“I was born in Burra in South Australia; my dad was a postmaster, so we moved around a lot in my younger years. From Burra, we moved to Canberra when I was only a little girl. Then we moved to a place called Wirrabarra in the Flinders Ranges. I went to school there in my primary school years. Next, Dad was posted to the island to fix a few problems; he fell in love with it and said we would move there. I was nine years old when I moved and started school; we lived in the house behind the post office in Kingscote. When dad was only 42 years old, he had a heart attack and a stroke and had to retire. I had to leave Kangaroo Island on my 16th birthday, the worst day of my life. Our parents tried to find somewhere for all us kids where there was a good education and close to the city and something they could afford because having to retire instantly at 42 was pretty horrifying. We moved to Kadina, I got a job straight away, and I never went to school again. I hadn’t quite finished year 11 on the island when we moved, and I got a job working at Kennets Mitre 10 store for the rest of the time I was in Kadina. Unfortunately, Dad had another heart attack at the age of 66 and died this time. He was my inspiration; you just never get over those things.
Larry and I had always been friends; we went to school together, rode horses and went to Pony Club and Hunt Club; horses were a big part of our lives growing up, and we kept in contact with each other when I left. Larry wanted to travel Australia shearing and funnily moved to Kadina and started shearing around the Yorke Peninsula. We started going out with each other when we were 18, got married when we were 21, bought a house at Kadina and lived there for about three years. We moved back to Kangaroo Island to take over the farm from Larry’s mum and dad. That was in 1989 during the wool price crisis; yeah, it was a pretty horrible time for sheep farmers back then. They sold half their farmland, so there was only the half left that is Emu Ridge now. I suppose Larry and I have always been schemers; trying lots of different things along the way and always worked together, breeding gents, fingerling yabbies another was Island’s Sport’s Store and Aussie Health. They were where the Ozone apartments are now; there used to be a whole heap of little shops along that street. During that time, Larry and his mate decided to make some Eucalyptus oil for something to do. I said, “let’s get some labels printed” and “why don’t we sell them in the shops” and from there, our eucalyptus business began. I had Tiffany in a sling on the front of me and my little docket book; Larry had these two suitcases full of Eucalyptus oil. We tromped into the shops in Adelaide and told them who we were and what we were producing, and they all bought our oils. I used to ring them up every couple of weeks to see if they needed some more, and then we used to send it off to them. Our business grew that way in the beginning. Arts and Crafts are something I have always loved, I painted fridge magnets and souvenirs in the beginning to give us an income over winter and we wholesaled them all over Australia.
I’ve also always loved swimming and for a change from Emu Ridge, I’ve had another job I’ve loved doing—30 years of teaching kids swimming.
We have three lovely kids that have grown up in our business right from the beginning. Probably the toughest time was when we first started our business back in 1991 because we had nothing, and the kids lived in the caravan. We lived in a truck bin alongside the caravan, with a little bit of a half tin shed over the top that was all open; that’s our shop now! The possums used to come running in our bedroom. I’ve cared for orphaned animals for as long as I can remember; it’s a passion of mine, so the kangaroos would come and bound in and jump on our bed too. They were sort of weird but fun times. The kids had to do all their homework and stuff before it got dark because there was no power. We were self-sufficient for 20 odd years at the distillery; it’s only the last seven years that we’ve actually had mains power connected. It’s hard to believe really that about 27 years ago, we had a long drop toilet, no power, a little gaslight, no TV, the kids just ran around and played in the scrub and yeah, lived pretty feral, I would say, but it was also a really fun time while the kids grew up. I think we are all very close because we lived this way. My kids talk about it fondly and Larry says that was the best time of his life. I found it hard trying to wipe the dirt off my feet before I got into bed because you’re half living outside; those sorts of things were annoying but also good memories. In the early 1990’s, we were able to buy the farm from Larry’s parents, we were then able to move into the family farmhouse, they retired, and our business Emu Ridge continued on from there.
I think we did well for a time building the distillery from nothing but unfortunately, we had a thief within our business that had worked for us for seven years that was sending us broke. We put in cameras and found our problem. We had purchased a block of land in Kingscote which we had to sell, we had to sell all our life insurance policies, whatever we had so we could keep our business. It’s been really hard; Larry and I worked seven days a week for nearly ten years straight to get the distillery back up and running. This awful time caused the onset of depression for Larry, its hard living with someone that suffers, it’s sad. Over the tough times in the beginning and during this time, we had the help of volunteers, Wwoofers and the Workaway travellers, who have helped us over time to get our business back in front. Just when we were thinking things were going really well again, the fires and then Covid came.
Larry and I have been married for 39 years. I was diagnosed with a brain tumour 12 years ago, but by the time they had figured out what was wrong with me, I was already deaf in my left ear. I had surgery to try and remove it, which caused facial palsy. Well, I was really bad in the beginning, my whole mouth drooped, and I used to have to hold my mouth to speak. I liked covid times as my mask hid my face. You lose your confidence though, because everyone looks at your face, but I’m so grateful that I’m alive. It must have been so stressful for Larry seeing me change and find things I love difficult to do. He also had a heart attack just a year after my surgery; we must be getting old!
I still love what we do in our business and am proud of the way we farm. Larry’s happy to retire, but I’m not—much to Larry’s disgust. The kids are taking over the business; they’re all directors within our company now. It’s been a hard life and I keep saying to the kids, “do you really want this, you know, working seven days a week?” It’s really hard on everybody, really. Melissa was four when we first started Emu Ridge and probably started bottling oil and working from the age of 5; poor thing. But they’ve chosen to come in, so we’ll see how they go. They have all grown up with good work ethics. I so love my grandchildren; I’ve got eight grandchildren and two step-grandies now. I wish I had more time to enjoy them, but It’s been hard with the business, but luckily they can be around us at work, too; it’s like it’s starting all over again. There may be some changes in our business, but it’s all up to the kids now to have family time and a life outside of work. It’s been an interesting and fun time and have loved always having my family by my side.”