Katie is one of the warmest, friendliest and on-the-go people I’ve ever met. After she took on organising the Will Murray Fundraiser at Sandy Aths I thought “right, that’s it, I have to know what drives her”. I was lucky enough that Katie agreed to sit down and have a chat over a cup of tea and chocolate cake baked by Katie – I mean seriously, if you want to win my heart, that’s the way to do it!! Again, if you’ve read any of these stories before, you’ll know they’re long-form so grab your own cuppa or drink of choice and meet Katie and learn what makes her tick…
I grew up in Kyabram, near Shepparton. I was the eldest girl of 6 kids. Mum had 5 of us in just under 6 years and then there was a huge gap until my youngest sister, Rosie, was born, who’s 13 years younger than me. We were a tight-knit family and I loved growing up there. I think a lot of what’s made me who I am is definitely my parents but also living in a country town was just amazing. Great community; we’ve got the same thing here in Hampton and it’s just so nice to have that really tight-knit community.
I am the eldest girl of six of us: 3 boys and 3 girls. The story goes that dad had always said he wanted 3 of each and he wanted a boy, girl, boy, girl, boy, girl and that’s exactly what happened. I’m only a year and a day younger than my brother Danny, then there is 15 months til my next brother, Seamus and then there was ten months to Elecia and then there was about 16 months to Pumpy – so poor mum, she was just permanently pregnant! She was and still is amazing. Mum’s the strength in our family. Not that dad’s not but she is just an unbelievable person and I think I probably derive a lot of my drive and my strength from her because she has taught me that you just get on with things and whatever’s presented to you, you just make it work, see the positive in it and just keep going. She’s still inspiring today. She turned 70 in March and has just climbed Mt Kilimanjaro with my sister Rosie to mark the occasion. She’s a real leader. Not that I think she realised that until we were a bit older because during our early childhood it was very much dad who was the boss and everything revolved around what he said. We had a very strict Catholic upbringing; mass every Sunday, fish and chips on a Friday and everything was about the Ten Commandments. Dad is an equally strong person, probably someone when we were younger we feared a little bit as he very much ruled the household, but he is one of the most insightful and supportive people I know and without doubt put the family first; worked his butt off to provide huge opportunities for us – education and lifestyle – something I really only fully understand now that I am a parent myself.
We were very fortunate, we had an amazing upbringing. He allowed us to do a lot of things; he was a local GP and we got to play whatever sport we wanted, even though back in those days it was one sport a season compared to our kids now that have ten a season. I played netball, tennis and did running. It was a very big netball/footy town. We played netball every Saturday and every Sunday I was in a regional team and we went around the country playing. Though with mum having six kids I was pretty much nabbing a lift, probably like my kids are now – all the time!
While we had a great upbringing with lots of opportunities, we experienced a lot of sadness. I had a sister, Elecia, who died when she was 8. I was 11 and it was pretty horrendous. She got sick and there was nothing that could be done, just nothing. I think because dad was a doctor it really, really rocked him. That was pretty tough because she got sick in October and she died the first week back at school the next year. It’s 30+ years ago but it’s still very painful and I know that none of us can talk about it. Rosie, my youngest sister, didn’t know her because she wasn’t born at the time. So my brothers and I just don’t talk about it. I know we all think of her on her birthday in January each year, and we all know that her anniversary is the 5th of February but it’s just terrible, it’s really, really painful. I wish it wasn’t but is just is. You’ve just got to pick up and keep going and that’s what my mum always did. For dad, it was a tougher journey, not that we knew it at the time as he just kept working, providing and ruling, although with a softer edge than before. It was also our incredible community that kept us together, my mum still sees her amazing Ky friends. They call themselves the Golden Girls and they have each other’s back, they always have and always will. They all have children and we are all still friends today. Very few of us still live in Ky now – we are all pretty much in Melbourne and we have a bond that will equally be with us for life. Country life and lifelong friendships.
We seemed to have a run of sad experiences from that. Elecia died – a year or so later it was happy because Rosie was born and that was amazing, she was honestly a gift to all of us – we loved her like nothing else and she bought enormous joy to all our family. But then a year later my mum’s mum died and then a couple of years later one of my brother’s friends died and then another year later my youngest brother had an accident with one of our racehorses – the horse ran into a gate that he was climbing over. He was 12 and he suffered two brain haemorrhages and was in hospital for over a year, so that was really hard. He’s alive but he’s in a wheelchair and he’s never been quite himself. That was when I was in year 12. There’s a lot of those things that I think possibly define who I am but it’s always been mum who just dealt with it, in that you’ve got to move on and get our lives happy again. I spent a lot of time wanting to make sure mum was happy. I know being the eldest girl I always made the cups of tea, made the cakes just to keep the family happy and okay.
