Creative Women on Tools
In the small rural town of Ganmain in New South Wales, two women have banded together to give women in their community the opportunity to develop creative and practical skills. Linda and Susan, women with very different backgrounds, are making their mark on their 550 person community. Erica Salisbury, a woman intent on making waves in her own rural community, interviews Linda and Susan about their vision during Mona's month celebrating women's collaboration.
Women on Tools
Susan, you’ve been living in Ganmain for a very long time, and you are quite an influential member of the community. What was it like when you first relocated to Ganmain many years ago?
When you arrive here with a MG B and bonnet covered with flowers and long red finger nails they question you, it hasn't been easy but you just blend with them all.
So your first foray into bringing the alternative was a really interesting business called Huff n Puff Constructions, can you tell me a little bit about that?
My husband John and I have been in the strawbale industry for about 20 years now and we have done 175 strawbale workshops around Australia and in the last five years we have developed a new product called situps (super insulated tilt up panel system,) so we now manufacture strawbale walls for houses.
So tell me about the challenges of the business generally. I'd particularly like to get your perspective of the challenges of being a woman in business, in a small town.
There is a challenge in a small town when you are employing men. It's not taking direction so much as ideas that men have a problem with, they tend to think that they can give you a one liner and that’s the result. I've made a statement and you’ve got a question. And I find that difficult with men, and I always have on building sites.
So you’ve obviously been interested in building from a young age, what inspired this interest?
When I was modelling in Sydney at 22 my father told me what tools I should buy so I bought a house in Kensington at 22 years of age and dad taught me how to use tools, and that was 50 something years ago and I've always been on tools. It started with an uncle in New Zealand, you know on the farms with some pliers, bend a piece of wire so I sort of started as a tomboy in New Zealand and then Dad took me to that stage when I was 22 to show me how to use these tools. And I’ve loved it ever since.
The problem with being a model in those days and wanting to renovate a house was the banks, I could not get finance; number one, I was a model, number two, I was a woman and could fall pregnant. But a journalist got me an article in the SMH and ANZ bank came to my rescue. It was difficult in those days to get finance as a woman.
An ex-fiance, John, and I decided that if we bought a house in Randwick, he would put the deposit in, I would do all the renovations, and the gardens, and we would split the profit. And that worked out very well, which enabled me with the money from the profit of the house Randwick and modelling to buy my own house in Kensington.
You are starting a new initiative for women on Saturdays to come to the Ganmain Red Cross Hall and create whatever they want out of all your power tools. What wisdom do you hope to share with them?
Absolutely. I'm all tooled up. I've been on tools for now 50 years, I know my way around them, I've done the hard yards and I've made an awful lot of things, an awful lot of varying things, I love a challenge. Carving I didn’t stay with for very long because it was too slow but I'm now in a position where on Saturdays in Ganmain at the Old Red Cross Hall, I'm offering a workshop called ‘Women on Tools’.Come and learn, come and make whatever you want, take it with you! There's a ‘Womens Sheds Australia in Wagga Wagga but I don’t know that there are many tools there, so this is it, this is my big event, later in life, teaching women that they can do it too!
Is everyone in the community supportive of your new venture?
Well, they generally call me an old hippy, because I usually have so much hair, but having done 175 workshops, so many times the women wanted to attach themselves to me, Show me how to work this tool! Show me how to use a drop-saw! Show me this Susan! Show me that! And I could see there was such an enthusiasm for women to know how to handle these things and make things for themselves. To do their own little renovation if need be.
Do you think that's one of the advantages of living in the country, there's more space to create?
The beauty of the space, the trees, the birds, they are all here, the long paddocks, the kindness, and I hope that that’s something that has come out of Covid, that people are more kind to each other, and in the country they are so kind.I’ve always found kind people living in little country towns. I lived in more than one; Yarramalong Valley, Kangaroo Valley, and now here, there’s something different about country folk.
You’ve definitely found an important space to set up this project. What was the Old Red Cross Hall used for and how did you come to own the Red Cross Hall?
I bought it on the day, having met two ladies and seeing steel chairs and heaters, just like that. We lived in the hall for 2 years, and renovated while we built our straw bale home and since then all the backpackers have been living here. So it’s been a wonderful investment.
Lush Creative Galleries
Linda, you’ve relocated from the big smoke to Ganmain and started on this venture to bring art to the community in the form of Lush Creative Galleries. What is Lush Creative Galleries about and what does it mean to work with another strong woman in realising this vision?
Lush Creative Galleries is a conglomeration of different things. For me it's about working in art, in mainly acrylics, inks, multimedia but it's to use art as a space. I’m very privileged to meet my offsider, we are working in this gallery together offering this great opportunity for women and the community as a whole and I know we’ve got people waiting for classes, they are screaming for activity in this community.
Ganmain is quite a change, what motivated you to settle in Ganmain?
In a nutshell, I was a real estate agent since 1995, working in the real estate industry, so a corporate person, and I’d had enough, and I felt that I needed to get off the merry-go-round.
Around when Covid started in 2020, I resigned, I packed my little Subaru with as much stuff as I could, sold everything and decided to go on a three month tour of reconnecting with my family down here, so just as Covid hit, I hit the road – and I wasn’t going to let Covid stop me from moving forward and jumping into a big adventure that I didn’t know where it was going to land.
My family are around this area and I’ve lobbed here into a beautiful old cottage and house-sat for quite some time and did my art and fell in love with the country, fell in love with the inspiration that I've got from the simplicity of life.
The positives of living in a community like Ganmain are a sense of groundedness, community, generosity in this community, everyone seems to look after themselves, which is amazing, nature and the groundedness of being so close to it, the air, and the peace. So, for me it was very healing coming from a corporate world, it was an incredible opportunity for me to be here. I’ve only been here just coming up to two years. It's been fantastic.
It sounds as though rural life and art have been very restorative for you. Do you think that art has a role in restoring our mental health?
For me I focus on art certainly as a space where you can shut your mind down, our mind is racing and we’re all very very stressed in the world at the moment. Art is a way to shut down and find that space you need to regather your thoughts, to re-fill your cup.
They way I teach is about emotion and I would like people to put their emotion on canvas, to remove it out of their body, out of their mind. We could paint all the same thing and but to paint emotion is really special and very healing.
You’ve chatted to me regarding some of your clients, and participants you’ve been working with in the program to engage more meaningfully in the community.
It's probably best if I explain it with a client that I have. She’s a client who has MS and she has NDIS funding, anyone who has the funding will understand what this is about. But she has that funding to allow her to integrate into the community and to get her out of the house and feel like one of us instead of being isolated, being partially blind. She accesses her funds and pays for art classes with me. It gets her out and about and helps her mind and helps her creativity.
You can find out more about Linda’s work on Instagram: @lushcreativegalleries
You can find out more about Susan’s ventures at www.glassford.com.au
Erica Salisbury is a free-spirited woman who is passionate about the environment and communities. She is, in her heart, perpetually dancing in an African drumming circle. She has a million hobbies and has taught herself enough tricks to repair just about anything. She is a teacher on weekdays, but spends her weekends between her self-sustaining idyllic patch on the NSW-VIC border and dreaming about her new abode just outside of Castlemaine. This is her first foray into journalism.
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