September 12, 2021

A dream career in her element – Melbourne Water

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Rikki-Lee Bonnici has a passion for fitness that started when she was a teenager, a passion that, for her, changed everything.

“You start caring about your own health, and that leads to caring about your environment.”

Ricki-Lee is always doing something active, kayaking, playing netball, weightlifting, camping and more. Now, at Melbourne Water, she gets to combine her care for the environment with her passion for health in her role as a Water Supply Operator. We chatted about her career transition and things she wishes she’d known earlier in her journey.

For the love of the bush

Rikki-Lee was working in hospitality, which she enjoyed because she loves connecting with people when she realized she wanted to make a career change. She studied her Cert III in Conservation and Land Management and secured a job as a forest firefighter with the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP).

“We had two massive fire seasons. There was the fire in the Thomson catchment in 2019 and in 2020 we were involved with the firefighting efforts in the far east of the state. It was physically demanding, and I thrive off that and enjoy working hard.”

Having worked with the Melbourne Water team, when an opportunity came up Rikki-Lee decided to shift elements from earth to water, and she’s never looked back.

“The opportunities with Melbourne Water are endless. You always have a chance to develop and grow, and so many things to learn.”


Taking a leap

Rikki-Lee knew she wanted a job where she would be stretched and given plenty of opportunities to learn.

“I really wanted a career. In my family no one had gone out and sourced out a career. I wanted to be successful and make something for myself.”

When she joined Melbourne Water she immediately had people willing to show her the ropes and teach her – which is exactly what she’d hoped for. Now she’s started her TAFE Cert III in Water Operations and the learning continues.

“It was really welcoming, and I felt straight away that I’m going to learn so much here. I’m trusted to be independent. To be given the opportunity and trust to go out and get things done has been really good.”

The most exciting thing that’s happened so far during Rikki-Lee’s time as a Water Operator has been a burst main – a rare event!

“That was really interesting. Everyone was running around doing things they don’t normally need to do. They had to get the leaks crew in and shut one of the massive valves. It took an hour for it to close!”

Tips for career shifters

“I did procrastinate so much on deciding whether to study [her Cert III, which would allow her to apply to DELWP] or not, I wish I’d been told, go and do that course and do what you want.”

Her fears and subsequent journey have given her some perspective, and she shares:

  • Go after your dreams. “If you want it, go get it. I was held back by the uncertainty.”
  • Be brave. “I was staying in my comfort zone. Everyone’s scared of change, but if nothing changes then nothing changes!”
  • Find your passion. “I wasn’t passionate about what I was doing before, and I really wanted to work hard and achieve my goals and do something I was passionate about.”
  • Set big goals. “I wanted to be an independent woman who didn’t need to rely on anyone. I wanted to make something of myself and have a career.”

“Just do it. If it doesn’t work out you’ll still be better off than where you were. Knowledge is power. The more skills you gain the further you’re going to go.”


A day as a water operator

Rikki-Lee spends her days in high-vis, alternating between a water treatment plant in Tarago and sites on the Mornington Peninsula.

“Every day is a bit different. There’s always something different going on.”

When she’s at the treatment plant, her day is all about ensuring the plant is doing what it’s supposed to. She’ll check the alarms list, fix any alerts raised, and escalate issues if needed. Three times a week Ricki-Lee is responsible for water testing in a lab to make sure all required chemical ratios are correct, and the analyzer machines are running smoothly. She also spends time cleaning chemical dosing lines and analyzers, checking the reservoir and ensuring everything at the plant is doing what it’s supposed to be doing.

On alternate weeks Rikki-Lee is at the Mornington Peninsula, here she handles operational matters, and carries out routine dam inspections.

Culture and conservation

Rikki-Lee loves that her passion for the environment is fully integrated into her work.

“It’s appealing to know I work for a company that cares about the environment and works towards making it a better place. We have lots of policies and procedures to protect drinking water, people, animals and the environment.”

She loves the friendly culture at Melbourne Water, and felt part of the team from day one. Despite being one of few women on site, Rikki-Lee has never been treated differently. Melbourne Water is actively trying to shift the gender ratio and bring in more women and people with diverse backgrounds.

“I always feel welcome here. Everyone’s up for a chat or a laugh. Someone is always willing to lend a hand or show you something you don’t know. I’m really grateful. I feel really lucky to be a part of such a great culture and such a good team with such great opportunities.”


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About the Author
Samantha Sutherland is the Chief Storyteller at WORK180. She is a Diversity and Inclusion specialist with an analytical background, making her work evidence-based and data driven. Host of WORK180’s Equality Talks podcast and her own Women at Work, Samantha divides her time between interviewing amazing women for WORK180, mentoring and coaching women in, or aspiring to, leadership roles, and providing high-level advice on diversity practices to Australian corporations. You can learn more about the Samantha Sutherland consultancy at

Looking for a new opportunity?

Our transparent job board only has vacancies from employers we endorse and lets you see what benefits, policies and perks come with the job. Check out the latest job vacancies with Melbourne Water