Vanessa Bell Mumbition the Podcast


The Podcast By Mums & Co

Episode 68: Motherhood a baptism of fire and inspiration

Stephanie Trethewey

Founder Motherland

May 23, 2023
Stephanie Trethewey is the founder of Motherland, the incredibly successful Australian podcast and community dedicated to supporting rural mothers and reducing their isolation.

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Produced & Edited by - Morgan Brown
Interviewers - Carrie Kwan and Lucy Kippist
Guest - Stephanie Trethewey

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Transcript Episode 68

Stephanie Trethewey (02:13.966)

I'm Stephanie Trethewey. I live on a beef property in rural Tasmania. I'm a journalist, a podcaster, a mum, a farmer, an author and who makes up my family, my beautiful husband, Sam, and our two kids, Elliot, who's four and Evie, who's two.

Carrie Kwan (02:22.891)

Thank you.

Carrie Kwan (02:34.810)

Wearing a few hats there, Steph. I love it. And look, you're such a passionate advocate of rural women in Australia. Thank you for all your efforts there. You're also the 2022 AgriFutures Rural Women's Award winner. And if you had to be, if you had to champion just one solution for the cohort that you are currently representing, what would it be?

Stephanie Trethewey (02:37.690)

Just a few. I suppose for me, when it comes to all rural women and rural mothers in particular is the power of vulnerability. And for me, like I'm also the CEO of Motherland, which is why I won the award. Motherland is a registered charity that supports rural mothers across Australia. And, you know, as a business owner and as a mother, the minute I started being vulnerable and the minute I stopped trying to fit into this mold of trying to be resilient and a tough rural woman, the minute I let that go and started to really be me, to talk about the hard stuff was when my community started growing rapidly, when my business started growing rapidly and when me as a mum, as a partner, as a wife started to kind of come into my own. But there were many years that I really struggled, struggled with my mental health and just struggled to be me in a world that is constantly telling women and mothers in particular everything they should be and often that's not our authentic selves. So yeah, that would be my little piece of wisdom that's really helped me.

Lucy Kippist (04:05.150)

That's a beautiful piece of wisdom and also a beautiful segue to my next question because I was going to ask you what becoming a mum has kind of taught you about ambition and work for women. So obviously where you are in your corner of the world and the community that you're representing, these women have a very specific set of challenges but they also have incredible opportunities. So I just wanted to talk to that a little bit.

Stephanie Trethewey (04:28.966)

Yeah, I mean, first and foremost, I was totally unprepared for motherhood. And motherhood is the most transformative journey I have ever been through and will ever go through in my life. It totally shook me to my core. It was a complete baptism of fire and thrown in there this deep yearning to have something of my own because I am ambitious and I did want to, you know, start my own business and project. It was really tricky trying to be both trying to be mum  and business owner and wife and all these things. 

But, you know, it's been a real journey, as I said, of being vulnerable and being a mum has forced me to face myself. I think, you know, I was running the rat race in the corporate world in, you know, all over the country in capital cities and in regional Australia as a TV reporter, which is what my background is in. And I never really stopped. There was never time to stop and actually face myself. And that's what motherhood has given me. It was a massive handbrake on my life at a time when I was like a bullet, a gate.

But that handbrake, I crashed like I crashed first, and I was in a really bad place mentally. But then you're forced to kind of save yourself and pick up the pieces. And I've put this new stuff back together where I'm still Steph, and I've still lived by the values that I've always had within me. But I've reinvented myself into the type of person that I want to be. And, and that's affected my leadership qualities. I would not be on this podcast, I would not be the leader that I am today if I wasn't a mother, and if motherhood didn't break me. 

So I think that so often we don't want to talk about the hard stuff because it's negative, but sometimes, you know, adversity fuels innovation. It is because I struggled as a rural woman, it's because I couldn't access something as simple as a mother's group when I moved here that fueled my business. And Motherland started as a podcast and then I launched Motherland Village, which is Australia's first online rural mothers group program, because I don't believe your postcode should dictate your ability to access social connection. 

So all that struggle is I talk about it because it's been the biggest blessing. And so for any mums, who have struggled is, how can you turn those struggles into innovation or little tools that will improve you as a business leader and embrace that. Again, leaders don't have to be tough. We don't have to be women in a man's world. We just need to be us. And so that's been the biggest learning for me as a business owner, absolutely.


Carrie Kwan (06:55.111)

You touch on so many different parts of what we strongly believe with and so much to the point where, you know, when you were talking, it's, it is that sort of, we're quite stoic and we try to take on a lot, but then you're also, it's an isolating journey motherhood combined that with starting a business or running a business that's isolating too. So we love that, you know, we can call this out now.

