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Women’s Journeys Blue Mountains’ Women and their Stories

Brigitte Grant


Brigitte Grant Publisher & Author / Artist / Portrait Photographer / Shoe addict Prior to moving to the Blue Mountains in 2001, I lived in Penrith with my partner and two children who were born there. I loved it, but an opportunity to buy cheap land and build arose in Medlow Bath so we sold our house and moved to the Mountains. I didn’t think I would, but I shed a few tears when we packed up and finally moved. I knew this meant a new kind of life, a Mountains’ life. *** I consider myself ‘French from the Pacific Islands’. I was born in Noumea (New Caledonia),  the ‘Jewel of the South Pacific’, as we like to call it. My grandparents were from Vietnam. I have an older sister, two brothers, a half-sister here, a few half-brothers there! Lol! My parents divorced when I was very young. We moved to Tahiti (the largest island in French Polynesia) in my early teens. Tahiti is so rich culturally, with hot weather and incredible natural beauty  too. I connect strongly with Tahiti. It feels like home whenever I visit and stay with my family who still live on the island.  Living in Australia is a blessing too. I’ve lived here most of my life, and yet my heart is still partly in the Pacific Islands. I have always loved photography. When I was very young, I’d  go to the beach and  photograph sunsets, landscapes (the simple things in life that I enjoyed doing when we didn’t have internet or smartphones). I’d also take shots of my family and friends and make memories using my first  little cheap  camera  because I couldn’t afford a proper one.  Fast forward to Australia where  I continued to photograph everything from nature to my children. My partner  built me a darkroom wherever we lived. There were no digital cameras then and I was developing all my own photographs with chemicals.  When  my children were in school and a bit older,  I then took the plunge to open my photography business in 2011. Got myself a good camera too. Lol! As my

confidence grew, I pushed boundaries and overcame being ‘the shy little island girl’. I learned that if I wanted ‘THAT’ shot, I needed to put aside my shyness and go and get it! Portrait photography appeals to me the most, but it’s challenging. As a portrait photographer, I need to build trust with my sitter so that their beauty, personality, their soul is captured through my lens. I love the empowerment a good portrait photograph gives someone. Deep down, I knew that I was meant to do something meaningful with my photography. I think that with past experiences and people I’d met and/or photographed, this led to reflection and inspiration. Then this amazing project came into my mind. What if I did a photography book about Blue Mountains’ women and their stories?  I have always been curious to know why so many people have moved here. Coming from the Pacific Islands, initially I found the Mountains so cold, misty and gloomy. Slowly, I saw the beauty in misty days. Maybe this is why my photography has a moody, dark sensuousness about it. Making  Women’s Journeys  happen took three years. I made notes about my vision and what questions I thought I might ask. I wanted my questions to be broad enough for reflection, but also pointed enough to trigger a particular memory or moment in life. I also wanted my questions to be relevant and reflective of what was happening in the region at the time of writing: drought, bushfires, floods, and Covid-19!  I created a long list of people I wanted to include, some of them I had met when I had photographed festivals and events, others came to me as clients. I also wrote down the names of interesting women I had read or heard about. Then, when the time came, I summed up the courage to approach them to ask if I could interview them for the book. After all, they would either say, “Yes!” or “No, thank you!” Right?  Women’s Journeys  is also a personal, small ‘Thank You’ to everyone who has appreciated and supported my photography and me over the years.


‘A flower in my hair and a great pair of heels ... thats all I really need!’

Now, the perfect time has come to share with you 100 Blue Mountains’ women and their remarkable stories of determination, positivity, compassion, their highs and lows, hopes, dreams, experiences and adventures.  Women’s Journeys  celebrates women living in the Blue Mountains from all walks of life. I never realised how many fascinating women live here!  It’s been a challenge and a  great  learning experience. After all, this is my very first book and first-ever big project. To have so many wonderful women on board

trusting me, trusting my photography, trusting my project, has been so rewarding. So, to ALL of you, THANK YOU!! Thank you for being adventurous, for playing along with my ideas of  ‘fun photography’, for sharing with me your special havens. Thank you for introducing me to your furry friends. Thank you for posing in cold water or in the warmth of your home, for dressing up or baring all, for looking fabulous as well as unique, to make each shot special!  Thank you for being yourselves!


