This Girl Can – Victoria Podcast

Episode 7: Natalie

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You’re listening to This Girl Can – real stories from real women celebrating getting active in all different kinds of ways.

This series was recorded during the coronavirus pandemic in Australia when the women that you’re hearing from were at home either with their families or on their own. All the interviews were done over the phone. We hope that these stories inspire you to feel good and get active in your own way.

Hello, I’m Natalie. I am 42 years old and a mum of three living in far northern Victoria in a little town called Manangatang. I’m a part-time school teacher but living on a large acreage farm, kind of remote – I’m about 100km from our nearest town.

I grew up on a small dairy farm in western Victoria, so I’ve moved from one end of the state to the other. So just with my parents and one brother. Life was always pretty busy. We were late to everything because of morning milking. And then we always had to leave early from any function or sporting event or anything. We would have to come home early because the cows needed to be milked. We always had to be pretty hands-on and help out our parents. But there was also lots of fun to be had when you’ve got wide-open spaces. I do have not so great memories of how cold it was and having cold hands and going into the dairy and being really, really cold. But I do have fond memories of that growing up.

Where I live now is Manangatang, so quite the opposite to where I grew up. It’s called the Mallee, so Northern Mallee, it’s very dry, it’s quite barren. You don’t have a lot of green. We have some horrendous dust storms; it can be quite harsh, the environment. We have a lot of dry years, which are considered a drought. So it can be pretty tough to sort of walk out the door and it’s just dust and quite barren and bare. It can be heartbreaking sometimes. But when it is a good year and there’s rain, it lifts the spirits of everyone. There’s a beautiful green tinge around when the crops are growing from May through to October. There’s a nice green tinge, so completely different environments, but I couldn’t imagine going back to the cold.

I guess I’ve always enjoyed physical activity and I’ve always liked sport. My parents always took me to sport. I’m more of a team sport person and I always liked PE at school. And I did become a PE teacher, that is my background. So when I’m at home, I do really enjoy doing a bit of exercise. But the recent isolation period, I started running again and rediscovered the environment around our house. So I found some new running tracks that I’ve never seen before and I’m embarrassed to say that they are right on my doorstep! And there’s some beautiful salt pans that I run around and the kids and I might go for a bike ride to those as well. So it’s giving me a mental break and a new appreciation of what’s right on my doorstep as well.

When I had my first child, so 15 years ago, I felt really isolated and really lonely. And I used to put him in the pusher and just walk down the street in our town in the hope of seeing someone else just to interact with and talk with. And if I missed that opportunity I kind of felt a little bit down. So it became kind of a light-bulb moment, an idea: why don’t we get together and go walking?

And then it was, well, why don’t we have exercise classes? And, you know, I started off with no equipment. And I think my first class was almost like netball training. And I’m surprised people came back. But, you know, after we did some exercise and then had a coffee together and our kids could come and they could play. If you were exercising, someone would push the pusher to rock the baby to sleep. It was just a really good, good feeling. You know, there’s older ladies there that are probably grandparents that don’t get to see their grandchildren. So they were interacting with younger children as well. They’re getting their ‘granny fix’. It became a really pleasant environment to be in. Yeah, I just stuck with it. And it’s been going for 13 years now. We’ve been doing the classes. So some of the kids are now in their teens and nearly leaving home!

I’ve always been interested in physical health, but as I’ve got older I’ve become more appreciative of the social aspect of health and physical activity. Living in a small town, we’re limited. I’m not going to drive 100km to go to the gym. So the social benefits in a small town are really, really important just to get that connection and sense of belonging and interaction with others. So living where I do, it’s quite remote. So keeping motivation to do exercise is difficult. I can’t buy a gym membership and that keeps me accountable because I’m so far from a gym. Even with running and how much I do like it, when I’m running around the farm I know the exact distances of every track and every path. And sometimes that can become a real mind game in that I know how far I’ve run or how far it is from home. And that can be a challenge to get motivated to do something.

