It was love that brought Pam Kensit to Narrawa – population 86 – back in 1990.
Today, her passion for the Upper Lachlan Shire of NSW has landed her the region’s top job – mayor.
Pam was visiting friends near Crookwell in 1988 from her native Ireland. They were working on the Bounty ship re-enactment and Pam had come out to help.
“We got an invitation to go to a New Year’s Eve party and it was there that I met the most amazing man.”
Today that man is her husband David and the two couldn’t be happier running the family sheep property ‘Moorabinda’ on the Fish River Road.
Although she was raised on a farm in Ireland, moving to outback NSW more than 30 years ago was beyond a culture shock for this creative soul, whose other passions include sculpture – she studied at Trinity College in Dublin, performance art, video production and writing, being the author of six books.
“When I first moved to Australia, it was like stepping back 30 years,” Pam said.
“I’d worked all over the world – in London, Miami, New York and Dublin. When I came here I found it to be very conservative. But I got away with a lot … people would just say, ‘it’s OK, she’s Irish’.
“The first few years were hard – my family was 14,000 miles away, but after a while, I began to feel like I was fitting in.”
Pam said she knew Australia was where she belonged as early as 1998 when she went back to Ireland to see family and friends.
“I realised then that Ireland was not my home anymore. I love to visit there, but it’s no longer where I belong.”
Those early years gave her the perfect view of what life was really like on the land. Many years later, she was to use that experience in perhaps the most challenging role of her working life, that of mayor.
“Communication and connectivity,” she said. “That’s what it’s all about. Along with improving roads of course.”
She was first elected to council in 2016 after helping out a neighbour who was unable to plead his own case to local government authorities.
“I ended up presenting his concerns because he was voiceless, it was difficult for him so I offered to help.
“After that, I just felt like I wanted to give back to the community for all the support they’d given me when I was struggling a bit as a young mother.”
Again, that same support, which she described as “extraordinary”, was there when she was diagnosed later with ovarian cancer.
Pam says one of the first items on her agenda as mayor will be to lobby the federal government for improved communication systems in the bush.
“This area is unique. People want to come out here because it is the genuine article. People can see how working farms really operate, we want to show them what it’s like to live on the land. But we have to have better connectivity out here, better communication.
Pam said she had no preconceived ambition to become mayor, it just turned out that way. But she is looking forward to working with the new Deputy Mayor Mandy McDonald, who she describes as a “powerhouse”.
Mandy lived at Peelwood (population 34) for 20 years before moving into Crookwell, so she knows what it’s like to live in a tiny community, within a small shire – it’s all about dirt roads, potholes, patchy internet access, more potholes and no mobile phone coverage.
A podiatrist for more than 40 years, it is Mandy’s first term on council, although she has been involved in its workings both as a resident and as a member of many community groups in the shire, ranging from the Crookwell Potato Festival Committee to Crookwell Evening VIEW Club, Men’s Shed, Crookwell Hospital Auxiliary, Gunning Focus Group and Southern Tablelands Arts, to name just a few.
Since retiring as a podiatrist, she believes now is the time she can best serve her community via the council. She agrees with Pam about the need to improve communication within the shire.
“Communication is everything in the bush. If you can get that right, you can bring the community on board. You just have to listen to your community.”
Mandy, who is also an artist, said she was looking forward to working with the mayor, adding that the message she read from the community was “time for a change”.