Rosie was four or so when Pumpy had his accident so she spent most of her fourth year in the Royal Children’s Hospital with mum and dad getting him back on track, teaching him how to talk and walk again. He was in intensive care and a coma for about three months. His real name’s Peter. My dad’s Peter, my husband’s Peter and my youngest brother is Peter. But we call him Pumpy: he was always Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater. Not that he really likes us calling him that anymore. He’s just turned 40 but that’s just what he was always called.
My dad always owned race horses so we grew up living on a small property, about 15 acres, and our race horses used to come and spell there. Bart Cummings used to train them. Our family are big into racing. My brother Danny is a trainer, even though he studied law, he always wanted to train. We always had a couple of mares that dad would breed from and then sell. The year before I started secondary school, he sold one and he decided he’d take us all overseas on “the trip of a lifetime”. And that’s exactly what it was because it was after that that my sister Elecia got sick. We started off at Disneyland, went to New York then London, Europe and we came back via India because he wanted us to know how lucky we were. I remember nearly everything about that trip. I was 11 then and it was amazing. We all had to keep a diary; I’ve still got my diary somewhere. I do remember that pretty much all I wrote about was the food each day (you’ll see why below!)
We all went off to boarding school when we were in year 9. I went to PLC in Melbourne which is Burwood way. My brothers went to Xavier and I loved boarding school but at the same time I was very homesick. We were allowed to go home every weekend so I went home Friday night and I was back in there every Sunday. I spoke to mum twice a day. We would speak every morning before school and every night for the four years. We didn’t ever miss that phone call. In the four years I was there, I stayed in twice on the weekend. I made some amazing friends; friendships at boarding school were just great – so real, so strong – I still keep in touch with my closest friends from boarding school and we pick up just like it was yesterday – and we laugh and laugh. If we didn’t go home on the weekend, we’d all go to each other’s houses somewhere else in the country. We’d all catch the VLine train and catch it back again on the Sunday, going via McDonalds before we had to go back into boarding house and be hungry. We’d always bring cakes back to boarding school because we were always starving. I’m always hungry. I’m always thinking about my next meal when I’m eating because I love food.
After school I did a student exchange to America for a year. My brother had done a student exchange to Texas when he’d finished school and I desperately wanted to do the same so I went to Michigan for a year. But mum really wanted me to go to finishing school which I just thought was a bit of a laugh. So I did 8 months in the US and then I did a summer of finishing school in London to learn “how to be a lady”. I was dreading the whole finishing school thing but it was really good fun. I met some great girls; we all felt the same about being there so we had a good time. We used to sneak out at night, go to the pub. One night we got locked out of the place where we were staying. It was fun and it was a laugh because you learnt to walk, talk, how to set a table, how to arrange flowers. All those highly important life skills! I am grateful for the experience though and especially valued my time and friendships made in the States. My time in Michigan really saw me get serious about my running and most of all, being part of the Grand Ledge “Track” Team really taught me that doing your best is what it’s all about and it’s the first time I really experienced everyone being truly happy for me when I succeeded. Strange thing to say, I know, but it really was a very positive time in my life.
I came back and I went to Monash and did Arts and lived on campus in Clayton for a year and a half. I loved it, Uni was so much fun. My eldest brother Danny was there doing law so we both lived on campus together and then Seamus my other brother came a year after and the three of us were at Monash together until we eventually moved into a house together. Danny was the serious scholar and Seamus the funny man – always up for a laugh and a good time. They are both awesome brothers, who would drop anything if I ever need them – it was a memorable time spent together. We all did a lot of growing up during those Uni years and there is a core group of us that are still as close as ever; friendships forged over a boat race or two; a ball or three; dorky tutors; failed French classes; green week; and long lunches on the Monash lawn – memories that still bring us to tears (laughing!) when we re-group at our monthly dinners.
While I was at Uni I worked at Harold Holt Swim Centre as a lifeguard. I thought I wanted to get into events, I really didn’t know, so my boss, Kevin said “create a couple of events and we’ll run something here” so I got into doing a newsletter and running a 1K swim classic. I will always be grateful that he gave me the kick start into events – he was a very supportive boss and friend. From there I got another job a couple of days a week helping the guy that ran the Melbourne to Hobart Yacht Race and from there I got what I would call my first real job which was at Wright Business Marketing and PR Consultancy. One of my clients approached me to go and work in-house for them at the Melbourne Racing Club. I then went from racing to Hockey Australia and then I had kids.
