“I was born in Brisbane in 1968, and will be turning 52 in a couple of months. After reasonably wild late teenage years, I was as surprised as anyone that I made it to 21 then 40 and now I’m on the other side of 50! I’m the eldest of two girls with my sister, Loreena, being twenty months younger than me. Dad was from SA and Mum is from QLD. When I was seven, my parents separated. There was a real stigma attached to being in a single-parent family in the 1970’s. There was a girl in my class called Penny, who said one day ‘Your dad doesn’t love you anymore.’ Mum found out, told my Dad and he came to school and spent lunchtime with me the next day. Penny pretty much shut up after that.
When my parents separated, Mum wanted to go back to QLD after spending five years in SA. Her parents had passed away and she is the only child. Fortunately, she has a lot of friends so we moved back to QLD into this amazing group of friends who cared for and loved us.
My Dad, Max, passed away in January 1983 when I was almost 15 and I was devastated for a very long time. In fact it’s only been the last few years that I can think about him passing without becoming upset.
My Mum, Helen, is a very strong woman. She has had so many challenges in her life that one of her friends is actually writing a book about her! Because of Mum’s background she made sure the two of us grow up as really strong, resilient women. She had high expectations of us and that our lives would be better than hers. She wanted to make sure we were educated and used to say “I don’t care what you do but you’re going to uni.” She also told us “you don’t have to take shit from a man.” That’s a good lesson and one that came in handy for getting rid of the string of crap boyfriends I had in my late teens and early 20’s.
Mum put us through Our Lady’s College, a Catholic girls high school in Brisbane. To this day I don’t know how she did it. I remember times when she didn’t even have 10c to buy herself a newspaper after work. Mum always made sure we were well fed, had good clothes and a good education usually to the detriment of herself. We are very, very lucky that she is our Mum.
One of the most important aspects of my high school were the friends I made. Most of the girls I finished Year 12 with are still my friends. We have our 40th anniversary of starting high school in February 2020 so a group of us are going on a cruise – no husbands allowed as it would be a total nightmare for them. My high school friends and my best friend from school, Toni, are incredibly important to me
After high school, I failed by a couple of points to get into Psychology. I was the first person on both sides of my family to go to uni.
I only stayed at uni for a year because I hated the course I got into and also, I think, because I was only 17 when I started uni, I was too young and too immature to take responsibility for my life. Mum said I couldn’t leave uni unless I had a job so I found a job at the Mater Children’s Hospital. In my role I had to read the files of children and assign a code number to the illness. This was when I was 18. Many of the files were awful, especially the SCAN (Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect) cases. Reading about what some parents and step parents did to children made me feel sick. Kids would come in with cigarette burns, bruises, head injuries, broken limbs and others were hospitalised through complete neglect.
I decided to study a welfare course, focusing on disadvantaged children and families. At 19 I started working in child protection. It was so difficult to sit across from parents who I knew had neglected or abused their children. I had to remain impartial but really I just wanted to scream at them to stop hurting their children. I would often go to sleep thinking of those kids and worrying what was happening to them that night.
It took me seven years part time to finish my Bachelor of Social Science.
I remember one day during a massive Brisbane storm sitting in the car with my Mum. She asked me when I was going to finish my degree and when I said “one day,’ she started yelling at me “you need to finish it! Just finish the bloody thing.” I knew I had to finish the course. The next day I spoke to my coordinator, and she checked my course credits. It turned out that I had 40 credit points more than required, and I finished on the spot.
I spent many years as a youthworker and have also worked in community development, child protection, crime prevention, migrant and refugee services, defence skills planning, juvenile justice, lecturing at Griffith University, management consulting, policy development, HR and others. When I was 25, I got a full-time job with Logan City Council which is between Brisbane and the Gold Coast. I love that city and still do.
While I was still working at Logan City Council, I began my Masters of Criminology. It took me six years to complete while working 80 hours a week in a new role running a service for migrants and refugees called MultiLink. I absolutely loved that course and, unlike my degree, was quite sad when I finished it. By ANZAC Day 2005, I was exhausted from work and study so I decided to move from Brisbane to Adelaide to spend time with my Dad’s side of the family. It was lovely to get to know them all again.
I’ve been married twice. The first time to a wonderful man called Peter. We were very happy and as sad and shocked about our separation as our friends and family were, but as much as you both try, sometimes things just don’t work out. We separated in early 2002 and are still friends now. He is important to me and so is his very large extended family. Peter is Maori and it is my honour to have spent many years in that community learning about their traditions and customs, their language, songs and sense of family.
