"Empowered women, empower women!"
It’s a pretty simple philosophy and served as a fantastic reminder once I decided to create a space dedicated to the women of rural, regional and remote Australia. On a day dedicated to the feats of women worldwide, it seemed only fitting that I write a blog. The more women I connect with, the more I am in awe of their personal sacrifices and achievements. Educating the next generation, a task so common, takes on a point of difference for the women of outback Australia. There’s the woman who drives 70km each way, morning and afternoon, to her closest school for her children, the woman who runs her own inspiring school room and tutors her children with the assistance of school of the air, or the woman who is left with a quiet home as her children reach the age where the family’s isolated location forces her to send them away to boarding school. Stories that are each different, but all deliver a dose of daily inspiration directly to my inbox. As I read the remarkable lengths and uncover the extra mile women of the bush go to every day, I could list adjectives from here to eternity. In short, women who kick ass embody perseverance, resilience and determination. The other seemingly apparent reality is that the vast majority downplay their feats. The latter most definitely needs to change. For this reason, my wish for International Women’s Day is that we women come together, to build each other up instead of tear each other down. Let’s focus on encouragement, support and celebration. After all your vibe attracts your tribe, and a positive one is all the more enjoyable.
As the person who writes and asks the interview questions for the Arvo with Amz and Wattle Women in Business segments, I thought I would shake things up and prepare to answer the one question I ask of everyone. Prepare yourselves as I reveal some key players in my own tribe and support network. Warning: a few tears may have been shed in the writing of this blog.
Name three inspirational women you admire and why.
- My Mum – Debbie Jackson
Being a mum is no easy feat and it goes without saying that all mums are deserving of praise and recognition. But this is my moment to recognise one very crazy and super human lady, my mum. Crazy because not only did she have five children, almost squeezing three under three, but she worked full-time, helped run the farms and filled all her spare time (I know, it sounds like the punch line of a joke) volunteering for community organisations for the betterment of her children.
I constantly suffer trying to find enough hours in the day and yet, my mum always managed to find that precious time. She served on the P&C executive, alternating years with my dad, of our primary school for the duration of our enrolment, was the brains (pun intended) behind the Kumbia Brain Drain, working for thirteen years to grow the annual school fundraiser still going strong to this day, repeatedly wrote grants for sporting clubs, was President of the Kingaroy Netball Association and instrumental in having our much needed club house built, netball coach and umpire. Once I, her only daughter left for uni and was no longer playing locally, she turned her attention to the Kingaroy Red Ants Rugby League Club and became the broadcast announcer there. Oh, and she hadn’t neglected cricket either, being a regular team scorer. She was even the President of the Kingaroy State High School P&C with her 10 year tenure continuing long after her children had left. When her Saturdays were no longer filled with kids' sport she worked at the auction mart, a business run by the high school. Anyone would think my mum didn’t like sleep or know how to relax. The truth is she was just motivated by her kids and pushed all her own needs aside.
While we may not have had the best of everything (there were hand-me-downs galore), we did have an idyllic childhood.
When we were little mum never baulked at our creative imaginations. Time and time again, we would empty her pantry to set up shop and use our monopoly money to complete the transactions. She didn’t care that the biscuits came back broken, the tins were dinted from being dropped and plenty of Monopoly money was found flying around the garden. When we made mud pies and the specialty chocolate Easter bunnies (they looked the exact same), reminiscent of Grandma’s marshmallow bunnies, she didn’t care that we used some of her best kitchenware as moulds.
Even the relentless barrage of pranks involving rubber snakes was tolerated. She surprisingly managed to see the funny side (eventually) when we were all preparing for the school athletics carnival and brother 1 managed to split brother 3’s head open whilst throwing a homemade discus. It might have had something to do with the fact she had told us not to throw rocks and brother 2, a stickler for details, corrected her and explained it hadn’t been a rock but a broken piece of concrete. The bottom line is we were free to play and free to have imagination from sun up to sun down.
We were free to choose what peaked our interest when it came to hobbies and sports. Which meant soccer, cricket, footy and netball all happened on Saturdays and in four different local towns. Thankfully, mum was one hell of a taxi service and made it happen. She might have taught my brothers how to bowl a cricket ball, helped me research for school debates, proofread our assignments and risked her life teaching us all how to drive. But more than anything she taught us the value of hard work and that you can be anything you want to be. 'Exhibit A' - being this very blog I am writing.
My mum is definitely an all or nothing kind of lady. She gave her all to raising her children which is why when she was left with nothing, she struggled. Having children so close together, meant we all flew the coop in the short space of a few years. For a woman whose children were her life and had spent every waking second prioritising their needs, the unavoidable free time was crippling. To say my mum was lost would be a massive understatement. Notorious for over-catering, this didn’t stop as mum struggled to adjust to grocery shopping for two instead of a tribe. Her weekly baking continued but with only Dad left to eat, she started to send ‘care packages’ to work for the growing young men he worked with, who, in mum’s opinion, needed more sustenance. There’s no doubt about it she loves doing things for others and her selfless nature makes her second to none.
