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Edition 10— August 2017



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Issue 10, August 2017

12 23

On the cover 18

Jess Rae

Inside 10

Brianna Cook — 26


Jodie Baker — 44


Selinah Vincent — 27


Rowena Ash — 45

Shari Butcher — 28


Nicolina Devitt — 46


Reggie Rankin — 29


Sandra Cartwright — 47


Ellen McNeil — 30


Sue Gundry — 48


Carley Dohnt — 31


Natalie Murphy — 49


Jess Rae — 32


Louise Williams — 50


Samantha Dawson — 33


Life is better with friends


Gabby Johnson — 34



Tammy McGillivray — 35

A passion for pole dancing   — sans erotica


Clare Modra — 36


No identity, no hope, no future  — unless …


Natalie Smith — 37



Jacinta Cannon — 38

Sunago — fantastic flavours for every occasion


Veronica McLeod — 39


Getting a kick out of getting kicked


Mesh Thomson — 40


Is there a doctor in here somewhere?


Eva Baker — 41



Sophie Baldwin — 42

Sophie’s Single — For those days when you are lacking a little get up and go


Kellie Taylor — 43


Thirty Something — If you like it, then it must have a ring on it


Contact us

Bella editor Tyla Harrington 5482 1111



48 Bella advertising Vanessa Brewis 5482 1111

Want more Bella? Instagram—@bellamagazineechuca

Photography: Luke Hemer Editorial design: Brendan Cain, Adele Dhillon Advertising design: Bella Considine, Tanya Main, Brendan Cain and Jacqui Maskell Words: Ivy Wise, Charmayne Allison, Vivienne Duck, Jessica Gledhill, Jessica Lamb, Alex Mitchell, Sophie Baldwin, David Chapman, Rusty Woodger, Andrew Mole, Tyla Harrington. Cover: Hair and makeup by Trac Iorianni’s Hair & Beauty’s Whitney Vincent (hair) and Selinah Vincent (makeup). Model: Jess Rae



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HAVE BEEN doodling for as long as I can remember.

A circle here, a star over there, a stick figure in the corner and a smiley face right smack bang in the middle. Of course the words have always come first but doodling has been my go-to when there are no words. I mean isn’t there a doodler inside us all? Just waiting for that right phone call where the zoning out begins and the sketching starts? And no — to all those I’ve ever interviewed — that’s not you. I guess I’ve been a doodler for as long as I’ve been a writer. So when we came across Jess Rae, who features on this month’s cover, and is a professional doodler, it’s safe to say I was a little star struck. Jess features this month because she is also one of the women in our 100 Women of Bella feature.


ET ME GET straight to the point. I honestly didn’t think we could possibly top our June edition of Bella but the calibre of empowering women to come out of the woodwork and make this magazine even more of a must-read appears endless.

Bella launched its first instalment of the 100 women of Bella in our recent edition, the moment it hit the Riverine Herald the response was immediate, amazing and completely overwhelming. Our region is also lucky enough to be

She is the woman behind the Mama Mayhem sketches — a weekly column by the hilariously talented Ivy Wise (also a Bella writer).

That’s where muscle memory came in. Jess had to draw the elements separately so the drawing came together.

Every week, without fail, Jess has me laughing at her sketch.

After finishing the outline Jess then put pink cellophane over the torch and coloured in the dress.

The way she manages to capture Ivy and her incredibly chaotic life is beyond me. So when we decided to try her out for the cover, suffice to say, we decided to step back and let her sketches do the talking. Don’t be fooled though, without the brilliance of our photographer Luke Hemer there would be no cover. It took a lot of work, and a long night, to produce what he did but I can promise you, remarkably, Photoshop was not involved. If you’re after some insight into the shoot, Luke told me the camera shutter was opened on bulb setting so he could choose how long the exposure takes. The room was pitch black, with the flash lighting Jess as she posed then while the camera was still exposing Jess used a torch to draw the character.

thriving with local business successes and we feature two of them in this edition. We meet delightful hospitality duo Sean and Meaghan Roberts, who present a charming fusion of Greek and modern Australian cuisine to tempt our taste buds at local eatery Sunago (page 48 and 49). Then we share the journey of Duncan and his friend Brad through the NDIS and the assistance of Golden City Support Services to deliver resources and support to people in our community living with a disability.

A walk in the park, right? Wrong. It took about 75 seconds to complete the photo (with settings on 75 second exposure at f/22 ISO 50) but the shoot took more than two hours to get right. Thanks must also go to Trac Iorianni’s Hair & Beauty for Jess’ hair and makeup which made Jess feel like the queen she really is. You can read her story in the pages that follow. Plus all the other women, stories and photos jam-packed into this issue. I can assure you with all that there won’t be time to doodle along the way. Tyla Harrington Bella editor

We also launch a horoscope page brought to you by local soul nurturer — Sally Williams. See page 60. Finally a little self-promotion — we at Bella HQ have some exciting news to share. We are a 2017 Finalist for the PANPA Advertising & Marketing Awards. Winners will be announced in September so fingers crossed loyal readers and please enjoy this latest read. Vanessa Brewis Bella advertising executive

Editor Tyla Harrington with advertising executive Vanessa Brewis.


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Should I do cardio or weights??? Long gone are the days when the men pumped iron in the gym while the ladies in headbands and leotards did star jumps and dance moves in a class next door. These days it’s more of a blended approach to exercise, because women are cottoning on to the fact that strength training isn’t just for the boys. In fact it’s an essential weapon in the battle of the flab! So what’s best for losing weight: cardio or strength work? Answer: Both! Sweat it Up Cardio is anything that gets your heart rate up, makes you sweat and gets the oxygen pumping through your blood. Running, cycling and aerobic classes, like zumba, are all examples. Fitness instructors suggest two-and-a-half hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity for adults every week for health. “Your heart and lungs will benefit immensely from consistent cardiovascular exercise,” says Bec Bowen fitness instructor. “Cardio can assist in thickening the tendons and ligaments in joints in preparation for higher intensity exercise.” Fitness instructor Glen McFadden agrees: “The benefits of cardiovascular training are numerous: you will get huge health benefits, improved circulation, increases in bone density (to help combat osteoporosis), improved sleep and reduced anxiety levels.” Glen says there are so many activities you can do like swimming, treadmills or indoor cycling that you are bound to find something you love and do with friends.

Strengthen Up Strength training is any exercise that helps the different muscles in your body become stronger and more powerful. It can be through using weights, or even your own bodyweight like press-ups, TRX machines or squats. It can be resistance-based, using elastic gym bands or gym fit balls.

Increasing your metabolic rate; this is what strength training does, can be more effective for fat-loss than cardio. A balanced schedule prioritising weight training first and leaving cardio for recovery days when muscles need to be stretched.

Mix it Up For maximum benefits, both types of exercise should be carried out regularly. However, that doesn’t mean you have to do one or the other. It is possible to do both at the same time and this is called metabolic conditioning. Combining cardio and strength exercise is a very effective fitness and fat loss tool. The good news is that metabolic conditioning workouts are much shorter because of their intensity. Metabolic conditioning is training your body to work at a high intensity for a short period of time. Any intense work you do for up to 60 seconds will be of this nature. This is then followed by a short recovery period before you repeat several times. High intensity classes or repeat sets of programmed exercises are built around this theory.

After all types of exercise you will burn calories with strength training you are switching on more of your muscle fibres and raising your metabolism so there’s more active tissue in your body. Weights don’t mean big and butch. The experts say you need to use a bit of weight if you want to lose a bit of weight. “Guys tend to lose more weight in training than girls because they generally lift heavier weights,” says Bec. “So many women fear lifting heavy weights thinking they will get big muscles. Let me tell you now that the weaker you are, the fatter you are likely to be. Women don’t have the levels of testosterone required to get bulky.” Glen suggests: “For the gym goer I’d recommend an hour or so of cardio with some resistance training two or three times a week.” He also recommends post-menopausal women do strength training to help ward off osteoporosis. So, a mix of strength and cardio is the ideal exercise combination to help burn calories. Remember though, if you are trying to lose weight, what you eat is just as important.

The After Effect Another plus to strength training is that your body is still burning calories when you’re sitting on the sofa watching TV after your workout!

If you want to help tone muscles and strengthen bones strength work is vital; it’s also key to losing weight. Strength or weight training increase muscle tissue. The more lean muscle tissue you have the more calories you burn. “1 kg of muscle burns 50 extra calories a day, whereas 1 kg of fat burns just three calories a day.”


26-50 100 women of Bella

26 Brianna Cook — 26


ITNESS HAS ALWAYS been important to Brianna Cook, and she works each day to help other people in Echuca in their own fitness efforts.

Brianna owns Next Level Fitness Echuca, with partner Luke, having trained in fitness as soon as she completed school.

quite often you don’t even know your neighbours, people are very robotic and a true sense of community is missing,” she said.

A fitness fanatic, Brianna said she sees technology as changing our lifestyles to a very unhealthy point.

“In my opinion inactive lifestyles combined “At first I was unsure of what to do career- with poor nutritional choices are causing chronic health problems,” she said. wise, however it made sense to follow an area I am passionate about, so I found “If we can aim to educate people and inspire myself working within the fitness industry.” them to make some positive changes, we she said. will as a result have a society of people with an improved quality of life.” “This has been the making of me, I truly enjoy my job.

“My role is extremely satisfying; what we aim for is to improve the physical condition and emotional state of those who come into our lives by walking through our front door.”

Brianna moved to Echuca three years ago from Melbourne’s outer suburbs and said she wouldn’t want to go back after her brilliant experience here and enjoying the sense of community.

“This is what is lost in the Melbourne lifestyle,

And Brianna’s life was changed for the better ten months ago with the birth of her first child, JJ.

“Motherhood is one of the hardest yet most rewarding jobs I’ve been blessed to have in my lifetime,” she said. “It is the proudest thing I have ever done; his contagious smile and laughter makes the lack of sleep and the hard days totally worth it. “I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Selinah Vincent — 27


FTER GIVING BIRTH to daughter Lily when she was just 20, the next 18 months of Selinah Vincent’s life would be a blur.

Selinah would train in Shepparton as a beauty therapist, spending long days away from her daughter. But that investment has paid off for the fifth-generation Echuca woman, who now runs her own beauty therapy business at Trac Ioriannis Hair and Beauty. “It was a full-on 18 months, but we sort of got in our little groove; I’m thankful that I did because we wouldn’t have the lifestyle that we have today if I didn’t work hard to get there,” Selinah said.


through or their story and how they’re feeling, but you know that after you’ve spent time with them they will leave feeling better about themselves.

“It’s nice to be able to have someone look in the mirror after you’ve spent time with them and for them to feel happy with what they see in the mirror. I know it’s superficial at the end of the day but if you can boost someone’s confidence it’s a really nice feeling.” As a single mother to the “kind-hearted and crazy” Lily, who is now six years old, Selinah said she’d enjoyed the challenge of raising her daughter by herself. “It’s been a challenge, but one I’ve enjoyed the whole way through,” she said.

As a beauty therapist in Echuca, Selinah said helping people to feel good about themselves had been a key attraction to the occupation.

“We have a very strong bond because it’s just been the two of us. People say ‘I bet it’s really hard to be a single mum’ but I’ve never really known any different because I’ve sort of always done it from the start.

“All the people who come and visit you, you don’t know what they’re going

“But could not have done it as well without support of family, mine and Lily’s father’s.”


