Buvette Masthead

HerCanberra: The first writers five years on  

Catherine Russell, Kate Freeman, Heather Wallace, Michelle Brotohusodo, Roslyn Hull and Emma Grey

From a humble start as a one-woman blog in January 2011 to its current reach of 90,000+ Canberrans per month, HerCanberra has grown to become a credible and creative fixture in our local media landscape.

Yet it’s much more than a website or a physical magazine. It is a beautiful, ongoing celebration of Canberra, a go-to for everything from advice to events, a thought provoking space and a community of writers.

It is a credit to Amanda Whitley that she welcomed writers from all walks of life, at all points of life, to the HerCanberra community and created a platform where their voices, opinions, passions and experiences could find an audience.

Ask a writer and they will tell you there is always a backstory to the story. How so many women have become contributors to HerCanberra points to the remarkable leadership, vision and kindness of Amanda.

As we celebrate Amanda as ACT Woman of the Year 2016, some of HerCanberra’s first writers share their part of the story.

Catherine Russell

When I was four, I stood in the lounge room of our house in Pearce and declared, “When I grow up I am going to be a writer!” but it wasn’t until 33 years later I felt I could actually claim to be a writer. HerCanberra did that. Correction. Amanda Whitley did that.

Five years ago, when I stumbled across the HerCanberra website, I was a bit broken. I had a two-year-old and had just separated from her father. I’d had to sell nearly everything I had worked for as part of a financial settlement and I had busy full time public service role to juggle.  I was broke, still suffering sleepless nights, vulnerable, feeling like a failure and grieving.  

I had been professionally writing for years but I never owned my words. I was an anonymous government scribe, a ghostwriter whose copy was routinely appropriated by journalists under their bylines and I was bound to write for a reason rather than to express an opinion, experience or just creatively observe.  

Amanda gave me a chance – publishing my hits and misses, letting me have a go on crazy ideas for stories. She let me just write, and a funny thing happened.

I got better at writing. I became more creative, more confident, more connected to the women of Canberra who were fronting up for single motherhood, juggling work and life, pursing a passion and just enjoying this incredible city and region within which we live.

It was my writing on HerCanberra that in part led to my husband to finding me. He once said “ I think I fell a little bit in love with you reading your words, before I even met you.”

As HerCanberra grew in popularity it became an icon of the wave of creativity and entrepreneurship reinventing Canberra – Amanda gave writers a voice, encouraged restaurants, got behind the cultural change reinventing Canberra and inspired an infectious pride for our city where once there had been a certain cynicism.

On a smaller level, Amanda delivered a cake to my door for my daughter’s birthday when I was so ill I couldn’t make one, she quietly encouraged me and backed me and became a friend.  I’m am in a sweet spot of life these days – a place I am grateful for and one I know is interwoven with the advice, support and opportunity that comes from being a part of the HerCanberra writer community.

Read more by Catherine here.

Kate Freeman

In 2010, I found myself at home with two small children under two years old. I loved being a mum at home but my mind craved stimulation, work and learning. Being what some have described as ‘a crazy high achiever’, I completed postgraduate study and started a healthy eating blog that morphed into a business. I had never thought of myself as a writer before but felt there was so much poor nutrition information online that I almost had a responsibility to set the record straight.

In February 2011, a few months after I started blogging, I received an email from Amanda. I’d never met her before but apparently she’d read my blog and thought that I was a decent writer. She’d closed the email with “If you’re keen to contribute please give me a call.”

I stared at the email for so long and then without a second thought, picked up my mobile phone and called her. I still remember the phone call to this day, I was eating peanut butter on toast and pacing my lounge room (typical of me when nervous on the phone). I had thought to myself: ‘This lady could be onto something big and if she is, I want in.’ And that was that.

Writing for HerCanberra has been the single biggest factor in establishing myself as a writer – a title I now give myself – but never ever thought would be on my resume. I love writing and seeing how my words resonate with others and how it connects us. HerCanberra is such a beautiful community and I’ve almost lost count of the people who have said: “Are you Kate Freeman from HerCanberra? I read your stuff, it’s great!”

My connection with Amanda and HerCanberra also came at a time that I was experiencing a huge amount of personal grief. When your heart isn’t OK on the inside, sometimes it’s these relationships and opportunities that give you hope that one day you’ll be ok again.

Even when people don’t know what’s going on, it’s the spark of creating things, especially when we create them together, that really makes life so inspiring. It gave me hope.

