It’s said that a picture is worth a thousand words. But what about a thousand pictures? For one woman, they are worth a whole story, with many chapters and a whole lifetime of different characters.
Looking at Kate Oram, you might think she’s lived in Australia all her life; she has that hard-work, country homestead warmth. Then she opens her mouth and you hear Storrington, the lovely little town on the south coast of England.
The short version is that she lived there for nearly 30 years of her life, then married an Australian and came to make a life here. But we all know there is a much longer, richer version of this story.
Kate taught physical education for 8 years at a school in West Sussex, and then decided she wanted to go backpacking, at the “grand age of 28, which is very old to go backpacking!” she laughs.
She and an old teaching friend, Nat, booked a round-the-world ticket, including Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. They had to cancel America because of 9/11, and so cut across to Australia and New Zealand.
The women had a ball, doing the east coast of Australia in a “clapped-out banger of a car”, cruising the beaches the whole way.
Both of them wanted to experience the real Australia, not the Bondi beach version, and so they decided to go bush, booking a Jackaroo/Jillaroo experience at Myella Farmstay. Unbeknownst to Kate, the farm stay was owned and run by Paul’s aunt and uncle – Paul would become a special person in her life, and whom she was soon to meet.
The farm stay was one of the best experiences of her life, Kate says, “just awesome”. Riding the horses, chasing cows, things she’d never done before coming from the same little English town. Kate and Nat went back a few times, “some might say to have the Jackaroo/Jillaroo experience all over again, and some might say because Paul was there”, Kate admits, smiling.
Paul worked there as a ringer, taking guests out, teaching them to ride horses and mustering, as well as cattle work.
Kate finally left Australia, but by then her and Paul were quite smitten and now conducted their romance via telephone and letter writing. It wasn’t long before Paul decided to go to New Zealand for two weeks, where Kate was staying at the time.
It seemed the perfect timing; Nat decided to go home to the UK, so Paul saved the day by travelling with Kate for a while, and they wanted to find out if it was “the real deal” between them.
After that, Kate had to figure out if she wanted to go home, or go and live Paul’s very different life for a few months. Of course, she concluded that Paul was the home where she wanted to be.
They moved to his home town of Baralaba in Queensland for a while. The little town is inland of Rockhampton, and has “one pub, one shop, one school” Kate explains.
“If you’re prepared to sacrifice that, and live like that, when you’re not used to it, it must be the real deal” she informs us.
Eventually Kate had to go home for real, and so flew back to the UK and got her old job back. Very soon after, Paul surprised her; a man who’d never had a passport got one, sold his cow and calves, as well as his prize possession – his green ute, “his everything” – sold it all for a one-way ticket to be with her.
They ended up living together for 2 and a half years in the UK. Paul managed a pub and restaurant, “a complete contrast” to what he’d ever done before, Kate says, he was used to “being in the middle of nowhere and chasing cows”.
After that the couple decided to move back to Australia. “Finally had enough of UK Winters” Paul pipes up, smiling.
Why Gunnedah though? The duo had lived in several places – mainly Queensland – but Paul’s work had bought them here.
When Kate first arrived back in Australia however, it was in darkness. She felt like the whole trip was a little like that. “I drove for nearly 2 hours in darkness, arrived to a house that had no power and wondered what I’d done, having said goodbye to everyone she’d known for 30 years and lived with”.
When she woke the next morning though, she knew; the beautiful Boyne Valley greeted her and all it had to offer. She and Paul ended up renovating their house and running a farm stay with Paul’s brother.
And that’s where the turn of the story comes full circle, back to where she and Paul first met. Except now they were the ones showing others how to ride horses and muster cattle.
After that, they skipped from there to Brisbane, then Moranbah, and finally Gunnedah. This year it will be 4 years since Kate arrived.
“That fateful McDonald’s coffee meeting” Kate chimes in, mock-solemnly, to which our intrepid interviewer protests that “everything else was closed!”. Which, really, is no excuse for bad coffee, but we’ll let these good friends have that moment – otherwise they may never had met!
We note that between each leg of the journey, each place they’ve been, the couple have added four little extras to their story; Molly at nearly 10, Poppy at nearly 8, and the twins just turned 6. Paul is delighted to be out-numbered by girls 5 to 1!
But after 3 years of solid friendship and regular chats, it’s time for the family to move on to the next adventure. Before they go, Kate remembers the thing that really connected the dots between her and Christoph; their mutual love and dedication to photography, something he calls ‘a gift she bought over from the UK’.
“I didn’t even know I liked photography”, Kate exclaims, “but I started taking photos at the farm stay of guests riding horses and families”, and by then it was a passion that began a long, continuing happy road.
Kate was self-taught for 9 years, but says she learnt more than she ever dreamed in 3 years from Christoph. She takes photos for local schools and local families, enjoying the natural interaction and candid shots.
There’s a wedding photography job she has coming up soon, but the brief is simple; no posed settings, just everyone in their natural environment. It’s Kate’s perfect job, somewhere she can create photos that tell a story.
“Photos that make you want to know what they are doing, where they’re from, who they are, what their name is, where are they going next…”. It’s all about events and emotions as they happen. “If you miss a moment, it’s gone”.
Now it’s time to head off and find new people and new moments, this time in central Queensland, back to the north again.
What are your plans for the future? “I want to make sure I’m something they haven’t got or haven’t experienced yet” she says.
“Continue the same book, but open a new chapter”.
We wish you and your lovely family the very best of luck Kate, and though you’ll be sorely missed, we know this certainly isn’t the end of the story…
Laura Meade, Feb 2018