Michaela Keeffe of Mullewa  |  100x70cm Giclée Fine Photographic Print by Martine Perret (2024)

"My name is Michaela Keeffe, but everyone just calls me Miki. I was born in Munich, Germany in 1980. I am an only child.

When I was 25, I finished my Bachelor degree in Business Administration and media and communications. In 2005 I worked at a publishing house called Langenscheidt. As I filled in for a maternity position and my contract came to an end, I decided to go travelling. I wanted to go as far away as possible from Germany, but be able to communicate in English. That's how I decided to go to Australia.

First, I travelled up and down the East Coast. I was on a working holiday visa for a year. I wanted to experience new and different things so I worked as a fruit picker and barmaid. Someone asked if I was going to see Western Australia. I had not planned on it. But according to the backpackers, WA was the "real true" Australia. So I decided to go West for my last four months.

I went to a work agent for backpackers and they asked me if I could work as a barmaid. They picked Mullewa for three of us. I didn't know where it was or how to even pronounce it. By the time we got to Mullewa, it was nine o'clock in the evening. Most customers already had a few drinks and behaved accordingly. Our first thoughts were "what is this place? where did we end up?"

Within my first week there, I met my future husband and I decided to extend my four-week stay to eight weeks.

The most shocking and confronting thing for me in Mullewa was that the pub I was working in was separated by a wall into two rooms, with two separate entries – one room for the white community and one room for the indigenous community. The bar ran along the whole two rooms. Both rooms had jukeboxes. This was challenging at times when both were playing different types of very loud music.

It was really shocking. It was 2006, and I couldn’t believe this segregation. But everyone I was talking to, indigenous and non-indigenous, didn’t mind this arrangement. They just liked it that way.

2006 was a really bad drought year. When farmers came to the pub, aware that it was not going to be a good year for their business, they still seemed happy enough. Yes, people were struggling but they were still nice and friendly and everyone tried to have a good time. If this situation would have happened back in Germany, it would be a different story. Unfortunately, I feel most German people don’t have a positive mindset. That resilience from the farmers impressed me the most during my time in Mullewa.

When I met my future husband (Simon) I thought our relationship was just a fling. My visa ran out in June 2006 and I had to go back to Munich. I invited him to come and visit me. His reply was "you’ll see me very soon". I was sceptical but he did come in September and stayed for six weeks. It correlated with the famous Oktoberfest beer festival. I've been joking ever since that he never actually wanted to come and visit me, but wanted to come and see the beer fest! When it was time for him to go back to Australia, we decided to give this relationship a go. But for it to work, I needed to migrate to Australia as he was tied up with the family farm.

My Mum said, "follow your heart". My Dad on the other hand wasn’t as positive. He said this relationship won't last. I think he was scared to lose his only child to the other side of the world. In March 2007, I left for Mullewa. I turned up with two suitcases at the farm and lived with Simon in a caravan in front of his parents’ house. As I was only on a tourist visa I was helping out on the farm. Eventually, we decided to apply for a partner visa which gave me the right to work and it got approved very quickly. After two years on the partner visa, I became a permanent resident.

I was working at the local service station when I unknowingly went into labour. I went to the doctor in Mullewa to get checked out and he confirmed I had contractions but as I was only 34 weeks I should go home and relax. As I went home, I felt stronger pains. I rang my Mum and she said "take your bag for the hospital and drive to Geraldton". What bag!? I haven't packed yet, I was still working.

Simon drove me to Geraldton, and what a relief because 20 minutes after we got to the hospital, my waters broke. Riley was lying transverse, and I needed an emergency caesarean. It was all quite dramatic at the end, which I didn't realise. He didn't breathe for quite sometime after he was born, and his left leg was broken as the doctor had to pull him out otherwise he wouldn't have made it. I lost a significant amount of blood.

Riley had to be flown to Perth. Simon flew with him. I could only fly three days later, as that is the timeframe after major surgery. It was very strange to be in a maternity ward without a baby. When I could, I joined them. We came home and were a family of three. After four years we added another boy to the family, and four years later we had our last son.

My mum tries to come out every other year and has been here for all of our milestones. I speak German to my children. People always ask me how do I teach them. I reply I don't teach them, I just talk to them. I speak German to my kids even when other people are around. But if it is something everyone needs to know, I say it in English.

In 2022 we bought a house in Geraldton. While the community and school in Mullewa are great, there are not many opportunities for the kids. Today farms are getting bigger as more families move away. As we had our oldest son enrolled in boarding school we told him he will be boarding for a year and then we will all move to Geraldton and he will be back living with us. We haven't left Mullewa. Our farming business is still there, we just have two homes we're going between.

Mullewa has a lot of community groups which you can get involved in. I'm part of the group which leases some farmland and crops it. The profit goes back to a community trust where community groups can apply for grants.

My children have dual citizenship by descent and birth. They are Australian and German. I, on the other hand, am only German because Germany hasn't allowed two passports yet. I don't want to give up my German passport as it is a part of me. But I'm also identifying as an Australian now, as I have lived here for 17 years, raising a family and running a family farm. Fingers crossed Germany passes a new law and I can round up the whole thing. I already filled in my application for my Australian citizenship and once the new German law comes through, I'm going to click the 'send' button."


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