University graduates and Gunnedah twin sisters, Leah and Pennie Broekman, are back where it all started – living and working in the town of their youth.

Technically they never left, as both studied online during the COVID lockdown years – Leah in nursing and Pennie in teaching – but as businesses around the country scramble for staff, gone are the days when Gunnedah’s best and brightest would be forced to relocate to the city in search of suitable employment. 

An increasing number of school leavers and tertiary-educated young people are finding the job of their dreams right here in their own backyard.

The Broekman siblings, both aged 23 and the daughters of Michael and Nicole, are among those relishing the opportunity to secure reliable, permanent employment on their doorstep.

“This is home and I wouldn’t think of going anywhere else,” said Pennie – now a secondary history, English and religious studies teacher at St Mary’s College, Gunnedah.

Her sister Leah, who is due to start a new role at Gunnedah Hospital, also has firm intentions of giving the ‘big city’ a wide berth in her future career ambitions.

“I definitely think I’m a small town girl and will always stay a small town girl,” she said.

Leah studied her three-year, Bachelor of Nursing degree at the University of New England.

The original intention was to go to Armidale and fast track her study over two years instead of three. But love intervened and as a new romance blossomed, her plans changed to stay in Gunnedah and study online instead.

After Leah’s first year at university, she secured employment in aged care in Gunnedah and was able to combine her practice with study.

Having that industry experience meant Leah was able to continue working and training when the COVID pandemic struck. 

As an existing off-campus student, she also had nailed down the online study routine.

“I took a year off to learn my skills and excel in basic nursing care which really helped when I went back to uni – that was the end of 2020,” she said. “That was also around the time of COVID and placements were being cancelled, intensive schools were cancelled and a lot more study went online. 

“Friends of mine really struggled.”

Leah is the first to admit, nursing has its fair share of challenges but it also features endless opportunities
as well.

“Nursing is rewarding but it’s not a 9-5 job which I would hate – shift work doesn’t work for a lot of people but it works for me,” she said.

“You get to give back to the community and you get to travel everywhere – I’m considering agency work later on where you travel and work.

“Nursing opens a lot of doors – from working in emergency to the wards or theatre, or in the community field.”

Leah said nursing graduates can pursue further study and choose one of many pathways to achieve their career goals.

She also feels there are equal if not greater benefits for new graduates working in rural and regional health services like Gunnedah. 

“Everyone talks about going  to the big facility but if you work in a rural facility, you get exposed to more things because you’re ‘it’,” she said.

“You are not a number, you’re part of a team and meet people from across the region, as well as learn and work with all types of doctors who travel in from Sydney … there are a lot of positives working in a small community.”

Leah’s sister Pennie, started the first of four years’ study for her Bachelor of Education (Secondary Arts) on-campus. But a desire for more financial independence was the catalyst for a return to Gunnedah. 

She saw out the remainder of the degree online while also taking shifts at McDonald’s where she had worked since she was aged 13.

“Being able to work was priority so I didn’t have to be so reliant on mum and dad,” she said.

“By then, it was more beneficial to me to study online, and then COVID happened so I wouldn’t have had that choice [studying on-campus] anyway.

“I had also seen how Leah could do it online. There is no disadvantage anymore to studying online because everything is recorded and uploaded to the platform.”

Pennie now finds herself working at the same school where not only her education was delivered, but that of most of her family had too.

“It’s home for me,” she said. 

“Going back, I feel I have a step-up that other new teachers do not because I have that history there.

“I have lived through past teaching experiences at St Mary’s so I know what it was like.”

She also chose wisely with her three core subjects of history, English and religious studies.

“St Mary’s is where I wanted to go, I was very focused on the Catholic school entry,” she said.

“I knew having those three subjects I would be more likely to secure a position in a Catholic school because there is such a need for studies of religion teachers.”

Like her sister, Pennie could also see the benefits from working in rural and regional areas.

“We all know our students,” she said. 

“In a smaller school I might not teach every student but I will know them.

“We are also more likely to teach senior classes which is a major goal of any high school teacher.”

To order photos from this page click here