I have known my second husband, Frank for 21 years. He’s an amazing man and I am lucky to have found him. We got together when I was living in Adelaide and he moved over to Melbourne with me in 2007. Frank and I moved to Yarraville in 2008 and I can’t think of anywhere else in the world (except northern Italy) that I would want to live.
We married in 2011 and have a good life. I don’t have any kids except for two gorgeous 7 year old West Highland Terriers and most people know me around the village because of my dogs. I’m surrounded by lots of kids and adore my sisters’ children Max, 14 and Sam, 11. Frank has two adult children who are great friends of mine and also a 12 year old granddaughter, Emily. Frank’s daughter and granddaughter moved to Seddon from Sydney earlier this year and it is great to have them living 5 minutes away.
We fell into living in Yarraville. Frank grew up in the Eastern suburbs, and was appalled when I mentioned a house for auction in Yarraville. ‘It’s a bloodbath there’, he said as Yarraville was a pretty rough area when he was growing up.
Despite Frank’s childhood memory we went to the auction but didn’t buy the house. That day I rang around all the real estate agents to show us only homes that had a 30 day settlement.
An agent from Jas Stephens took us to two homes. The one in Buninyong Street had a bunch of young men in their early 20’s living there. The place stunk of dirty socks, while the other one in Ballarat Street was newly renovated. We walked into the Ballarat Street home, looked at each other, and bought it on the spot.
The day we moved into Yarraville, our wonderful Greek neighbours came to us with food. ‘We know you won’t have time to make dinner tonight,’ Mary and Voula said. We thought, ‘Where have we moved to? This is awesome!’ They also came out to help us unpack the van.
We’re ensconced in Yarraville. I love scrambled eggs from the Cornershop, and coffee from Dad & Dave’s, the berry muffins at Feedback, the napolitana spaghetti at Terroni, the pancakes at Alfa, the Village Store,the Sun theatre and bookshop, the park next to Alfa, the People’s Park in front of The Sun, Yarraville Gardens, Barkley and Johnson for a drink, Village Idiom for fabulous and unusual gifts. The list goes on and on. I love the traders here and try to buy all Christmas and birthday presents from our local shops. I think they deserve our support and make the village a much richer and friendlier community in which to live.
There’s a local tv star who lives in the Inner West. His name is William McInnes and I’ve always said to Frank that if I met William one day, I’d divorce him and marry William. One day, Frank came home from buying beer, and said ‘I think I’m gone now. I just met William.’ It turns out William lives in WeFo. I let Frank stay.
I have three very different jobs. Frank and I own Enterprising Partnerships, a company that Frank started in 1990. EP has done a lot of different things over the past 30 years but we now work primality in the area of providing entrepreneurship programs for migrants and young people. This year alone, we’ve worked with 500 people to help them start a business.
We also run a not-for-profit, iGen Foundation, which is directly funded by EP. Through iGen I work with the Council of Europe in its Intercultural Cities Program. We now have 5 local governments in Australia that are part of the 130 cities internationally that work interculturally. I am very pleased to say that Maribyrnong City Council is an Intercultural City and part of the international network.
Recently, I launched Squirrl, the third part of my life. 10 years ago I went to Antarctica via Buenos Aires and I was really paranoid about my passport being stolen in a city where I didn’t know the language and had never been before. I asked someone I knew who could sew if she could make me a pair of undies with a secret pocket in the front so I could ‘squirrel away’ my passport, credit cards and money so they couldn’t be stolen. A few pickpockets have tried over the years but I’ve never had anything stolen because of my Squirrls! I’ve had many pairs made since 2009 and this year I was about to get some more made when a friend said that I should turn it into a business so other women can travel safely and I have!
Squirrl is a huge leap of faith and a massive amount of work that I couldn’t do without the support of my husband and team. The demand has been amazing and Squirrls are now travelling the world!
Everything about Squirrl is completely local. Our graphic designer is from Yarraville, my social media guru is from South Kingsville, my photographer is from Footscray, the lady who helps me with packing lives across the road from me, my manufacturer is in Braybrook, the packaging is made in Sunshine North, the cotton is woven in Spotswood and dyed in Sunshine. My IT guy lives in South Yarra now but was in the western suburbs for a long time. It’s true that I have been able to launch a global business from the western suburbs of Melbourne and I am very proud of that.
About 25 years ago my best friend went to Canberra and bought me back a snowdome. That’s led to an obsession with collecting and being given them by friends and family has led to more than 300 snowdomes…. We showcase my snowdomes every week with Snowdome Sunday on Instagram and have a lot of fun with it.
I love the three parts of my ‘working’ life. Even though none of them feel like work, every one of them has a social impact and make people’s lives better. That’s always been the theme of my life and I intend to do this until I can’t do it any more.”