Interview of Amanda Whitley by Alice Fairweather
Firstly Amanda, thank you so much for doing this interview!
No not at all, I’m very happy to!
So where do you call home?
Well Canberra now! It’s funny though, because people sort of say to you ‘where are you from?’ And even though I’ve lived in Canberra longer than anywhere else, it’s kind of one of those eternal questions that any Canberran is asked. Mainly because everyone always assumes that you’re not actually from there originally, which is actually true a lot of the time! So yes, I’ve spent the majority of my life in Canberra now, and because I obviously love everything about it (except for the weather), it’s absolutely home.
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I guess I would describe myself these days as a publisher rather than a writer, as I not only have HerCanberra online, but there’s also the magazine, and even a bridal publication and bridal event now! A lot of that is to do with my short attention span, and the need for me to do something different all the time or I just get bored! But I guess I would describe myself as a publisher of ‘Canberra content’, as well as quite impetuous, impatient, but mainly a big ideas girl. I’m also married, and have two beautiful girls who are growing up far too quickly!
What is HerCanberra, and what made you want to create it?
I guess the idea sprung from the fact that Soph (my youngest daughter) was born at 30 weeks, so extremely prematurely. She came out of the neonatal unit after 10 weeks with chronic lung disease, which is something caused from artificial respiration. So ironically it’s the thing that saved her, but it’s also the thing that can cause a lot of problems! Her paediatrician basically said she couldn’t go to childcare for at least two years, meaning I couldn’t work, or rather couldn’t go back, which really did my head in because I love to work! So while I was on maternity leave, I fell into blogging and made friends on twitter with Mia Freedman, eventually becoming the first site moderator for Mamamia way back in the day, when it was a teeny tiny little thing. I did that for about a year voluntarily. This was also about the time when Soph was starting to get better, so I was wanting to get back into life, getting fit all those sorts of things, so I decided that I was going to step back from Mamamia for awhile.
At this point I had no intention of starting my own thing. I think it was the fact that I soon realised when I would search online for things to do or go to, for example ‘kid friendly places to eat’ there would be nothing! And I realised that the way I sourced information had changed during this particular time, mainly the explosion of social media. I also had a parallel realisation being that I’d met women from Canberra online during my time doing stuff with Mamamia, but I had never actually met them in Canberra. And so I started thinking, why don’t we have something like that here? Canberra has such a transient population, and so I just started to think what if I built something that was made of multiple contributors? I didn’t want it to just be from me, I wanted to harness many different experts such as someone in fashion, someone in nutrition etc. Having something that was purely focused on the women in Canberra, and connecting them online as well as in real life! As I mentioned before, I am quite impetuous and often get attracted by bright shiny things, and so I thought I would wait until this idea faded away. But instead it kept getting bigger, and bigger, and more real. And here we are six and a half years later!
What do you think has been your biggest achievement with regards to HerCanberra?
I think being able to successfully monetise a digital publishing platform in itself is a big achievement, mainly because it’s notoriously hard to do! When you work in the business every single day, life really doesn’t seem to change that much. I’m very lucky that I can pay myself a wage, and that I have six staff whom I can pay a wage to. I really rely on and value those people who put in their time, especially at the very beginning for nothing. Those people are still a big part of the HerCanberra community, because I wouldn’t be where I am now without them! I’m also really proud of having the magazine part. I actually published my first magazine when I was 11 and it was called ‘Wombat’, so I’ve always, always, wanted to have my own magazine! All of the content is curated and focused on telling the stories that aren’t being told, and we want it to always be beautiful, and to showcase the creativity and talent that’s out there in Canberra. Because there’s certainly a massive amount! I’m hoping that things like HerCanberra will keep that talent here, and keep encouraging them. So yes, I’m pretty proud that at the moment there are six of us who are currently running a website, essentially two magazines, a bridal event, as well as other many other events!
You were named ACT’s ‘Woman of the Year’ last year, how did you feel about that?
Ah yes, that was a bit crazy! I guess though when you’re in the business, it’s not actually until you get that feedback from people about what it is you’ve done, and how it’s affected them, that you kind of stop to think about it. For instance, I was at a business event recently, and a woman came up to me and explained that she had moved to Canberra a few years back, and that HerCanberra was one of the first things she discovered, and that it had been such a lifeline for her. And to hear that is so great, and it’s also literally why I created it in the first place! So to know that it’s impacted and connected so many people, and done the thing that I really wanted it to do, is very special! The fact that there are people, who see value in what we’re doing, makes me really happy, and hearing from those people really gives me real satisfaction.
What do you think is the biggest obstacle facing women today?
I think mostly, for me at least, it’s apparent that we have all these goals for women such as having equal pay, and to have equal participation in the workforce. However, there are a few things that are keeping that from happening, and no. 1 is the fact that we still haven’t got to where we should be in terms of equal partnership in caring for children. I think it’s still very much seen as the mother’s role, and if that’s something that you want to do then that’s absolutely fabulous! However, a lot of women see it as getting to a point where they have to choose their career or being a mother. So often for women, it doesn’t make financial sense for them to go back to work because childcare is so expensive. And then the kids get to school and there’s still that old-fashioned 9 – 3 school day, which is incompatible with pretty much any work schedule. And then you’ve also got 12 weeks of holidays a year! I guess my ‘ranty’ thing is that we’ve got kids at school from 9-3 (you have mostly two parents working), plus we’ve got homework being sent home. Why aren’t we making the school day longer? Have 9-5; the last hour being supervised where kids can work through their homework, get it done, so when they get home they can have quality time with their parents. Or they can pursue other things that make a person whole, like dance, or sport, or whatever that is! But I just think, until we actually make changes on those issues, we’re just not going to move forward, because we’re still entrenching people in traditional roles. I’m incredibly lucky with the fact that if I want or need to, I can take my work on the road with me, but that would not be possible if I was still in my old job! I think that is the number one thing, in Western society at least, that is just proving to be impossible to break through.
What is one piece of advice or knowledge that you want your daughters to know above all else?
There are too many things! I think there are two things in particular that I can’t really choose between, so forgive me! The first would be to put everything that you have into everything that you do. That’s something that I try and make sure they realise now, the fact that many things are possible if you put all of your energy into something, and so that’s the rule that I want them to apply to everything. I don’t care if they’re not the smartest or the best at certain things, but as long as they can look back and go ‘I did my best’, then you can’t ask for much more than that! The second thing is that I want them and expect them, to be tolerant and open-minded, and accepting of people regardless of anything! That in particular is just so incredibly important to me.