degree wasn’t considered a reliable career choice, so she opted for a secretarial course, and got a job as a product manager for Oroton.

Cathy was living in Sydney when she married aspiring farmer Jim Hamilton and they bought a property outside of Boorowa, in southern NSW. “We were carrying about 3000 sheep, and had breeding cattle, I used to love working in the yard,” Cathy says. Life on the land kept her busy, but she never stopped being creative. “I spent every minute I could going to workshops and art classes and painting,” she says.

Then, suddenly everything changed. Cathy was having a shower when she noticed a lump in her breast. Eight weeks earlier she’d had a mammogram and ultrasound that had come back clear, so she was pretty sure it was nothing to worry about, but she went to Sydney to get it checked out anyway. “That saved my life,” she says.

When doctors removed her breast, they discovered it was “totally and utterly riddled with cancer”. Cathy had chemo and radiation therapy. She tackled it as best she could, bringing ducklings into the chemotherapy ward to delight the small children of mothers undergoing treatment.

Cathy Hamilton had a career change from farmer to artist.

Nevertheless, it was, she says, 18 months of hell. Not long after Cathy’s diagnosis, her father passed away, and she and Jim sold their farm for a smaller property near Cootamundra.

As she stared down the cancer, Cathy wrote a bucket list. “My list was: I’m going to have an art exhibition in Sydney, in case I die.” She named the show Still Life, Real Life and it featured ceramics she’d made and still-life paintings. The show sold out.

“I just loved it,” Cathy says. And it gave her confidence a boost. “I started drawing again, every animal we owned or every animal that I saw.”

A friend suggested she turn the art she was producing into cards. “So, I had cards and prints made. I took them to one of the local shops and they loved them. They started ordering, so I approached another shop. I threw myself into it.”

During COVID, Cathy got an email from Best&Less. Their CEO had bought one of Cathy’s cards and wanted to create a product line using her illustrations. They developed a range of children’s clothes featuring her quokkas and wombats, and later her blue heeler, Hazel, which sold thousands.

“I now stock 174 stores in Australia and New Zealand. I say, follow your passion. Passion brings you success.”

Anna St Heaps: Flight attendant to palliative care nurse

Anna St Heaps changed careers from a flight attendant to a palliative care nurse.

Anna St Heaps loved studying and learning but says “it’s nice to think I don’t have an assignment to do”. She’s speaking to The Weekly on the eve of her graduation from a nursing degree. The weekend ahead ill involve a lamp-lighting ceremony in a nod to Florence Nightingale, followed by a formal graduation with a traditional cap and gown. In March, she will embark on a career as a palliative care nurse. She is interested to step into the role at this time of change in NSW, where assisted dying laws have just come into effect.

“That’s the joy of nursing,” she says. “There are so many different areas you can go into.”

When she graduates, she will be accompanied by proud daughters instead of proud parents, because Anna began her nursing degree at age 57.

“It was fun going back and being a mature aged student because when I was at university and looked at mature aged students I thought: ‘Oh my God, they are so boring!’ They’d sit up the front of the lecture halls, whereas we’d miss lectures – we’d be at the bar,” Anna says.

Her choice of nursing brings together skills learnt all through her working life. Anna has always been interested in science and graduated from Macquarie University with a science degree. She chuckles that she “transgressed” into working as a flight attendant for Ansett Australia. For 13 years, Anna zigzagged across Australian skies, performing safety demonstrations and keeping passengers comfortable and happy. She worked for the Australian airline until its closure in 2002, then retrained as a genetic counsellor before becoming a mum.

Anna St Heaps changed careers from a flight attendant to a palliative care nurse.

As her daughters, Jean and Grace, got older – “They were getting to a point where they didn’t need me anymore” – Anna stared wondering what she wanted to do next.

She thought: “This is my time. What is going to keep me engaged? I wanted something that used my mind, used my experience, used my compassion.”

Anna says she was nervous before returning to study, but soon immersed herself in learning, and making friends. “One girl would call me ‘uni mum’.”

Anna found herself studying at the kitchen table with Grace and Jean during COVID lockdowns. “There was a little bit of argy-bargy for space at the tiny table we sit at. I think it did really encourage them because they both did extremely well,” she says.

While she’s excited to start applying her nursing degree, she also hopes to study more. “I think it’s an area where older women come to their strength,” Anna says.

Their strength and compassion, which is respected and revered, is what’s needed.

“In society, older women can be a sidelined, a little bit like, ‘You’re not much use any more’, but we are! We have things we’ve learnt through our lives and can bring them to places. I think, in that area of death and dying, my age and experience are definite attributes. As you get older, you work out what your strengths are.”

Thinking of retraining for a new career? Excelsia College recommends three steps if you’re considering a job change:

  1. Research potential jobs and update your résumé.
  2. Evaluate your skill set and figure out what you may need to work on to make a successful change.
  3. Explore what’s out there. Discuss your values with family and friends and if you’re still unsure of the direction you want to take consider meeting with a careers advisor. For information, visit

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