I first met Teresa in the schoolyard at Hampton Primary when our boys were in grade 2. My son, Dan and Teresa’s son, Paddy hit it off straight away. I remember early on sitting down watching the boys play on the oval after school and having this fascinating conversation with Teresa about her childhood and growing up in a large family. Again, it’s a long read so settle down with your brew of choice and read all about it and more…
I was born in Bunyip which is a small town in Gippsland. I’m one of 11 children and we had a large working farm. We had cows, grains, goats, chooks and horses.
There were 13 of us and we had a really great childhood. I’m fourth youngest. So I have 3 brothers and 7 sisters. We were outside all the time. There was lots of action in regards to handling animals and lots of chores. We were never inside. We had a television but we never watched it; on Sundays we watched Little House on the Prairie and the Waltons or Countdown. We only ever came inside when mum yelled out that dinner was ready.
We liked to run wild in bare feet and hook up with the kids from other farms and get up to all sorts of mischief. I remember my older brothers worked really hard, it was really hot and water was always treated like gold. I still have those treating water with respect ways about me. I never have a long shower because I always remember having about 60 seconds to have a wash and get out and let someone else get in. When it rained we always made the most of it and ran outside and had a really good long shower, washed our hair outside and everything.
We went to a little primary school called St Joseph’s Iona, which was very Catholic. Grew up Catholic and went to church every Sunday, the whole family except for dad. I remember the priest coming over to our house to try and persuade dad to go to church. They were a big force in the community, the priests, and they wielded a lot of power. To the point where I think my mum had 11 children because if you went to a priest and said I don’t want any more children they would say it’s God’s Will Mary. You weren’t allowed to use contraception. It was a woman’s lot. There was a family that had 17 kids and that’s all going back to the Catholic Church and their complete and utter objection to using contraception.
Dad was not a practicing Catholic; he just thought it was all rubbish. I made my communion and my confirmation and we were all very good girls – big Catholic guilt hanging over everything. But you went to confession, which everyone had to go because everyone sinned right! Kids, big sinners. You just had no idea what to say. It’s like I haven’t done anything but you could never go into the confessional box and say I haven’t done anything. So we all just got this little chant where we would go in and the priest would say tell me your sins and so you’d say I lied, I swore, I hit my sister. And you knew it was a lie so it was just perpetuating a really strange feeling. You’d walk out of confession knowing that you’d made up a lie because you weren’t hitting your sister. So you’d be sitting there with your penance, 16 Hail Marys and you’d just be thinking this is ridiculous but you just felt like someone was always watching you. That’s Catholicism, it’s all about guilt. I don’t know if it ever leaves you.
I was nine when funnily enough my mum and dad separated after 11 children. The first four had already left to go to uni so mum took the bottom seven with her. She was originally from Ballarat so we moved straight into the family farm that she’d grown up in outside of Clunes called Coghills Creek. They were just about to close down the local school, the one building where every grade was put together, when we rolled into town and we kept it open with seven kids.
I was about 11 when we moved into Ballarat which was the first town I’d ever lived in and it was fantastic. We lived up near Lake Wendouree and we spent our whole time swimming and wandering around the lake. I was into a lot of sport and was known as a runner. I never liked to wear runners, I always insisted on running all my races in bare feet.
I was at the local Catholic high school for two years when my mum’s divorce came through and it was something that didn’t go down very well so we were taken out of Loreto College and put into a terrific high school called Ballarat East High and it was fabulous, I loved it. And finally started breaking away from all the Catholicism. It was very refreshing and I really enjoyed it.
I was 14 and made it all the way up to the 800 metres State finals at Olympic Park which was like going to the Olympics if you were from Ballarat. No-one really said much and to me it was just another race. I remember going down with my running team and all of a sudden I was getting all these instructions whereas before I’d just rock up, run and go home. It was incredibly intense for all the adults around me and I was sitting on the bus on the way there thinking what’s all the fuss and they got me really nervous. The first trial came after waiting around for hours and all of a sudden it was like you’re on, you’re on. I lined up for the first heat with kids from other areas of Victoria and I was in my little black shorts, a singlet and bare feet. I was feeling really confident and I won the heat by a long way and I walked off very proud. I’d never ran heats before, I’d always just ran the race so I went like a bat out of hell in the heat and didn’t realise that you should save yourself for the final and because of all nervous energy, I think they call it lactic build up now, I’d never experienced that before so when the final came around, I lined up again feeling really good and then when the gun went off my legs just would not move and I just couldn’t believe it. I was running but I wasn’t running and I came last by a long way. I walked off thinking what the hell was that? It just rocked my world. We all went home on the bus and everyone was really quiet because I was the hot favourite. It always stayed with me. Blue Light Discos and a social life pretty much ended my running career.