Women’s Journeys by Brigitte Grant These are the questions given to each woman from which they were asked to choose one or more that most resonated with them. When did you arrive in the Blue Mountains and why did you choose to live in this area? What are some of the positive or negative experiences you have experienced in your life and how did they affect you as a person? Describe the best or worst day of your life? Did you have a good, bad or indifferent relationship with your parents or siblings? What is your best childhood memory? Have you lost someone close to you, which has affected your life? If you were not born in Australia, what made you come to live here? How did you feel when you arrived? Did you have any support? Do you have any regrets about moving to Australia? Have you experienced domestic violence? If you have, how has this shaped you as a person? What are you most determined to accomplish in life? What is your biggest fear? What drives you? What or who inspires you and why? What did you love most about your career? What is your ideal day? How has the Coronavirus affected your life or career? What are your thoughts and/or worries? Are there any positive aspects that have come or will come out of the Coronavirus?

About the portraits The portraits of the women in this book were taken either in my Medlow Bath studio, in their own homes or in locations that they chose to reflect their individual personalities. No matter where I took the photograph, my approach was always ‘lets just have fun or do something wildly different!’


Contents 8 Kirra Court 10 Fran Cane 12 Tina-Marie Pizel-sheil 14 Jo Clancy 16 Mina Howard 18 Kim Brislane 20 Angela Corkeron 22 Julie Bargenquast 24 Judy Howlett 26 Kath Waters-Aiken 28 Sharon Peralta 30 Jennifer Byrnes 32 Kayo Yokoyama 34 Sophie Gunn 36 Livonne Larkins 38 Wendy Anne Hawkes 40 Emma MacMahon 42 Christine Thompson 44 Denise van Horen 46 Becky Marie Chatfield 48 Glenda Phipps 50 Erin Corscadden 52 Monika De Caux 54 Lynne Curan 56 Sharyne Jewell 58 Amy Bell 60 Bonnie Coady 62 Andrea Turner-Boys 64 Naomi Parry 66 Kaylene Brooks 68 Virginia Beejhan Weule 70 Justine Eltakchi 72 Trish Doyle 74 Ava Torch 76 Raine Doyle 78 Kirsten Mulholland 80 Rosemary Morrow 82 Leah Blayney 84 Siany Young 86 Jodie Van Der Velden 88 Linda de-Wilde Moon 90 Gillian Taylor-Reynolds 92 Porcelain The Red Hot Pinup 94 Dr Deborah Ruiz Wall OAM 96 Michele Mtawarira 98 Charity Mirow 100 Sal Isaksen 102 Lorraine Allanson 104 Mary-Lou Keating 106 Jeongmin Sylvester

108 Ana Torres 110 Louise Evans 112 Cassandra Coleman 114 Monique Kummer 116 Meg Benson 118 Cindi Drennan 120 Amy Jackson 122 Julie Paterson 124 Cheryle Yin-Lo 126 Kate O’Neill 128 Susanne ‘Skye’ Evans 130 Lenore Davi 132 Jane Stapleford 134 Penelope Sai 136 Grace Kim 138 Joanna Kalkstein 140 Monique Forestier 142 Razina Sayeed 144 Natalie Forbes 146 Sarah Sandilant 148 Janice Light 150 Ailie Banks 152 Caroline Asensio 154 Maree Statham 156 Joanne King 158 Jana Mader 160 Zoya Kraus 162 Celine Watz 164 Dana Rayson 166 Rachel Gordon 168 Kellie Evans 170 Jacqueline Brinkman 172 Adele Beardsmore 174 Jennifer Boyall 176 Denya Aroha-May 178 Anthea Hammon 180 Tara Moss 182 Zohar Edelshtein Budde 184 Stephanie Vergotis 186 Suzette Gregory 188 Kelly Heylen 190 Emily Cooper 192 Elly Chatfield 194 Mary Moody 196 Vicki Hartley 198 Julia Strykowski 200 Jenny Kee 202 Charlotte Smith 204 Anais Maeva Grant 206 Lesley Elsegood