- My best friend – Saba Usmani
Born in Pakistan and educated in Toronto, Canada, our lives could not have been any more different when our paths crossed in rural Australia in 2013. She grew up in a major city, I was raised on a farm. She has two sisters, I have four brothers. She is a Muslim, I am a Christian. She is brown, I am white. None of these insignificant differences mattered when a fresh faced Saba arrived as a graduate Economics teacher at Chinchilla SHS, ready to commence her career and mould young minds. Whilst I was her boss and had the task of supporting her transition into her career, it quickly became apparent that she could certainly stand on her own two feet. Moreover, this remarkable young woman would become a constant source of inspiration and teach me more about life than I could have ever possibly imagined.
So what did I learn from my very own “Caramel Princess?” Saba unequivocally taught me the power of positivity. Living in a small country town on the opposite side of the world to your entire family, adjusting to the demands of a job that university can never really prepare you for and learning an entirely new language, that being ocker Australian English, would be enough to overwhelm anyone. Yet, Saba took everything in her stride and always wore a smile on her face. She consistently looked for the upside in every situation, even though she was a mile outside her comfort zone. She didn’t let this stop her learning how to drive, given her previously utilised public transport was not an option, learning the rules of every major Australian sporting code (she became quite the QLD Maroons supporter) and learning how to survive an Australian summer. The sweltering heat, sticky flies and serious tan lines were definitely a world away from sipping hot chocolates in toasty warm Toronto cafes.
Appreciation. My appreciation for my own surroundings swelled with Saba by my side. It was as if I too was seeing all of the perks of living rurally for the first time through her eyes. She reminded me how lucky I am. Simple pleasures - wide open spaces, a sky full of stars and sensational scenery (often found at the top of a hike that Saba begrudgingly completed) – are just a few of the things I encountered every day without stopping to appreciate.
Actually, one of my fondest memories involved getting lost along a dusty dirt road with no phone service and no visible signs of human life and the realisation that we probably should have stopped for fuel. It probably would have been terrifying had we not had each other to laugh with, or perhaps, it was laugh at. But my all time favourite was when Saba rolled the swag out in the back seat (not the tray) of the dual cab to sleep. Here, I was trying to get her to appreciate sleeping under the stars. I guess you can take the girl out of the city but you can’t take the city out of the girl.
There’s no doubt about it in three short years we became joined at the hip. Despite the 16,000km between us today, she is still the flip to my flop, sausage to my bread and waltzing to my Matilda. She left a life she loved and absolutely excelled at to be closer to her family. Now, that’s inspiring!
- My entrepreneur – Samantha Wills
Making highly coveted jewellery, worn by the stars, New York based designer and Creative Director, Samantha Wills is definitely an Australian success story. However, it’s not her multi-million dollar yearly profits that find her getting a mention, but rather her remarkable journey, beating repeated obstacles and setbacks in the pursuit of her dreams.
Leaving her hometown of Port Macquarie, bound for the big smoke of Sydney, with her life jammed into her Toyota Corolla Hatchback, a naive Samantha had no idea of the challenges that awaited. 4am wake up calls to be in line for her regular market stall at the Bondi Markets were mild compared to the increasing debt she racked up trying to get her business off the ground. Before she got her big break at Fashion Week in 2004, and invested her entire savings paying $500 for her spot, Samantha was working a day job at a local surf shop and hosting jewellery parties for friends of friends at night. Her dining room table was serving up endless baked beans on toast for dinner but also doubled as her workbench and dispatch centre.
While she may have had orders placed to the value of $17,000 from her Fashion Week appearance, her business journey was not about to get any easier.
“Towards the end of 2005 my credit card statement told me I owed $50k, I was sitting in an office I couldn’t afford, my hands bled from making so much jewellery, my friends were off having the time of their lives & as is often the case with young love, it fell apart…so did my world.”
Despite contemplating giving up on more than one occasion, Samantha Wills pushed past the closed doors and continued to chase what she had always envisioned. “All I knew is I wanted to create a brand that people wanted to be a part of.” And, a part of they were when Patricia Field, costume designer of the Sex and the City juggernaut, showcased Samantha’s designs in the iconic film. Drew Barrymore to Rhianna were spotted wearing Samantha Wills’ designs and the debt Samantha had risked disappeared.
In spite of all her millions made and the luxurious life her Instagram would have you believe she lives, Samantha has worked damn hard and is committed to giving back. In 2015, Samantha launched the Samantha Wills Foundation to empower women in business. Revealing her motivations,
“I have always tried to be transparent in sharing the journey of the brand and its origins. I do it in the hope that my story, coming from a small town with no formal qualifications or training, to be able to carve out a career like the one I have, inspires others who may be from a similar background to pursue their dreams also.”
She is using her influence to inspire young girls with big dreams to become women with vision. And, I am just one of those girls, an ocean away trying to embrace her courage, commitment and confidence in their own dreams.
Three remarkably different women and yet, three unique perspectives to embrace. I have no doubt that Samantha Wills doesn't realise she is part of my tribe, but I would encourage you to look for inspiration everywhere. Take a moment today to thank those ladies in your tribe who make your life smarter, stronger and generally, more sensational!
Happy International Women's Day!
With big love from Wattle & Twine x