Inspirational South West sisters blazing trail in learning and life

When Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics penned the song ‘Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves’, they could have had Mt Barker’s Eleanor and Kirsten Beidatsch in mind.

Born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) which causes progressive muscular weakness, Eleanor, 28, has trouble breathing and can only move a few fingers and her head from side to side.

Having dreamt her whole life of being a palaeontologist, the wheelchair using student overcame all the odds to graduate from The University of Western Australia’s Albany campus with a Bachelor of Science in December and has already signed up for an Honours degree, studying palaeontology.

Graduating by her side with a Bachelor of Arts degree was older sister Kirsten, who’s not only Eleanor’s best friend but one of her primary carers, along with mum Karen.

Eleanor and Kirsten Beidatsch with David Sadler

Image: Eleanor and Kirsten Beidatsch at their graduations with David Sadler.

“Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve had a fascination with dinosaurs and fossils,” Eleanor explained. “My days might be a battle with the pain that plagues my body but I was determined that I was going to have a career in science and now I’m on my way.”

Director of the UWA Albany Campus Jennifer O’Neil said Eleanor, who also works as a science journalist, “inspires everyone who knows her with her bright smile, her determination, her intelligence and her ambitions for the future”.

“With the support of UniAccess, her unit coordinators, the Albany Teaching Staff and her carers, Eleanor conquered every challenge that arose throughout her degree, even participating in a paleontological dig in New South Wales a few years ago,” Ms O’Neil said.

“The mutual respect and devotion Kirsten and Eleanor have for each other is both heart-warming and inspiring and it was fitting that both sisters were able to graduate together in the presence of UWA Deputy Vice Chancellor (Education), Professor David Sadler.”

As well as their other responsibilities, Kirsten and Eleanor both volunteer their time with the Mt Barker SES. Kirsten is a well-known advocate for disability access and is busy building a business on the family’s Mt Barker farm.

“We have dogs, horses, sheep and the orchard and we’re looking at regenerative farming and how we can make what is a relaxing hobby economically viable,” the 31-year-old said.

“I’ve also decided to write a book on the sociology of early historical murders in WA and I’m doing some part-time work in the community legal space and really enjoying it. I feel like my career could go in various directions and so I’m looking forward to what’s ahead.”

“Kirsten is community conscious, energetic, dedicated, generous and caring,” Ms O’Neil said. “Her leadership skills and community volunteering have earned her numerous awards including Volunteering WA Youth Volunteer of the Year award and the State Emergency Services Youth Achievement Award.”

Both Kirsten and Eleanor say their greatest support at university was each other. “Dad has a Masters in history from UWA and Mum a Bachelor of Anthropology and Archaeology, also from UWA, and so I guess the desire to learn is in the family but I couldn’t have done any of what I do without Kirsten’s help,” Eleanor said.

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