100 women of Bella

Shari Butcher — 28 S

HARI BUTCHER HAS moved between jobs and cities over her professional career, but has always had an eye on coming home to Echuca. She initially moved with her family to Echuca in 2003, where at Echuca High School she would meet her now-husband Callan — they married last year on the banks of the Murray. Shari has worked in both hospitals and in the tourism industry, and settled at Echuca Regional Health this March.

“I was drawn to tourism because of my passion for our community, and the amazing offerings we have here,” she said. “From food and wine, to events, to camping and water sports on the Murray, we are lucky to live in a town that is thriving and has a real buzz about it.”


After working at Murray Regional Tourism, Shari felt a pull back to working at a hospital which she had done before, and took on the role as executive assistant and volunteer co-ordinator at ERH. “I really enjoy working at ERH; being in the executive admin team means the work is always dynamic and ever-changing,” she said. “The staff are lovely and working with the volunteers is really rewarding. At ERH we have 120 volunteers who work across various areas of the hospital. The support they provide to patients and their families and to our staff is wonderful. “They really are an amazing bunch of people who give their time, talent and compassion to ensure people coming to the hospital have a wonderful experience.” Shari was born with cystic fibrosis, and said it felt right to be working at the hospital after so many visits over the years. “Life is difficult at times, having to manage a chronic health condition when it is primarily an invisible condition but you can otherwise manage to have a normal life” she said. “I loved working at the Royal Children’s Hospital Education Institute, having been going to the hospital since I was born, it felt nice to be working there and providing support to the kids.” Shari founded the Breathe Easy fundraising group in 2015, which raises funds and awareness for cystic fibrosis with events in the EchucaMoama community.





100 women of Bella

Reggie Rankin — 29 R

EGGIE RANKIN IS a tattoo artist who dabbles in talk therapy.

Even though it can be personally draining at times.

Reggie got her first tattoo when she was 18, and two weeks later she was back at the tattoo parlour — as an employee.

With tattoos often having personal significance for those getting them, Reggie said her clients often share deeply personal memories with her. “It seems to come in waves; last year we were open Christmas Eve and all day I seemed to tattoo parents who had lost a child,” she said. “It was just heartbreaking.

“You feel for those people so much, and you’re doing a good thing for them.”

Reggie had always been creative, interested in both drawing and tattoos for quite some time.

But the idea of working as a tattoo artist had hardly crossed her mind before she got her first tattoo from shop owner ‘Squirrel’ at Tattoo Nation Echuca. “We were chatting while I was getting tattooed and I mentioned I was doing drawings and other stuff,” Reggie said. “I showed Squirrel some of my artwork and then he basically said ‘when can you start?’ “I was very lucky, very lucky. “I’ve always been into drawing and stuff like that, but I never saw it as a career. I just tripped and fell into a career pretty much.” Reggie did her apprenticeship at Tattoo Nation, a six-year process that involved two years of body piercing and four years of tattooing. “It’s a bit of a long apprenticeship but there’s tonnes to learn,” she said. “There’s still things that come to me now and I go ‘gee, I hope I can do that’.” Twelve years into her career at Tattoo Nation, Reggie continues to love working at the local store.

without really knowing it,” she said.

“I was always looking through tattoo magazines when I was 14 and 15; I like the look of people with tattoos. “The names on my tattoos mean personal things to me and I have a portrait of my best friend on my thigh, but other than that I’ve got them just because I like them basically.” While people often enter the shop with bold ideas for a tattoo, Reggie said they are usually willing to trust her professional opinion.

“If I can advise someone on a tattoo that would work better then I will,” she said,

“Some people have this idea in their mind that is just never going to work as a tattoo. So if I can help make them happier than when they walked in, I’m doing my job properly. “Generally people are more willing to have our interpretation of the tattoo than their own. “It’s like going ‘I’ve got a broken arm, what do I do?’ You don’t do it yourself, you trust the experts.” Reggie is used to the feeling, but said how people handle the pain of having a tattoo done can be the critical part of her job.

“You’ve got two kinds of people; people that think it’s not going to hurt and then they realise it actually does, and then there’s the others who think it’s going to be absolutely excruciating and realise it’s not that bad,” she said. “It’s just people management really, if I’m not completely confident in what I’m doing, that creates doubt for them and they get nervous; it can be a hell ride from there.” While she doesn’t talk people into getting tattoos, Reggie said she and her colleagues were happy to talk with potential clients to help inform their decision. “It’s an individual decision; I would never try and manipulate someone into getting one,” she said.

“If someone comes in and says they aren’t sure they are ready, I’ll just sit there and “I’ve liked everything about working there,” have a chat with them. she said. “Generally by the end of the conversation, “We’re pretty much a family; working with they’ll be asking for a time to book in.” them every day has been great.” Such was the demand for her work, for two The 29-year-old couldn’t speak highly years Reggie travelled to WA every two enough about Squirrel, the shop’s boss. weeks to work in a different stop until the constant flying got too much for her. “He taught me everything I know about tattooing,” Reggie said. Reggie said a hands-on, creative job was what she had always seen herself doing. “He could probably still out-tattoo me with one hand tied behind his back. “I was never going to be an office worker or “The shop has been open for 20 years this a checkout chick,” she said. year and it’s been going great guns.” “I was definitely one of the kids that didn’t With many tattoos herself, Reggie said she want to be at school; I wanted to be out simply enjoys the look of tattoos on the earning money, doing a job. human body. “Now, I couldn’t imagine myself doing “I’ve always been interested in tattoos, but anything else, I love it.”



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100 women of Bella

Ellen McNeil — 30 E

LLEN McNEIL HAS lived the past six years of her life in Echuca, and seems to have loved every minute of it.


“I get to work with a lot of families, a lot of babies and mums through pregnancy stuff so I get to see a lot of transformation which is really cool.

“Getting to be there and witness that, especially with kids and younger people is the reward for my work.”

Ellen also teaches yoga twice a week at Originally from Albury, Ellen moved here FITmob after studying the practice last year. after spending five years in Melbourne stud- “I’ve been very lucky; a lot of people in our profession can’t get that connection and are ying to be a chiropractor, her first job in the “It has been the biggest learning curve, somefinding it difficult to grow in a tough time for industry bringing her back to country life. thing I was resisting for a long time,” she said. alternative health. You have to have the right “It’s just a smaller version of Albury really,” environment and in that regard I’m incredshe said. ibly lucky.” “I love it, I’m never going to be a local but And Ellen said she enjoyed the process of the people are really nice. There’s a nice helping people to feel better about themconnectivity in the town and the circles you THE WEEK BEFORE I STARTED I selves with challenges facing society work in can cross over a lot.” WAS THINKING ‘I’M NOT DOING constantly. Working at n8 Health, Ellen said she feels lucky THAT’; THEN IT WAS THE BEST “Just being able to help people figure out to have started her career in such a great job. themselves is kind of what I love about what THING I’VE EVER DONE. we do; people figuring themselves out is “I have an awesome patient base, they’re pretty awesome,” she said. really cool,” she said.



100 women of Bella

Carley Dohnt — 31 T


“If you are a little out on any of the angles or lines people will innately sense that something doesn’t look correct, so I spend many The artistic, sporty and intelligent 31-yearhours practicing over and over where to put old could be rated a genuine triple-threat those lines to get it right.” but for Carley it isn’t the things she has Carley doesn’t like to define herself as a done but rather her attitude towards runner, teacher or artist. self-improvement that makes her proud. HERE’S NOT TOO many things Carley Dohnt can’t do — or won’t try.

And if one other girl or woman got some- “I’m just someone who is very passionate and curious,” she said. thing out of Carley’s story she would be doing the world a favour. “I think anything less than living life to the full is a disservice to the beautiful gift we “I’ve found myself in my 30s liking the fact are given. I find it imperative I keep changthat on any given day I am able to walk ing and challenging myself to be the best out into the world and change myself I can be, and that may not be what others completely,” Carley said. choose or value, but I’ve learnt that’s okay.” “It wasn’t until I turned 31 this year that I realThis mindset does mean Carley is regularly ised how refreshing and wonderful having out of her comfort zone. that choice is.” Carley likes to run. And run. And run a really long way.

“Last year I ran the marathon to get out of that space and whenever I feel too comfortable I check the list of things I’m curious or passionate about and focus all my energy into them, until I am ready to move on,” Carley said.

She ticked a marathon off her list in Berlin in 2016 and regularly participates in fun runs such as Run Melbourne and although she is obviously gifted at pounding the pavement she said running was a daily challenge “Last year I spent the whole time I wasn’t running or drawing researching zero-waste for her. homes, writing short stories, attending art “I still don’t find it easy and every time I put workshops and public meetings on plastic on my runners I go through the motions of free living and borrowing books not wanting to go, sticking at it for a few from the library on the ways k’s, coming around to believing in myself and finally the happiness that comes with ending a run,” she said.

in which we learn sustainability, healthy eating, endurance sports, meditation and minimalist practices.

“It doesn’t worry me to be interested in unusual or different things from what society expects. “In fact I think that if you have been comfortable in yourself for too long you run the risk of stopping your own growth. “The biggest fear I have is that someone would define me in any way. “That they’d say — ‘Oh, there’s Carley the runner or artist or teacher’ or whatever. I do all those things. But it’s not who I am.

“I’d rather people think — ‘Oh, there’s Carley she really values listening to people’s stories. Because if it’s laughter, or looking after people, or friendship we’d find some lovely common ground that would carry us across many different activities.

“It’s something that transcends age barriers. There is so much more to us than what we do. “It’s our values and the way we treat each other that matter.”

“It’s a cycle I am very in touch with and I have found it helps me relate to the children in my class when they go through a struggle in new learning.” Carley is also a primary school teacher at St Mary’s Primary School in Echuca and said it was sharing her love of learning that she enjoyed the most. “I try to be a good role model for the students I teach. I want them to know that perseverance, kindness and hard work will help them no matter where they are,” she said. “And remind them it really doesn’t matter where we start in life, our choices will determine where we want to end up.” And then there is Carley the artist. “I like the challenge of drawing and attend art classes a couple of nights a week in between running and work,” she said. Her most recent challenge at the easel has been life drawing. “I was so glad when I found out they were offering life drawing here. The arts groups of Echuca-Moama are rich and vibrant and have so much to offer. “I like the challenge drawing people brings. It’s so difficult to draw the human form correctly and hard to pull it off because even people who aren’t artists know exactly what a body should look like.


32 26-50

100 women of Bella

Jess Rae — 32


ESS RAE MAKES people laugh daily.

Her hilarious doodles, which feature alongside Ivy Wise’s Mama Mayhem column in the Riverine Herald every Monday, have people in stitches.

The 32-year-old started drawing the cartoons seven or eight years ago.

“Instead of Facebook statuses, I’d draw pictures of what happened in my day, things like my partner Jeff throwing the keys to me and they landed on the roof,” she said. “But it wasn’t until our daughter Imogen was born in 2014 when they started getting really funny and I made a page on Facebook and Instagram.”

Her doodles have become so popular, Jess decided to put them all in a book — Doodley Squat: A Book Full of Doodles — which she self-published last year.

At just $2 it is hilarious value for money — featuring more than 40 doodles “about the typical every day stuff all mums and dads go

through,” Jess said.

The good, the bad and the ugly.

“If you don’t laugh about it, you’ll cry,” she said. Jess said drawing the cartoons had been therapeutic.

“It helps you get through stuff you would normally lose your mind about,” she said. And she still can’t quite believe how popular her drawings have become.

“It’s exciting because it was just a stupid thing I did really for my own entertainment,” she said. “I’m not making any money out of it yet but you never know.” She is already working on another book which she hopes to publish next year.