At the end of year ten I went down to Torquay for the summer with my friends. We were in the caravan park in tents and my mum would come and check on us every few days. We were having a ball and I remember coming out of the sea with my friends after having a swim and I was walking back up the beach to my towel when this man and woman walked up to me and said we’re from blah blah, will you please give us a call, we would like you to do some work for us. And I looked at the card not knowing what it was all about. It was an advertising agency and I didn’t worry about it. A couple of days later I was on the beach again with my girlfriends and they walked up to me again and said you didn’t call us, we’re casting for this thing, we’d really like you to call us and we’re serious about it. So I got home a few days later and thought oh what’s the harm, I’ll give them a call. They said you’ll have to be in Melbourne one o’clock tomorrow for this casting. I said to my mum I’m not quite sure what it’s all about but she said if you want to go you can go.
My brother was living in Clifton Hill at the time and I went down on the train and he drove me to the casting and the next day I was called to say I had the job and then next minute I was just put in this roller coaster of being a Big M Girl. I was in the all the ads, I was Chocolate, I was on the calendars, I was just everywhere. It was an absolute rollercoaster; I was working really hard. It basically took me out of school. I left school at the end of year 10 by something that just happened to me. I was on about $3,000 a week as a 15/16 year old and it was great. But when I went back to Ballarat as just the person that I was when I left, I hadn’t changed at all but everyone thought that I must have and I was just absolutely shunned. I went home and people might as well have started spitting on me. It was just incredible. People that I’d been to school with, they were so mean to me, it was unbelievable.
I stopped going home and I didn’t have any friends in Melbourne because it was a strange group the people that I was working with, they were a really hard, fast living crowd and I was young. They would drop me home and go off in their Porsches and do whatever they were doing. I was a bit out of my depth and when we were going on promotional tours the bus just never stopped to get any food and I was too shy to ask them to stop the bus and get some food. I was almost fainting through sheer hunger. I sort of broke out in this stress rash and got dumped like a hot potato. So for a few months I was flying high, had all this money and then just fell away. That was that.
So I looked in the paper and got a job in Melbourne as a receptionist. I went from my $3,000 a week to $109 and I was like this can’t be right, but it was right and that was a real thud and by the time I paid my train fare I had no money.
I ended up starting nursing training. I moved into Mount Royal Hospital in Parkville and did a state enrolled nursing certificate. After that I went to Queensland and lived on the Gold Coast for a couple of years which I didn’t really like at all, it didn’t suit me. I was like a real fish out of water, I just didn’t fit in.
I did two snow seasons at Falls Creek in the early 80s and had a fantastic time. Then I decided to go to America to follow the snow so we went to Colorado and just as some of us arrived they bought in a law that unless you had a Green Card you couldn’t work. So I ended up having to go to Denver and I winged it. I ended up at the Denver Museum and I got a job walking around dressed up as an Egyptian, taking people’s polaroids dressed up as Egyptians and putting them in a frame and selling it back to them. I also got a job in a nightclub which was $1.85 an hour so if you didn’t get tips then basically you really had no money. The girls were vicious, if they didn’t get tipped, they would tip Visine eye drops in the drinks to give them the runs.
I had this ridiculous one way ticket and you couldn’t go back home a day earlier than a year later on the day you left. When I realised I was in trouble I went to the travel agent to change it and they said you’ve got this ticket that you can’t change, you have to be here a year. So I was in a real bind. I couldn’t go home and I was too proud to ask my family for money because it was the first time I’d been away and to come back home within two weeks, it was just too embarrassing. But every now and again I’d go into the travel agent just to see whether someone else was on the desk and try again and they’d go oh no, that’s a 12 month ticket, we can’t change it. I was there for about three months and I’d go in once a week and then one day I went in and they said when would you like to fly out? Oh tomorrow, yes okay we can put you on the 12 midday flight. I couldn’t believe it. I went to the airport the next day and flew out during the worst storm that had ever hit the city of Denver. All of us thought we were going to die. We were flying over the Rocky Mountains and the plane was getting thrown everywhere. It was a hell plane ride.
