New year, New Life
The Australian Women's Weekly|February 2021
The pandemic threw certainty to the wind and changed lives. Alley Pascoe meets four women who reinvented themselves in 2020 – some out of necessity; others because the COVID shake-up gave them permission to chase their dreams.
Alley Pascoe

Jessica Nguyen, 31

From publicist to home cook, recipe creator

It’s February 2020 and flight attendant Suzi Hannan is working her usual Melbourne to Sydney route. In her sensible heels, perfectlytailored Qantas uniform and red lipstick, Suzi, 54, does the safety demonstration, serves customers tea with milk on the side and cheerily talks about the weather in Sydney – just as she’s done for 30 years, since joining Qantas in 1989. Suzi has no idea this will be her last flight for the year – and potentially longer. In the galley, her crew members are chatting about the coronavirus that’s been in the newspapers. Their voices are hushed and tinged with mild concern, but it’s not until the following month that the harsh reality of the situation hits them like a jarring jolt of turbulence.

Lulu Dougherty, 51

From production manager to quilter

Suzi is on holiday in India with her husband in March when flights start to be grounded and countries begin to close borders. “It wasn’t until the Taj Mahal closed down for the first time in history that we realised the world was shutting down,” recalls Suzi, who immediately booked flights home to Sydney, and quarantined for two weeks on return.

Back at home on March 30, Suzi received an email from Qantas saying she was being stood down. “To see that written in black and white was confronting. I thought, ‘This is real, my job’s gone’. We were all in shock,” she says. In the click of her computer mouse, Suzi’s 30-year career was put on hold indefinitely.

Before the shock had worn off, she started applying for jobs on a list Qantas had sent. Having studied to be a nurse before becoming a flight attendant, she was drawn to a nursing assistant role at the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse cancer treatment centre. On April 5, she walked through the front doors of the medical centre wearing her scrubs and trademark bold lipstick. That was her induction. The very next day she was working in the intensive care department, joking with patients that she was highly qualified in the fetching of blankets.

Suzi Hannan, 54

From flight attendant to nurse

“It was like putting on an old pair of slippers. They still fit, but my bunions hurt a little,” says Suzi about swapping her sensible heels and hot pink neck-tie for a pair of medical scrubs and joggers. Despite the different uniforms, Suzi draws easy parallels between flying and nursing. “Whether you’re in hospital or on a flight, everyone wants the same thing: to feel safe, nurtured and secure. As a nurse and a flight attendant, my job is all about caring for people,” she says.

Yet Suzi’s life now looks completely different from her life pre-COVID-19. Where once she was waking up in a new city every other day, doing yoga in Darwin, hiking to the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles and visiting Elvis Presley’s house in Memphis, now she is waking up and going to sleep in her own bedroom beside her husband every day. “It sounds really funny, but when I make my bed in the morning, I get excited knowing I’ll be sleeping there that night.”

Like hundreds of thousands of people around the country, the crisis has forced Suzi to reskill and reevaluate what her future will look like. It’s estimated that over a million Australians lost their jobs between March and April last year, and the food, accommodation and travel industries were the hardest hit. Suzi admits she never would have left her career (and flight crew family) at Qantas had it not been for the pandemic grinding the world to a halt.

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