Tara Moss International Bestselling Author / Documentary Maker / Fashion Model / Public Speaker / Disability & Human Rights Advocate I moved to the Blue Mountains with my husband, writer, and photographer, Berndt Sellheim, in 2009 when we married. We had both loved the Mountains for years, I had written two novels here, and it felt like the right place for us. There is a wonderful pull to the natural beauty of the area, as well as the history, the architecture from the Victorian and Edwardian eras and later, and the deep cultural significance to the Gundungurra and Darug people. It’s a special place and you feel that.   *** I have a motto that life is too short to live the same day twice. I have lived in Europe, the US and in my native Canada, and now I’m proud to be a dual Canadian/ Australian citizen. I have worked as a documentary host and producer, a public speaker, a human rights advocate, a fashion model, and most centrally as a published author, with the past twenty-one years spent on the project of centering women and girls in my beloved fiction and non fiction in over thirteen books, the latest of which is set in 1946 in Sydney and the Blue Mountains, called The War Widow. I’m fascinated by the 1940s. I grew up with stories from WW2 and the postwar period. My Opa was taken by the Nazis and forced into a work camp in Berlin during WW2, and my Oma, with whom he had young children at the time, used to cycle across Holland to Berlin to visit him, smuggling flour and sugar in the hollows of her bicycle. It was so brave. He’d use the smuggled ingredients to bake bread in the munitions ovens to bribe the foreman, who eventually gave him a day pass, which he used to escape. My grandparents taught me about the terrible impacts of war on average citizens and also taught me about the strength of the human spirit. I have dedicated my novel The War Widow to them.

Film noir, hardboiled fiction and true-life stories of ordinary citizens who survived the hardships and upheaval of the mid twentieth century fascinates me. One of my primary projects over the past twenty-one years has been centering the stories of women and girls, providing different perspectives and voices, knowing the crime genre is ripe for that sort of change, particularly in the hardboiled detective tradition. Vintage 1940s clothing and objects give me a tactile and physical relationship to the period, and to the people who lived through those tough times. It reminds me of the era’s ‘Make Do And Mend’ ethos when objects and garments were carefully loved and cared for. This mindset keeps me striving to mend what I have, and be more sustainable in my choices. Have you lost someone close to you, which has affected your life? I am a very fortunate person and I try to reflect on that each day, but like many people, I have lost a loved one. When I was just sixteen, my mother, Janni, passed away from Multiple Myeloma at age forty-three. She taught me a great deal in life, and in death, and losing her has undoubtedly been one of the strongest life changing and shaping experiences I’ve had. I feel fortunate that I had the time with her that I did, but I feel her loss keenly every day. That never changes. One of the gifts she gave me is to value life and to understand the fragility and preciousness of it. Life truly is too short to live the same day twice.    More recently, I was injured and subsequently acquired a disability that causes me daily pain and mobility problems. I have found this particularly difficult as the mother of a young child. It has been life changing, as it has taught me a lot about the value of adaptability and, more deeply, understanding that you can’t always tell what a person is going through by looking at them. Everyone has his or her battle. Everyone is going through something. Be kind.


