Keynote Speakers

Andy Saunders

Comedian and advocate for role modelling respect for women
Andy Saunders, a proud Biripi man and the father of four, has an extraordinary ability to use humour to break down barriers and stereotypes as well as provoke thought.

Andy has been part of the Australian Government ‘Stop it at the Start’ campaign, promoting the importance of role modeling respect to children and encouraging others to call out disrespect of women.

This Keynote address is sure to leave you laughing, but also reflecting on the important role educators can play in shaping children’s futures.

Dr Leanne Gibbs

Dr Leanne Gibbs is Senior Lecturer in the School of Education at Charles Sturt University. Leanne has worked in the early childhood education (ECE) for over 35 years. She has a PhD in ECE leadership, along with qualifications in education, public policy, politics, leadership and management. Leanne’s roles have included teacher and director of ECE programs, adviser and manager with local, state and federal government and principal researcher. She has managed professional development programs for major providers and was Chief Executive Officer of an Australian sector peak.  Leanne is an active member of not-for-profit Boards. She is an author, researcher, and podcaster. Her research interests are leadership, management and governance and their influence upon social justice and ECEC quality.

It’s a privilege to work with early childhood education professionals who are passionate about their work with children, families and each other.”

> Leading every day for children, families, and the early childhood profession

Forum Speakers

Sandie Wong

Early Childhood Educators Well-being project
Sandie Wong is a Professor at Macquarie University, and a Research Fellow with Goodstart Early Learning. Sandie has worked as an academic, manager, researcher, evaluator, educator, consultant and nurse, within a range of early childhood, academic and health organisations.

Sandie is committed to working in collaborative, strengths-based ways, with academics from a range of disciplines, early childhood organisations and practitioners, and governments, to lead and support high quality research, evaluation and practitioner enquiry, that contributes to best practice in early childhood. Her current work investigates: early childhood practices (including inter-professional practice); workforce issues (including educator time-use); educator well-being; and the history of early childhood internationally.

> Well-being Initiatives for Early Childhood Professionals

Tamara Cumming

Early Childhood Educators Well-being project
Tamara Cumming is a Senior Lecturer with the Macquarie School of Education. Tamara has worked in the early childhood sector for over 15 years. Prior to becoming an academic she held positions as an early childhood educator, inclusion support manager and research officer in a children’s services organisation.

Tamara’s research concerns the complexity of early childhood practice, and the well-being and sustainability of the early childhood workforce. She is co-leader of the Early Childhood Educator Well-being Project, and a Chief Investigator on the Exemplary Educators at Work ARC Linkage Project. Tamara supervises PhD students in the areas of early childhood workforce well-being, practice and leadership.

> Well-being Initiatives for Early Childhood Professionals

Rhonda Livingstone

Rhonda has a wealth of experience in the early education and care sector, having worked in preschools and long day care centres, and as an assessor of programs and services for both the Queensland Government and the Crèche and Kindergarten Association of Queensland. Rhonda’s extensive involvement in the National Quality Agenda reforms saw her contribute to the development of the National Quality Standard and its guide, assessment and rating tools and processes, and the training and testing program for authorised officers.

Emma Cross

Curtin University
Emma is an early childhood specialist with a Bachelor degree in commerce (management and marketing), Masters degree in early childhood education, and is currently studying her PhD exploring quality leadership and positionality in the Australian early childhood sector. Emma has experience as a centre director for Australian early childhood service providers.

Emma is a researcher passionate about leadership driving quality in the early childhood sector. Emma’s research interests include the digitisation of childhood and leadership. Emma aims to support educators working in early years services to embed digital technologies into learning environments in meaningful ways based on emerging research. Her vision is to support young children to use digital technologies creatively for innovation, play, and connection.

> Advocacy and growth in rural and remote early childhood education

Sarah Powell

Macquarie School of Education
Sarah is Senior Lecturer in Creative Arts in the School of Education at Macquarie University. She works with Early Childhood and Primary School preservice teachers to prepare them to incorporate the Arts and be creative in their practice. She teaches in the areas of Music and Movement/Dance, and her research focuses on the power of singing with children. She is particularly interested in encouraging teachers to use music, singing, and movement in creative and integrated ways.

