Camelia Tarau is made of tough stuff and don’t anyone tell her what she can or can’t do. She taught herself English as a teenaged immigrant from Romania and remains committed to advancing her skills, now as a small business owner.

We photographed Camelia in her beautifully designed new kitchen, part of a large-scale renovation of the Brisbane home she shares with her business partner and husband.

The couple met in Melbourne but are both ex-refugees from Romania, each with their own story of overcoming adversity to establish new lives in Australia.

At age 14, Camelia spent 12 months sharing a single room with nine siblings and four adults in a refugee camp in Austria.

“We all lived in an area the size of my new kitchen,” she recalls.

“We had to walk 10 minutes to get to the showers and we had to stand in line for our meals.”

Her husband escaped from Romania by crossing the Danube River on a tube.

Now 55, Camelia has her own painting and construction business, and has various successful professional design and renovation projects under her belt.

She recently completed her Certificate IV in Building with her sights set on attaining her builder’s licence.

“My main reason for going into the training was I wanted to get my builder’s licence but I actually did learn a lot.

“I’ve been running a business for 20 years and there is a lot stuff that you pick up as you go but the training really reinforced my learnings and the trainers were amazing.

As a woman in the male-dominated building sector, Camelia says she has faced sexism on work sites and in her own community.

“Being a woman is an obstacle. For example, I was doing a reno in Wishart and I did everything, meeting with the clients, getting the approvals, outsourcing, everything.

“But when I went on site and my husband was there, the men would automatically go to him.

“I’d be like ‘No, no, I’m running this job!”

“When I said I was going to do the course, everyone said ‘What for? Your husband already has his licence’.

“And, then you have my culture – no matter how many businesses I run, or how many homes I build, my dad still thinks that as a woman, my place is in the kitchen.

“That was one of the things that motivates me to get my licence.

“I think you’ve got to stand your ground, never give up, and believe in yourself.”

CSQ supports women like Camelia looking to enter or progress their career in construction. Visit our course selector to explore the many subsidised training and skilling options available across Queensland.