I met Pete when I was about 22 through the Portsea Surf Lifesaving Club. I must have joined Portsea when I was about 19 or 20 and that was where I got into competing in iron woman, board paddling, swimming and beach sprinting. That was great fun, we met heaps of great people. I’d heard a lot about Pete before I met him and so I was very intrigued to meet him. About a week before I met him I was down at the boat sheds near the Tan and I was leaving one day and this guy was walking past and I was like “I wonder if that’s Pete?” And he still remembers it to the day as well “I wonder if that’s Katie” and about a week later I walked into this working bee at Portsea and he was the first person I met. It was the same guy. I said “are you Pete?” and he went “you must be Katie”. And we just hit it off and we talked non-stop all day. After that I made sure that I did all my running training where the boys were training so if they were training at the Yarra I was always at the Tan. If they were training down the beach, I ran along St Kilda so that I might bump into him.
We got together in 1993, married in 1996 and we’ve been together 23 years. Looking back, meeting Pete was when the sadness of my childhood started to fade. He bought with him lots and lots of laughter and so much happiness. His family were very warm and welcoming; we always enjoy a good chat over a drink around the fire; to play a board game or two and Pete’s mum and I share a mutual love for cooking – we LOVE a new recipe. Probably best of all, I inherited an amazing sister-in-law and now very close friend in Sue who is married to Pete’s brother Dave. We share a very similar background, similar interests and became instant friends. But back to Pete. I could not do anything that I do without him. He is solid as a rock; completely reliable; fiercely loyal; he’s a guy anyone would be lucky to have in their corner. Yet, he has the worst sense of humour but I laugh at it every day and honestly that’s what struck me down when I first met him – he was so funny! He makes the same jokes every day but we all can’t stop laughing because it’s so bad. He’s quiet in many ways but he’s a huge support to my business partner, Bridge, and I. Every event we have he gets in and does stuff. He’s the official top dog at all the events and always reminds us that he kind of runs the show. We wouldn’t want it any other way; he’s great to have by your side.
When we first met I was working at Harold Holt and he was at Nike and we probably would have had kids earlier if I wasn’t so full on with what I was doing and loved my jobs. And in hindsight I wish we’d had kids earlier because I wanted about five and I only had three. And Pete probably would have had them straight away but there were things we wanted to do first: work wise and we wanted to travel. Peter had never really travelled, he’s very responsible unlike me and he’d saved his dollars and bought himself a house. I still had the travel bug and really wanted to travel together so convinced him to do that and he’s really pleased that we did. We got married and then we travelled the year after; only for about four or five months but we did the full world thing which was amazing. We really visited friends. Friends in Singapore, friends in Hong Kong, friends in London and family in the United States.
I was 30 when we had Felix. We were lucky, we got pregnant straight away with all three kids. I decided to give up work because there was a lot of travel with my job and thought it wouldn’t be fair to Hockey Australia to hold my job for a whole year when I was pretty sure that once I became a mum I wouldn’t want to have that travel even though I knew that I’d have to work in some capacity. So I left there and about six months after Flick was born a friend of mine was working at the VRC and asked if I could assist them to create a fashion and celebrity media focus for the Melbourne Cup Carnival because that’s what’s the carnival was becoming more about. So I went in there to help out on the PR side of things and we introduced ambassadors and that was the beginning of all these celebrities having a role in coming out for the carnival which was 14+ years ago.
And that’s when I started to work with Bridge, my business partner. We were (and are) very good friends and we needed an extra person to help for six weeks over the carnival. She’d just had a baby too and our husbands had always wanted us to work together and we thought this was a good chance to see how we’d go because we were nervous about it being such good friends. We worked in the media department for six weeks together and we had a blast, it was great.
The year after the VRC asked if we would come back and also do the event side of things for Fashions on the Field. So we did and we’ve run Fashions on the Field ever since. We grew it from a small Melbourne based event to being national and increasing sponsorship big time. We feel very much that we were integral to its growth. We did it for 13 years. We decided last year we needed to change direction; do something new. They needed a fresh face behind it all as well. And it was about time that I was available for the boys during Cup Week to actually celebrate their birthdays. Yes, it has long been a joke in our very racing focused family that both boys were born during Cup Week! Sam’s arrival on Derby eve is a whole other story…
Every day I think “oh I should just get a real job, make it easy on us” but then while it’s madness when I’m in event mode, it still gives me the flexibility to do that running around after school, to be able to go to their sports things, assemblies, excursions or performances at school. I would also miss working with Bridge too much; the laughs; the tears; the madness of our little world where one minute we are in trackies cheering on our kids at a sporting event and the next we are all frocked up and pitching for a new project. It’s the juggle – the crazy juggle. I’m constantly torn on that front.