Sue Lane

Music Specialist
Sue Lane has had much experience as a music specialist and classroom teacher in a variety of school settings on the Central Coast of NSW. She worked for many years with pre-service teachers in Early Childhood and Primary Music and Dance Education programs at the University of Newcastle and the University of Technology, Sydney. She has also been employed as a professional development manager, presenter and consultant with Musica Viva Australia.

Sue’s research focuses on arts education provision in Australian schools. She has been actively involved with the Orff Schulwerk Association of NSW for many years, supporting educators in the presentation of creative music experiences with their students.

Cynthia Cuoco


Cynthia Cuoco has worked in administration for over 30 years working in a variety of administrative roles such as Practice Manager, Team Leader, Paralegal and owner of a long day care centre.  Cynthia is currently working as a Training and Development officer with ECTARC, training in Business Services and Leadership and Management.  Cynthia is passionate about empowering learners with the knowledge and skills to step fully into their leadership and further develop their business abilities.

> Administration in Early Childhood

Scott Brunelle (he/him)

Rainbow Families
Scott Brunelle is the founding board CoChair of Rainbow Families. Rainbow Families works to reduce discrimination and disadvantage faced by children of LGBTQ+ parents so they can thrive and shine.

Scott’s interest in Family Diversity education began in 2011 as the coordinator of Gay Dads NSW. Having experienced first-hand how a lack of focus on this crucial aspect of inclusion disadvantaged children and families, Scott established stakeholder relationships and contributed to the development of resources with Early Childhood Australia that enable all early childhood educators to feel confident in creating learning experiences on family diversity.

Formerly a private sector Marketing and Business Development leader for 20 years both in the USA and Australia, Scott transitioned into the early childhood educator sector in 2021. In addition to being a qualified educator, Scott has a Graduate Certificate in Marketing and a Master of Commerce (Marketing) from the University of Sydney.

Scott and his spouse are proud parents to one son, who was born with the help of a surrogate and two daughters, who they co-parent with a lesbian couple.

> Beyond the rainbow: Connecting, supporting and empowering diverse families

Marly Greenwood

Rainbow Families
As an educational professional, Marly understands the importance of families and children feeling welcomed, accepted and included in their early childhood service and school community. Marly believes that a sense of acceptance and belonging are essential for children’s overall happiness in their learning environment. Marly has been a long-time advocate for diverse families, with a particular interest in LGBTIQ+ headed families.

Marly and her family have faced numerous challenges in early childhood services and their children’s primary school because of their family structure. These experiences prompted Marly to volunteer her time providing training and information sessions to early childhood and primary educators. The driving force was a desire to dispel myths, provide education and support staff to create welcoming and inclusive environments for same sex parented families.

Marly is a volunteer with Rainbow Families. Marly, her wife and teenage children continue to be strong advocates for LGBTIQ+ headed families and gender diverse children. She continues to learn about the wonderful diversity within LGBTIQ+ headed families and the ways in which we can help reduce disadvantage for these families. Marly and her wife are fulfilled parents of two teenagers and as a family, they are proud members of Rainbow Families and the Rainbow Community.

> Beyond the rainbow: Connecting, supporting and empowering diverse families

Rachel Kerry


Rachel Kerry has over twenty years’ experience in philanthropy and corporate responsibility with a background in financial services and responsible travel. Rachel joined CAGES in 2011 focussing on strategy, measurement, partnerships and overall administration of the foundation. She has also done occasional work with Perpetual Ltd, Future Generations Global and Westpac Foundation.

Rachel was formerly on the Board of Curious Works and has spent time consulting to non-profits around strategic philanthropy. She is an enthusiastic member of the Early Childhood Impact Alliance and the International Funders for Indigenous People network. Rachel was born and raised in Sydney on the land of the Bidgigal people and after much exploration she now lives there with her husband and two teenage sons.

> Philanthropy: The opportunity, the reality and the cautionary tales

Margot Beach

Dusseldorp Forum

Margot Beach is the General manager of Dusseldorp Forum. She has over 30 years experience in the human services sector working  in senior management positions in both government and non government in both Queensland and New South Wales. Her areas of experience have been in child protection and early intervention, early years education, age care and disability services. Her commitment is to engage with compassion, respite and curiosity. Margot was born in Goondiwindi, raised on the land of the Bigambul people and lives in Sydney with her wife.

