Meet Mel Irons

On Autonomy, Competence and Relatedness
I once counted my heart rate at 48 beats per 15 seconds. I knew I was giving her cardiobox class my best shot but when I checked my pulse exhausted but elated, I wondered momentarily if a cardiac arrest was in order.
That's Mel Irons for you. She's a motivator, but not in anyway OTT American lifestyle coach sort of way. She’s more real-deal than razamataz. She’s totally confident yet totally unassuming. She’ll have you sprinting and landing upper-cuts, before you can say ‘Is there a doctor in the house?’
If you saw Australian Story recently, you’ll know that Mel Irons is a born leader: dynamic; driven; organised; and inspiring.
Apart from the successful fitness business, Booty, she established in 2006, she’s a PhD candidate, which is tough enough. She is also the dynamo behind the much-lauded Facebook page, Tassie Fires - We Can Help, the groundbreaking grassroots community recovery response which mobilised the goodwill of the Tasmanian community.
This Girl wanted to know Mel’s take on living loving Hobart, so we caught up at Grape one recent torrential Sunday afternoon.
Mel isn’t born and bred, but she grew up here because her parents wanted a safer place than South Africa to raise a family. Hobart, tick.
Mel's now famous dog, Boris
But Mel’s a big girl now, why stay?
It’s fair to say she went through an ambivalent stage, but the scales fell from her eyes when she started Booty.
‘There was a time when I was a teenager when I was genuinely concerned that the people who stayed here after school had not made anything of themselves.’
Now she’s got little time for anti-Hobart/Tassie sentiment, heard time-to-time, mostly from ex-pats. She reckons the place is brimming with opportunity. You just need to get out there and seize it.
‘I’ve got a problem with the idea that this place has nothing to offer. For some industries/careers – sure, opportunities are a bit limited. But maybe you could create one?’
She thought about moving once, mostly to consider a different university for her Doctorate, but most of all she just knows how lucky she is to have the opportunities and benefits that come with living in a smaller place.
She reflects momentarily on the demands on her journalist boyfriend ‘He could want to go, anytime. In the past I would have gone with him. Now, I’m kind of like NO, I’m not moving!’
Building her business from scratch has been relatively easy in Hobart and after seeing Tassie in action during the bushfires earlier this year, she knows she can make a difference here.
She’s pragmatic and is aware she’s seeing things from the comfort a middle-class bubble. But she isn’t naïve enough to think that there are not some serious issues confronting the State.
‘When I was doing the website, there were a number of people who would ring me because they couldn’t read or they didn’t have internet or a computer.’
So I’m thinking about Mel and how she motivated me in cardiobox and I’m interested in what it took to mobilise Tasmanians faced with January’s bushfire havoc.
Mel’s perspective is unsurprisingly rooted in psychology. There are three things that are critical to wellbeing. And feeling good about yourself is central to engagement and participation.
‘It’s important to create three things: a sense of autonomy - feeling in control and being responsible; the creation of competence – feeling like you can succeed; and, the fostering of relatedness – being part of a team or a group, connected. If you can help make people feel autonomous, competent and related – not only will their wellbeing improve, you will get things done!’
Through Facebook she provided a public forum where the community could be in control of, and be responsible for, their own solutions. It provided people with opportunities of all shapes and sizes.
‘I couldn’t say ‘everybody give money’, what if someone didn’t have money? Maybe there was something else they could do. Maybe they had a car and could drive somewhere for someone. Maybe they had no resources and they could sit on Facebook for an afternoon and answer questions for me.’
She recounts the story of a woman from down the Channel who had nothing but a loaf of bread and a bottle of milk and she donated it.
The camaraderie of Facebook followers coupled with the commitment to return each phone call and answer each post generated the relatedness.
It sounds to me that Mel has the key to unlocking potential, so what’s the next thing she’s going to unlock?
At this point she’s stumped, or a little coy, or both. She needs to look after herself more. But here’s the rub. She’s just established the Tassie Fires - We Can Help website. She’s networking with key stakeholders in the emergency management and community recovery industries like there’s no tomorrow; that way she’ll be ready for the next incident. She’s a social media engagement consultant to a number of community groups and charities. And she’s evolving her Doctorate to make it relevant to her recent experiences and so it will have a practical future application, here and elsewhere in Australia.
It sounds to me like she may have found her path and she’s going to spend a little time consolidating. Burying deep roots into the fertile soil she’s been tending and caring for the shoots that emerge, ensuring they grow up strong and bear fruit.
What’s the take home message from all of this?
Well, there’s several.
An ordinary citizen can do amazing things.
Our community is one of tremendous good will and compassion.
And, that we all need a mechanism to unlock our potential.
If you are living and loving Hobart yourself you might see Mel at her favourite hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant, Chon Na Kan, King Street, Sandy Bay; having ‘the’ best hot chocolate at the Raincheck Lounge; drinking coffee at Brew, Sandy Bay; or enjoying a steak at Salamanca’s Ball and Chain Restaurant.
She was an early fan of the wildly popular Ginger Brown. And she just loves the State Cinema. It’s the location of Sunday night date night and it’s also where you might find her hooked up to her array of technology, working and watching the world go by, overhearing snippets of conversations, pondering what film people are going to see, and getting the job done around people who she’s genuinely interested in.
Find out more about Booty here 
Like Tassie Fires - We Can Help here 
Visit Tassie Fires - We Can Help webpage here 
Read about Mel on Australian Story – Irons in the Fire transcript here.
If you want to know more about Ginger Brown, check out our blog post here.
We're seen at Raincheck too, see here
And we love the State Cinema, do you know about the roof top cinema? Find out more here.