Women Who Mean Business

Women Who Mean Business

Born in England in 1955, Sue came to Australia with her immediate family, but not her grandmother. Sue missed having a relationship with her grandmother and this gave her an understanding of internal conflict, loss and displacement She has collected and practised a myriad of self-soothing and anxiety management strategies over the years and absolutely enjoys sharing those strategies with others. She has taught all ages, worked with all ages and relishes contact with all ages. She has a BA in Social Science, a Diploma of Teaching, and relationship counselling qualifications. Sue also loves the mechanisms of the body and so Reiki, massage and healing techniques are part of her life. Being self-sufficient, leaving a minimal footprint, and contributing or giving back are important to Sue. 

By Sue Kemsley

I was born in Liverpool, England. My father was a merchant seaman, my mother a hairdresser. We sailed to Australia soon after my third birthday in April 1958. I still have the King Neptune certificate from when we sailed over the equator!

Because my dad was an engineer and had seen enough of Australia to know it was “a land of opportunity”, he had applied for and gained a job at Yallourn Power Station. 

So, the three of us arrived in Melbourne and drove to Newborough to live. I spent my primary school years there and we moved, when I was aged 11, to a property at Boolarra, where my father had built our home and where my mother continues to live today.

I heard about Women Who Mean Business (WWMB) from a participant in a class I was facilitating at Relationships Australia. Michelle Tisdale had proudly told us she had a job as the project worker for the Latrobe Valley group (Latrobe and Mountain Rivers). It sounded like a great project (quirky title, women focused, acknowledging women’s experience, and women only) and I quickly decided to join.

The focus of our project was to be a cookbook, which told the story of the cook, the recipe, and included pictures from the children involved. I submitted a story to Tucker ‘n’ Tales that stemmed from my early years in Newborough and Dutch neighbours who had gifted my mum the recipe for Spiced Apple Tart – still an all-time favourite in our family. 

I loved the respect shown to the contributors and their stories as we edited, recorded and wrote some stories for those whom English was not their first language. Checking back to ensure the women were happy with what was to be published was so important to us that we didn’t mind the time, phone calls and arrangements that this process required.

Our meetings were fun, usually held over food, and often in wonderful places around the area, Cowwarr Weir being a highlight, and I believe the photograph of the laden table on that day, covered with a red check cloth, is the front cover image on the book.

Michelle Tisdale is particularly memorable. Her patience and persistence was admirable, as evidenced on a lengthy occasion when she had carpel tunnel surgery and her daughter broke both wrists – wrists in her home seemed under siege.

Michelle shared a clever strategy of blocking out time in the diary for self-care. I learnt this tip as we did some extra-curricular Hebel block carving – blocking out times in our busy diaries to indulge in something creative just for us (with a pen not a Hebel block!).

I was challenged at times by the loose structure of meetings, and the way time billowed out while we met. I was busy with many commitments and found this frustrating, yet there was an appeal to that unstructured process which was organic and resulted in the job being achieved amongst laughter and grace (mostly).

The resultant recipe book was especially rewarding; we were chuffed with the hard copies and the speed with which they flew out of our hands to purchasers – leaving very few in special places (I have two to pass on to my kids) and leaving us exploring the idea of a reprint. This sadly was not possible, so the books are treasured items.

The group went on to collate and publish another book, 69 Days of Fire, based on the fires that stormed through the north of Latrobe Valley in 2006 and 2007. The collation of this book incorporated workshops for fire-affected community members to paint their experiences on canvas, which was then made into a quilt. I loved that connection with people. We offered a range of nurturing things for them, comprising massages, food and other pampering items in conjunction with other organisations where there was a fit. To witness the human spirit in fire fighters, in those whose properties were threatened or burnt, and in those who supported them, was humbling.

I value the organising, brainstorming and grounded community service these projects delivered. It continued to be part of my working life as a group facilitator with Relationships Australia for many years. I now enjoy being part of a community choir and women’s group and collaborating with others to take better care of our planet and each other in various ways.

During the time in the WWMB I learned I have little patience for those who are loud or pushy with their agenda, or who don’t allow others to contribute in a timely or meaningful way. In a way, the project participation taught me patience and encouraged me to reflect on the differences between people and their life experiences, as well as to discover gentle reminders that we all deserve time to contribute. I had been employing these skills in a work context, as group facilitator and counsellor,but the community focus of the group meant that it became a learning at a deeper level, and something I use to this day.

My home is in Narracan and has been for 36 years. Only an hour from the snow and the sea, it offers a wonderful nook of serenity, while being close to arts, family and friendship groups. I can be as isolated and hermit-like or as involved in community as I like, which is a fortunate position to be in. Since 2019, my partner and I have been travelling, enjoying our first taste of retirement from paid work.

I wound my working life down slowly, the veggie garden and a grandchild filling the extra space beautifully. The work with Relationships Australia became occasional, and my private counselling, massage and Reiki practice took place at my discretionMy partner continued to work casually but virtually full time until the day before we left on a three-month Avan caravan adventure.

We visited many places through South Australia and Northern Territory before reaching the west coast of Australia. There we seemed to find the slow down button. My partner read while I wrote, we attended a Qigong class on the grass overlooking the sea, and “painted rainbows”, “stroked the horse and viewed the horizon”, which was ocean for the most part. I am loving the time to write journal entries, letters, poems, short stories and a children’s story.

I wouldn’t call myself a “woman who means business” anymore, however, I love the business of life, of connecting with like-minded people, and sharing the joy of life. I believe these connections allow us to feel part of something, a bit like a tribe, which acts as a buffer and place of comfort that offers respite from the often-frenetic pace of life in today’s society. The beauty of linking this with the written word is that there is a record, an opportunity to look back and remember and value what has gone before.

I am grateful for the experience, connection and friendships that were formed through the Women Who Mean Business project, and I wish all involved well.

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