> Philanthropy: The opportunity, the reality and the cautionary tales

Maurita Cavanough

Jarjum Centre

Maurita is a Bundjalung woman from Ballina NSW, who has worked in the Early Childhood sector for the last 20 years.

As the director of Jarjum Centre, an aboriginal early childhood service, Maurita has overseen a transformative approach to education. In 2020 Maurita joined both the Board of the North Coast Aboriginal Alliance and the NSW ECED Aboriginal advisory group. The NSW ECED Aboriginal Advisory group co-designed with the Department the First Steps strategy which was launched in 2021. Maurita recognises that working with a system lens provides a great method to collaborate and co-design with many knowledge holders effectively and constructively. Systems thinking is how she has learnt to culturally identify, make meaning and connection to the world around her. She has a strong belief that to learn and act collaboratively there must be a shared vision and opportunity to hear and learn from one another.

> Philanthropy: The opportunity, the reality and the cautionary tales

Valenty Mai

NSW/ACT Inclusion Agency

Valenty Mai is the Manager of the Sydney Metro West Inclusion Hub of the NSW/ACT Inclusion Agency. In this role she oversees the management and implementation of the Australian Government funded Inclusion Support Program. The Inclusion Support Program provides supports to eligible mainstream ECEC services to build their capacity and capability to include children with additional needs, alongside their typically developing peers, so all children have genuine opportunities to access, participate and achieve positive learning outcomes. Valenty is passionate about empowering and supporting educators to address barriers to inclusion so that all children can meaningfully and actively be included and valued as part of their communities both now and in the future.

> Big situations…Supporting educators to prepare and respond

Christopher Phoenix

Phoenix Support for Educators

Christopher is an author, keynote speaker, researcher, and the wellbeing specialist for the Phoenix Cups, and Phoenix Support for Educators. He is the co-author “The Phoenix Cups: A Cup Filling Story“, and tours Australia and beyond delivering the Phoenix Cups framework.

Christopher began his career in the corporate sector, however, his passion was for philosophy, wellbeing, and understanding human behaviour, grew his side hustle into a colourful full time career as an author, mentalist, and hypnotherapist. This has seen him grace the screens of Australia’s most popular morning show Sunrise, been interviewed on national radio station Triple M, and spoken about the need for wellbeing management in numerous newspaper and media articles.

As someone who continues to learn, Chris is currently undertaking his Ph.D. in Philosophy, to pursue his theories on authenticity as a virtue, and how we can create meaningful lives, and attempt to meet our human needs.

During this presentation you will learn about a powerful framework to understand wellbeing and behaviour through the lenses of Positive Psychology, Humanistic Psychology, and Philosophy.

Ben Ballard

Department Of Education

Ben Ballard is Executive Director of the Regional, Rural and Remote Education Policy Unit within the NSW Department of Education. Ben is a proud Biripi man with links across NSW. An experienced K-12 educator, he has worked in both the NSW and ACT public school systems as well as with the NSW Department of Sport & Recreation. Ben leads a range of initiatives and reforms focussed on educational, social and technological developments to support rural and remote students, staff and communities. His portfolio spans from early childhood through to school and post-school pathways.

Ben’s commitment and ability to build a strong team has led to leadership and advisory roles in state, national and agency advisory boards. He is passionate about equity and wellbeing, and is driven to ensure the NSW education system improves outcomes for all students.

Meg Mendham

Meg joined CCSA in May 2014. Meg has a Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood) and has worked in the Early Childhood Education and Care sector for over 30 years. Meg has direct service delivery experience as an Early Childhood Teacher and Director and experience in executive positions of peak organisations. Meg also has extensive experience in governance and management having held various positions on State and National boards.

With her knowledge of rural and remote communities and the perspective of NFP standalone services run by local Management Committees and approved providers, Meg is an invited member on several steering committees, forums, and advisory and reference groups working with other peak organisations and government departments at all levels.

The 2023 Rural and Remote Forum is supported by the NSW Department of Education