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It’s been 17 years since Sue Meli won the Vocational Student of the Year Award in the Victorian Training Awards. Yet the prestige of the award still has pulling power for potential clients.

‘The award is a key part of marketing my landscape and design business. Although I won the award in 2002, it might just as well have been yesterday,’ Sue says. ‘It continues to deliver clients to my door and is often the determining factor that leads them to choose my services over those of a competitor’s’.

Sue’s career in horticulture began at the age of 38. She was ‘burnt out’ from nursing, so decided to pursue her passion for gardening.

While still working as an operating theatre nurse she began studying a Certificate IV in Horticulture and Landscape Design at Kangan Institute’s Broadmeadows campus.

Flexibility of TAFE

‘The flexibility of TAFE is what really appealed to me, and being able to study part-time made the future in gardening I was hoping for possible,’ Sue says.

Another vital component to realising her future were Sue’s TAFE teachers. ‘They saw a potential spark in me and created opportunities for me to shine. They did that for everyone in our class – it didn’t matter who you were, or your background, they treated everyone the same. They were the heroes,’ Sue says.

Despite describing herself as a ‘plodder’ who wasn’t academic, this clearly wasn’t the judgement of her teachers. Recognising Sue as an outstanding student, they nominated her for a Victorian Training Award.

‘It was a total surprise when I was successful because I’ve never won anything,’ Sue says. ‘The award gave me a lot of confidence and it’s been great for business. When people see you’re a high achiever they have faith in your abilities and a lot of work has come my way as a result.’

Aside from the Victorian Training Award, Sue is a recipient of an Australian Training Award (2002) and the Don Fleming International Student Design Award (2002). Sue was also invited to participate in the Australian Open Gardens Scheme in 2003, 2004 and 2005.

Flourishing business

Initially Sue took a financial hit, going from a well-established career in nursing to a fledgling career in gardening. But today her business, Sue Meli Landscape Designs in the Macedon region of north-west Victoria, is flourishing. ‘For me the dollars were secondary to doing something I really wanted to do and I’ve never looked back,’ Sue says. ‘In the last 2 years I’ve finally got to the point where I feel I know what I’m doing and I don’t have that heart-in-mouth feeling that I had when I started out.’

Since 2006 Sue has served as a committee member of the Open Gardens Scheme and has started her own business network to support others in the surrounding horticultural industry. ‘It’s my way of giving back to the community and the industry, and has turned out to be a real success, growing from 6 to 14 people that meet 4 times a year,’ she said.

When asked what she’d say to someone considering a career turnaround, Sue said: ‘I’m a big fan of TAFE and that’s where I’d start. It’s a very supportive environment, you’re given heaps of opportunities and you come out ready to hit the ground running. If you are lucky enough to find that thing that sparks a passion, go for it. It may not make you rich but you will live a happy and fulfilled life.’

2002 Victorian Training Award Winner Sue Meli

Reviewed 19 May 2023

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