Just getting in the car and having to drive somewhere just to exercise can be difficult as well, not just for me, but for local women in my community. So asking them to come in for an exercise class, they still need to get in the car. They need to load their kids up and then drive into town. For some people, it might be 10 minutes. Others it might be, you know, 30, 35, 40 minutes just to come in for an exercise class. So sometimes it’s a lot easier to say, oh, now I’m just going to stay home and do housework today or do something else. So that’s a real challenge. When times are tough as well, people cut back on their spending or their travel, you know, to save money. So they might say, well, I’m not getting in the car today to go to exercises and, you know, pay $8 or whatever for an exercise class and then a coffee. So those are definitely barriers – the location, having to get in the car to go everywhere and pack a bag just to go into an exercise class.

So in our small community, it’s a cropping or farming community, so growing cereal crops. And it’s very seasonal. So there’s a cropping season and a harvest season. Everyone knows that if it’s cropping, everyone’s busy. If it’s harvest, everyone’s probably busier. And it makes it really difficult to have any structure or routine. Partners that work on the farm, they are gone for long hours. They’re not able to help with kids, so that can always be really hard on mums or females getting in to do classes, and it puts a lot of pressure on them at home.

You’re always on the end of the phone. As soon as they ring up, you need to jump to go and help out. For me, I need to be available. So it makes it really difficult to get any structure in exercise or routine in exercise. I might go to do a run and then I’ll get a phone call and I have to go to the paddock or I’ve been out all day and I have to do some exercise at nine o’clock at night. And your motivation is pretty low by then. So those cropping and harvest times are definitely barriers to physical activity and consistent physical activity.

But being in the community, it’s kind of a ‘known’ that everyone’s busy in that time so we might not run a class or might not expect many people to turn up because of the nature of how we make our money, our livelihoods.

For me, exercise, it’s probably changed why I do it over the years without me really realising. So when I was younger, it was probably to play with my friends and to win! As I got older and moving to a small town, well from one small town when I was growing up, but then living in a small town, the heart of the town is being part of a sporting club. So you do it to help out a club. You get to see other people. There’s the enjoyment and again, the social factor. That’s what’s kept me playing team sports still, I guess – I’m competitive – but I just really enjoy that social side. Now, as the kids get older and I work part time and there’s a farm business to run, I can get stressed, so I just find that exercise is a mental release. So I’m quite happy to forgo vacuuming or cleaning and go for a ride or run or go for a walk.

It’s kind of evolved now that it’s more for mental health and keeping me motivated to do something. I still enjoy a really hard exercise session where I sweat, as much as I do just going for a walk with the dogs to clear my head and have a bit of a think. I don’t think anyone’s ever regretted an exercise session! You always feel better afterwards. The hardest thing is getting your exercise clothes on and doing it. But once you’ve finished, it’s always how you feel after.

Manangatang, it’s a very, very small town but a very vibrant and active community that supports each other.

The exercise classes – it’s women of all ages. It might be some teenage girls right through to women in their 70s. And I think one of the benefits is that we’re all friends. So it doesn’t matter what age you are, you’ve still got something in common with somebody else. Everyone knows each other’s kids. You know that they would help out your kid or your children if they ever needed it as well. So you feel very supported in a small town and you have a really big friendship circle.

When I was growing up, the last thing I wanted to do was move to a farm and be a farmer. But I actually couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. It’s almost like your own little retreat. You can get away from everything. You know, it has its highs and lows. But I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else or doing anything else.

This Girl Can is an initiative of VicHealth. For more information about how to get yourself moving or to connect with clubs and groups in your local area go to or check out This Girl Can VIC on Facebook and Instagram.

We love to hear about women who are getting out and active, whether it’s walking the dog, going for a ride or having a kick with your kids, so follow the hashtag #ThisGirlCanVIC and celebrate women who are all kinds of active, no matter how well they do it, how they look or how sweaty they get.

This episode was produced by Dewi Cooke and edited by Nick King. Thanks for listening.