I then moved to Sydney which I thought was just the most incredible place in the entire world. We were living in Bondi and it was just wonderful. A couple of years later Sydney wore off and moved back to Melbourne and I started working in an advertising agency in Fitzroy where I began learning how to design. I started on the reception desk and then started getting more and more creative and that was the first time I realised that I had a creative mind. It was a small agency and the lady who owned it was really receptive and she started asking me for my ideas and I saw a lot of them in the magazines and TV ads and thinking oh they’re my ideas.
I then got a job at The Age newspaper and I worked my way up to doing the layout of the newspapers; designing where the advertising was going to be and the whole general look of the inner sections: Epicure, Computer Age, Green Guide. I really enjoyed that, it was a great job and I was living in St Kilda and coasting along. I broke up with somebody and some weekends I felt lonely. I didn’t want to go out; partying really wasn’t my thing. It was around 1993 and there were a lot of empty stores on Fitzroy Street at the time and I used to walk along Fitzroy Street on the weekend thinking I wonder how much the rents of these stores are, I wonder if I could do something. So I got a price on a store and it was $150 a week. I was on really good money at The Age and I thought I could maybe put stuff in there and just open it for something for me to do on the weekend.
I had lots of sisters and their friends and friends of my own that were in creative fields and so I thought I’d take the lease and just fill it up with stuff. I got people to put their art works in there, I even had pot plants. Second hand clothes. It was like a jumble store, it was whatever I could get my hands on that was sellable. So I was working during the week and then very happy to get up on Saturday morning and go to my own little shop and work.
That went along for a couple of months and I was thinking what should I call it? I was sitting at the house and some friends of mine were over and one of my friends walked through the lounge room and another friend yelled out hey Hoss – that was his nickname. And so I called it Hoss. So the weekends went by and it was doing really well and I was really enjoying it and then I started running out of things and people weren’t able to supply me with something else quick enough. One of my sisters was in the clothing industry and she showed me you could be a wholesaler. So I started putting clothes in there and they were going super well. As crazy as my mother thought I was, I resigned at The Age newspaper which was a massive thing for me to do. By this stage, I’d employed someone to open up Wednesday to Friday and it was doing great on those days as well. A whole new breed of people were coming through and it was just a fabulous place to be and it was a mix of whoever was already there and the people that all of a sudden found St Kilda really stimulating. It was just going off.
I then started making my own things; I found a maker in the newspaper. I would buy rolls of fabric, figure out what I was going to do and they would sew it for me. Everything’s like a film in my head, it’s all visual, there’s no cloudy areas at all when it comes to creativity. If I buy a roll of fabric all these dresses start appearing across the front of my eyes, it’s really strong. It’s not the design first for me, everything fits around the fabric that I’ve found. I suppose when you open up that side of your brain it gets sharper and sharper. I design everything. And it’s really quick, I don’t struggle with it at all. It’s just bang, bang, bang all the time. You get inspiration from other fashions but you don’t go and copy exactly the same thing, it just puts you on the track. I’m happy to say that most things are just popping up all the time.
I’ve got three stores and an online store. We sell things all over the world and the three stores that I have are really strong as well. Brighton, Hawksburn and South Yarra. I realised a while ago that I’m quite happy to make that work as well as it can. I know everyone in the fashion industry and I know when people go too big too fast they lose track of everything. People burn out because of it and I just want the most out of the stores I have. I don’t think the way to go is to open up shops everywhere. That’s enough for me anyway. Sometimes you clash with what the world expects of you.
I’m not scared of expanding, it really is just about what I want. I want to be home in the afternoon. I want to be with my family more than I want to be rich and famous. I’ve just got enough and I’m content with that.
I was in another relationship in St Kilda and I was invited to an art opening behind The George Hotel in Fitzroy. I walked in with my boyfriend and I looked across the room and there was this man standing at the bar with all these people around him. I looked at him and he looked at me and smiled at me and the rest of my life, with him in it, like a movie, just went across the front of my head and I thought oh my God. It just knocked me off my feet. I never forgot it. I kept looking over sometimes but feeling really guilty because I was with somebody else but this man never gave me the time of day. And after the party we went into The George and I was with my boyfriend and my friends and he was sitting around a table surrounded by people because he’s always been a very popular and charismatic person. But I definitely had a very, very strong feeling when I saw him that night and I actually never forgot it.
