Madonna Nelson-Bamford is holding her green thumbs high in pride as a finalist following the recent State Final of the Queensland Training Awards.
Madonna was recognised as a finalist in the Harry Hauenschild Apprentice of the Year category' for her efforts while studying a Certificate III in Parks and Gardens as part of her apprenticeship with the Central Highlands Regional Council (CHRC).
Her love of gardening became an opportunity after her youngest child completed high school.
"My youngest child was finishing high school and I decided that it was time for me to do something for myself. I have always had an interest in gardening' so when the opportunity arose' I jumped at it'" she said.
"I was working full-time for CHRC and our department was offering the opportunity to sign up as an apprentice to gain a nationally recognised vocation."
Having not been in a classroom for more than 25 years' Madonna admits that vocational study was challenging.
"I really didn't know what to expect. For me I was really committed to doing this apprenticeship' I have never completed formal qualifications before and the support of my family helped a lot'" she said.
"My (CQU TAFE Teacher) Kay Pearson is awesome' no question was too silly and she gave us all the help and support I needed.
"The bulk of knowledge she imparted and my love of learning and passing on that knowledge gave me the confidence to apply."
Madonna said it was that same passion for mature age learning that helped her win at the Central Queensland Regional Queensland Training Awards in July – and progress to the State Final' which was held in Brisbane on 17 September.
Although she didn't win her category' she said it was "incredibly exciting".
"I stood amongst the best of the best and their passion for their chosen careers shone through. It was an honour to represent CQ at the State awards'" she said.
Madonna encouraged anyone considering horticulture or parks and gardens training at CQU to pursue their passion.
"Why not? The knowledge you gain from these courses not only helps you in your work' it also helps you in your garden at home' whether your passion is in flowers' food or turf'" she said.
"CQU had all the support and help I needed to complete the apprenticeship' the face-to-face time spent with Kay was invaluable.
"If you are thinking of doing a traineeship' apprenticeship or further study' you just have to be brave enough to take that first step. Age' skillset and education level doesn't matter' the support is there."