Amanda is a wonderful human and I’m so grateful for our connection and friendship. Watching both our businesses grow side-by-side has been just incredible. I’m very proud to know her and be a writer for HerCanberra, I’ve met some incredible people and made some very valuable connections over the years and it’s definitely been a part of what will make me forever fond of this wonderful city in which we live.

Read more by Kate here.

Heather Wallace

Five years ago I was at my public service desk and an email popped up on my screen. A friend had sent me the link to a new website another of her friends had just started and was suggesting I think about contributing to this new site, HerCanberra.

A teller of stories about my adventures (and misadventures), I didn’t claim to be a writer and didn’t feel my ‘voice’ would be of interest outside my social circle, so the email sat in my inbox for a few months, an invitation I shied away from.

A few months later I was dedicating more time to writing and knew the only way to test myself was to take it to a wider audience. I wrote an article about a gig I’d been to at the Front in Lyneham, and deciding to take a chance, I sent it to Amanda. You should have seen the big smile on my face when she emailed back saying she loved it. And if that smile was big, it was nothing to the one the next day when my words went live. There were my words under my name for all to see!

Soon I was contributing regular pieces on arts and culture and as the site grew so did the requests from theatre and dance companies to preview their shows.  I still remember the buzz I felt when I realised I didn’t have to ask permission or clear content with anyone. For someone used to the anonymity of public service writing, there is an incredible joy in stating and standing by my own opinion.

The article I’m most proud of was one I wrote several years ago about the stages of grief. Although it was based on my own experience of losing a parent, I researched and analysed popular misunderstandings of the Kubler-Ross grief cycle. I wrote it in one sitting and I have to admit I had tears pouring down my face as I typed, a catharsis I’d needed for decades.

The reaction to the story was more than I’d imagined; from all around the HerCanberra community people shared their stories of loss and grief and thanked me for helping them understand grief wasn’t something you logically worked through. One comment was from a woman I’d been to primary school with, who’d recently lost her own mother, sharing a memory from our childhood I’d forgotten.

The article showed me more than anything what HerCanberra is. Occasionally we writers try to come up with a catch all name for it: is it a blog, a website or an online magazine? It doesn’t really matter because first and always it is a community. It’s a place of love and respect where we can express ourselves, reflecting and helping grow this great city we call home.

HerCanberra has brought me confidence, professional achievement, and most of all it has brought me wonderful friends. Thank you to Amanda, the editorial team, writers and readers for being part of this with me.

Read more by Heather here.

Roslyn Hull

I saw an article in City News about this new online mag for Canberra women, went straight to the computer and loved what I saw so I emailed Amanda.

I asked her if she had thought about having a movie reviewer and I think I sent in a sample of my writing. What I do remember is that just 90 seconds later she replied, asking where I’d been all her life and could I start right away! I kept that email until my old computer died because that positive response was such a tonic for me.

I had lost my mum the December before and finished my contract (with no chance of another one) the month before that. Then our youngest daughter’s health deteriorated as well. Before all that I had absolutely adored writing – sitting at my keyboard and inventing stories was my happy place but I found that, after mum died, my imagination was somehow switched off. Writing a weekly review for HerCanberra has given me a framework to write within, a disciplined means of getting on with the thing I love most in a safe and nurturing place.

It is safe and nurturing because the greatest thing about HerCanberra for me has been the group of writers I have met. I call Amanda ‘Chief’ because that is what Clark Kent calls Perry White, editor of the Daily Planet. This is partly because I am a huge nerd but mostly because of the way she steers the ship she built, with professionalism and real love.

I follow Kate like a guru, I look forward to Emma’s wisdom and wonderful common sense, I consider it a real treat every time I get to spend time with Catherine – and then there are my ‘homies’ – Michelle and Heather. The one time my review got ‘trolled’, the way everyone leapt to my defence reminded me of my sister and I defending each other in the school playground. It is a lucky thing to make new friends and a rare treasure to make good friends like I have at HerCanberra.

Read more by Ros here.

Michelle Brotohusodo

I first discovered HerCanberra via Facebook, not long after Amanda launched it. I’d been in the public service for a few years, and was afraid that I was losing my ability to write non-bureaucratically. I thought HerCanberra might be a good opportunity to see if I still had it, and to give me that creative outlet that I now know many public servants have and need. So I emailed Amanda to ask if I could contribute. We met shortly after that, got along well and, given I’m telling this story now, clearly she said yes!

At the time neither of us knew what HerCanberra would become. It’s been amazing to see how it’s grown and evolved, and I feel incredibly lucky to have been there since the beginning and to see (and hopefully help) it all unfold.