As for what her daughter will think about the possibly embarrassing depictions of her when she is older, Jess remained optimistic.

“I hope she laughs about them” she said.

Samantha Dawson — 33 S

3 3 AMANTHA DAWSON IS a beautiful woman — and not just in the aesthetic sense of the word.

She is a woman who has struggled with the blows life has dealt her and come out of the darkness raising a happy family.

Once Sam would have rolled her eyes before having her own kids but today her small humans really do mean everything to her.

“I know it seems cliché but my greatest achievement would have to be my children. The wonder of growing and birthing a child — it was amazing. “I can’t be shy in saying that I am proud of the fact they are good little people.”

In three dark weeks in 2012 Sam lost the father and grandmother who had raised her.

Shortly after the crushing news, Sam relocated to Echuca while pregnant with her daughter Georgia and caring for her fivemonth-old son Max.

“It was a really hard time. There were times I felt I had no-one but it was because of my children I really tried to make it work” she said.

Melbourne born and bred, Sam found herself packing up her two-bedroom townhouse in Footscray to move to the region for her partner Zane’s new job.

“It was really difficult to meet people to start off with, especially because I was still grieving.

“I woke up one day, I was about 19 weeks pregnant and I just felt something was wrong; I was just so sad and I had this little baby who needed me.” It was Zane who thought of getting a local private midwife to help.

“She was my rock and a constant in my life and even put me in contact with some other mums who are my close friends today“ she said. “The area has its talons in me now — I’ve made lovely friends and it’s a beautiful community.

“Love, friends and family are the most important things in life and the confidence that comes with feeling loved and supported you can do anything.

“I just want to be happy and I want my children to be happy and healthy.”


100 women of Bella

34 35 26-50

Gabby Johnson — 34


ABBY JOHNSON IS a proud Wiradjuri and Wemba Wemba Aboriginal.

But first and foremost she is a proud mother of three.

The Echuca born 34-year-old has returned home after 10 years living in the big smoke of Melbourne and is continuing her search for her sense of belonging.

“I never thought I would move back home,” Gabby said. “But being back here has wanted me to push for a positive impact on the community and do things that haven’t been done before.

“I have reconnected with my own family since moving home and that is something I think is good for the kids to connect with.” Life wasn’t an easy one for Gabby after splitting with her partner of 14 years.

“I needed financial security and I wasn’t able to have that by staying in Melbourne,” Gabby said. “I have realised I need my family and that sense of belonging.

But the dichotomy of the decision is written all over Gabby’s face.

The food and culture of the big city is something she craves yet the comfort of Echuca is something she has embraced.

“I don’t know if I am quite ready yet,” she said.

being consistent with it, it evolved to being about my mental health and wellbeing more than anything,” she said.

“I mean I never thought I would do a Miss Muddy but I did and it has been great for me.”

“I am just comfortable and feel that sense of security here.”

Gabby is a mother to Charles, 11, Narrun, 9 and Milloo, 6 and believes in the next generation. So much so she currently works in early education at the Berrimba Childcare Centre.

“I have always worked within Aboriginal organisations and it is important to set the right space for our young people,” she said.

“We can help them become stronger and smarter individuals and give them an identity. “The sad fact of this area is that so many kids have been removed from families, not just Aboriginal kids but everyone. We try and help those kids find somewhere to belong.” A year ago Gabby started boot camp training and said it was originally for weight loss.

“I always said I would move back to Melbourne when my eldest was finished year six and that will be the end of this year.” “When I started and began

Tammy McGillivray — 35


IKE TOO MANY 35-year-old women, Tammy McGillivray didn’t believe she had a story to tell.

“And although Gunbower is such a great community town, sometimes it can be a little claustrophobic.

With a wave of her hand and a self-dep- “Marriage can be really hard in a small town recating laugh she said no-one would be and has been something we have struggled interested in her life. with sometimes.”

But she was wrong, like so many women she has been a quiet achiever even if she has at times felt a little lost in the hurly burly of marriage, motherhood and long-term staff member at Bendigo Bank.

And while she might be searching for herself she has no hesitation in admitting that will be as part of her family.

Tammy said she might be reaffirming her identity but is just as adamant she is a lucky woman in every sense of the word.

“I have two beautiful children and have been married to Adam for 11 years,” she said.

“And yes, I am struggling a bit with my sense of identity — what I would really like is for our family to find a new beginning.” Tammy and Adam live in Gunbower with their children Fynn, 8 and Isabel, 7 and Tammy has been working at the bank for 17 years.

“It is almost half my life. It is such a long time,” she said.

Tammy’s dream would be to one day live on the Northern NSW coast with her family and she isn’t fussed what she does for a dollar.

“I would be happy making coffees,” she said.

“It is more about being a happy family unit and defining our identity than anything else.

“We try and get overseas every year with the kids and give them as many different experiences as we can.”



The benefits of


to women’s health Most of us are aware of the huge short and long term health beneďŹ ts to babies of breastfeeding and receiving their mother’s milk. Did you know that there are also many beneďŹ ts to your own short- and long-term health as a consequence of breastfeeding your babies? The female body is designed to progress from pregnancy through to birth and on to breastfeeding. Interrupting this natural cycle disrupts the biological continuum. BeneďŹ ts of breastfeeding include;

Emotional health; • The hormones Prolactin and Oxytocin which are released during lactation and breastfeeding work to produce and release milk for your baby and they also have the effect of producing feelings of well-being, relaxation and mothering in mum. • The breastfeeding hormones reduce stress and improve sleep which, in turn, decreases the risk of

postnatal depression (PND). Worldwide PND affects 15–25% of women so it is important to take any steps that will reduce your chances of suffering from PND. • Other important ways to decrease your risk of PND or reduce its severity include taking long-chain omega 3 fatty acids, exercising at least 20-30 minutes 2–3 times per week (preferably outdoors to take advantage of the natural light and fresh air), St John’s wort and seeking counselling. You can talk to your doctor further about these methods if you think you may have PND. • A positive breastfeeding experience empowers women and leads to increased self-conďŹ dence and self-esteem. Motherhood is valuable and life sustaining work! If breastfeeding is not going well lots of support is available locally from midwives, Australian Breastfeeding Association counsellors and lactation consultants.

Postpartum bleeding;

• Breastfeeding also reduces the severity of Type 2 diabetes due to the improved response to insulin. • Breastfeeding positively programs a woman’s metabolism for years afterwards.

Cancer risk; • The risks of premenopausal breast, ovarian and thyroid cancers are reduced by breastfeeding and the longer that you breastfeed your babies the greater the protection is. • For every 12 months of breastfeeding the risk of breast cancer has been shown to be decreased by 4.3%.

• The hormone oxytocin, which is released during breastfeeding, helps to contract your uterus and controls bleeding after you have had your baby.

Other diseases;

Return of fertility;

• A lactating (breastfeeding) mother’s body is more efďŹ cient in nutrient uptake. Bone density will increase with increased length of breastfeeding and number of children breastfed. This reduces the risk of osteoporosis and hip fractures in later life.

• Exclusive breastfeeding is 98% effective in delaying fertility and another pregnancy for 4–6 months after you have had your baby. • For this method to be effective you will need; to be exclusively breastfeeding (with baby having no other liquids or solids than your own milk), your menstrual bleeding has not returned, your baby does not use a dummy and your baby is under 6 months old.

Heart health; • Mothers who breastfeed have a reduced risk of high blood pressure, stroke, high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease later in life.

Diabetes; • Breastfeeding has a healthy and long-term effect on a mum’s insulin response by increasing her sensitivity to insulin. • Women who have gestational diabetes are at higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life. Breastfeeding your baby reduces your risk.

References: Galland L 2010, ‘Diet and Inammation’, Sage Journals, Volume: 25 issue: 6, page(s): 634–640

Echuca Moama Family Medical Practice providing quality primary healthcare to the rural community. 1 Martin St, Moama 179–183 Annesley St, Echuca

• For women who already have Type 1 diabetes making milk primes the mother’s metabolism, increasing its efďŹ ciency and decreasing the amount of insulin needed by 27–50%. While breastfeeding the mum can expect to need much less insulin than before.

(03)54802933 (03)54806001

• Breastfeeding provides protection against osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis and obesity later in life.

• With rheumatoid arthritis women who breastfeed for a total of 13–24 months have a 20% decreased risk of developing this disease. Those who breastfeed for a minimum of 24 months during the childbearing years have this risk reduced by 50%. • The effects of Rheumatoid arthritis can be decreased with 13 months or more of breastfeeding. • The positive effects of breastfeeding on a mother’s metabolism also increase postpartum weight loss and give a leaner BMI.

A lactation consultant, midwives and doctors are available at Echuca Moama Family Medical Practice to support you, both before, during and after you have your baby, in achieving a positive breastfeeding experience.










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Eating Disorders Victoria Support Groups (EDV) EDV support groups give people affected by an eating disorder the opportunity to come together with others facing similar issues.


Who: Recovery support groups are for people 18 years and older,Ewith any VEN T Stype of eating disorder who have taken the first steps to recovery and want to meet others with a similar experience. When: 1st Tuesday of the month. Bookings essential. Go to au/events for a full listing of dates. For more information and bookings call EDV on 1300 550 236 or go to www. eatingdisorders/our-services/support-groups


Echuca Neighbourhood House

your community, your house


• Computer Courses • Introduction to computers • Introduction to iPad • Computer help • Cooking Classes • Craft inc scrapbooking • Social & Support groups • Help with filling in forms LOGO DESIGN / EM EVENTS

• Community activities

There’s just too much to list… so go to our website and check out our latest program or call us on 5482 6914

PMS 5365

70% CYAN

No Interest Loans Scheme (NILS) An alternate to high cost and fee lending. The Echuca Neighbourhood House is accredited with Good Shepherd Microfinance to provide loans to people on low incomes or pensions. Loans can be used to purchase a variety of household items, car repairs and registration, selected medical expenses, health and mobility aids and other necessary items. Appointments are available most days and once approved, items are available very quickly. If you have any questions please give us a call on 5482 6914 or call in to see us.

Echuca Neighbourhood House 261 High Street, Echuca. Vic. 3564 Phone: 5482 6914 Fax: 5480 1026 Email : Website: ABN: 43 374 311 705




100 women of Bella

Clare Modra — 36



LARE MODRA WAS genetically destined to be a dairy farmer — it’s in her blood, she grew up on the land and when she introduced her husband Stu to it 15 years ago he was hooked.

Having moved around the country and across share-farms, Clare and Stu have been on their Gunbower farm for five years. But as most dairy farmers will agree, it hasn’t been easy sailing.

The mother of two has always had a soft spot for not only milking cows but also the breeding.

“I love the breeding side of the cows and really enjoy that,” Clare said. “I do all the milking and feeding of the calves as well while my husband manages the farm.” Clare fully admits her love of cows is extreme and this is reflected in the names of her two daughters.

“The past 21 months have been extra tough,” “Astre and Kendall were both named after cows,” she said. Clare said. “The decrease in milk prices ultimately forced us to switch suppliers from Murray Goulburn to Bega or Tatura Milk Industries.

“They were both beautiful cows and the girls love being on the farm, Astre said she even wants to be a farmer when she is older.”

“It was just getting too hard and we need something sustainable.”

Ten and eight respectively, the girls might become farmers but right now their main role in life is keeping their mother on her toes going flat out.

