Members On Their Way

Members On Their Way: Sandra Pankhurst

Meet 'The Trauma Cleaner' who has overcome great adversity to become one of Australia's most successful CEOs.

By Natalie Cornish

Members On Their Way

Meet 'The Trauma Cleaner' who has overcome great adversity to become one of Australia's most successful CEOs.

By Natalie Cornish

A transgender woman and former sex worker, Sandra Pankhurst has overcome huge adversity to live many lives. She grew up as ‘Peter’ in an abusive adoptive family in West Footscray, Victoria before moving to Melbourne in her mid-twenties – where she became “Australia’s first female funeral director, a trophy wife and a local government candidate”. Now the CEO of Specialised Trauma Cleaning Services, a hugely successful death and crime scene cleaning business, Sandra’s remarkable life story was the subject of bestselling book, The Trauma Cleaner. Here, Sandra talks using her voice for greater good, her admiration for Ita Buttrose, working on a second book, and why self-care starts with being selfish.

I joined Future Women as I like to surround myself with positive and strong female minds that are driven, just like me. I’m inspired by the drive and tenacity of younger women who are stepping up to be leaders in their field.

I am currently working on another book. I am also working on building my profile in the public speaking arena, so I can shine a light on some worthy causes. I feel like I was given a voice that I should use for the greater good.

I am passionate about my community work, working with causes like Alma Doepel, Dress for Success and Vanish. I believe in advocating for those in the community who are the most vulnerable and needy. For me, the two sectors of the community requiring the most need are the aged care sector and mental health.

I’m currently reading Fiona McCallum’s Saving Grace.

The motto I live by is ‘Excellence is no accident!’ And also, ‘Care, Compassion and Dignity’. Both of these mottos are reflected in the work my company does in trauma cleaning.

I’ve never met her, but I strongly admire Ita Buttrose. She is the epitome of strength and resilience. She rose through the ranks of a very male dominated field to become a highly successful and respected woman.

I would like to learn not to be so critical of myself. I set myself high standards, and get disappointed if I don’t always achieve them. I would also like to learn more about other women’s struggles and how they overcame them. I think we can learn a lot from others.

It felt very cathartic to expose my life in a very open and raw manner [in The Trauma Cleaner]. It allowed me to move past and heal from some events in my past. It has also opened me up to a range of people who have related to certain events – and made them feel less alone in their personal struggle.

My driving force is rising above adversity, lifting up others and using the power of my mind to rise above any issues at hand. I believe you are as powerful as your mind if you focus on your hopes, dreams and desires.

Outside of work, I love to catch up with friends and share a wine and good food. I also love to shop!

The future for women is only limited by your own limitations. If you believe it, you can achieve it.

A smile, or a kind word, goes a long way to brightening someone’s day. You never know what that person is going through on a personal level at any given time.

I’m most fulfilled when I am having some downtime, curled up on the couch with my little dog, Moet Chandon, enjoying a good movie.

Self-care means sometimes being –what others perceive as – selfish. You must care for yourself in order to help, or care, for others.