You met your husband Tom when you were 16 years old and married at 21. Did you always know you’d be together for the long haul?
When I met Tom at the age of 16 I had my heart set on a career in the architecture/design industry, he was a young and ambitious fully qualified builder. Whilst neither of us took things too seriously initially, within 18 months we were in a situation where it made sense to move in together needing to both be in Sydney and not knowing many people. Everything about how our relationship progressed seemed very natural despite my age and stage of life. I would refer to our relationship as a partnership with a firm respect for each other’s abilities and contributions rather than a romance, our attraction grew from discussing ideas and plans for our futures (which were always very aligned).
How did your relationship influence your career path? You were buying and selling houses together at such a young age, and both had careers around the building/design/architecture industries - was this always the plan, to work in similar fields?
Tom and I lived together when I moved to Sydney to study interior design and Tom did a lot to support me, everything from building my models (the teachers could always tell, they were always very sturdy), forcing me into bed by midnight and to wake up again at 4:30am rather than do all nighters to complete assignments. He even built all the displays for our year’s final exhibition.
Tom’s appreciation for architecture definitely grew while living through my 3 year course. We regularly attended architectural talks and went to exhibitions, we had an extensive library of architecture books and magazines and our living area regularly looked like a design studio with product samples, plans and yellow trace everywhere. I spent a lot of times on building sites and helped him with lots of aspects of his business, the construction knowledge I picked up through Tom definitely expedited my career progression. We still both get very excited whenever an architect sends through a tender set.
You moved to the south coast of NSW after having three children and working in various architectural firms as well as your own projects. Was this move always in the works and would you say having young children influenced the decision?
Tom and I always knew we both wanted to move back to the south coast, we just weren’t sure exactly when. The nature of Tom’s work is that he has projects which go for nearly 2 years at a time, so nothing happens spontaneously for us. I was the one driving the move home more than Tom, we had already started working on Bangalay which had been in the pipeline since 2005 but hadn’t progressed very far. The children were aged 6, 4 and 18 months, I was working full time in a role similar to what I had been doing for the 7 years previously which I enjoyed but had definitely plateaued with, and Tom was working long hours. We rarely found time to get down to the south coast to see our families and they were becoming increasingly reluctant to come to visit us (the Sydney traffic was always a huge issue).
We had a great lifestyle in Manly with the beach and harbour so close and basically never having to use a car, we had amazing neighbours and great friends (who we still see and keep in touch with) but we had always wanted our kids to have a similar childhood to us which was very much influenced by our grandparents and the relative freedom you have being in a small village and in Tom’s case a farm. We hadn’t had a substantial project to work on for ourselves and were missing it. My thoughts about making the move were spurred on by a play date and cup of tea with Emma Lane, she was telling me about their plans for The Farm and love of her family time in Byron Bay. It inspired me to start to invest more into our Bangalay Project and pushed me to act on what I called a “gut feel.” Tom took a few months to come on board. Things all seemed to fall into place very easily once the decision was made. The first few weeks were ideal but after about 6 weeks my mum was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer.
Your dreams for Bangalay were in the works since 2012, but didn’t actually go to plan until 2017. During that time you experienced some negative backlash against the development, a change of career, completed a Masters degree, immersed yourself in the Shoalhaven community, lost your mother to cancer and became pregnant with your fourth baby. What do you feel when you look back at this time filled with so much change?
There are so many emotions experienced over the past 5 years, the first one which comes to mind is gratefulness, we have been so well-supported by so many people. Being on the receiving end of so much support and kindness both personally and professionally has been what has got our family through the past few years. I think it will take me a lifetime to return the favour to everyone around me.
You’ve described yourself as having a “mini breakdown” in 2015 which lead to you quitting your job and embarking on a road trip around Australia with your dad and children. What happened during this time that made you realise you needed a break? Did you seek help?
I lost my mum, completed my masters and started a new job which required a lot of travel all in the same month. Everyone kept saying to give myself time but I think I was running on adrenaline. I got to a point in October 2015 when I couldn’t sleep, my entire body ached and I just started crying and couldn’t stop. I had amazing support from a friend who specialised in acupuncture and Chinese medicine and she referred me to a counsellor who was part of her practice. Tom could see I needed help and put me on a plane to Gaia in Byron Bay. It was there that I was able to reflect on what I needed to change. I needed something to focus on that was just focused on the family, planning the road trip around Australia with my dad was the perfect project.
There’s a 13 year age gap between your first and fourth child. Did you always want a big family? How did Eddie’s arrival impact the family dynamic?
I had always wanted 4 children and had hoped that this might happen with the move to the south coast but the timing just wasn’t right. The dynamic of our family has definitely shifted since Eddie’s arrival, the older children adore him and the tempo in the house is definitely calmer and kinder. With Bangalay opening soon after Eddie’s birth, Tom is doing a lot more with the kids, he especially is really enjoying being able to spend time with Eddie, he often says “I really didn’t think I would love to have a baby again this much”.