Clare said although they are doing OK, they were looking forward to potentially processing some of their own milk. “Although we live out on Gunbower Island I am always running the girls around and to dance in “I am putting in a lot of time and effort at the Echuca through the week,” she said. moment to be able to process some of our

own milk, hopefully in around three months,” “We are also the co-founders of the Victorian she said. Winter Fair which along with working full-time on the farm I also help organise every year.” “It is something we have been thinking about for a while now but the past 21 months have been really hard.

“We need to get some of that control back and have a sustainable milk price.”

Natalie Smith — 37 A

T HER LIGHTEST — and possibly lowest — point Natalie Smith weighed barely 42 kg.

same confidence.”

The single mother of three still gets emotional when speaking about what it means to her to see a client transform their life.

And despite her determination to do something about it, that did not include sitting at “Fitness is more about building your mental home and eating. and emotional strength than simply losing weight,” Natalie said. “I was stared at when I was at the gym. On one occasion I had someone approach me and ask me what I was doing working out,” Natalie said.

“They just come out of their shell after a few sessions and they shine.

“They told me what I needed was to go home and eat.

“I believe everyone is worth something and some of the transformations I have helped achieve have been mind-blowing.”

“After each of my kids were born I lost weight. “In the end I finally gained weight by being healthy and gaining muscle, not by eating unhealthy foods and being inactive.”

Natalie said she aimed to provide a safe and accessible fitness class for everyone.

“Everyone deserves to have that release Natalie admitted she had been self-con- and see results without having to fork out a fortune,” she said. scious and struggled with her body image for some time. “I’m not in it for the money and have options for everyone, whether it is casual visits or But it was when she injured her back that the eight-week boot camp or personal she finally kicked herself into motivated training sessions.” gear and knew it was time to make a change for the better.

“Going to the gym helped me put on weight and gave me confidence,” she said. “So I launched TGIF Fitness two years ago to help with my rehab. “It helped me mentally and physically and I wanted to help my clients achieve that


Natalie’s eyes light up when she speaks of her clients but it is her children, aged 19, 17 and 13, who are the lights of her life. “They are just my world and I try to be the best person I can be to be the best mum for them.” Natalie said. “You just do anything for your kids.”

The fair in July will be the fourth annual event and showcases autumn-calved cows — as well as the dedication of the mother who named her daughters after two of her favourite bovines.


100 women of Bella

Jacinta Cannon — 38 J

ACINTA CANNON’S LIFE was irretrievably altered at one of her happiest moments — going for the 12-week scan with her first pregnancy.

A reality that hit when her son Balin arrived six months later. He has a range of disabilities and health issues, including being diagnosed at birth with Pierre Robin Syndrome — a congenital condition of facial abnormalities. “He wasn’t meant to live,” Jacinta said.


“And he ticked every box for us but it also made us realise what we missed out on with Balin.

“Because his journey in those first few years was so unknown they couldn’t tell us what to expect so we missed out on a lot of things.

“Reaching those milestones with Hunter was so exciting but it made us realise what we didn’t get to experience with Balin and although we were healing we were also grieving.”

Now five years old and the “spitting image” of his mother, Hunter was the perfect addition to the Cannon family.

“Being 12 weeks pregnant and being told your baby has a disability is heart breaking. That moment changed the course of my life forever.” “The boys just adore each other and Hunter is such an intelligent little boy for his age,” Jacinta and husband Mick have been Jacinta said. “through the absolute wringer” since the “He just had to grow up so quickly and learnt birth of their son. very fast that growing up with Balin wasn’t “Everything just came crashing down in going to be easy.” Melbourne a few years ago and we literally Jacinta doesn’t do anything by halves and put everything in a bucket and moved up although her first dream was to open a here,” Jacinta said. little bed and breakfast with a few spa-like “Financially we were struggling, we had lost amenities on the side in the end she went the carer for Balin and everything was fall- one very big step further. ing apart. Opening Endota Spa Echuca is something “If we didn’t make that decision to move to Jacinta said could not have happened withEchuca we wouldn’t be a family and Mike out the support of her parents. and I wouldn’t be together today.” “Without their help we wouldn’t have got Now a mother of two, Jacinta is the manager the spa off the ground,” she said. of Endota Spa Echuca and said their lives “They have been incredible and I owe them are finally heading in the right direction. for that. Although they don’t live here they “It has taken us nearly three years to get back on our feet,” Jacinta said. Through all of Balin’s surgeries and stints in the Royal Children’s Hospital, Jacinta said the first four years of his life was a tumultuous ride.

continue to give me great support.

“But the spa is only one side of me — I have a little bit of a split personality.”

By day Jacinta oozes relaxation but by night her hair is high and her makeup is on when she rocks out with her band Essence.

“We do a lot of weddings and gigs around here and basically I am Zen by day and rock star by night,” Jacinta said.

“It is my release and is the only time I get ‘me’ time really.” Jacinta is a realist and acknowledges although their life isn’t where they planned, the most important thing is that they are all together.

“Marriages are hard,” Jacinta said.

“The reality is our circumstances have changed but we love each other intensely.

“We are very clear on what we both want for the future.

“Mick has almost finished his masters in exercise physiology and we are planning to open up our own clinic at the end of the year. “We’re both big fighters and hope to make an imprint on the town.” Jacinta said both of their professions hope to bring wellness to Echuca. “Mick is about rehab and ensuring people are getting physically well, whereas through the spa and my singing I am seeing people get that release and de-stress,” she said. “I have clients come into the spa and often throughout their treatment they just let go and release all their anxieties and stresses. They float out of here and that is a beautiful thing to be able to give to someone.”

“He is just a Pandora’s box with a mixture of different things going on,” she said. “But ultimately he is a beautiful boy.” By this stage Mick was all for another child and persisted with Jacinta to realise it was what they needed. “I wasn’t all for it but my husband was set that it was what we needed,” Jacinta said. “Along came Hunter. It was a big decision because the risk of having another child with disabilities was so high. “But he has really helped us to heal.



100 women of Bella

Veronica McLeod — 39 V

ERONICA McLEOD IS a mother of nine but dismisses any suggestion she is something of a superwoman.

Veronica and her husband Mal currently juggle seven foster children, two biological children, full-time work and a full-time workload of running kids around. They have rescued children from the most horrific of circumstances — including mental, physical and sexual abuse. And all they want to provide is love. “No matter how long we have the kids, all we hope is for them to have a safe and loving home which makes a difference in their lives,” Veronica said. “When we had our two kids, Mal and I both said we were always going to be foster parents and it stemmed from my parents fostering as well,” she said.

see kids not have the best childhood they can.”

Veronica said although they never know “They settle better with consistency and how long they will have the kids, it is impor- that’s all we hope to provide.” tant to create a stable home. Being a mother to nine busy children aged 4–18 doesn’t leave much time for ‘me’ time. “With our main long-term foster kid, who will age out (turn 18) in October, we were told “My escape is running,” Veronica said. he would only be with us for two weeks,” “The hardest part is fitting it all in. Veronica said. “Mal was 70 kg heavier two years ago and “And here we are six years later.” since stopping the farm full-time has made a real change through fitness and it is great Of their seven foster children five are from for the kids as well. the same family and with impeccable timing arrived just after Veronica had an accident on the farm. “I broke my arm milking a cow on the Tuesday and when I got home from the hospital the kids were delivered, again for a ‘two-week’ placement,” Veronica said.

39 “At the end of the day it breaks your heart to



first thought but we just want to make the biggest amount of difference in their lives.

“When we say yes we know nine times out of 10 we will have them for longer than

“We try and get them to everything they need to get to, whether that is sport or support services. “The kids are really supportive of each other and love they are a part of a big family. “The two younger girls thought it was the duck’s nuts when their big brothers picked them up from their grandmother’s.”


100 women of Bella


Mesh Thomson — 40 M

ESH THOMSON CAN tell you which paddlesteamer’s whistle is echoing through the twin towns just by listening to it.

“You sometimes take for granted the beauty of where we work and what we get to experience every day according to Tom, my (former) manager,” Mesh said.

Or that’s her story and she is sticking to it.

“It wasn’t my ideal job but it got me into the tourism area which I wanted and in which I had done my degree.”

And although Mesh is adamant she isn’t a ‘nerd’ her voice peaks when she talks about the history of Echuca and her love of museums. The 40-year-old mother of two — Eliza, 11 and Eden, 8 — has been working at the Port of Echuca for the past 15 years and has the Murray River running through her veins.

But for Mesh it was the events on September 11 which shifted her focus and made her want to leave Melbourne and go home to Echuca.

“He was the epitome of what the port is and helped get it to where it is today.”

And although Mesh won’t admit her impact on the Port of Echuca Discovery Centre, she will say she is proud of the way the centre continues to evolve.

“In my role now as the exhibits manager I am excited for all the changes to come and ensuring we keep the centre fresh,” she said.

Mesh is also the vice president of the Echuca Historical Society and while juggling everything else is currently finishing her second degree.

“We were sitting up watching the news and saw the events unfold while we were holiTo put Mesh into perspective, her knowldaying in Queensland and my husband “I am doing museum studies online through edge and experience has landed her on a Andrew and I just knew it was time to come Deakin University,” she added. national board. back home,” she said. “This has been much harder than I thought “I am a member of the Australian Maritime “Since getting the job in 2002 I haven’t but I couldn’t have gotten this far without Museum Council, which I apparently don’t looked back and have worked with 10 the support of my husband and work. talk about enough,” Mesh said. managers who have all had an influence on “I just wanted to consolidate what I am doing “I was invited to be part of it — it is quite a big my career.” and it has been really helpful and valuable. accolade and something I am quite proud Mesh said the late Kevin Hutchinson also of.” “I’ve never had a time where I didn’t want to had a major and lasting impact. work there and I think it will be something I But Mesh’s love of history didn’t start until she “He just saw the value in everything and the will keep doing for years to come.” landed the job as executive officer at the port death of Kev was something that I never in 2002. Mesh said although she doesn’t get much thought would actually happen,” she said. time to herself, she loves exploring the history of other towns. “I will often be found in a museum or in another town’s historical society,” she said. And why not, she’s simply living her dream.


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100 women of Bella Edition 9— June 2017


42 43

Eva Baker — 41

OOur ur


To read Eva Baker’s story, refer to our June edition of Bella or visit for a link to the online publication.


Herald agazineEc

Sophie Baldwin — 42 “I’M JUST ME and that’s all I’ve ever been.”

How does one know where to start when trying to describe Sophie Baldwin?

The woman completed three triathlons in one week — if that doesn’t demonstrate the steel in her character it’s hard to know what will.

An ex-dairy farmer, Sophie battled drought and tough financial times before eventually swapping her beloved cows for a pen — now she continues her passion for agriculture by working as a journalist for Country News.


good mum and financially secure,” Sophie said.

“The most important things in life are to be happy and love yourself.

“I’m so proud of my daughters and just how far the three of us have come over the past 18 months.” Of course it hasn’t always been easy but Sophie said you just have to back yourself.

“When things go wrong I swear a lot, I exercise, run, swim, ride and lift heavy weights.

When Sophie’s marriage broke down 18 months ago she refused to let life beat her down and took up triathlons.

“If you surround yourself with positive people who motivate you then you can always change your situation and you never have to be stuck in life.

“One of the greatest lessons I have learnt is I’m good enough with who I am and I don’t need anyone else; I can be successful and a

“Life is about choices, something can happen to you but you don’t have to let it define you.”

Kellie Taylor — 43

“My best friend would describe me as bossy, stubborn and I like food.” Family and nursing dominate Kellie Taylor’s life.

Born to dairy farming parents who are still working the same farm to this day — she kept the farm in her blood and married a dairy farmer (now retired), Craig, known to all and sundry as ‘oyster’.