Sam (Katie’s second child) has a very tough mindset and like Pete he’s very mentally tough when he competes. He’s also the sensitive one in our family who is always very in tune to how everyone is feeling; always so incredibly thoughtful and is oh such a cuddler. He’ll hate me for saying that, but he’s like a cat, curls up across you and always has ever since he was a baby. He’s a chatter too; LOVES to tell a good lengthy story which is never short on details…possibly gets that from me! Felix and Daisy are equally driven in their own way: Felix is academically very focused and very determined to do well and to succeed; he works really hard and is very deserving of his achievements, especially at school. We are very close; we have great chats. He is great company; has an impeccable sense of humour – far superior to Pete – I mean that in a very endearing way! – but they both make me laugh all the same. I’m driven and very competitive, possibly too much, but then I can procrastinate too. The worst thing I can do is go “oh I’ll just have a quick look at Facebook” because then you’re off in 20,000 different directions. It’s the thing that nearly kills Pete.
As for Daisy, the long awaited girl. Not that I don’t love and adore my boys – I am so blessed to have all three, but it was just one of those magical memories forever embedded in my mind the moment she arrived. Pete was beaming from ear to ear. Mum was there in tears. I literally couldn’t sleep for wonder that I had a little girl. That I could emulate what my mum and I have – a bond like no other. It’s impossible to explain, but it still makes my eyes well up whenever I think about it. And it turns out that Daisy is a reasonably good sprinter, completely the opposite to Felix, Sam, Pete and I so she’s got a lot of speed. She does gymnastics, netball, soccer and basketball. A bit of everything, but she loves her sprinting. Hates the cross country and she is very adamant that in contrast to her brothers, she’s not distance, she’s a sprinter and she lets you know that she shouldn’t have to run any further than a lap. She’s one of a kind our Daisy Doo; the funniest, bossiest, most street smart of all our crew. No flies on her I can assure you of that!
I had embarrassingly never heard of Hampton. Pete convinced me to go Bayside when we were looking to buy a house. We bought in Middle Park and I loved that and didn’t ever want to leave but once we had Felix and we had a boy on the move there was just not going to be enough space so we knew that we needed to move. We basically came down this way for a backyard. Pete grew up in Beaumaris so he was always keen to come a bit further down but I was very adamant that we weren’t going to go past Elwood because you could walk everywhere. But we decided to rent in Hampton and just loved it. It did take me at least a year to fully settle in and wean myself off Albert Park but as soon as we became immersed in kinder and school, the community feel that I grew up with in the country came out of nowhere and it is what made me feel completely at home here. We are so incredibly lucky to live in such an amazing community, everyone looks out for each other; we all love a social do and a trot along the beach tracks – fit, healthy and fabulously fun here in the bubble!
So then we bought the place we’re in now and inherited a pretty awesome street of neighbours. We bought it un-renovated and the backyard was massive, all lawn and the kids just ran around and played footy and cricket. We renovated with Christmas Day and family functions in mind; we celebrate everything. Mum is the boss these days and calls the shots on us all catching up. Dad goes along for the ride. There are a lot more of us now, with both Danny and Seamus married with kids too. Although Rosie now lives in London, so we only get to see her once a year or so. It probably does Pete’s head in a bit that we like to catch up so much, but we’ve pared it back to quarterly catch ups plus Christmas and Easter and the odd extra thrown in here and there. Spending time with family and friends will always be top billing for me.
I love to host. My mum’s father was big on family and friends and I’ve definitely got that from him and my cousin Jo, she got that from him too. Poppa-Tom was a big party man hosting old style parties where we all sang around the piano and danced the waltz. We all loved it though. I guess we learned from him the joy of bringing people together. My dad’s family are the same; my Aunt Imelda and Mary and my cousin Suzie are always bringing people together. To laugh, to have fun and to enjoy good company. To create memories. This is when I am really happy.
I’m a bit go, go, go. But then again my favourite spot is the couch and a good TV show and an open fire. That’s always my big order on Mother’s Day and my birthday which are a week apart so I usually get two Sundays in a row where we do the footy and soccer and then relax on the couch and watch a movie or watch the footy. I love binge watching shows, that’s my relaxation. Mum and I are big Downton Abbey and Jane Austen fans. Pete and I have our shows too; it’s the best when we just get to hang out; completely stop and just relax. He is very much the romantic and always planning that elusive weekend away but life just keeps getting in the way. It’s definitely time to re-group on that especially as our big 20-year anniversary is upon us this year.
My favourite thing, especially when I have a lot going on, is that every night I always go and say goodnight to the kids and we always have a chat; long chats about anything and everything. I’m fairly confident they love it as much as I do.
Katie and her business partner Bridget own the events company MiNC.
Don’t forget to Like our Facebook page here.
And feel free to hit the FB icon to share this story and leave your thoughts in the comments box below.
Debbie Otto says
Wow Lisa you are amazing what a great read love it