Apart from being a great source of information about Canberra, e.g. what to see/do/eat, one of the things I love most about it is that it’s personal.

I don’t just mean us writers sharing our opinions. It’s the sharing of personal experiences and stories and encouraging conversation from both high profile Canberrans to those just doing their thing and sharing what they’ve learnt. It connects people.

On a personal level, HerCan has definitely given me that creative outlet I was looking for, not just in terms of my writing but also photography (even if my photos are mostly of food) and it’s introduced me to some wonderful people. I’m proud to be part of a group of writers with so much talent, diversity, and heart, and grateful for the friendships. It’s been equally nice to get to know local business owners and others around town, and I’ve been privileged to help some of them share their stories too.

It’s hard to pick a favourite article of mine, but I have a soft spot for a review I wrote about one of Koko Black’s chocolate degustations back in 2013. It got an unusually high number of Facebook likes, and it turned out that it was because Koko Black had shared it on Twitter. That was the first time I realised that people might actually be reading what I wrote, and possibly even enjoying it.

Read more by Michelle here

Emma Grey

When I first heard about HerCanberra, shortly after Amanda started her website, I sent an email asking if we could meet as I’d love to contribute. My little now-Kindy boy was three weeks old at the time and I was so sleep-deprived I got the time wrong (by an entire week). Amanda welcomed me with open arms, anyway, and I’ve felt embraced by HerCanberra ever since.

What I’ve loved about HerCan has been its role in helping Canberra ‘grow up’ in the last five years. The diversity reflected in the articles (food, music, culture, film, exhibits, family events, politics, social life etc) has showcased a different city from the one I grew up in and helped spread the word about how great this city is to live in and visit.

The sense of community that Amanda has created on social media (and in real life) has made living in Canberra less isolating for a lot of women (and families).

I’ve loved the opportunity to share my “WorkLifeBliss” articles each week now for five years, but perhaps my favourite experience was becoming the unofficial “Offspring” correspondent after we went into meltdown over Patrick’s death and it was wonderful to share the happy news of Harry Styles sending his bandana to my daughter’s friend in 2014. I Love writing ‘good news stories’ when there’s so much negativity online in other places.

Read more by Emma here

It may have been writing that brought together but it being part of a special community sharing life’s ups and downs, contributing to culture, food, thought, health and wellbeing that keeps the first writers contributing five years on.

Look what you did Amanda X

Image courtesy of cbrfoodie.files.wordpress.com

Catherine Russell

Catherine Russell is enthralled by public affairs in Canberra and the world at large; the issues that impact people from all walks of life; start memorable dinner party debates; fuel politics; create our advocates; and drive social media commentary. Consultant, mother and partner Catherine presents the HerCanberra perspective on the headlines. More about the Author


Kate Freeman

Kate Freeman is a Registered Nutritionist and the founder and managing director of The Healthy Eating Hub. Kate’s healthy eating philosophy is all about whole, fresh foods, being realistic about life and creating long term healthy eating habits. She doesn’t believe in detoxes, fad diets or quick fixes. Once you’ve finished working with Kate, you’ll be empowered to feed yourself well for the rest of you life! More about the Author


Heather Wallace

Heather’s career in arts and heritage PR spans 15 years, with highlights including working for Sean Connery at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and promoting Australia’s World Heritage places. Her blog, Myths and Misadventures, (http://mythsandmisadventures.blogspot.com.au/), is about life lessons we can learn from the Romans. You can follow her on Twitter @Missmythology. More about the Author


Michelle Brotohusodo

Michelle moved to Canberra vowing to stay for two years, tops. More than 10 years later, she’s a bona fide Canberra convert. When she’s not working in her day job as a public servant, she’s enjoying Canberra’s culinary delights or finding fun things to do/see in and around town. More about the Author


Ros Hull

Roslyn is a writer and storyteller who loves all things Canberra, her family, sci fi and movies – but not in that order. She has worked in museum education since 2001 and has a passion for imparting knowledge to others. Writing is her happy place, particularly if there is a dog at her feet and a coffee in her hand. More about the Author


Emma Grey

Emma Grey is the Canberra-based author of ‘Wits’ End Before Breakfast! Confessions of a Working Mum’ and ‘Unrequited: Girl Meets Boy Band’. She’s director of the life-balance consultancy, WorkLifeBliss and co-founder of a fresh approach to time-management, My 15 Minutes. She lives just over the ACT border with her two teen daughters and young son. More about the Author