“It sounds like such a small town thing but we met through our siblings dating once upon a time” she said.

Together the pair had Zac, Bailey, Cooper and Lillie. While Kellie had three little kids under six years old she still managed to study to become a nurse externally through University of South Australia and worked at the local bank.

“I’ve always juggled things and I don’t like excuses, if you set your mind to do


something you can do anything.”

The drought saw Kellie and her family face some tough years with not a lot of spare cash around.

“I coped by spending time with family and talking about it and setting goals and ticking them off,” she said. “I’m so proud of my family and I think my kids are my greatest achievement.” Now working as a nurse, Kellie said it was influence from her mother and sister (who are nurses themselves) — they encouraged her to pursue the career.

In her spare time, Kellie is a football trainer at the Leitchville-Gunbower Football Club and also coaches and plays netball after five years off following a knee reconstruction.

“I couldn’t have got to where I am today without the support of my family — they are the most important thing in my life” she said.


100 women of Bella

44 45 Jodie Baker — 44 Y

OU DON’T HAVE to have super powers to be a real life Wonder Woman.

Jodie Baker, to put it simply, is a powerhouse. Her super power? Probably functioning

with no sleep. And dancing with a bright

smile while doing it.

Jodie has managed to produce award-winning choreography while working, raising five kids and finishing study to become a


Highlighted for her work for the EchucaMoama Theatre Company’s 2016 produc-

tion of Anything Goes, Jodie won the

Georgy award for her dance choreography.

“I can’t imagine my life without dancing,” she said.

“Music is my release; I’ll always have the

music up blaringly loud when I’m alone and

dance around the house.”

Ever modest, Jodie still insists her children

are her greatest achievement.

“I’m proud of my children and the fact that they are good people,” she said.

“My kids are my number one.

“I’m pretty proud of keeping my head together too; becoming a single mum and

keeping everything going in my chaotic, busy life.

“I’m up at 5 am every day and the majority of the night and I just love every minute of it.”

After moving to the region from Melbourne, Jodie decided she needed to do something for herself so she got into aged care and started studying.

would be to enjoy your life; all the things society tells you — things like you have to have the white picket fence can wait. It’s nice to have those things but they will come along, travel and have fun while you can.”

“I thought to myself, if I’m going to do it — it has to be now.” Jodie will see the fruits of her studies very soon as she finishes her two years to complete her diploma of nursing.

“I like caring for other people.”

A self-confessed oddball, Jodie is proud to dance to the beat of her own drum.

“I’m happy being who I am and not fitting inside the box” she said. ““Everyone Everyone else thinks I’m odd, my best friend would say I have my own style. If I had to give anyone advice it

Rowena Ash — 45


S CATH HUGHES would say; just take the photo.

Rowena tragically lost her parents within four months of each other.

Rowena Ash likes talking, socialising and “Resilience in life is really important.” meeting new people — the perfect combina“It was very hard because they were my tion for her job as a real estate agent. backstop in the world; they were involved Rowena’s little boy Ned is the apple of her in every single aspect of my life. eye. “It’s like losing a life partner and a best “He is my greatest achievement and I’m so friend and my other family aren’t in the proud of him” she said. state.” “The most important thing to me in life is to be happy and healthy and have a positive outlook.”

Rowena was a local to the area until the age of 12 when she moved away for her father’s job — at 30 she was drawn back for family.

After getting a business degree at RMIT, Rowena spent two years overseas travelling and exploring the world.

“I went everywhere, England, Scotland, Ireland, Europe, Africa, Asia. I could go on and on” she said.


As a single mum Rowena said she has always struggled with a lack of time.

“It’s a balancing act, it’s so busy and it can be frustrating and lonely but it’s extremely rewarding and I just love Ned so much.”



100 women of Bella

Nicolina Devitt — 46

46 47 I

T TAKES ALL sorts to make a world and Nicolina Devitt is one of the good ones.

A rare find, she has a heart of gold.

From her job to her kids and even the local footy club she is always on the lookout for other people. She hasn’t got this way because life has been easy.

Nicolina has been lucky enough to fall in love twice in her life, however tragically the first time came to a sudden end.

“My husband passed away from an aortic aneurism. “It was very sudden, he was only 33.”

At 30 with a four-year-old and a one-year-old, Nicolina found herself on her own caring for her kids Emily and Olivia.

However the world moves in mysterious ways and Nicolina remarried, to her lovely beau, Anthony. “We went to school together here,

Sandra Cartwright — 47


ANCER. STILL THE one word that stops everyone in their tracks. And yet for Sandra Cartwright stopping in her tracks wasn’t an option.

“I had kids, I didn’t want to die — so I just had to get well” she said.

The New Zealand born battler’s life a decade ago had all the elements of a modern day fairy tale, until life threw her a curve ball.

Two weeks into a six month break from her Sydney based job she met the love of her life Travis, at the Rich River Golf Club. Three months down the track Sandra was engaged.

Married in 2007, she had her first child Samuel in 2008, second baby William in 2009 and it was in 2010 that Sandra was diagnosed with leukaemia.

Today Sandra is cancer free but not completely out of the woods.

“There was only one point I thought I was going to die,” she said.

“It was when I got the news I had relapsed, we were driving home and Travis pulled over. “We held each other and had a cry and I said I don’t want to die — we just looked at each other and I said “I can do this.” And that was that.

“I said to myself, it’s a big thing but I’m not going to let it get the better of me. “It’s just something that happened and I think I dealt with it better than the people around me because I was told what to do and when to do it whereas they had to deal with everything else.

With an 11-month-old baby and a two year- “The community up here has just been amazing, people would come and visit and old toddler; the whirlwind diagnosis saw Sandra fine on Monday and by Friday start- they held a big fundraiser for me.” ing her first round of chemotherapy. And A nd she has come out of it stronger for it. Six years on and Sandra won’t shed a tear for her hard road — and won’t for anything else. Her radiation treatment dried up her tear ducts and she needs drops every 15 minutes or so.


““If If it has taught me anything; life is about making m aking memories, you don’t always have h ave the money but who wants to be tthe he richest person in the graveyard?”

we’ve known each other a while. We just hadn’t known each other well. In fact his aunt was my prep teacher” she said.

Isaiah Firebrace is making headlines for his Eurovision achievements and Nicolina has been an unsung presence in Isaiah and his brother Jamarrah’s life.

Nicolina met them through her daughters and the local footy club.

“I just feed them and guide them, it started out with Jamarrah coming over to do homework and have a meal and then he moved in. “We were part of Isaiah’s X-Factor journey, took him down for the first audition and picked up the pieces when it didn’t go that well and got him ready for the next time. “Both boys are doing well and I’m proud that I met them and am part of their lives.”

Cancer has touched Nicolina’s life twice. Once with her sister and the other with a close friend.

Nicolina was the driving force behind ‘Katie’s carnival’ a fundraiser for cancer through the Moama Football and Netball Club.

On the day 19 people shaved their heads — including Nicolina — to raise around $18,000.

“I love Echuca, it’s a good town to raise a family in” she said.


48 49 50 26-50

100 women of Bella

Sue Gundry — 48


HE SCENE IS 1969, Kerang. The year Sue Gundry came into the world.

my girls; they are smart and confident and have a very strong moral conscience.”

A mother, a daughter, a sister and a wife. The labels could go on; a friend, a dairy farmer and a hospital worker.

Sue grew up moving around for her father’s job and it wasn’t until losing him to bowel cancer that her mother packed the family up and moved back to Cohuna.

Sue likes to read, go out with her girlfriends, visit her kids in Melbourne and go to the footy. She is someone who believes hard work and a good work ethic means you can achieve your goals.

“My mum’s a real role model for me, she has always worked and always worked hard. I hope my girls look to me as I look to my mum” Sue said.

Sue finished school at Cohuna secondary and worked in insurance before taking a fulltime position at the hospital.

Sue laughed as she remembered swearing that she would never marry a dairy farmer. Yet she married her teenage sweetheart Rob and together they took over the third generation family dairy farm.

Sue’s girls are Madeline, Sheridan and Bronte.

“I think one of the hardest times we ever went through was the drought.

“I know it sounds lame but I’m so proud of

“The kids were little and it was very stressful.

“We decided early and we did a lot of planning and that got us through.” Now? Sue is travelling making up for her lack of funds when she was younger.

“I’m very happy; I have beautiful friends and close family” she said.

Natalie Murphy — 49


wanted to be living my life when I was 56.

ITTING POISED IN Brandrick Architects boardroom, Natalie Murphy personifies the word ‘strong’.

“I don’t have any regrets in life because then I wouldn’t have my amazing kids.”

There is strength in her shoulders, determination in her voice and it’s impossible to hide her unwavering love for her family and friends.

Natalie has brought her children Riley and Tyler up in the same region she was born and bred.

It hasn’t always been an easy road but today, “life is good, it’s really good”.

“Echuca is my safe haven and it’s where my beautiful supportive friends are” she said.

Natalie is someone who saw the direction her life was heading and decided to change. However hard and heartbreaking a journey that would be.

A proud independent working woman, Natalie has owned her own bookkeeping business for 20 years which includes being the office manager of Brandricks.

It was three years ago she took the brave step and became a single mum after being married for more than two decades.

“It’s been a time of big changes but positive ones,” she said.

“I was 46 years old and that wasn’t how I

“I’m proud of my business and kids and also the fact I’ve run two half marathons — I never used to be able to run more than 200 m,” she said. “I’ve got this great feeling about the future and my next goal is to hike the Kokoda trail.”

Louise Williams — 50


OUISE WILLIAMS LIKES to sing as though no-one is listening.

“My family tell me I’m not very good at it,” she laughs. Louise was born in Shepparton in January, 1967 and completed high school in Rochester.

After high school she worked various jobs before working at the Murray Goulburn factory in Rochester for 15 years.

Five years ago the first set of redundancies meant that Louise rolled with the punches and started a new path at Echuca Regional Health.

“Having gone through a redundancy it’s devastating, but you survive and you can’t take it personally because it’s life and business” she said.

Not only survive but Louise has thrived; last year she even took home ‘employee of the year’ for her work in the quality unit of the hospital.

“I’m happy that I have upskilled and changed occupation because it’s such a good chance to do something different and I’m very happy with what I’ve done and where I am.”

not worry about what other people think,” she said.

“I honestly think family is the most important thing in life and I’m so proud of mine.” 

Mum to two boys, the avid golf player is vice president of the Bamawm Golf Club with three gold championships under her belt.

Bleeding Rochester through and through; Louise doesn’t just live and own a small business in town but she is also a life member of the Rochester Netball Club — with a whopping 200 games to her name.

“I think it’s really important to have confidence in yourself and being true to you and


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HAT IS NOT to love about escaping into a film with popcorn or a choctop at the local cinema?

