Considerations Of A Grateful Life by Emily Herbert
I was born in the UK in a heatwave in the July of 1989. Guns N Roses ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’ and Madonna’s ‘Express Yourself’ were just released and playing on the radio. My father, Earl, a professional polo player, was playing in England for the season. My mother, Susie, a teacher, was following. Mum found a GP when she was 6 months into her pregnancy – her doctor a little shocked she had no idea where she would give birth. She ended up welcoming me into the world in a teaching hospital in Slough, some 20 would-be-doctors looking on, learning about her case of toxaemia. There were some 10 women in the same ward as her, all difficult births. The next year in the English summer when the hedgerows were fragrant and frothing with blossom, the women met up with their babies, sharing the twists and turns their lives had thrown up over the past 12-months. Tied together simply by the arrival of their children, blinking into the world, a shared experience of blood and love at the same time of the marching clock. I was tiny, 7lbs and resembling a skinned rabbit, no hint of the 6-ft behemoth I would later grow into.
My parents couldn’t agree on a name and I was simply Baby of Herbert for several days. They were the first of their friends to have a child and I wasn’t going to stop their social lives – toted along to every party where I was often parked under a table with all the coats thrown on me. We returned to Australia when I was six weeks old, and then to New Zealand, my father’s home. In the hills of Waipukurau Dad farmed – his background as a shearer at odds with the image of a glossy international polo player. I think of New Zealand with a pang of homesickness, its greenery and coolness, rugged mountain ranges and thick woolly jumpers. But I think that’s a common trait of mine – to become tied to a landscape in a heart-stricken way. Before primary school we moved back to Australia, just in time for my younger sister Jaimee to be born. Back to Gunnedah, my mother’s hometown, near my grandparents and cousins. Early sepia tinted memories of Gunnedah are imbued with the smell of eucalypt and dust, hot summer afternoons bleaching the paddocks, the zest of citrus as we peeled oranges on the driveway walking home from the bus stop. Dusty, long-suffering ponies we spent hours on, barefoot and bareback, jumping lessons with mum. Seeing them standing in the shade in the noon heat, back leg resting, twitching the flies.
My childhood was going to stay at my grandparents, the coolness of their green lawn peppered with giant trees, tea and tim tams on the veranda, mustering with my cousins. September was eagerly anticipated (and somewhat dreaded by mum) as a week of pony camp at the Gunnedah showground. Lifelong friends were met – long days in the saddle hooning around the place and always the sting of sunburn no matter how much we tried to stay covered. The mingling of sunscreen and sweat, the legendary cross country day at Kibah swimming the ponies in the river and falling off, nights giggling and rotting our teeth with redskins under the covers. At the age of eight my family moved to Ellerston, my dad scoring a job training polo horses for Kerry Packer. Life mainly revolved around the sidelines of a polo field and we would set up our barbies and drawing paper by the car, turning cartwheels on the manicured grass. My school had 24 kids – during winter we would go to England for four months, dad playing in France and the UK, Jaimee and I starting again at new schools. When I was 10 my youngest sister Lucy was born. We were so pleased to have a baby sister – until we brought her home where our lives shifted irrevocably. 18 years later I couldn’t be more in love with her – but at the time, it was a shock to the system.
We moved back to Gunnedah before a scholarship to Calrossy Anglican College determined where I would go next. So began six years both boarding and then when my family moved to Tamworth, as a day girl. I loved school – mostly the social side. We were keen competitors with our horse riding, one-day eventing and show jumping. I loved the tangled network of people met through riding, friends you saw regularly at competitions and the six steps of separation ensuring everyone knew everyone. Winter mornings riding before school ahead of big competitions, crunching over frosted grass, long summer evenings schooling young horses, making my pocket money selling them on.
