Karyn – Women of Oz


Every time we build (as part of the Tabitha Foundation Cambodia), it’s a challenge because 40 to 50 people build 40 homes in 3 days. It’s heads down, bottom up, hammer away. It’s always a physical challenge.

And what do you do?

Build. Hammer.

When we go there, there’s usually a cement base that’s already poured and a frame and a roof. And we hammer floorboards. They can be bamboo or timber. And we basically hammer. One project, I think we did 3000 nails in 2 floors and also we used corrugated iron around the external walls. It has a cut out door-frame and a window, and I guess it doesn’t sound like it’s a beautiful luxury framework in which people live, but it’s dry – Cambodia has so much rain – and it’s a protection for their property and anything that’s precious. It’s a safe place for them.

I’ve been doing it for 9 years. I took my daughter last year, for her birthday, for her 21st. We went to visit Sue Huxley’s school, which was amazing. And I took my 21 year-old daughter and a friend of hers. I wanted to take them to Siem Reap because Siem Reap is one step away from heaven. That’s the temple area. It’s beautiful. That always overwhelms me because that’s so amazing. So taking Jessica last year was really important. Rather than her just being involved in the build, I just wanted her to get a sense of the country, just to understand why I just keep having to go back, why it’s just in me. It’s almost like I feel, it’s one of those places that you become so involved in it, that it’s almost hard not to go back.

It’s like watching the twin towers fall. It’s like you watch something horrific or you understand the circumstance of something and you think, I’ve seen this same picture, I’ve seen this same circumstance again and again and again. The footage just keeps coming, the environment is still there. But it’s like, do I have enough? Do I just go to bed now because I’ve already seen it? It’s like you can’t give yourself permission to step away because it’s like a responsibility. That’s how I feel. It’s a bit of a responsibility.

So that’s why I keep going back. But it’s so much fun. I love it. It’s so energising. It’s such a remarkable experience. As I said, it’s a way for me to go very safely into a country, really make a contribution. You see that. We drive through all the areas. We see all the Tabitha houses. They’re so well recognised. Each time we build, it’s usually 40 houses in a province. So maybe we do 4 houses amongst my team of 8 people. That’s a lot of houses. But there’s a lot of people that don’t have a shelter.

There’s no mucking around, let’s discuss it. It’s like: there it is, there’s the materials, the floor’s in place, start hammering! The most important thing is: where is the sun and how do we put up what walls to protect us from that beating? Because by the time you’ve been out since 8 o’clock in the morning and it’s 38 degrees and it’s 1 o’clock, wow, that heat! It’s the only place that I ever feel that complete, not dehydration, it’s different. Something happens to your body, it’s completely spent.

We had the opportunity to visit the site of a school being built in honour of one of the leaders and organisers of the build initiative Sue Huxley. I happened to go into the building to take a photo when the teacher came in. She had probably 60 or 70 students with her and they all walked in. I was sort of stuck in the middle of the room thinking “Ok, might be time for me to go now,” I was disturbing them by being in their space. So I was saying “Excuse me, I’m sorry I’m in your little space,” and she said “No, no, no.” And they started to sing. And all of my colleagues in the build team were outside the frame of the building looking in, and I was just in the middle of these amazing children singing, singing, singing. And that was a really overwhelming experience. I felt like a giant as I’m so long-limbed. And they were so open-faced and everyone participating, just singing their little hearts out. I felt like Maria out of The Sound of Music.

*           *

And oh, this Cambodian man, came out of the lush undergrowth and he looked like a warrior, bare-chested, strong, physically strong, I mean, these are people who work hard and he just looked like a warrior. And he had something (in his hand) like a spear or utensil he must have been working the ground with.  He obviously couldn’t speak English but his eyes were wide and white and he gathered the children up. We thought wow, that’s amazing and our interpreter got out of the van and went and spoke with him. And he sort of then settled down. And when the interpreter came back to the van he said that these people were targeted, the children were going missing because there were people coming from Phnom Penh to take children, for them to be taken back to the city to be prostituted. So that is an issue too, if you’re living in isolation, that’s what can happen. Children walk long distances to get water, or they walk between villages. So they have an unsupervised period of time. And that was very frightening, and obviously for that gentleman as well. And he had never seen people with white skin, so we’re talking a remote area.

For me, my travel is always to have an experience, to immerse myself in a culture, to understand the history. And I hope that makes me a more interesting person. That’s what I’m hoping.





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Susie – Women of Oz


The most outstanding trip I ever undertook was with a group of 5 women and we climbed Kilimanjaro. It was an amazing, emotional experience. We trained really, really hard. We trained together. We made a schedule. We trained at least once a week, sometimes twice. And we’d go up a thousand steps, and we’d do 5-hour hikes, and we went and did altitude training. So we were really probably the fittest we’d ever been in our lives.

We arrived there and we were at the bottom of Kili, and we’re having a group hug, and of course, I burst out crying because it was so momentous. We got to the top, I burst out    crying. It was an emotional experience because it was really, really tough. The altitude was horrendous. We had really bad weather – it rained, it poured – so much so, that the 4-wheel drive that was supposed to take us to the bottom of Kilimanjaro couldn’t make it. So we had to walk an extra 6 or 8 kilometres before we even began.

It was just amazing. When we got to the top, it was the most amazing experience – the camaraderie, the fact that the 5 of us started and the 5 of us finished together. We were always together. If someone was feeling a bit bad, you would help them to put one foot in front of the other. It was just the sheer exertion of getting there. It was the physicality as well as the emotional experience. So physically it was really tough. It took us 5 days up and 11/2 days down or 41/2 and 11/2. It was 6 days, 5 nights.

