This was first published in Country Style Magazine in January, 2021
There is a certain shimmering aptitude worn lightly in the bush, by women who change dirt choked tyres as easily as they do the nappies of the children they raise off the grid. It’s nothing special to them; buying 12 bottles of milk to freeze, or waiting months for roads to reconnect after wet season. The remoteness, colouring in every space of the day, is both the reason and the remedy and it does nothing to halt achievement, as entrepreneur Elisha Parker continues to prove.
Never is an isolated post code highlighted more than during a medical emergency. It’s something those living far beyond the complacent repose of full Telstra service and a decent cup of coffee live with every day; a stark line in the sand between polar realities for those that can cry for help and those who have to sometimes wait a long time for a reply.
While living remotely never daunted Elisha Parker, having her baby son vomiting blood one night was a quick stab of reality. “I was just so thankful to have the Royal Flying Doctor Service,” she tells me over the phone from her Clermont home, around five hours west of Rockhampton. “I learnt a very valuable lesson as a mum to never give children new foods after lunchtime so you have daytime hours for help, which obviously living where I did was vital.”
It turned out her son, Sidney had a rare and life-threatening gastrointestinal allergy to lamb, called Food Protein-Induced Enterocolitis Syndrome(FPIES). “I had a baby less than 12-months old vomiting blood, with a racing heart and lowered oxygen, floppy, grey and blue,” Elisha says. “We were waiting for a Flying Doctor plane to redirect from Rockhampton at midnight whilst an ambulance rushed out to pick us up; the nearest ambulance being an hour away in daylight hours!”
It wasn’t the only time the Flying Doctors saved a Parker life; at 12-weeks pregnant, Elisha suffered a miscarriage while home alone with her daughter Olivia, who was two-years-old at the time. The mother-of-two is matter-of-fact about the experiences. They’re part and parcel of living a remote life; something she cherished and would happily do again. Now, living closer to town, you get the impression it would take a lot to make the rural entrepreneur wobble.
Stoic and measured, the self-professed perfectionist is co-founder of Cattlesales.com.au, a national cattle advertising website that is the first of its kind in Australia. As the Queensland finalist for the AgriFutures’ 2020 Rural Women’s Award, she runs the flourishing site alongside co-founder Annabelle Spann, while working full time remotely as a lawyer specialising in asbestos disease and assisting home schooling her daughter via School of the Air with governess support. Sound like a lot? That’s because it is.
The morning begins at 5.30am for the single mum, who is up before the sun. She works on Cattlesales first thing, before, depending on the day, getting her daughter, Olivia and son, Sidney, six and three, ready for the day and their nanny of three years takes over the reins for the day shift. Then it’s either into town to work for her Brisbane based law firm or into the schoolroom one day a week with Olivia for a full day of lessons. “I work odd hours and long days to make up for my full time legal role,” she says. “We have an amazing nanny and governess who lives in town. I certainly couldn’t do it without her.”
She understands innately a life of lessons by correspondence. Growing up on a remote Queensland station, Elisha attended School of the Air through primary school, when the once-a-week lessons were punctuated by the crackle of a two-way radio. “People sometimes question how good home-schooling is, but the School of Distance Education is very intense and comprehensive. I loved it, and it was extraordinary that when I got to high school I was years ahead of the curriculum,” she says. “I think Distance Education offers the best learning opportunity. As it’s one on one learning, you’re not waiting for the slowest kid in the class or if you need help, you get it immediately. You’re not lost in the bigger classrooms.”
Clocking in remotely for her Brisbane-based law firm for the past 13-years - 12 of which she spent battling dodgy internet - Elisha’s life hardly changed during COVID-19. Life up north was relatively unmarred from the pandemic’s pandemonium, the singing span of space for once working entirely in favour of those who live and breathe social distancing. “Technology advances makes working remotely much easier. It might be why I never felt disconnected living remotely,” she says. “It was a five-hour round trip to get supplies, or get my hair done, but I never felt disadvantaged.”
The idea for Cattlesales was sparked four and a half-years ago, when Elisha and Annabelle realised there was no single site which advertised nationally, built just for cattle. Selling mobs of their own cattle to fund the idea, the pair, who live 1000-kilometres apart, spent eight-months custom building the site. “We built it to take away the problems with geography and make it transparent as to what cattle were where and when,” she says. “It’s such a simple idea, we couldn’t believe it didn’t already exist.”
The pair used to joke that with small children underfoot, the only time to think would be feeding a baby in the middle of the night or driving the distance to the station dump with a few minutes thinking time. “I’d often come home, ring Annabelle and say, ‘I’ve just been to the dump’ and she’d say, ‘Oh no, what have you come up with?’,” she laughs.
With an eye always to the future, the entrepreneur says virtual and augmented reality could be just some of the next steps. “We’ve got all the capabilities to host that sort of technology on our site, but it’ll be a little while before everyone is able to go and virtually film their bull for people at home to put on their goggles and have a virtual experience walking around and seeing over the top of it.” But you get the impression that when it’s time to press go, as with all facets of her life, Elisha will be ready. “I’m not a wonder woman, I think I’m just an over-committed crazy person who loves a challenge,” she says. “Annabelle and I are just not people who enjoy downtime. My favourite thing to do I guess, is get jobs done.”