2015 Queensland Young Australian of the Year, Yassmin Abdel-Magied is a mechanical engineer, social advocate, writer and petrol head.
She advocates for the empowerment of youth, women and those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Yassmin is also passionate about diversifying public voices, connecting people and catalysing change. Now, Yassmin shares her incredible story in “Who Do You Think I Am” which is available for pre-order here. Until then, you can read the exclusive excerpt below…
I’m sitting on a helideck in the middle of the ocean, hundreds of kilometres away from any land. It’s the dead of night, the only time I find peace and the chance to be alone on an oil rig full of – well, mostly – men. When you live with over a hundred not-quite-strangers for weeks at a time, sharing accommodation, bathrooms, meals and work, you do become family, but those precious moments of being alone with your thoughts are few and far between. This helideck is my refuge.
The surface of the dark green landing pad is rough; I sit cross-legged in the middle of the brightly lit ‘H’ that marks the touchdown spot in the centre of the octagon. This raised platform was never meant for human lounging but I am always one for repurposing.
Why am I here? This is my day job. I work as a drilling engineer on oil and gas rigs and my career so far has taken me to remote rigs on land and in the ocean, around Australia and the world. I am sometimes on call, sometimes on a roster of one month on, one month off. A day job, however, doth not a woman make. I have the privilege and blessing of taking on multiple identities. Yes, I am a mechanical engineer; I am also a practising Muslim woman (Alhamdulillah), a founder of a youth-led organisation, a former race car Team Principal, a Sudanese born member of the Arab-African diaspora, a Queenslander, a boxer, a doer and, hopefully, also a thinker who is able to add value, to be useful. I care about leaving this world a better place, so I spend my time advocating and agitating for that positive change.
Why am I here, typing up my story under the moonlight, with the never-ending din of machinery in the background? The rig derrick shines brightly in front of me, a forty-metre high beacon of industrialisation in an unforgiving and terribly beautiful landscape. Why tell this tale at all?
When I was growing up, I didn’t see stories about people with lives I could relate to. There were no stories centring on young women, people of colour or Muslims. There were definitely no stories of young migrant Muslim women who grew up eating mahshi and listening to Avril Lavigne. The stories being told about people like me are often told by people who are not like me, and often without permission. It is exhausting to forever be talked about without being involved in the conversation in a meaningful manner. Yes, some people do try, but it is not enough to be invited to speak only when spoken to. Also, I have never been one to wait my turn. This book is about reclaiming the narrative, redefining it to my lived experience and the varied experiences of the strong women and mentors in my life. In doing so, I hope to provide some insight into a different world: one that has always existed but has not often been acknowledged by the society I live in, the West.
I am writing this to share my story, but I am not arrogant enough to believe it is particularly remarkable, or unique. This is not about teaching, as I still have so much to learn. It is about sharing experiences and the lessons learnt along the way, as well as asking the questions those experiences continue to raise. It is clear that we are facing immense challenges as a global society and will continue to in the decades to come. Creating effective responses to these challenges will only happen through a combination of critical thought and fully considered action, a balance I have been searching for throughout my life. I am grateful to have been involved in a lot of ‘doing’ for someone my age – a healthy 24 years. This book is about some of the doing, but also some of the thinking that lay behind those actions. Hopefully, these stories will add texture and context to a different perspective – the perspective of a young Muslim post 9/11, of a girl who grew up seeing the strong women around her all wearing hijabs and being confused as to why the world was telling her those same women were oppressed. Hopefully, they will encourage thought and discussion around why we, as Australians and global citizens, are at the crossroads we are, and what needs to change to move us to where we could be: a place where we learn from and respect each other’s choices and experiences.
This isn’t just my story. This is the story of so many other young people, so many other women, and so many other people of faith and colour. My story may seem unique because it does not fit in with what you expect from a young Australian Muslim woman, but there are many stories of young Muslims, women and people of colour that challenge, question and inspire, without tokenism or self-doubt. The difference is that a lot of these stories never see the light of day, don’t make it into our newsfeeds or the morning television shows because not everyone has a ready platform from which to share their story. Alhamdulillah, I have been blessed with access to a microphone and as such it’s my responsibility and my duty to make the most of it – for myself, and for the many others who don’t yet have that space.
I write this story – my story and the story of the people around me who have created who I am – so that I can open a window into another world, the world of an Arab-African Muslim migrant woman who calls Australia home, of a chick on a rig, of a motorsport maniac, of a lady who lifts, of a smart mouth in a hijab. This world isn’t so far away, though, and any partition can so easily be dismantled, bit by bit. After all, we’re just drops in the same ocean. What are we waiting for?