We don't have to suffer in silence. We have to be able to tap into our amazing community, which women do so well, and lean on each other, which is the code. And I just wanna do another call out. We believe in it so strongly that whatever you're doing, it doesn't have to, we don't have to be apologetic about doing that. However you're mothering or however you're running your life, how ambitious you are, you don't have to apologize for that.

So thank you for leading that charge with us. We call it mumbition here, because you're right. It's been constructed in a world where potentially men have constructed it or people have gone down a bit and sort of shaped that for us. And now we're kind of reclaiming that and saying, this is how we're gonna do it.

Stephanie Trethewey (08:14.906)

Absolutely. That's very powerful. It's coming into your own.

Carrie Kwan (08:18.730)

And now, so before, Motherland, you mentioned that you worked as a journalist. I'm wondering how much of that training has actually helped you create visibility for the work and the advocacy that you're doing now. Is there a tip that you'd like to share with the women jumping into the podcast world without a media background?

Stephanie Trethewey (08:38.566)

Yeah, I think there's no doubt that my media background obviously has helped me build my business, build my brand, pitch to media, get positioned in media. I love public speaking. It comes easily to me, but I had to work for it. I spent seven or eight years in media and university and trained. So I think we can often be hard on ourselves when we're not, I guess, performing in the areas that we don't have training and experience in, and that's OK. It's seeking people that can help you on that journey. Like, I mentor a number of business women, and I help them when it comes to their media planning or public speaking. But you know, it's funny like it works both ways. Being a journalist actually didn't serve me in the very beginning of Motherland because it's this perfectionist world where, you know, I've spent my whole career turning up looking perfect, makeup, hair, the, you know, the presentation, which is all bullshit really. And everyone who thinks TV is glamorous, like you need to spend a minute working in it. It's not, it's hard work. And I thrived and chasing a dodgy person down the street for a current affair, loved it. But coming into Motherland, when I was struggling with my own transitions into motherhood and this new business world in rural Australia, I took that perfectionist expectation with me. And so sometimes I even cringe listening back to like the first few episodes where I was perfect Steph, like I was journalist Steph. And there's a lot of journalists or even podcast hosts who were just perfect questions and how to ask things where they're not listening and they're not responding in their own authentic way. And so for me, as I said earlier, you know, really, it took me crashing to realize I am only going to grow this community by being vulnerable. And so my line of questioning changed, I started to share my own experience. And I very carefully and slowly and strategically opened up and opened up and opened up. So I'm a better storyteller, I'm a much better journalist now, as a mum than I was in my prime, you know, speaking, doing a life crossed to a million people on Channel 9. So yeah, the marketing background has been pivotal, but it's motherhood that really has tied it all together into the most important version of me, which is like my authentic self.

Lucy Kippist (10:55.890)

I was just wondering about that skill transfer there in terms of chasing someone down the street for a story versus now probably chasing your little boy down the paddock and chasing cows. Yeah, it's all running, running is a skill, is a skill in motherhood. So much to unpack there Steph, but touching on two things. You talked about the importance of listening in a podcast and I 100% agree with you. That is the power of a good podcast is someone who can listen. But also speaking of your podcast.

Stephanie Trethewey (11:04.866)

And chasing cows and chasing cows. Yeah. Yep.

Lucy Kippist (11:27.812)

Now what you've created, authored a book with 14 of your incredible podcast guests. Do you want to tell us a bit about that? And particularly if any of them are in the small business community too in rural Australia.

Stephanie Trethewey (11:42.866)

Yeah, so, you know, Motherland, the podcast has had over half a million downloads, which is just unbelievable to me. And I got an email two years ago, Evie was like a couple of months old from a publisher, Alan and Unwin, approaching me to write a book. And I honestly thought it was a scam. I was like, this can't be real. It turns out it was real. And I'm so glad it was. So for the last two years, I've been working on bringing the podcast to life in a physical book form. So Motherland, rural mums around the country, across generations, demographics, cultures, many of them business women, many of them, you know, one of them Grace Brennan who's in the book, she is the founder of Buy From The Bush, but they're sharing their real stories of their lives and how motherhood is interwoven in that. So it's so exciting because I feel like rural mums are some of the most undervalued and under celebrated women in the agriculture industry and everything that we that women are often the linchpin of our rural communities, whether they're stay-at-home mums or working mums, it doesn't matter. And I'm really passionate about the fact that, again, I used to be guilty of this in media, but we're always hitting the headlines for the wrong reasons in rural Australia. It's always drought, floods, fires, the poor Aussie battler, the poor farmer, often the male depicted. And I've really got sick of that because that doesn't tell the full story. It also creates pressure for rural mums to be resilient, and I'm really outspoken about how much I despise that word when it's used in specific contexts. And I thought I had to be resilient when I moved out here. I thought I just had to cop it, put up, shut up, just deal with all the obstacles that came my way. I spoke about this recently in an event, but I had a miscarriage in between my children. Instead of worrying about myself, I literally worried about everyone else. I got up the next day, it was Christmas day, and I got on the quad bike with Sam and I moved cattle because farming never stops and that's what you do, right?

