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Celebrating the woman behind the mic this IWD

Posted by Rabobank Australia on

05/03/2024

It’s a familiar and soothing voice unmasking the women behind rural Australia, with podcaster Skye Manson having built her career sharing stories from the bush.

Her curious mind is a gift as she gently unravels the nuanced highs and lows woven into lives beyond the great divide.

And this week, as the world celebrates International Women’s Day, the theme ‘Inspire Inclusion’ is, she believes, at the heart of her podcast.

“Inspiring inclusion is something I try to do all the time through storytelling,” she smiles from her home office nestled amongst the picturesque slopes north-west of Gunning.

“To me, the word inclusion means finding everyday stories from the bush, from the ordinary to the extraordinary – everyone has a story it’s just a matter of finding it.”

“I know it’s cliché but I truly believe that if you spend enough time talking to anyone there’s something remarkable you’ll learn about them.”

Certainly, her own serene façade belies a story punctuated by triumph and tragedy, and a creative urgency that, at times, has been her downfall.

“I’m a journalist by trade, and have been a broadcast journalist for 19 years, 11 of those working with the ABC.”

“In the ABC newsroom there was always a sense of urgency, and that buzz drives me. I love a deadline – I wouldn’t go as far as to say you can do superhuman things when you have a deadline, but you really can achieve a lot.”

Podcasting was still an emerging platform when she was asked to co-host ‘My Open Kitchen’ with regional food writer Sophie Hansen.

It was an unexpected, yet well-aligned, career move, and by 2022 Skye was hosting no less than six podcasts – Life on the Land and The Farm Diaries with Maggie MacKellar for Graziher, Women Behind Wool with Lady Kate Knitwear’s Penelope Ashby, and Company, Daily Routines, and Gardening for her own Manson Podcasting Network.

She was also raising three children with her husband Damien on their Blakney Creek property, west of Gunning – Ollie, now 10, Percy, eight, and Florence, seven, and learned first-hand the distorted reality of ‘having it all’.

“I went through a huge period of burnout, to the point that I took the majority of 2023 off, with the exception of my weekly newsletter.”

“I was exhausted, I spent a lot of time resting and telling myself that I’d go back to work when my ambition returned, and it took a whole 12 months for that to happen.”

A quest for balance, and learning to let go

Skye’s inspiration gradually returned, encouraged by the unlikely craft of floristry.

“I’d always mulled over the idea of floristry, and at the end of 2023 I became a florist for three months, which in hindsight seems a little bizarre, but it was so creatively enriching and exactly what I needed at that time.”

Yet a hobby not for the faint-hearted, with Skye rising at 1.30am once a week to be at the Sydney Flower Market by 5am, and returning home to sell her flowers in the local community.

“It wasn’t perfect, and it wasn’t an ambitious business which helped me manage my urgency to create.”

Maintaining that restraint remains an ongoing challenge.

“As someone who is creatively minded and also inspired so greatly by my surroundings, being on a farm and in nature, and with all these wonderful people who I talk to or spend a great deal of time reading about, I have to focus on doing one project at a time, and doing that well.”

“It’s not to say that the ambition and the ideas aren’t constantly bubbling to the surface, it’s now a case of ‘it’s ok to write it down in a journal and let it sit, and see if I’m still feeling the same urgency in three months’.”

“I’m also learning that while I do try to operate to a certain level of excellence, things don’t need to be perfect.”

As a family, Skye and Damien have also weathered one of life’s cruellest curveballs, the illness of Florence at just 10 months old.

After an initial scare of being advised their youngest child had cancer, the couple was relieved to learn after a biopsy that Florence had a rare benign tumour, KHE, but one that would require chemotherapy in Sydney.

And so began Skye and Florence’s new routine, travelling the five hours to Sydney once a week for 12 weeks, and many more unexpected hospital admissions due to Florences’ compromised immunity.

Reflecting on the period, Skye is stoic, but the scars linger.

