Alice Springs local Bridget Shelton has always blazed her own trail – and achieved great success while doing it.
Alice Springs local Bridget Shelton has always blazed her own trail – and achieved great success while doing it.

Humanitarian Bridget Shelton blazes her own trail

BRIDGET Shelton is a child of the Australian Outback- the daughter of famous musterers, born on a stock camp.

The Royal Flying Doctors Service nursed Bridget through chronic ill-health as a kid, and the School of the Air gave her an education.

Bridg's Mum and Dad gave her the ultimate eduction in life - resilience, persistence and the value of hard work.

Perhaps Bridg's greatest gift is the instinct and drive to fend for herself - she lived out of home and was working by age 16.

Bridg knows how to stand strong on her own two feet and achieve her dreams. And then she looks to help others do the same.

Bridg's dad, 'Doc' Cunningham, and mum, Apples Kemp, ran their own contract mustering business when she was young.

"Dad was one of the first in the NT who had his own aeroplane. And they had a big van, and they'd go from station to station," she said.

"Aunty Mary was an Indigenous Lady, and she looked after all us kids. The kids of the workers lived in the camp too.

"I was really close with my sisters Jody and Lee, and with all of the Aboriginal kids who were in the camp!"

Bridg also has two younger siblings she loves dearly, Jessy and Matt.

"I was a really sick baby. I was allergic to vitamins. I used to get every disease and illness you could imagine," she said.

But Bridget says she still has "great memories of being out in the country, lots of different locations, lots of friends - it was brilliant!"

Bridg even chatted with Princess Diana and Prince Charles.

"I did School of the Air, and they had a competition about who could come up with the best question to ask the Prince and Princess," she said.

Bridg asked them about having an Aussie BBQ! Their answer was … formal.

 

A young Bridget Shelton in her outback home.
A young Bridget Shelton in her outback home.

 

When Bridg was 7, she moved in to town.

"Mum and dad split up, and mum had us three girls. She did a great job as a single parent," she said.

Mum and the three girls became "nomads" and travelled all over Australia together - Darwin, South Australia, Victoria, Queensland - but would "always end up back in Alice."

"I was a pretty moody teenager. Mum said that it was time to 'go and live with your father.'," she said.

Bridg headed down south, but after a few months, "dad caught on to the moody teenager thing," and she was off to live with her aunty in Bendigo.

"My aunty had so many kids, so I ended up having to board with an old lady!," she said.

"That old lady was weird! But no one was telling me what to do - I just had to pay her $70 a week. So I got a job at a butchers. But I was 16, and I was a free agent!

"Her daughter was 21. She just gave me an old driver's license of hers, and I'd go out clubbing!

"I actually went to the opening of the Universal Nightclub. And it turns out my husband Rick was there that night too - but we never met, and we didn't meet for another 15 years!"

After 12 months of free agency in Bendigo - between the butcher shop and the night clubs - Bridg moved to Adelaide to pursue hairdressing.

"I love that whole part of my life, from being 15, it really got me off on a good foot. I grew up quickly, I learnt how to be independent," she said.

"Because I had to survive, there was no being lazy. No bludging. If I wanted to get anywhere, I had to work for it. I'd advise anyone to do the same kind of thing.

Bridg had a relationship and her first son, Chad, in Adelaide. After that relationship didn't work out, Bridg felt like she needed to "come home to Alice."

Through a friend of a friend, Bridg got a job building up a brand new hair salon.

The year was 2000, and three months in, Bridg nailed the job, the business was booming, and she wanted a piece of the action.

 

 

Bridget Shelton and her team from iconic local business, Mombassa.
Bridget Shelton and her team from iconic local business, Mombassa.

 

"John Nunan owned the business, and I said I wanted to become business partner. He is an amazing man. He agreed! And we became partners. John has been a massive influence on my life!," she said.

Named 'Dee's Hair Salon', after John's wife, the business grew from strength to strength.

"I had this business loan, and I just wanted to pay off the money. So I got a second job at Bojangles pulling beers," she said.

"That was a fun time! It's quite funny seeing what happens when you're the sober one!"

Bridget would work Tuesday-Saturday at the hair salon, and Friday and Saturday nights and the pub.

She'd finish at 2am, and then have Chad at his Sunday morning soccer game by 8.

On Sunday afternoons, Bridg worked her third job - washing cars at Avis.

"I was afraid of having a loan and being a single mum. So I did that for the whole year, and smashed out this business loan!," she said.

Amongst all that perpetual motion, Bridg's sister Jody decided to play matchmaker.

"Jody said, 'You're working too hard - take a weekend off and come out to Deep Well," she said.

"Meanwhile, Rick had been out working at the station, and Tracey and Billy Hayes asked him to stay back.

"I took Chad out with me, and when I met Rick, straight away I loved him!

"His humour! He's such a fun guy. He sees the best in people - I've never heard him talk about people in a bad way. That's what I admire.

"He's always positive! He is the best thing! He never takes a day off - he works so hard. That's why we are connected- we are magnets!"

 

Bridget Shelton and her husband Rick.
Bridget Shelton and her husband Rick.

 

Bridg and Rick got married in 2005, and had son Harry at the end of that year.

The following year, Bridg opened her iconic Day Spa and Hair Salon, Mombassa.

"I always set goals- otherwise I get bored! I love achieving!," she said.

"I set myself the goal that I wanted to have the first day spa in Alice Springs. And I wanted it to be unique!

"Then I wanted it to be still open in three years- because most small businesses fail in the first three years.

"Then my next goal was to turn over a million dollars in a year. And my next was to win an award."

Bridg and Mombassa made the top three of the Australian Business Awards, and were invited to Sydney for the ceremony.

"My last goal was to franchise Mombassa. I went to Darwin and Perth. But I just couldn't find the right location. So I thought, 'I'm done now- I'll sell," she said.

Bridg says it was time to pursue what was really at the centre of her heart - humanitarian aid.

"What's important to me is giving to those less fortunate. During those years, my self-care was travel. And seeing all these countries - I wanted to make sure I could help these third world underdeveloped countries!," she said.

Bridg is in the middle of studying a Bachelor of Humanitarian Aid & Development at uni.

"I look at my kids - they have the same streak," she said.

"Chad is 22, he's studying Health Science, to then allow him to get in to medicine."

"Harry is 16. We were overseas and he got a soccer ball he'd always wanted.

"Then we went to an orphanage and he was kicking the ball around with the kids. When we were leaving he said, 'Mum, do you think I could give them my soccer ball?'

"I thought to myself, 'I have done my job with you!'

"He's an amazing musician and wants to get in to the air force after school."

Bridget says she's also immensely proud of her youngest, Bonnie.

"She's at Steiner school. Bonnie is a little cello player and a ballerina!," she said.

 

Bridget Shelton, centre, with her family: husband Rick, daughter Bonnie and sons Chad and Harry.
Bridget Shelton, centre, with her family: husband Rick, daughter Bonnie and sons Chad and Harry.

 

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Rick and Bridg also own an earth moving company - Remote Area Machinery Hire.

Bridg says her long-term goal is to work for the United Nations.

And knowing Bridg - she'll be Australia's answer to Kofi Annan, and soon be running the joint!

In the short-term she'd love to find a role with the NT Government.

In the meantime, Bridg and the Sheltons look after a young girl named Bahget, in Nairobi, Kenya.

How on earth does she fit it all in?

"I'm a big believer in balance - and time management is the key," she said.

"Have Plan A, B and C, and that way you don't have any disappointment in life.

"Balance is everything."

Originally published as From businesswoman to humanitarian, Bridget Shelton blazes her own trail


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