Women leading and influencing



Award-winning NSW Gov't Architect Abbie Galvin mentors Manaini Bulu

Friday, 23 April 2021

Fijian architectural technician and Australia Awards scholar, Manaini Bulu, is now being mentored by the first woman New South Wales Government Architect, Abbie Galvin, through the Women’s Leadership Initiative.

Currently undertaking a Bachelor of Design in Architecture at the University of Sydney, Manaini will work with Abbie to advance her career goals, which include to impact sustainable and structurally safe design in Fiji.

The Leadership & Mentoring program pair reflect on their experiences in architecture, their hopes on working together, and the barriers and opportunities for women working in their industry – in Australia and Fiji.

Abbie brings decades of architectural experience to her mentorship

For almost 30 years, Abbie has led and worked on public, educational, health, research and commercial projects aimed at promoting the architectural quality of built environments.

Although she is the 24th NSW Government Architect, Abbie is the first woman to hold this position since it was created more than 200 years ago. Over her career, her projects have received over 40 state, national and international architectural awards – including for their innovative approaches.

While a friend from Abbie’s university days introduced her to the Women’s Leadership Initiative, it was the “opportunity to mentor across country and cultural boundaries” that piqued her interest in joining as a mentor.

“I’d like to be able to share what I have learnt and experienced over my years as an architect, and importantly, I’m really looking forward to being able to keep learning,” Abbie shares. “Relationships across ages, cultures and disciplines can be so enriching, and allow you to listen to perspectives other than your own.”

Manaini builds on professional experience gained in-country

For the approximately six years prior to commencing her Australia Award, Manaini worked at an architectural firm in Suva, Fiji, where she managed multiple projects – one of which is nearing construction.

Over this time, Manaini learnt the “importance of context” and maintaining good relationships with consultants, authorities, and all day-to-day project stakeholders.

She joined the Women’s Leadership Initiative to help advance her passion for educating the wider community, as well as her family and friends, on structurally safe building design and development - especially since witnessing the destruction of so many Fijian homes during Cyclone Winston.

On the partnership with her new mentor, Manaini says, “Abbie’s vast experience in architecture covers all the areas that I see myself involved with in the future.”

“She has worked her way up to leadership in the private sector and is now involved in government with regards to policy and overseeing development,” Manaini adds, “With her help, I look forward to being more efficient in achieving my goals professionally as well as in all other areas.”

Abbie’s appointment inspires hope for Fijian women architects

While Abbie and Manaini experience different challenges and opportunities based on their geographical locations, they share a passion and drive to support women in architecture while improving the physical spaces in which they exist.

Manaini reflects that while architecture in Fiji is “still very much a male-dominated field”, she has “never found that discouraging, it has always made me work harder”.

“It is inspiring to see Abbie appointed the first woman Government Architect for NSW,” Manaini says, “It gives hope to me and my few women comrades back home in Fiji.”

Manaini would also like to see more girls enter the field of architecture, and hopes “to inspire them and others to follow their dreams”.

‘True equality’ means ‘we won’t need support for women in leadership’

For Abbie, a deep disappointment that “after all these years, we still need to support women architects in leadership” is felt.

She reflects, “We won’t need support for women in leadership when we have actually reached true equality – equality of representation, of ownership, of voice of impact, and of influence.”

“Support is not just about recognising excellence and achievement – but also about making the invisible visible,” Abbie continues, “It’s saying ‘this needs recognition because at the moment and under the status quo, it’s going unnoticed, and it should not go unnoticed’.”

But “true” support for women in leadership will only be achieved, Abbie says, when we also start to shift the unequal cultures within which we work.

“The challenges for women hit as we begin to have children, and until we see childrearing as a joint responsibility, this challenge will remain,” Abbie says. “Anne Marie Slaughter, Director of Policy Planning for the US State Department, said, ‘We need to stop talking about women when we talk about children‘ which of course involves a significant cultural shift.”

“Ultimately, I think the only way we, as a society, are going to enable women to sustain participation in a meaningful way in the workforce is to have a fundamental change in our approach to work, Abbie says. “Work-life balance simply cannot be a woman’s issue, it must be an issue that faces men, women, the old, the young, those with family and those without.”


Abbie and Manaini are participants of the Women’s Leadership Initiative 2021 Mentoring & Leadership Program. For more information on the program and to learn more about other thriving partnerships, visit: https://womensleadershipinitiative.org.au/leadership-and-mentoring/