Jenny Kee Artist / Designer When we first moved back to Sydney, Fran Moore, Linda Jackson, Michael and I would come to the Mountains all the time to walk in the bush and stay with our dear friend, Richard Neville, in his little cottage in Clyde Avenue in Blackheath. Because of our love affair with the Mountains, Michael and I bought our own property, Westhill, in Blackheath in 1976. *** I was born in Bondi in 1947, at a time when Australia was very racist. Although Bondi was a fabulous place, it was very ‘white’. Racist taunts directed at me at school created my mantra, “I’ll show you!” After a brief stint at East Sydney Tech, which I found suffocating and boring, like high school, me, the ‘little mod’, met The Beatles when they arrived in Sydney in 1964. It was my tartan mod suit with black leather trim and knee-high black boots that caught John Lennon’s attention, which led to an invitation to a party in his room later that evening. It was a teenage dream come true and one that changed my life! After the Fab Four departed back to England, like many of my generation, I headed to London to experience a wider and more immersive mod/pop culture. I started my work life at Biba. I was a ‘Biba dolly’ with my Vidal Sassoon haircut and extra mini mini dresses. Starry-eyed, I ushered people in and out of changing rooms, rehung clothes, and ogled the celebrities as they walked through the door. I moved on to work at the Chelsea Antique Market. Here I met my great mentor and guru Vern Lambert, a former Melbourne insurance broker, who ran a stall selling fabulous vintage treasures, from the 19th and early 20th centuries including Schiaparelli and Chanel. I was immersed in vintage, fashion, ethnic, style, beauty, and global culture. This was my University of Fashion and Life!

I met extraordinary people and experienced a life so far removed from Australia. I allowed every aspect of my boho sixties English adventures to work through me, leaving an indelible mark. I brought this exotic, colourful bohemian ethos back home to Australia - my taste, style, inspiration, and so on - in 1972, which was emerging into a creative, visionary country, spearheaded by Whitlam. With Linda Jackson, a designer and great friend, I opened the doors to our creative haven in the Strand in Sydney in 1973, called Flamingo Park, where we designed and made Australian high fashion and partied with the hippest people in town. My life and career (so far), with its extraordinary highs and lows, of enormous successes and disastrous declines, love, loss, and my journey to spiritual fulfillment, has been well chronicled in my book, A Big Life, which was published in 2006. A joyful celebration of my and Linda’s fashion career was showcased in a recent retrospective at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, (Powerhouse Museum, Sydney), titled, ‘Step into Paradise’. What are you most determined to accomplish in life? My ongoing (now) mantra is “Live simply so others may simply live”. This is even more important today with the environmental destruction that we see on this planet. I feel so lucky to live in Blackheath where there is a strong sense of community. When I walk in the bush around where I live and look into the Grose Valley, I offer thanks deeply when I see the regeneration after the bushfires swept through last year. I am in awe of the vigour of native plants and I pray for the wildlife to flourish again as the bush slowly recovers. I feel at peace when I sit quietly on the earth. It’s when I feel truly connected to this ancient land. I have had glamour and fame, but all I want to experience now is the connection to the land and feeling the peace of this ancient part of the world when I sit in contemplation. Whilst at one time in my life I was an activist, now to accomplish change I must do it inwardly because true change comes from within.


Mary-Lou Keating Constable / Police Officer I had been living and working in Parkes/Forbes and wanted to come back closer to my parents. I would drive through the Blue Mountains regularly and realised that finding my ideal situation of a slightly rural location would be here. In 1995, I transferred to the Blue Mountains. Living here has given me amazing opportunities as well as a wonderful part of the world in which to live. I have happily stayed. *** I am the youngest of four children. I grew up in the Manly area and spent a lot of my childhood on the beach. I went to Monte Sant’ Angelo College in North Sydney. My parents greatly influenced my life with their love of dogs, community work, and long trips to country areas, which I am sure nurtured my love for country life and developed my commitment to community work. As a child, I had two careers in mind: a zookeeper or a policewoman. I come from a policing background. My great grandfather was in the Dublin Police Force before he migrated to Australia and joined the NSW Police and worked in Sydney. My grandfather also joined the police force and worked at country stations in Taralga, Adelong, and Binalong. It was a country road trip to Binalong that my father took me on when I was given the old charge book that made my decision to join the policing family. After graduating from TAFE with Police Supervision, Police Management, and Human Relations units under my belt, my first job saw me stationed at Eastwood working alongside other female officers. My yearning to go west took me to Parkes where I was the sole female officer performing general Duties. I eventually transferred to Highway Patrol. My police career has allowed me to drive through NSW’s amazing countryside, work in task forces, meet Royalty, represent NSW’s Police Force in America, visit war ships, support families during tragedies, and, most importantly, make life long friends. I received the Commissioner’s Commendation for Community Service for work I did for four years coordinating Bluey Day in NSW at which money was