About three years later in the late 90s or 2000 when I was well and truly in the fashion industry with my shop on Fitzroy Street, a friend of mine, Shem, was in partnership with Health Ledger and they used to do little documentaries together. Shem wanted me to be in a documentary. The night before I went out to Cicciolina’s in St Kilda and had a very late night and I didn’t want to be in the documentary the next day because I looked like crap. I told him I can’t be there today I feel really bad. And he said no, you have to, the cameraman has been hired, we’re paying by the hour, everything’s been done, you have to be here. And I remember thinking of all the days I look like crap, I’m going to be in this documentary. I had to meet them in this warehouse on St Kilda Road and I walked in and he took me up to the top of the stairs and he said Teresa this is Patrick, he’s the cameraman for the day. And it was the man, it was him! And he just said hi Teresa, nice to meet you. And all of a sudden my stomach started churning. It was a day where I felt really unattractive and the people in the documentary were very beautiful people. We were going from location to location and just sitting next to him at lunch I could barely speak and he didn’t look like he had any interest at all and when I got home that night I was like goddamit. Something really strong was going on in me but I wasn’t getting anything from him.
The documentary finished a few days later and my world had been turned on its head and I was trying very hard to control it. It was all over and I just went back to work at the store. One day I was standing in my bare feet in the store behind the counter talking to someone and I turned around and he was just standing there. He just happened to be walking past and saw me in there and came in to say hi. I was closing up and he said do you want to grab something to eat.
He was really a busy person, he ran a theatre company and was also a cameraman and editor, so he was away a lot. He worked for Fox and was always going overseas to do a movie and you just sort of get on with things. It got serious after a couple of years but I always knew that he was the one for me from the moment I laid eyes on him. It ended up happening and it was great and we’ve been together ever since.
As soon as we got together we just wanted lots of lots of babies and wanted to start a family straight away. I always thought with my mother having 11 children and everyone else in my family having lots of children that I’d just be ready to roll in that area and so it was actually quite a shock that it wasn’t happening.
Someone told me instead of avoiding people with babies or feeling jealous or envy when someone’s pregnant you should actually be calling the baby in. You should be holding other people’s babies, you should be really opening all the vibe. So I was walking past a bookshop one day and there was this card on the wall and I’ve still got it now and I slept with this card of a baby next to my bed, looked at it every morning and said come on, come on, I can feel you somewhere. It really relaxed me and I just started thinking it’s going to happen and it did. It was just a glorious time. There was nothing wrong with either of us, it was unexplained infertility. After trying for about three years, we finally got pregnant and had Paddy.
When I finished breastfeeding Paddy I was pregnant again really quickly and that didn’t happen and then I was pregnant three times after that including twins. So I don’t really know how Paddy got through and the others didn’t because I wasn’t doing anything different. I could get pregnant but they just wouldn’t stay and we never got to a reason why that was happening to us.
St Kilda is nice when you’re single or when you’re a couple but I didn’t want to raise a family there, I just wanted more freedom. We started driving down Beach Road and spending time on the weekends down here in Hampton and so that’s how we ended up here. We sold our house and we were lucky enough to buy the house we’re in now and we just love it. We never looked back. We don’t miss out on anything. You can catch the train into the football or the city for whatever you want. It’s just a great place to live and I love the freedom. Our son can scoot around on his bike safely and he’s got lots of neighbourhood friends, they all just go around to each other’s houses and that’s how I like it. I don’t like to be fearful when he leaves which I would be if I lived in St Kilda. Driving down Beach Road to home is a joy. Every day you think how lucky am I. We don’t have anything to complain about at all.
Check out the beautiful clothes, shoes and accessories at Hoss. Teresa is also our boys’ basketball coach and just quietly I’ll never be able to look at my kids drinking a chocolate Big M again without thinking of Teresa being plucked off the beach of Torquay into (brief) fame and fortune…
Pauline Williamson says
My beautiful sister Teresa has humanity in spades. So very proud of her.