Those moments when I moved here and I realised that I was just trying to fit into this mould of this like resilient rural woman and that's really dangerous. And I think that leads into business too. I think leaders often feel like they've got to have all the answers. If things are not going well, they've got to be resilient, they've got to be calm, they've got to have it all together and you bottle up and you bottle up and you bottle up and that's very dangerous. And so this book allows these 14 women to take ownership of their narrative and to share their stories, the good, the bad and the ugly.

For the first time, it's the first book of its kind. I'm really, really proud of it. And I'm really proud of the women who, there's nothing more that I find a privilege than having someone who's prepared to share their story with you in this way. So yeah, it's an honor and I'm so excited. 

Carrie Kwan (14:37.010)

I'm just saying it's now sold out. Everyone's got their copy. No, definitely. Make sure you grab your copy off the bookshelves. Really, really exciting to see this one and share so many of our regional women, you know, in all their shapes and forms, however they show up. Now, obviously where you're living at the moment, I imagine has your relationship to the idea of business risk. We kind of are fascinated with this topic because it's a daunting journey, combining both, and you're gonna be exposed to lots of different scenarios. So how has where you live impacted your relationship with that and how do you manage that? Any processes, any sort of insights you can share on how you perceive that risk?

Stephanie Trethewey (15:31.426)

Yeah, I mean, for me, becoming a farmer was a huge risk because I'd never been a farmer before. I'd never had living, breathing, walking animals be responsible for revenue and income and our life. And so the seasonal pressures like we had like last year, we had a really, really bad winter. It was really tough. And that gave me my first scare of that, yeah, farming is risky and you're relying on mother nature, but there's also ways to de-risk and to come up with, you know, plans like if you know it's going to be a tough season or there's not enough rain on the way, rather than waiting until things get bad in your business, whatever that might be. But using farming as an example is to start to de-stock and to have strategies in place rather than leaving it to the last minute. And so for me, farming is a bit nerve-wracking. We're lucky where we live, we do get reliable rainfall, which is another reason why we bought where we live. Where we do is because we knew we were going to get the kindest season possible. And so that's been amazing. But for me, I don't know, of a book called 4000 Weeks. If we're lucky, we get 4000 Weeks on this planet. If you're like me in your early 30s, you kind of, you know, I don't know, almost halfway or, you know, by the time we're 40, you might be halfway through your time here. And so my relationship with risk is changed, you know, Richard Branson's motto of screw it, just do it is one of my favorites, you know, if I waited to have the perfect business plan with Motherland, if I tried to de-risk and tried to, you know, do a risk matrix and all this stuff, like trying to launch it three years on. I just had a go and I let my community and my customers build the business with me because business plans never withstand contact with reality. And so instead of building like our mother land village program, it was actually quite different in my mind to what it is now, but I launched a trial group. I went out on social media, I said, looking for eight mums, rural mums to help me build a bit of a project. Like I didn't tell anyone anything else. I had these eight mums from different states come to me. They were the trial group for our program. They helped me refine it. Gave the feedback that I needed. So when I launched the product itself, it was fit for purpose. And so I think risk can be so scary. Like even the word risk just gives me the X. It's like, oh, God, it's like so scary. And it's like, well, what is the worst that can happen? It depends what industry you're working in and the people you have. You can be responsible for people's wages and stuff. But a lot of women are small business owners running their own show. And how amazing to have the freedom. There is nothing, the greatest gift in the world of female empowerment has given me is the ability to do both, to be a mother and be a business owner. And so I don't care so much about failure like I used to. I just have a crack and if I'm doing it because I love it, then even if it fails, I just pick up and try something again and try something again. So I'm probably not the best person to speak to about risk strategies, because I don't have that many. I have a great number of mentors. So I will say that, you know, Motherland's a charity now. I have an amazing board of directors who you know, one of them is a lawyer. So from a legal point of view, one of them is a CEO of Arabella Gibson, who's the CEO of the Gidget Foundation and works in mental health. You know, like they're all so different and their skillsets, they can help mentor me. So from a risk point of view, and as a charity, we're doing what we need to do. But as far as building the bike, totally doing it while I ride it. And that's the way I roll.

Carrie Kwan (18:56.650)

That's actually a risk mitigation strategy in itself, like surrounding yourself with experts, right? Love the concept of the advisory board and even that doesn't have to be scary. It doesn't have to be super, super formal. Just have people that are experienced and have good perspective and can lift you up and sort of give you that sort of directional point for you to reach your goal.