raised by Police and Emergency service men and women for children living with cancer. What positive/negative experience you have experienced in life and how did it affect you? In January 2010, my life changed! I was called to Mount Wilson to help with the search for missing bushwalkers, which sadly ended in tragedy for one family, a family with close links to mine. The death of my son’s friend affected me badly and not long after I was diagnosed with PTSD. To help my recovery, it was suggested I take up photography and buy a camera. I did and I haven’t looked back! The horrendous 2013 bush fires swept through the Blue Mountains. I was compelled to take my camera and photograph the bushland and the people instead of fire and burnt homes as one might expect. I wanted to capture ‘hope’! A burnt tree became my focus to ‘follow’ and over a number of months I photographed its regrowth. I also captured the birds, insects, and animals that started to return to the area. I spoke to and met amazing people who showed me their strength and resilience, something I greatly admired, despite losing homes, treasured possessions and, for some, beloved pets. We self-published a book from some of the six thousand five hundred photographs that were taken, called ‘As the Smoke Clears’, that documented the recovery from the bushfire. The book has since been used as an aid in schools, by psychologists, and was written about in another book by Australian author/filmmaker, Paul Cox. The book has raised over $20,000 for the Blue Mountains Mayoral Bushfire Fund. One of the funded projects was establishing a group to help improve outcomes for animals impacted during emergencies. It’s called Blue ARC. Post 2010, I now appreciate the small things in life. I feel I am a better police officer and person, someone who understands people and enjoys experiences in life far better. I realise a simple life is easier to live!


Emily Cooper Dance and Drum Teacher at Hands, Heart & Feet The Blue Mountains were a big part of my childhood, as I tended to live outdoors and play in the bush. I moved to the Mountains with my family when I was three years old. My mum had two small children under three and was pregnant at the time, so she moved back to be close to her family. Apart from a brief spell when I was in my twenties when I lived in Sydney, I have always lived and worked here. *** I’ve been a professional dancer and dance teacher for over sixteen years. Dancing to me is about feeling and expressing the beauty and complexity of being human. I blend a variety of movements including Contemporary, Bollywood, West African, Tribal Belly Dance, and Blue Mountains flavours to create a fun and unique style. In 2005, I co-founded Hands, Heart & Feet with John May. It was an absolute joy to work together and create such a colourful, thriving Blue Mountains drum and dance community. Hands Heart & Feet became well known and loved in the Mountains, performing regularly at local events such as Winter Magic, Lanterns on the Lake and Banquet of Dreams. We also travelled to events such as Peats Ridge on the Central Coast, the West African Festival in Sydney, even to a storytelling festival in Singapore.

In recent years, I have also become a percussion teacher, which I am loving more and more each day. What drives you? I believe our body is the first ground of sovereignty. I believe we can heal and nourish our bodies through activities that bring us joy, such as drumming and dancing. This is a large part of what drives my work. Creating community is another driving force. To smile across a drum circle at a friend or a stranger, to laugh at a joyful moment in a dance with the person grooving next to you – these things can be such simple, profound experiences of being human. They connect us to ourselves and to each other in a way that I believe is deeply nourishing. What or who inspires you and why? My students inspire me. Those who come to my drum and dance classes constantly open my heart, surprise me, impress me, make me laugh, and teach me how to be a better teacher and a better artist. I am deeply moved by unique, individual expression, by people finding ways to make the world more beautiful and interesting by being themselves. I am ignited with inspiration when I feel this happen in a collective. I think it’s a radically wonderful thing when a community genuinely celebrates diversity.


When glamour and wildness collide.

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Women's Journeys preview  

Women's Journeys by Brigitte Grant

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Women's Journeys by Brigitte Grant

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