Is there anything the boxing ‘Beaver’ can’t do?
SHE IS, unquestionably, a warrior, but whether she's a Bogan Warrior Queen or a Social Justice Warrior largely depends on where you're standing when you meet "The Beaver".
If you're ringside in Fred Brophy's boxing tent at Birdsville, amid that roaring, rum-and-coke fuelled crowd as Beaver prances and shadow boxes while Brophy declares "she's got hairs on her legs so sharp they could spear a rat", she's definitely the former.
If you're in her modest flat in the far northern community of Doomadgee, watching an Aboriginal kid clinging to her leg as she prepares a batch of lasagne for 10 hungry mouths, she's very much the latter.
Somewhere between the two extremes resides this singular young woman - Brettlyn Neal (aka The Beaver) - a puzzle wrapped in an enigma and, if nothing else, living testament to the fact that the 21st century has not robbed Queensland of its enduring ability to throw up the nation's most eccentric, and exceptional, characters.
Tent boxer, charity fundraiser extraordinaire, footballer, hired gun in the world of security and personal protection, company founder and advocate for indigenous advancement, Beaver - who began her working life as a jillaroo on a western Queensland property at aged 15 at the start of this century - has earned the respect of the brutal Thai kickboxing world, defeated more than 200 contenders in Brophy's legendary boxing tent and been employed in personal protection by rock star Pink, whom she describes as "nice" and "a very real person".
She has a following on social media as a sort of camp, female World Wrestling Champion villain, with her exploits documented on the "Beaver Brophy" Facebook page as well as on Instagram and Twitter.
She has world No.1 ranked women's surfing legend Sally Fitzgibbons (she provides personal security to women surfers) on her speed dial, Queensland's Youth Minister Di Farmer is impressed with her work in far northern Aboriginal communities, and Senator Pauline Hanson, who once presented her with a Bohemian Crystal vase for her 200th tent boxing fight, has a boundless admiration for her capacity to reach into the lives of indigenous kids, and keep them out of the criminal justice system.
At 34, and so utterly self reliant she could catch, kill and eat a goanna if she found herself alone in Queensland's northern wilderness, Beaver could easily bill herself as a poster girl for Fourth Wave Feminism, even if her instincts may not be to complain of a glass ceiling but to punch a hole through it with a straight right.
The story of Beaver is labyrinth and goes from inner South Brisbane where she was born in 1985 to mum Deborah Reed and dad Paul Neal (since separated) with younger brother, Jan Paul Neal, making up a family of four.
She completed a brief stint at John Paul College in Daisy Hill in 1998 on a sports scholarship before heading to a cattle station near Charters Towers in central Queensland, where she started working life as a jillaroo in 2001, then embarked on a career in personal protection and security in 2003, when she was just 18.
From there we can follow Beaver to her parents' birthplace in England where she played football, onward to the brutal world of Thai kickboxing in 2009-10 where she carved out a successful career and distinguished herself as a "warrior", and back to her work as a security guard at the Birdsville Races in 2010, where someone suggested she go over to Fred Brophy's tent to fight.
It was there the legend of The Beaver was born. The nickname may have originated in some mixed-up reference to Canadian pop singer Justin Bieber, or it may have some relation to a soft "beaver" toy she treasured when she first started boxing. It has been subject to a range of misinterpretations, some considered improper in polite company, but those best acquainted with her would readily agree that, if Beaver's name is symbolic of the extraordinary energy and industry of a certain North American nocturnal, semiaquatic rodent, she wears it well.
"I suppose I am a complex story," she says demurely from her Doomadgee "office" where she lives without a trace of fear, acting as her own security detail while guiding troubled adolescents away from crime and into employment.
She teaches them pretty much anything - photography, art, jewellery making, boxing, bicycle repair and maintenance, how to make a saleable item out of scrap metal, and rudimentary maths which she weaves into everyday life.
An admirer has watched Beaver being pestered by Aboriginal kids who wanted to go fishing. She flourished a $50 note in the air and demanded the kids produce a budget covering fuel, food and bait. They came back with the trip fully funded plus a $10 surplus, which she allowed would provide the lollies.
"If you put things in the right context they will learn quickly - even maths," she says.
It's that practical approach to developing life skills that fuels her "Project Streetwise" program, which she created more than five years ago.
The program attracted federal funding through the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and was administered by the Doomadgee Aboriginal Shire Council, which she now works for as Youth Programs Manager.
She even introduces Doomadgee kids to cookery via "pop up restaurants" (Mexican and Trivia, Buffet and Bingo) which materialise in Doomadgee pretty much every month, using the cooking skills of local kids who often source bush tucker. She is often hailed by admiring indigenous kids as she walks the street: "Hey Beaver, you're a legend, you beat up my aunt!"
"I feel totally safe, always," she says.
"Boxing here is seen as cool - the fact is they respect someone who can fight. But when I teach them boxing, it is all about the discipline, the confidence and the fitness, not the violence."
Mount Isa-based Robbie Katter, who regularly meets up with her on his travels through his electorate of Traeger, says Beaver has established a good reputation among indigenous people of the north.
"She has contacted me several times looking for help with her programs and I am always willing to assist," Katter says.
To Senator Pauline Hanson, who has travelled with the Beaver through northern indigenous communities, (with zero media coverage) fished with her in the Gulf and presented her with that crystal vase in 2018, she's an inspiration who deserves official recognition.
"She has done such a tremendous amount of good in her life, I often think I should nominate her for an Order of Australia award," Hanson says. "Her methods actually work, the evidence is clear."
Beaver developed an interest in helping indigenous people through her travels with the Brophy boxing tent but it was during a stint at the Cleveland Youth Detention Centre around 2014, where she worked in the Police Citizens Youth Club teaching inmates martial arts, that she gradually became aware of the extent of the problems they confronted.
"There was this Aboriginal kid I got to know out at Mount Isa and I saw him in the Juvey (juvenile criminal justice system) in Cleveland and I just had to ask him - 'why do you keep coming back?'
"And this kid said he didn't really want to hurt people or rob people, he was not a violent kid, he really wasn't, he was softly spoken and he was a kind and gentle kid.
"But sometimes he would just smash something and leave his fingerprints all over the scene of the crime. And he would get arrested and get back into the Juvey system where he knew he would get a warm bed and a warm meal, as well as some sort of education."
She encourages indigenous kids to learn something of their traditional culture, including language, but insists on keeping a practical emphasis on her initiatives, which are designed, at least partly, to ensure the youths emerge with practical skills to earn a living.
To pigeonhole her either on the political Right or Left is almost impossible, and she curtly dismisses any attempt to do so.
While she may be an advocate of the "pull yourself up with your own boot straps" approach to life, she's also quite certain that not everyone is entirely responsible for the decisions they make, nor what direction their life will take.
"If you are born in Doomadgee, and your parents depend on welfare, do you really have all that much choice about how your life turns out?" she says. "That's why I like to help people - to make that little bit of difference.
"That is why I do what I do."