Going to the movies is an ordinary event most people look forward to, but Echuca’s Duncan — who has a disability — has not wanted to go to the movies for many years. His support person from Golden City Support Services continued to offer the movies as a choice, but for Duncan something was always missing. Sometimes we might like to go to the movies alone — but many of us, like Duncan, prefer to go to the movies with a friend. It takes skill for a support person to notice the things that might be lacking in a person’s life and then find ways to build those things together with the person. This is what Duncan’s support workers did in rekindling a friendship that now means so much to him. Duncan looks forward to meeting up with his friend Brad to go out with for a meal and then to the movies. “I love the big screen, with sound all around me, a comfy chair and popcorn,” he said.

and skills in working with people to reach what others have thought impossible. “We provide tailored support — day and evening — in Echuca that is as individual as your needs.” Mr McLean said Golden City’s support can assist people to seek employment, join a group to enjoy a hobby, attend community events and festivals or learn new skills such as preparing a much-loved meal. He said overcoming social isolation has reconnected Duncan with some of his favourite activities, such as going to social events. “Duncan recently travelled to Bendigo with Brad for CreateAbility’s Christmas in July,” Mr McLean added. “CreateAbility is an initiative of Golden City Support Services that uses art and performance as ways for people to express themselves and connect with others. Activities range from drama workshops to being part of the team that plans events,” he said. “With the rollout of the NDIS in the Loddon region, Duncan is currently preparing for his NDIS plan.

“He is thinking about the support he receives Golden City Support Services chief execuand his future goals. tive Ian McLean said his service worked hard “to create opportunities for more independ- “Everyone with a disability has different ence and engagement in each person’s life”. support needs. “Our team is skilled in disability support,” he said. “And that support might mean assistance with the basics of daily life, but with the opportunities the National Disability Insurance Scheme offers, it can also mean assistance with doing things beyond the home. “We work with you so you can steer your own life, with more friends, more opportunities for fulfilling experiences and more control. “Golden City Support Services can provide support in Echuca for people with a disability and who have an NDIS plan. “We have more than 35 years of experience


“With the NDIS you can receive support for achieving goals that are ‘reasonable and necessary’ and friendship will be at the top of the list for Duncan. “Golden City Support Services delivers support that builds relationships in the community for people with a disability. “We work with you to achieve your goals, by providing the right support at the right time, so you can live your life as you want,” Mr McLean said. The enquiry team at Golden City Support Services is ready to talk with you about your support needs in Echuca. Call 1800 001 005 or visit the Golden City Support Services website 










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A pa��ion for pole dancing — sans erotica It might not be every woman’s cup of tea but VIVIENNE DUCK discovers a growing number of Echuca-Moama women, especially mothers, are hanging from poles in a variety of postures as part of a flourishing fitness movement.


MMA DUX IS a strong woman. And the women of Echuca-Moama are all the better for it.

When Emma Dux and her family moved here from Queensland she identified a gap in the fitness market — and went for it. “I started going to a local gym and met Andrea Munro who had done pole fitness in Melbourne and I had done it in Queensland,” Emma said. “We kind of just took the plunge and launched Chick Fit. “Basically on our opening day we were in a shed and there were poles — there wasn’t anything else. “Echuca-Moama is quite diverse but we took it right to the edge. “From there I took it over myself.” Emma said although pole fitness is about being strong and realising you can do anything you put your mind to, the perceived erotic reputation that comes with it has been their biggest hurdle. “It can often hold people back from even coming and trying,” Emma said. “But if anyone is hesitant about pole, I always tell them to come and try for a casual session and go from there. “Just getting them in the door is the hardest part. “But there aren’t any expectations in my classes — and don’t think there aren’t options. “We have blended classes with all body types and ages and the scale is huge. Once you start seeing progress and feeling stronger that is when sass comes out.” As a mother of four, Emma also wanted to give mothers an opportunity to work out without worrying about where their children would go. “We offer a free area for kids to play while their mums work out with us,” Emma said. “As a result it has become a very social gym. It is a lot of fun and we are always laughing. “I think the mothers motivate each other and >>>


>>> by watching their mums work out and be healthy it mentors their children. “We are really a hidden gem.” Emma has expanded the gym from just offering pole fitness to being a complete female fitness centre. “We offer a range of different services to the women of Echuca-Moama,” Emma said. “We have pole fitness twice a week, and Chick Fit runs 15 sessions a week at the moment. “We also do personal training sessions which have become a more popular option in recent months.” Chick Fit fitness classes have largely grown by recommendation from those daring ladies who were game enough to be first through the door when it all began. “Women just come here to have fun and feel good about themselves, and that is something women want to tell other women about. “They all push each other and the connection you build with each one of them stays with you as a group trainer although the bond you make as a personal trainer is undeniable.”

Now supported by fellow trainer Kristy Serpell, Emma said finding someone who was similar (but slightly different) to her has been helping the centre excel.

“That’s a good question — I haven’t been asked that before,” she said. “The mirrors are used in pole to help with body alignment but I have never thought about it as a deterrent before.

“I wanted to find someone who has the same morals and essence of fitness that I did,” “Women are never pushed into different Emma said. exercises for that reason. “She started coming from our first days as a “There is always another way to do each exerpole student and I approached her asking cise to ensure they are feeling comfortable.” if she would be interested in taking some classes. Emma and Kristy are always looking for new women to meet and train. “She said yes and here we are nearly two years later. “There is something about girls getting together that makes training so much more “We are both mothers and are supported by fun,” Emma said. “Girl time is important.” our family. She always has my back.” For Emma whole body strength is the most important part of training women.

Looking ahead Emma is continually trying new things and said it is important her clients don’t get bored.

“I focus on customer TLC whenever I train a woman,” she said. “It is all about body confi- “Group fitness classes can sometimes be very repetitive and that is where people dence but before that it is about building lose interest,” she said. the mind strength. “The external confidence flows after a woman has a strong mind. The women build their own glow and spark when they become strong internally.” When asked if the mirrors situated in the gym can sometimes be confronting for women, Emma had to think.

“I like to do different things and love having a mixed bag. “All our circuits are different and although I do use the Les Mills program I try and choose the ones with the most spunk and personality because I know that is what my ladies love.” 




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No identity, no hope, no future — unle�� … She was a mother and she was a wife but when it all unravelled Jo Walsh discovered she had no idea who she was. She confessed to SOPHIE BALDWIN her sudden loss of identity took her to the brink, to ending it all. Her story is a remarkable account of a long day’s journey into the brighter days ahead.


T IS FAIR to say there was a time in Jo Walsh’s life where she lost herself.

Her identity was wrapped up in her role as a mother caring for her four children and life on the farm with her then husband. When her marriage broke down in 2000 her very fabric was shredded. “I was married to my husband for 27 years and we had four kids. My husband was a farmer and I was a farmer’s wife — I didn’t have an identity and when I lost that part of my life, everything that I had known was gone,” Jo said. “I felt like I had nothing and at the darkest point in my life I didn’t want to be here. I can remember walking down the farm track, lying down in the grass and thinking God help me. I just didn’t know what to do.” Even though Jo regards her split from her ex-husband as amicable, it was still an incredibly tough time. Jo had spent her life caring for those around her and along the way as most mothers do, she simply lost herself. The split and consequent divorce left her anxious and riddled with insecurities —  and fear. “I didn’t know how I was going to support myself and my family and I was worried about my financial position. Physically I was a mess and anxiety nearly shut me down. I got to the point where I thought there was no point to any of it — and it was then I called Lifeline. “Looking back on all that now I can see I was stuck right in the middle of fear-based thinking. And it is an awful place to be. It is crippling and it is scary and very, very overwhelming.” In 2002 Jo made the decision to move to Echuca with her children who at the time were aged nine, 14, 18 and 20. She spent the next seven years discovering who Jo Walsh the person was as opposed to Jo Walsh the mother and farmer.


“I began doing things that connected me with my own spirit and through meditation and wellness I was able to begin to heal myself and find out who I was again.” As Jo’s own journey unfolded she has found herself in a role where she has been supporting others on their healing path and eventually she opened her own business Earth & Spirit Energies. “I never dreamed I would have ended up doing what I am today — supporting others in their healing process. For a long time I was a farmer and a mother and even though that was a completely different time in my life, I can look back now and see how lost I really was.” Jo said her own experiences have allowed her to develop compassion. “I see so many women today who are in a similar position to where I was and even though many of them are smart and capable, many have lost themselves and no longer know who they are. I am not saying that you can’t be a mum or partner, I am just saying it is important to value yourself and not lose your own identity while you do it.” Jo said it was not uncommon to see stress and anxiety manifest itself in physical symptoms including tension in the jaw and neck, cold hands, tremors, shaking, excessive sweating and withdrawal. Jo offers readings, wellness workshops and meditation classes. “Quite often during a reading something will come up that brings my client to tears. We are taught to suppress our emotions but it is OK to feel them and deal with them and that is a huge part of the healing process,” she said. “I can still remember that terrible place I was once in, but I am also proof things do get better and you can live a completely different and happy life, a life that you never imagined possible. “It’s just important to learn to love you and the rest will come.” 



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Sunago — fantastic flavours for every occasion I

T’S A TOUGH call — a night of sheer indulgence at Sunago or snuggled up in front of the TV (and the fire).

So why not have both?

entry to the port precinct makes it a great place to gather with family and/or friends for a cuppa and a catch up — or something slightly more substantial.

Because Sunago does a full-menu takea- “Our coffee is made by a custom roaster and while it is on the strong side, it has a smooth way, so whether you want to feed the whole family or just savour your own single dish, taste,” Meaghan added. in the end either choice will still have you “We also offer loose leaf tea, chai latte, hot saying opa! chocolate and milkshakes — and we are a Owners Sean and Meaghan Roberts pres- fully licensed premise as well.” ent a delightful fusion of Greek and modern Australian cuisine. From its signature five-course banquet for $55 a head to its popular $12 lunch deals; through its seafood selection and — as you would always want in a Greek-themed restaurant — meat platters.

And to fit in with demands of the 21st-century, if your lunchtime is tight you can phone ahead and have your order arrive at the table at the same time as you. It’s these subtle but very special touches which make Sunago such a popular destination.

Or still with that Mediterranean theme, but just slightly west of the Hellespont, is its pasta range.

“We realise lunchtime is precious so ring your order through and have it waiting on the table when you arrive,” she said.

And Sunago is an all-day (and well into the night) affair with its boutique coffee on the go from 10 am to closing — and as that morning coffee can’t be serious without a little treat (or two) the Sunago cake fridge is always overflowing with homemade specialties on a revolving menu.

“We have quite a few customers who take advantage of this service and it works very well.” Running a busy business such as Sunago with a young family in tow means life is a constant juggling act for the Roberts.

That’s everything from salted peanut cara- “We work around the kids as best as we can and keep the girls Lylani (7) and Sorayah mel cheesecake to chocolate mousse cake (3) at home as much as possible” Meaghan (or if you are feeling a little racy, try some conceded. lemon tart). “We love what we do and we take pride in “We have some great family support and it every meal that comes out of our kitchen,” helps that we can work the rosters around to suit us. Meaghan said. “Everything is made by us and our team and we really do serve food made from the heart,” Meaghan said.

“We have both been involved in the hospitality industry since our early teens and it is certainly where our passion lies.”

Sunago is currently going through a menu review and while many of the customer favourites will always be included, there will be a few tweaks to further tempt the taste buds.

Meaghan said developing relationships with other restaurateurs in the town was important too.

Sunago is open seven days a week and its relaxed ambience and easy access at the


“We like to support other local business and quite often help each other out, which really helps put the icing on the Echuca-Moama cake.” 


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Fighters of Heels off Gloves on. Lee Elliott, Lisa Brettschneider, Megan Johnston, Jo McMaster and Janelle Maynard. Photos by Luke Hemer.

Getting a kick out of getting kicked Stepping into the ring, lining up your opposition and throwing a punch (or placing a well-timed kick) for no reason other than you can is not something you normally associate with motherhood and domesticity. But SOPHIE BALDWIN has met five Echuca women who have thrown that stereotype out of the window and embraced the world of martial arts.

