“I didn’t grow up here, I grew up in a place called Woodend which is at the bottom of Mount Macedon. Music is one of my absolute passions, I’m an avid songwriter. I love blues and grew up in a household full of African music and Harry Belafonte. My mother was black American, my father Irish so I got all the fat Irish genes—short, fat and grey. My brothers didn’t; they lucked out, they’re all tall and gorgeous. I had the best of both worlds, I think. On Sundays all of Dad’s family would get together—he had 13 brothers and sisters—and we’d all have a big roast lunch. That is what family is still to me; a big table surrounded by food and family, listening to Irish music. It was a pretty awesome upbringing, a very happy time in my life.
When I left school, I was going to be an auto electrician, well I was. I wanted to get in there and fix automatic cars and do all these wonderful things. I had an old car at home and I wanted to fix it up and one of my friends was a mechanic and he was always fixing but he could never fix bushes and stuff like that on transmissions and I learned how to do it. One day my boss walked in and he said, ‘Christine,’ —and I was only five foot then and I thought I looked alright. He said, ‘I’m having some trouble, I can’t take you on as an apprentice,’ even though that’s why I started, and I said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘Sadly you’re a girl and the men don’t trust you. Like the men who bring in their cars and trucks. This little girl is in there fixing our alternators and we don’t think she knows what she’s doing.’ I was very good, so I was heartbroken. So, then my mum, who was a chef, said, ‘you cook with me all the time why don’t you just get your ticket?’
I lost my mum to cancer and that was heartbreaking; I was 23 when she was diagnosed and I lost her at 26. She had ovarian cancer and she was an amazing woman. I lost her and it took quite a while to get over that. I’m a chef by trade now, been doing it for 39 years and now I’m sort of retired from it but I can whip up some pretty extravagant things in my house – lucky husband. Cooking is another passion of mine.
During Ash Wednesday, Mount Macedon was levelled to the ground and I was only young then. I remember it vividly; I stood at the fire station and I watched most of Mt Macedon burn. Some of the places you would see gas tanks exploding and you would know who they were. I would have been 18 or 19 years old; I was in the kitchen making sandwiches and it was just horrific, some terrible things we saw. The fires here brought it straight back. I remember just smelling smoke in 2007, when we had the fire down in Flinders Chase and it’s an instant panic. I don’t know what it is, it’s just … yeah you just don’t forget and never will, but you learn to live with it.
So of course, when the fires happened here, you just turn on your switch and you say, ‘what do I need to do and where do you want me’ and you go from there. So, we cooked heaps of food up at the bowling green, and we fed lots of people and did some little food drops.
I came here in 1996, kicking and screaming! Thought it was the worst place I’d ever been to in my life. My hubby brought me over after his father and two partners bought the abattoirs. I grew up in a town that was 24 hours shopping and then all of a sudden came over here and there was nowhere to eat after 7.30 and there’s no garages open, the supermarket was closed and I thought, what have you done to me? I can’t live in this place, it’s terrible. I was very homesick and very lonely.
It’s really hard, you come over and you don’t know a soul and they all judge you by your appearance and what you do and who you’re with and they don’t mean to but that’s what people do. And then someone might be lucky enough to come up and say hi and then the conversation will start and they’ll think, ‘oh she’s not so bad.’ It’s a very close-knit family here on the island, and it is a family, that’s for sure, everyone knows everyone.
After about four years, we were coming back on the ferry and it was beautiful and there were dolphins all around the front of the ferry and I was just standing there and I was so excited to see KI and then I realised, ok this is my home now. Now I’m an Islander. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to Victoria.”