Louisa Cole of Three Springs  |  100x70cm Giclée Fine Photographic Print by Martine Perret (2022)

Louisa Cole

"My name is Louisa Cole and I'm from New Zealand. I have been living in WA for 10 years now. I first came to Three Springs when I arrived here. That was 10 years ago. And it's quite nice to be back here. 10 years later. I didn't think I would be, but I am!

I was born in Hastings, New Zealand. That's on the North Island in Hawke's Bay. I grew up around orchards and vineyards and people picking asparagus and cabbages, everything you can think of - the fruit bowl of New Zealand. It was really nice growing up in a place like that. I lived in Hastings until I came to Australia when I was 20.

My little brother had moved over before me. And we were really close. He'd been in Australia for about seven or eight months before I decided, I think I want to come too! One of my cousins was living in Three Springs. She was part of the shearing team and her and her partner got pregnant with their first baby. She asked if I'd come over and keep her company. They really opened the door for me, paid for my flights, paid for everything. And changed my life.

I went home when I was 21 and stayed for a few months but thought - no, I think I like Three Springs. I'm gonna go back. I lived in Three Springs for about three or four years then I went traveling. Living in a house isn't for me, I spent four years travelling around WA with my dog, Sasha. I came back in 2019 because of Covid-19. If Covid hadn't happened, I probably would still be traveling. It's a nice twist of fate because I am enjoying being settled and living in a house. I'm ready for the responsibilities of being a settled adult. 

I started in the shearing shed when I first came to Three Springs. I started out just wool-handling (so I was a 'rouseabout'). I've done that for probably six years, maybe seven. I eventually became a wool classer. Unless you're going to go shearing, it's probably the best you can do in the shearing shed. A wool classer appraises the wool. The wool handlers and rouseabouts bring the wool to you at the table from the sheep on the board with the shearer. By then, they've already gotten rid of the parts you don't need to see. You get the best of the clip, and you decide where the wool is going to go and how you're going to categorise it and sell it. It's less physical than the other jobs. I really admire the men and women that shear sheep all day, every day. It's really tough. 

I think I really liked the idea that you got to work out all day. You got paid to sweat and worked hard all day. Another big part of it was that my grandparents both worked in the shearing sheds. My grandfather was a shearer. My grandmother was a wool handler. And I really liked the idea of working with my hands. 

I come from Maori and Samoan cultures, which were both a very strong part of me when I was growing up. The beautiful thing about New Zealand is Maori culture is a part of everything. We are all given the basics. I didn't grow up in a household that spoke Maori or Samoan but I got to learn that at school and the protocols for Maori things like funerals, weddings, etc. My grandfather speaks Samoan, it’s his first language. He never taught us Samoan but Samoan culture was a big part of our lives.

When I first arrived in Three Springs, I remember waking up in the morning and kicking myself, because it looked so different to what I thought I was coming to. I pictured Three Springs to be something like Geraldton. It was a big shock to wake up in the morning and walk outside and there was nothing but crops around me. And I could see the sky all the way from left to right. So I thought, What have I done? I've just given up my whole life to come here? Today I think being in the North Midlands, and being part of the Three Springs community has really made me who I am. 

I remember telling myself, you can't go back. You can't go home and not have done anything, not have achieved anything.  At that point, I was a big girl and there was no way I would have gotten the job in a shearing shed – not feeling fit. I don't think I would have coped. I was no good with flies. It was really hard to actually break the ice with the community back then.  But I just didn't want to go home and not have accomplished anything. I started getting into fitness and working out. The Kiwi community here in Three Springs gave me a lot of support – making sure I was fine and getting everything I needed.  

Now I do feel empowered being a woman in the North Midlands. I say: I'm from here - this is my Australian home. I really had to harden up here, Australia taught me to be a bit harder. To really accomplish things. I also learned to be independent. It's nice to be at this point of my career and also feel that people appreciate me for the work I have done around here. It's amazing the respect that comes with being part of the shearing team and the shearing industry. It's great that people out here know and appreciate what you do. 

You've got to learn to do it for yourself. And if you can't do it for yourself, who will? This has always been a big push of mine. You've got to trust your gut. And trust yourself. Take that time to know yourself. Be comfortable with yourself. 

I'm really enjoying where I'm at work-wise and life-wise and company-wise. I'm still learning who I am but I think I've found myself better. I also found a job with the North Midlands Project that I feel appreciates me as much as I appreciate the job. I can see myself staying with this for a long time and looking forward to being a bigger part of the community."


Click below to view the full portrait and read each story from the Act Belong Commit exhibition Women of the Hinterlands