In their case the combat sport Muay Thai. The girls ended up in the sport for a variety of reasons but have since bonded through the camaraderie of blood, sweat and occasional tears. So when they step into the ring it’s not just a friend they are trying to hit, it’s a very good friend. >>>



L�� E�iot, 40 GROWING UP IN a family of brothers Lee quickly learnt the art of fighting for survival and defending herself from a young age. “I used to cop a bit of flak from them so I soon learnt to stick up for myself,” she said. But the decision to step into the world of Muay Thai only came a couple of years ago. As a mother of two, Lee was looking for an outlet for herself and decided to join Wickham’s Martial Arts Centre. “I started out doing a class when the kids were at school and I found I loved it from the very start. I loved the broad range of skills, the camaraderie and the motivation and I found it so empowering,” she said. Lee said it was hard to explain how she was feeling when lined up for her first fight. “I had been looking forward to that moment

for quite some time. It was a goal I had set myself before I turned 40 and it’s hard to put it into words, but I just felt comfortable from the moment I stepped into the ring. “I knew what I had to do, my mind cleared and I just loved every minute of my fight. I walked away wanting more and if my body holds up I certainly would like to have a crack at some more in the future.” Lee came away from her fight with a bit of a sore neck but that was about all. She said she was looking at the possibility of some interclub fights and the amateur circuit in Melbourne. “If you find something you enjoy age is no barrier. I plan to keep doing what I am doing, it’s just finding the time to fit it all in with my family and work, I need another day in the week,” she laughed.

Jo McMaster, 38 PART-TIME RETAIL WORKER, mother of three (and wife), Jo has been involved in Muay Thai for more than three years. “It is so empowering and it keeps you so fit. I know some people out there don’t think it is right that women are involved in this sport, but it is not about getting in the ring and punching each other out, it’s about technique and respect,” Jo said. Jo said she was nervous leading up to her first fight and she found it challenging to be in the ring. “Thinking about it afterwards, it was fun and something I wanted to experience at least once, and even though we were fighting our friends, it

certainly didn’t stop us giving 100 per cent.” Jo said she will continue to train but has no desire to step back into the ring in the near future. “I am happy with my experience and I don’t think I could step into the ring and fight someone I don’t know.” It took Jo a little while to get confident in her ability and starting out had begun in a different class and moved across to Muay Thai. “I started out with a few private lessons until I got my confidence and then I joined the classes. “I definitely love the fitness side of the sport and it is a good stress relief. The club atmosphere is great and I have made friendships that I never would have. “I will continue to work on, and refine, my skills and I like the fact I can walk out the door and I know I can defend myself.” Jo said her children now also take part in karate and practicing self defence has become a way of life for her family. “I train four-to-five days a week for an hour each session and as a mum, I think it is important to put aside some time for yourself and do what you love.”


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Lisa Brettschneider, 35 LISA’S FORAY INTO the world of Muay Thai has never been about winning a fight. Rather she has focused on personal discovery, the journey to making it there. Of the price paid in blood, sweat and tears of just getting there. And finally the confidence she found when she did jump out of her comfort zone and took on the ring. “I certainly didn’t step into the ring to win. For me, it was just to prove to myself that I could do something so different, something women stereotypically don’t do,” Lisa said. “My fight was a real confidence booster and I am really, really proud of myself,” she said. Lisa gave it her all during the fight but as soon as the bell sounded she hugged her opponent and shed a few tears. It had been a tough time for Lisa as she battled some personal demons and it was her commitment to the sport, and the support she received along the way, that has helped drive some of those demons away. “There




powerful than having women encouraging and empowering each other and to have that kind of support is just mindblowing.” Lisa said most women/mums put everyone else before themselves but taking time out to focus on something just for you is just as important. “All working mums need to find time for themselves. “When I finished my fight my daughter came up and hugged me and I was so proud of myself for taking this on, seeing it through and setting a great example for her. “I could feel the black cloud I’ve had hovering over me for some time disappear a little more.” Lisa took up self defence three years ago after her daughter took up karate. “I was doing cage fitness classes, then I joined women’s only kickboxing which gave me the confidence to then take on the mixed classes. “Muay Thai is great for stress relief, fitness and it also a great place to meet new people. “I sort of got involved in it by a happy accident and I have found it so exhilarating.” >>>

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Jane�e Maynard, 33 JANELLE’S DECISION TO learn Muay Thai originated from a desire to have some time out from her four daughters and to get herself fit and active. She was surprised by how quickly she fell in love with the sport and even though it is a 100 km round trip to and from training Janelle puts up with it all because, quite simply, she loves it. “I love everything about Muay Thai, you get to release all your stress and pressure and do your own thing,” Janelle said. She has been involved in the sport now for more than four years and this was her first fight. “I did better than I thought I would. It was tough going and personally I was surprised by the competitiveness that came out in me. “The girls are all just awesome, we are all friends and we have forged some pretty strong bonds through our training and at the end of the day we all love and respect each other.” Janelle said before she took up boxing she just stayed at home with her children. “I didn’t have the confidence to talk to people, let alone make friends, but getting involved in Muay Thai has been the best thing I have ever done.”


Janelle said if there were any mums out there thinking of getting involved her advice would be just do it. “It is so good for your body and your mind and it is a great escape.” Janelle’s husband and her four girls are all now

involved and it has become a family event. “I have no plans on fighting interclub, it’s not really for me at the moment, but I will continue to train and keep myself fit and active.”

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Wednesday Steak $2750 . Megan Johnston, 35 MEGAN’S LOVE OF boxing and her desire to find someone to hold the pads for her led her to Wickham’s Martial Arts which, in a roundabout way, led to her first fight. “To be honest I wasn’t too sure what it was I was after but felt I was wanting more out of boxing so I asked if I could do some personal training sessions. “I had no idea I was going to learn Muay Thai and of course once I started learning punching, kicks and the combination of both, I ended up absolutely loving it,” Megan admitted. She is the newest member to the group and has had the least training but she had no reservations about getting involved in her first fight. “Initially it never crossed my mind to step into the ring, but the interest and excitement to do so was definitely there. “I like to challenge myself mentally and physically and this has just become part of my journey,” she said. “The whole process has been a lesson in confidence, moving outside my comfort zone and

facing some fears.” Having only trained for 10 months Megan was understandably nervous when it came time for her first fight. “I was very much a beginner and I began to question whether I was ready mentally, but I just took a deep breath and put all the skills I had learnt into practice.” Megan said balancing all the training with work and family life often proved hard and she did think about quitting at one stage. “True. I had a moment where I thought I should be devoting all of my time to the kids and when I asked them what they thought, I was surprised when my son Lachie said ‘Mum, it is the coolest thing ever that you do it’. “I’ve grown to love Muay Thai. I walk into the club smiling, knowing I’m about to pull the gloves on. “So at the end of the day I want to be a healthy and positive role model for my kids, they want me to keep going and I will because I love it.” 

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Is there a doctor in here somewhere? She dropped out of school, was a pregnant teen, divorced at 25 and left to rear two small children. SOPHIE BALDWIN reveals the story of dedicated doctor Carolyn Siddel—or as you may now know her, Dr Siddel.


arolyn Siddel is a remarkable woman. She is strong, amazing and courageous. And will deny it all. Yes, and inspirational, so incredibly inspirational. That word fits everywhere she goes and in everything she does.

There is no other way to describe a woman who as a teenager did not get the chance to finish high school but who next year, aged 50, will become a qualified GP. Carolyn’s path to medicine has been far from traditional, which also made an incredibly demanding career that much harder. There was no silver spoon in her cradle; there was no high school graduation. She was pregnant and married at 19, divorced at 25 and suddenly a single mother with two children and zero prospects. Understandably she has suffered crippling bouts of self-doubt, was racked with guilt about how her children would fare and she suffered a run of setbacks including a battle with diabetes which cost her her memory and a year of study. But she never gave up, always kept going and now her dream of being a country doctor is within reach. “At times it was hard and horrible and yes, I probably gloss over the worst parts, but I used to have a saying pinned above my desk that said: Your past is either a stepping stone you use to build your future or the stumbling block you use to excuse your life.

“The boy’s dad was really good and he loved them but he just wasn’t ready to be a dad. Our marriage ended and in 1993 I found myself with all our furniture and two boys to care for but I do have to say over the years, the boys’ dad did look after them and I can’t fault him in that respect.” Carolyn may have been a single mum but she was determined to not sit at home and watch soapies all day. “When my youngest went to school I enrolled in a TAFE course as a receptionist. I thought it would be a good career, allow me to pay the bills and look after the kids, but then I watched that TV show Ally McBeal and I thought ‘oh, my God, I will be a legal secretary, so I swapped to that. “It was a 12 month commitment which for me was a huge thing at the time.” Just as Carolyn was about to finish the course she moved to Queensland with the boys. But she finished her placement in an accounting firm and had earned her first certificate, which proudly hangs on the wall of her consulting room (where it is surrounded by many others). Meanwhile a university had opened a campus at Maroochydore and family and friends were urging Carolyn to enrol.

“I remember at the time thinking I am an overweight, single teenage mum “This really resonated with me and helped who didn’t finish high school, so I didn’t me get through some pretty tough times,” deserve to go to university. Carolyn admitted. “But they all kept nagging me to do it so I The tough times she is referring to weren’t took what results I had in and they ended just a year or two, they pounded her for up telling me I could do any course in arts, decades. business or science.” “I had to leave Year 12 just before my HSC exams and get a job because of family health issues. I began working in the basement of Myer pricing clothes, it was a good fun job at the time and I actually enjoyed it. “I got pregnant in 1987 and had my first son at 19. I got married when I was four months pregnant because that’s what you did back then, and then at 20 I found myself pregnant again. “At the time I was young and naïve and I thought I knew everything and I was going to have this wonderful happy married life.


At this point Carolyn smiles because she had just watched the movie Outbreak and was fascinated by microbiology and research. “So many of my defining moments have been motivated by the big screen,” she laughed. To cut a long story short, Carolyn started a science degree after telling herself over and over again, overweight single mums don’t get to go to university, they don’t get that dream.

Carolyn never wanted her study to get in the way of her boys so she completed her degree part time and it ended up taking her nine years. During this time she packed shelves, tutored and did what she could to keep food on the table and her boys happy. She confronted her diabetes scare which saw her lose all her memory and she had to learn how to study again because her memory was jangled beyond recovery in its old form.

Then her boys got sick with glandular fever and the time she needed to care for them cost her another year of study.

doctor. I spent two hours telling him all the reasons why I couldn’t and he refuted every single one.

“My boys always came first and even as adults they know I will drop anything to help them.”

“When I said I will be 40 and starting medical school he just said to me ‘what, are you planning on dying at 50’?

As Carolyn approached the end of her degree the dean from a US medical school came to the college.

“We will get at least a good 20 years out of you as a doctor by the time you finish which is a lot more than we get out of some women who leave to have families and don’t return to the profession.”