Lucy Kippist (19:24.430)

Stephanie taking a step back now and I'm so intrigued to read that book you mentioned. Is it 4000 weeks? That sounds cool. Well, I'm definitely halfway But in terms of looking at your life, I suppose in a you know overall way here at Mums and Co We talk about harmony being a little triangle of our ambition and our livelihood now well-being all together. How would you describe the shape of a good life for you?

Stephanie Trethewey (19:52.667)

I am in the trenches. Like there's no two ways about it. I have a four year old, a two year old and between my husband and I, we have three businesses. We have Motherland, our beef business and we also run an abattoir that processes animals and food for the region and our own farm. So it's a lot, it's probably too much but that comes with being mumbitious. So I think that, again, that perfectionist in me and I think we're told as women, we can have it all.

You know, we can, I also realize not all at the same time. And I think I've spent the last couple of years literally like killing myself to try and have the best of all the worlds, to be the CEO, to be the mum, to have the veggie patch, to have the social life, to have the relationship with my husband when we go away on holidays. I can't do all of it now. That's not the chapter that I'm in. And so for me, it's picking the balls, the glass balls that I can't drop and letting go of the other ones my time right now. And that can be really hard. You know, I was talking to someone in the other day and I was like, I really need to get better at saying no. And they're like, saying no is hard, particularly for women. But it's not saying no, that's the most difficult. It's saying no to the stuff you want to do. That's bloody hard. When you love something and you want to do it, having the self-discipline to say no, because you know that that's not going to serve you, that's going to not be equal harmony in your life. That's where I'm at now. So I don't have the magic bullet. I don't like hearing people talk about how they have balance in their lives stresses me out because it just reminds me how I don't have balance. All I can say honestly is that I run around like a headless chook most days, but I love what I do. And that's important to me. And I'm just dropping a few balls like my house is not clean. I don't cook perfect meals every day. My veggie patch I love, but I've killed a lot this season and that's okay. There's a few cucumbers that sprouted the other day. I was very proud.

It's not my time and I've got a two year old and she's a two year old and I wanna be there for that. I don't wanna wish the time away. But harmony, I do love that word harmony because again, work-life balance, I don't think we'll ever have it. I think we're always gonna be out of whack in some ways but that harmony is something that I'm getting better at understanding what will get me there and that's dropping balls and being totally comfortable with saying that's not the right season for me.

Lucy Kippist (22:20.870)

A phenomenal answer and basically what I hear from that is acceptance. It's acceptance as a stage and it's acceptance of all your ambition and your goals and just moving each day as you are. It sounds like you're doing a great job anyway. Phenomenal job, actually.

Carrie Kwan (22:33.450)

Now, finally, I'd love to keep this conversation going, but we have a final question in the spirit of women supporting women, which you are doing amazingly in. Who are the mumbitious that you would like to say hello to?

Stephanie Trethewey (22:55.127)

Oh, hello to everyone. But look, for me, it's always been about not just real women, but for the sake of this podcast too, I just don't want mums to feel alone. Because I felt so alone for so long. I felt isolated as a mum . I felt isolated as a business owner. I just felt so alone. And so, like, I have struggled. I have struggled. I still struggle, you know, and I've talked very openly, like I, you know, went to see a psychologist last year.

Like numerous wait lists and months and anyway, it was a total shit show, sorry for the language. But I finally found someone who is in my corner. And while I don't feel like I need that support ongoing, we've kept our appointments in the diary, you know, once a month as a check-in. And I consider her now more of a life coach because I think the problem as women is we take all this on and the mother load is so real. And we wait until we crash and burn to get help. It's like waiting until your tooth has fallen out before you go to the dentist.

You don't wait, you literally assume you're like, oh, that's a niggle, oh God, I might need a feeling, you then go. And you don't wait. And so I think particularly when you're juggling businesses and motherhood, we often put everyone first, kids, family, the business, and we wait until we're quite fractured to seek support in whatever, not just mental support, but whatever that is. And so I guess for any mums listening, it's like, I see you if you're struggling, I've been you, I am you. And yeah, like we just have to talk about the hard stuff

There’s nothing worse than struggling and hearing another woman talk like they've got their shit together or seeing an Instagram account that looks like your nailing CEO life and mum life and marriage and all that stuff. Like I just, it's not healthy. So yeah, I see you and you know, I'm with you.

Lucy Kippist (24:42.410)

Thanks so much Steph, that was awesome. What's the one lesson you've learned from living on a farm if you can nail it down to one?

Stephanie Trethewey (25:00.526)

Nailing it down to one. Wow, well after watching many episodes of Farmer Wants a Wife and all these shows that paint such a romanticized picture of life on the land, I didn't know just how relentless, similar to motherhood, but just how relentless it would be. And I didn't realize that farming is seven days a week. Sounds so obvious, but I just didn't, it didn't click. I didn't know that animals, infrastructure, machinery needed 24/7 care.