Was it the most difficult thing you’d ever done physically? Emotionally?

Both. It’s almost like the 9 months of carrying a baby and then finally having the baby. And just being so elated at the top that you forget about all the problems that you had getting there.

Why do it?

Because it’s there. And it’s a challenge. We all love a challenge, and that was my physical challenge. It was a now or never. We were all in our early 50s. I think you need it because you need it for the mental aptitude and the ability to do it mentally ‘cause it’s a head thing. Apart from it being physically difficult, it’s really hard to keep yourself going. There were nights when we didn’t get into to the camp until well after dark, exhausted, fatigued, not even wanting to eat. And you know you’ve got to force yourself to eat. You’ve got to force yourself to do everything because you’ve got to get up the next day and do it again.

Do you think you were mentally and emotionally stronger now than when you were younger ?

Yes, absolutely.

I did a marathon when I was in my early 40s and I only believe I could do it because I had the mental attitude to keep going. When you’re young, it’s not that important, give up, who cares?

Why is it important now?

Because if you don’t do it now, when are you going to do it?

Did it in anyway change your relationship with the other women?

Yes. We’re best friends now, we’re all friends.

Yes, absolutely. We’re really close friends. We’ve accomplished something together and experienced something together that is really inexplicable and you can’t take that back. So now even if we don’t see each other all the time, they are counted amongst my best friends.





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Elizabeth – Women of Oz

I’d never been out of Australia until about 6 years ago. Well, I thought, it’s now or never. And now I’ve been to over 30 countries.

I say to people who say -“I can’t afford to travel” – I tell them: “Go to the travel agent and book it – and then the money seems to magically appear. That’s how you do it, otherwise you can’t afford to go anywhere.”


The first trip ever was to Thailand. I back-packed north and south with my daughter. We did a trek through the jungle. We rode elephants, and we went down the river. We went to a Thai wedding and I got into the Thai wine and got a little bit merry. Phuket was like    paradise for me. That was probably the happiest trip, with my daughter.


I always wanted to go to Ireland because of my ancestors. Absolutely loved Ireland.

They had the singalong in the pub until 11:00 at night and then the old people would go home and us youngies would stay for the nightclubs.


I used to look at England on the TV and never wanted to go there, always wet, always raining. And yet when I arrived there, that was my most favourite. When I got there, I had a strong sense of coming home.


In New Zealand, in the morning, they picked me up and I jumped out of a plane. And then I did Level 5, white-water rafting.


In America, I went to LA, went to Las Vegas, and as I’m a marriage celebrant I loved all the corny little wedding chapels. I went to Washington and because I’m a detective, I went to the spy museum, and Maxwell Smart was there. I found that rather amusing.


I’ve also been a scuba diver here in Australia. I’ve dived Mount Gambier – the caves and I’ve dived the Great Barrier Reef, plus the coast of W.A.

I’ve been around Australia twice.

I’m going to Vietnam, Cambodia next.





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Claire – Women of Oz


The trip I most remember was to Mexico, about 4 years ago. My daughter was working there with Cirque du Soleil. Flying into Mexico City was just unbelievable – flying in and seeing all the poverty That huge population, all living on  the hills with virtually no shelter. I just found that quite incredible. And the experience of being in Mexico city – it was amazing and how they all survived, I just found that quite incredible. I stayed with my daughter for about a month. She was working but we did a few trips around Mexico. But just Mexico city was amazing. The fact that you could get around so easily even though they didn’t speak much English, and I felt safe, and I love the culture, the dancing, the music the whole history of the Aztecs, going to the pyramids and just the people. I just loved it.

What was that the happiest trip you had?


My mother took me away when I was 17, on a ship over to England for 6 months and then we had a trip around Europe – that was pretty amazing. I guess that was the happiest. It was special because it was the first time I’d been out of Australia. And the fact that Mum did that for me, I thought that was pretty amazing. We met another lovely mother and daughter who were doing a similar thing. I had my 18th birthday in London and we went to see Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev at Covent Garden doing Swan Lake. That was amazing. I remember that as being special.


I loved the experience of travelling and working overseas. I would much prefer to do that than do a whole lot of sight-seeing really. Although that’s lovely too. I lived in Singapore for 4 years in the 70’s and that was pretty amazing. In Singapore, just getting to know people from all over the world, an absolute melting pot in Singapore, it was then. Seeing a completely different culture.  And I did some nursing there as well. I just loved the fact that I worked with local people. I had local pay, which as a nurse was very usual. I just think that’s how you get to know how people function.

And had a child there too. My son, my first child, was born in Singapore. And we went back there recently, last October, and found the house where we lived 40 years ago. And the hospital where my son was born and where I worked. That was very special.

What trips in Australia have been special for you?


I suppose, one recent trip in November, when I went up to visit my family in Charleville, in Western Queensland. It’s where our family property has been for 80 years. And I loved going back out there again amongst the Mulga* and the kangaroos. That’s a very special place for me. I just went out there and visited my first cousin who’s still on the place. They have cattle. My cousin’s been there for the whole of his life, 70 years, and they educated their children with distance education before they went away to school. And they’ve managed to battle it out with a 3-years drought. It meant a lot to me because Dad used to take me up there. We took Dad’s ashes back there.

Recommendations: Singapore, California, and Mexico would be up there.

And I did love Spain although it’s been a long time since I’ve been to Spain. And Italy.

*Australian acacia tree native to outback






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