He could see the potential in Carolyn to be a GP, even though she herself could still not. “I told him I was going to go on and do a PhD in research and he told me I couldn’t do that. “I remember thinking ‘oh, well, it’s been a good ride I will just go back to being a receptionist’. “At

the end of the lecture he took me out for coffee and told me I had to be a

So an unconvinced Carolyn turned up for the hideous GAMSAT exam to get into medical school. “The closing date for the exam was on a Friday and it cost $395 to sit, which was a huge amount of money for me at the time and would have left me with $100 for the week. ”I sat it thinking I will fail and just go into research.” She passed, obviously, and then had to fly to Victoria for the interview process — which meant a quick trip to the op shop for a suit because she couldn’t afford one (today she has three different coloured suits) and she was loaned money for the flight. She went to the interview armed with her usual thought pattern — overweight, single mum dropouts don’t get to have that dream. “I couldn’t believe at 40 I was about to start my dream and now at nearly 50, I can’t believe I have nearly finished and it is so fantastic. I love being a rural GP.” Carolyn has become the poster girl that circumstance doesn’t define you. If you have a goal or dream and you want it badly enough, the only thing stopping you is yourself. She is the first to admit there were many, so many, hard times. And plenty of others when she simply thought she had had enough and wanted to give up. “There are many single parents out there doing a fantastic job with no recognition of how tough financially, psychologically and emotionally the journey really is. “Just have faith in yourself. My journey started with a reception course and now I am a GP. “And if I can do it anyone can.” 


Sally Williams

Soul Nurturer

Brought to you by


(July 23 – August 23) You’re ready for enchantment and a whole lot more excitement. Fortunately, the cosmos agrees. With quite a few zodiac neighbours still struggling, there are very few people around to disrupt your birthday plans. Take this time to strengthen work strategies. New friendships also appear promising, as do financial prospects.


(October 24 – November 22) There’s always someone who’ll try to nudge you into a reluctant corner, which isn’t usually a problem for headstrong you. After the 8th, welcome help arrives in the form of a lunar eclipse — which encourages you to revise personal boundaries. As the borders change, so will the rules, and unwelcome protagonists find themselves ousted.


(November 23 – December 21) Focus on your successes, Sagittarius —ƒthere have been plenty of them. Sure, you may feel like the proverbial wallflower every now and then, but people love you. Remember this as you step into August’s social whirl. Even if someone’s not playing by the rules, ignore their pettiness and head for friendlier ground.


(December 22–January 20) With the cosmos ready to offer its stamp of approval, it’s time to pitch your dream projects to anyone willing to listen. You may be surprised where that unexpected break comes from. If there’s a romantic pause after the 8th, not a problemƒ—ƒit’s just a matter of logistics. Soon after, you can clear diary space for carnal delights.


Your August


by Tanya Obreza

(June 22 – July 22) Sometimes we have to live through situations that we don’t understand, but if we look deeply, or wait long enough, a reason for that experience will usually reveal itself. This is especially important to remember when we feel directionless. Life is full of buried treasures. Chances are, you’re sitting on some hidden gems right now.



(May 21 – June 21)

(August 24 – September 22) One particular project rules August’s agenda. Ideas become more intense as your spiritual and intellectual awareness deepens. Virgos seek broader horizons through knowledge, travel or meditation. Others recognise your talents, and welcome you into a new work arena. In turn, their assistance boosts a past slump in confidence.

The cosmos gives Geminis a head start this month by stirring motivations. Only the heavens know where all your extra energy will come from, but why question a good thing? Just get on with the business of being a marvel, and busy yourself with what motivates you. Your career possibilities expand, as does your financial outlook.



(April 21 – May 20)

(September 23 – October 23) Many around you don’t seem to be in a rush to go anywhere, which means it’s up to you to hurry them along a bit. For anyone else, this would be a big ask, but not for charming Librans. Just make sure you take time out after the 26th for Venus’s little erotic treat. The pursuit of pleasure should be denied no oneƒ—ƒleast of all you.



(January 21 – February 18)

(February 19 – March 20)

Here’s a month when one detour leads to another. Couples might want more independence, but be sure to give others the same freedom. Singles can expect love that’s short and sweet and for now, that’s the way you like it. Should the planets argue for a career change, don’t ignore them. Be grateful for any timely guidance.

Money and work play a strong role in August, and the outlook is positive. There may be painstaking paperwork involved, but even that won’t phase you. At play, an old love could be rekindled. And though you may feel warmed by the familiarity of an old flame, if you’re serious about the presentƒ—ƒdon’t surrender to the past.

You’ve been doing it tough for some time now, Taurus. Illness, work pressures, family issues — too many demands have drained your tired spirit. No wonder you’ve scuttled behind closed doors. Still, we must assume that better moments lie ahead. And they do. August offers amazing opportunities. The greatest gift? Growing self-confidence.


(March 21 – April 20) Last month burdened you with delays and restrictions. A welcome reprieve arrives with August. Socially and professionally, you’re a natural. The cosmos boosts intellectual stamina, even if it does occasionally come in the form of challenge. You’re also presented with new playmates. If any caution is needed, it’s still likely to involve finances.

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Sophie’s Single

For those days when you are lacking a little get up and go I

T’S HARD TO get motivated in the dead of winter.

The days are short, the mornings are freezing cold and I really, really struggle to get out of bed. And it doesn’t help that I have just come back from a bit of glorious sunshine on the Gold Coast either. The weather up there this time of year can certainly be a bit hit and miss but we got a hit this time and had some glorious sunshine and 24 degree days. I took my girls away for six nights, which coincidentally happened to be at the same time as the Gold Coast Airport marathon (not planned at all). This is the second time I have completed the half marathon there and while I was a bit underdone with my training, I still wanted to complete the 21 km in under two hours. Approaching the last few kilometres my less-than-average arithmetic assured me I had it in the bag, so I was devastated to cross the line in two hours — and 14 seconds. Those 14 bloody seconds are going to haunt me for the rest of my life. And even though 2.14 seconds is a long, long, long way from the winning time of 1.03; I was the 1493rd female to cross the line out of 4400. One thing I have learnt while running is you can never judge a book by its cover. I have been passed by young people, old people, people of all different shapes and sizes, people running barefoot and people dressed in weird costumes and as for those elite runners, well they appear to simply fly. The one thing I can’t stand is the heavy breathers and if I find myself stuck next to one of them I am pretty quick to move on. It’s hard enough to run let alone listen to someone who is struggling to breathe, it just does my head in.

I have another half marathon in three weeks — Run Melbourne for Echuca’s Community Living and Respite Services Inc. — and I am determined to get my time back under two hours and raise a bit of money for a great local cause along the way. I guess I just have to put my big girl pants on and face those cold mornings. Not only does winter make training hard for me, it also makes it hard to find time to do those necessary jobs outside like mowing the lawns and picking up frozen dog pooh (I am not sure why but there always seems to be a lot more crap to pick up in the cold — maybe it’s how the dogs keep themselves warm). And I am the first to confess I am not a particularly handy person — my idea of fixing something usually means getting out my card and buying something new, but I had a serious run-in with my ride-on mower the other day and guess who came up trumps? Happily mowing my lawns and obviously not concentrating on the job at hand, I drove past my clothes line. Away with the fairies I didn’t notice the King Size doona wrap itself around one of the levers until my lawn mower made this horrendous groaning noise and stopped dead in its tracks. The doona cover had found its way underneath the mower and was wrapped around the blade at least one million times and the washing line was on a bit of an angle from the strain of the mower pulling on it and I must say the words that exited my mouth weren’t ‘oh, gee, look at that’. Scratching my head and kicking the mower I thought ‘my God, I have really done it this time’. But by powers of elimination, a sharp knife and a bit of elbow grease I was successfully able to cut away and cut a bit more and a bit more again to eventually remove the offending material. It was unfortunately the end of

my doona cover but I was grateful that was the only casualty. Lesson learnt and from now on I will be making sure I take the clothes off the line first. One of my goals for this year is to get out of my comfort zone and do things I have never done before. I am proud to say one of these things has been donating blood for the very first time. I have always had a bit of a phobia where blood is concerned and while I have seen all sorts of things in my former career as a dairy farmer, human blood still makes me feel queasy. I have to say though, giving blood was a positive experience and to know I may have saved

the lives of three other people (you get a little text that tells you that), well it can’t get much better than that. The process normally doesn’t take long, unless like me you have a slow resting heart rate and you keep setting the alarm off, but even then I reckon it still only took about half an hour. I was also ever so grateful the girl who fainted did so just as I was leaving because I am pretty sure that would have set my heart rate into orbit and I probably would have fainted in sympathy too. But seriously, giving blood is awesome, it certainly doesn’t hurt, it’s not uncomfortable and it is something I will be doing again. 

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Thirty Something

If you like it, then it must have a ring on it S


Oh, yes, the disaster my private life had become, a living hell with a cast-off acquaintance taking too, too much advantage of my compassionate soul. Fortunately she is gone.

Swept up in an outrageous case of admitting it was all her fault, and rushing back into the arms of the useless clod who had basically turfed her out barely two months earlier. And as deliriously happy as she might think she is, another (closer) friend has already confided he has been seen in the arms of someone other than my erstwhile associate. Therefore I am doing the only proper thing — changing my phone number. And while I was launching that exhausting process it got me thinking about what it has really come to mean to me. The phone silly; not the number. Seriously, when you are not next wasting time texting, Snapchatting, Instagramming, surfing, Facebooking, tweeting, photographing, videoing, scanning your own pictures, emailing, nodding along to your favourite songs, catching a movie, watching sport, downloading new apps, gaming and/ or just generally caressing your little helper and thanking Siri for setting you straight (and cursing your maps for taking you the wrong way up a dead-end street), have a good look at it. Did you know it also makes phone calls? Truly.

Are you even aware that’s what started this whole ball of wax? Making — and receiving — phone calls. Connecting you to people just about anywhere you were (so long as it was a major metropolitan address). And you actually talked to them. Speaking English, not texting gibberish. Tell me you haven’t got annoyed, then angry, before becoming downright hysterical when your little screen has one message, and one message only — SOS ONLY. For pity’s sake, this is a life-or-death emergency. Someone might be sending me a hilarious meme and I am not seeing it. Even worse, someone might change their relationship status on Facebook and I won’t be able to immediately gossip about it. I might as well be on another planet. But then there are those moments when my little friend is actually a lifesaver, such as the other day when half the town was blacked out by a collision between a power line and a bird with a death wish. We lost the lot, and while people started thumping computer screens, punching numbers on dead landlines and urgently Facebooking the dilemma I alone remained calm. I simply activated my hotspot, then in the gloom of the backblocks of the office punched up my torch app and propped it beside the computer so I could see what I was doing.

While everyone and everything around me unravelled I simply, quietly and efficiently, kept going. It was only 70 minutes of chaos but I got so much done and as everyone else flung themselves at reactivated computers I sashayed out the door, as only I can, and tootled off to lunch while others wondered how I had done it. So yes, my little phone does everything. So much I am giving much thought to the acquisition of the iPhone 8 when it comes out soon. No, of course I won’t be one of those sad little people queuing up at shops around the world so they can be the first, by seconds, to have one (and see their pathetic, sun-starved faces on another small screen). I have simply placed an order at the local Telstra cum Apple outlet and will wander in at my leisure to collect it on arrival. Basically we are all condemned to using these little wonder machines now. It’s just that some of us (and you know who their pinup is don’t you sisters?) do it with that certain air of je ne sais quoi so badly lacking in so many of you. PS: Date update. It may be a decision I regret (I haven’t yet, though) but I have decided to cool my heels, and other parts of his and my anatomies, on the love front because I was seriously losing control of my own life. He is persisting (as you would expect) but I remain irresolute. And in a state of self-ordained singleness. 

2018 Victorian Rural Women’s Award Nominations for the 2018 Victorian Rural Women’s Award will open on 14 September 2017. For information, visit RIRDC website’s-award peterwalshmp peterwalshmp Peter Walsh MP 466 High St, Echuca Ph 5482 2039 or 1300 467 906 Funded from Parliament’s Electorate Office & Communications Budget.


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Bella magazine (issue 10) 100dpi  
Bella magazine (issue 10) 100dpi