“These things happen to people everywhere, all the time, yet that’s not to diminish that time from a personal sense. It was a tough time and I’m still sad for our little family that it had to go through that, but I’m eternally grateful for the positive outcome.”

Florence’s was an out-of-the-blue diagnosis that bookended what was to be one of the family’s most exciting chapters.

“We had been living in Orange for five years and six months before Florences’ diagnosis we had just realised our dream of buying a farm,” she explains. “We moved to Grenfell and we were loving it.”

“When we moved I thought to myself ‘We’re ready for this, we’re ready to work hard and raise our family and have a really exciting journey,’ and then real life stepped in in a massive way – Florence became ill, and then the devastating drought kicked in.”

In a further unfathomable tragedy, within two years the family also lost Skye’s mother’s partner Andy in a farm accident.

This prompted Damien and Skye to move to their current Blakney Creek property, ‘Bloomfield’, where Skye’s mother, Wendy, still lives in a neighbouring farmhouse.

After such a heart-wrenching few years, depression and anxiety reared their heads, and Skye speaks candidly that they’re repercussions she still has to manage to this day.

“When I reflect on it, it’s life, I feel like I’ve lived a full life already, but we’re lucky to have three children and Florence is well now and although we’ve had challenges, we’ve also had great times, and those challenges make the great times even greater. Life can be tricky.”

Strength in community

As a rural woman herself, Skye is buoyed by the strong female network within her local Gunning community, and credits its rich diversity for easing the challenges of rural life.

“We have lawyers, graphic designers, exercise coaches, agricultural leaders, and it really is such a joy.”

“It takes the slog out of living in an isolated area, just knowing this group of brilliant women is nearby, and I think this is reflective of rural women and communities.”

Skye is also continually inspired by the capacity of rural Australia.

“When the women in our community come together the results are incredible. We deliver events such as the Gunning Ladies Lunch, which raises funds for the local community health service and it’s such a pleasure to work with these women, and a great example of what can be achieved.”

It comes as little surprise that contribution is a value this can-do community member holds dear.

“Our children get so much from this rural community, so we need to give back in some form, and engage with the community, and engaging can mean just turning up to events – being at the fundraiser, being at the local show, taking part in the tennis competition, even if you may not want to. “

“This engagement drives a connected community, it brings us all together, and as a storyteller and journalist I’m eternally fascinated and curious about all the people in the room.”

Connection through storytelling

The sharing of stories is an ancient craft, and one Skye believes cannot be underestimated.

“It’s factually known that storytelling, and people telling their story – and even having the ability to do that – is excellent for mental health.

“Our communities are great platforms to build that sense of connection and drive conversations at the simplest of levels, and I would hope that what I do professionally contributes in a much larger way.”

The potential of these local rural stories amongst a wider audience is another exciting aspect of Skye’s purpose.

“I think that people with limited exposure to rural Australia would be surprised by the calibre and diversity of women we have in rural women, and my eternal hope is to try and expand the reach into urban areas.”

“We’re getting there with the likes of modern-day publications and content such as Graziher and Galah flying the flag boldly.”

In 2024 Skye is back behind the microphone, with Rabobank as her partner, sponsoring her Manson Podcast Network’s flagship podcast, Company.

“Our values really do align so well, Company is all about celebrating women, the community, innovation, and sustainability – which are values also at Rabobank’s core.”

“I know that Rabobank recognises that women have so much say within a rural business, and should be empowered and upskilled accordingly, and this is a really exciting collaboration to help educate, provoke thought and continuing to broaden the appeal of our region and its people to a wider audience.”

“Rural Australia is modern and contemporary with incredible people, it’s just a case of pulling back the curtains and showing it in all its glory.”

Season One of Skye’s weekly podcast, Company, launches Thursday, March 7 featuring the Editor-in-chief of Galah Press and all-round rural creative powerhouse, Annabelle Hickson.