Horses are the lifeblood of my family, they tie us together and we discuss them as if people, comparing traits and idiosyncrasies, as much part of the family as another sibling. Upon finishing school I worked for a year as a polo groom, travelling around Australia with the Garangula Polo Team, forty horses and eight grooms moving from tournament to tournament, a whirl of parties and hard work and a lot of fun. I grew up a bit, learnt the value of money and how to drink excessively. I then spent the next three years in in Sydney, studying journalism at the University of New South Wales. It was here that I can pin point a pivotal moment of my life that has defined me so far, and changed my world forever. At 21, a year and a half through my degree, one of my dearest friends took her own life, in the college where we lived.
My world shattered and through the fog of confusion, horror and grief, I wondered if you could re-build from it. It changed who I was, my make-up as the confident and care-free character I had been. The rest of my degree passed in a state of survival, buoyed enormously by my friends and family. Upon graduating I moved home for six months, worked a couple of jobs to save and my mum and I flew to Europe for a month of travelling. It was such a beautiful time to have with her, just us, eating and drinking our way through a northern hemisphere summer. I then stayed on for two and a bit years, revelling in some of the most incredible experiences. Working as a chalet girl in France for a ski season, drinking mulled wine and exploring Les Trois Vallées, gaining a confidence on skis I would never have held if not for five months hitting the slopes daily. I worked as a reporter for a provincial newspaper in Wales, often not understanding the thick Welsh accent which made for some hilarious interviews.
I had the incredible fortune travel writing for a few glossy editorials – riding mustangs in a rose hued sunset in Nevada, enjoying a gastronomic tour of Los Angeles. I travelled as much as I could, traversing the via ferrata paths through the Italian alps, birds wheeling in the air around us, the road a silver ribbon in the valley below. Sitting in cobbled squares with a coffee watching locals go about their business, meandering the pebbled beaches of Croatia, strolling the purple hills of Scotland, thick with heather. When my working visa ran out I moved back home, unsure of my next step. Serendipitously I heard of a job with batyr, a youth mental health charity I had written an article about several years before. Batyr run preventative education programs in schools and universities, breaking down the stigma surrounding mental illness and encouraging young people to reach out for help if they need it. They do this through lived experience – young people who have successfully managed their own mental health challenges, sharing their stories of hope and resilience. A committee of passionate Tamworth locals had fundraised to bring batyr to Tamworth, and I was lucky enough to score the job as coordinator. It was the organisation’s guinea pig – its first regional outreach program and we were building the structure as we went. I so believed in the program and felt if I had seen one of the programs when I was at school, perhaps I would have been better equipped to help my friend. I felt so grateful to watch the programs really take hold in the region.
Nearly every school in Tamworth, Gunnedah and Armidale booked programs and continue to do so, three years later, thousands of young people learning how they can support their friends, and where locally they can reach support. I also learnt to share my own story, and that of my friend, and through the vulnerability of sharing and connection, felt myself begin to heal. While working for batyr I began reporting for NBN News, and eventually left the charity to work full time for PRIME7 News. For me, regional news is the beating heart of television and there are countless stories that filled my heart and opened my eyes to the amazing diversity and incredible people we possess locally. From following the turbulent narratives of local politicians, the tragedy and triumph of farmers toiling the country and counting on the next rainfall, the sordid details of the courts and the passion of locals striving to make a difference. Hitting the road every day and bashing around the bush, I saw corners of the region I didn’t know existed and just how many people count on local news for their connection to a place. It was a wonderful job, helping to shape the journalist I am today.
Recently I have left Tamworth, and right now am living in Wales with my partner. In the new year I head to India to undertake my yoga teacher training, and after that I have no idea. More travel, new faces, stories yet untold, await around the corner. At 28 I didn’t expect to be so unsure of my next step and which doors I’ll go through, but right now that’s ok. I count my family as my best friends who throw their weight behind my every decision, and am blessed to have so many friends across the globe, I can turn to in a heartbeat. Mentors as well as professional help have bolstered my ability to lift the lid on my own development and explore the person I want to be. While my sunburnt country will always have its grip on me, it’s a wondrous, lovely thing to have another opportunity to go adventuring.
Choosing love, whether relationships or work, is my mantra and I’m trusting it will lead me to the right path.
Emily Herbert, December 2017