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A night with Canberra’s most fascinating women…

By Amanda Whitley — November 26, 2013

It was a night like no other. One table, four courses, 10 amazing women and a scintillating conversation at “Canberra’s Most Fascinating Women” event, recently presented by HerCanberra. The dinner brought together a group of local women with a broad range of experiences and backgrounds to talk about life, career, love…and everything in between, at a fabulous private dinner party. Watch the video here and scroll down to see the amazing images (mouse over each image to see the caption – it’s VERY high tech-like!)

Who were these fascinating women of diverse backgrounds, ages and careers? Gai Brodtmann - Member for Canberra; Sarina del Fuego - RAW Canberra Showcase Director, and Short + Sweet Cabaret Canberra Producer & Director; Rachel Evagelou - Owner of Handmade Canberra, winner of the Start Up Category of the ACT Telstra Business Awards; Deborah Hill - Founding member of the Canberra Roller Derby League; and Registrar, Exhibitions and Loans at the National Library of AustraliaVicky Kidd-Gallichan - Fashion designer and owner of couture label, Rockstars and RoyaltyPatricia Mackey - Principal Public Advocate for the ACT GovernmentCarmel McGregor - Deputy Secretary, Department of DefenceRosanna Stevens - Founder of Scissors Paper Pen, a literary collective giving young, emerging and new writers professional development and publishing opportunities; Rachelle Towart - CEO of the Australian Indigenous Leadership Centre. Oh, and me.

They’re just some of the fascinating females that call this city home, and we plan to host regular events (probably quarterly) to bring you the stories of many more amazing Canberra women.

What we ate

The dinner was held in the Kambah home of interior designer, Sarah Bowman of Chalk Design. Always a beautiful space, it was transformed by Sarah’s brilliant styling skills – the piece de resistance was an amazing birdcage floral arrangement by Rockabilly Floral Lane. Artworks masquerading as serving ware were provided by local Craft ACT artists: Peter Minson, Harriet Schwarzrock, Margaret Brown, Makeout Design (Mitchell Brooks and Dan Lorrimer), Rebecca Dowling and Dimity Kidson. These stunning pieces elevated an already amazing menu to new heights.

The food. It was always going to be incredible, with renowned local private chefs, Foodish involved. With the generous support of the Fyshwick Fresh Food Markets, they created a menu which made the most of the fresh, seasonal produce that the Markets are renowned for. It’s worth noting that, among our 10 ladies, we had one vegan and one nut allergy - Foodish rose to the challenge, crafting courses that met everyone’s needs and were absolutely delicious!

So, what was on the menu?

To start

Watermelon and Persian Feta Cubes
San Choy Bow
Vegetable Twirls


Kingfish (or oyster mushroom for the non-fish eaters among us) ceviche with avocado puree, tomato salsa, finger limes and sweet potato crisps.


Cured duck breast with cherries, potato pave, asparagus and cherry jus or
Exotic truffle mushrooms with aubergine and leek, potato pave, and mushroom jus.


Passionfruit mascarpone on tuile with tropical fruit

Coconut jelly on tuile with tropical fruit.

What we talked about

We talked for three hours, and it wasn’t long enough – our series of webisodes, which will kick off soon, will give you an insight into the personality and stories of these fascinating women.

But, to give you a sneak peek, here is some of the interesting conversation that came out of the dinner.

“Enjoy every moment of life and take every opportunity that comes your way. Be more confident about getting out there and pushing and selling yourself. Dreams and goals take hard work and motivation to achieve and only you can make them happen.” Advice to a 16 year old girl from the fascinating Vicky Kidd-Gallichan, who left a successful bridal fashion boutique in England to follow her love. She is now relishing in the chance to do what she loves while spending time with her family.

Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Indigenous Leadership Council, Rachelle Towart, is fascinating. Leaving home at 14, she has come a long way since her first jobs as a deli assistant in Cooleman Court Weston – today she is named amongst Australia’s 100 Women of Influence, has previously been awarded the Public Service Medal for her work. She is a funny woman, who is irrepressibly honest, and she fessed up to having arranged to text someone if she needed to escape this dinner party with people she had never met. “I’m so far out of my comfort zone,’ she said.

“Every day I wake up and I do the things that are truest to me. And if I start to do something or be something that isn’t innately true to who I know I am – if it feels wrong – I step away, listen to myself, and learn, ” said Rosanna Stevens, the founder of Scissors Paper Pen. The youngest of the group, Rosie is fiercely intelligent and ridiculously talented, having first been recognised for her talent at the age of 12 when she won a national writing contest.

A fascinating woman reinventing the Canberra live performance scene through Raw Artists, Sarina del Fuego has performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and most recently in La Clique in Spiegeltent. Sarina has been in Canberra for less than a year, but has made an incredible mark on our arts scene. She identified the moment that she felt that she had ‘grown up’ as when she decided to pursue her artistic career full time and not just something ‘on the side’ – lucky for us!

“We are becoming a lot more groovy, with interesting concept places opening up, with more interesting bars, restaurants and more eclectic places to shop,” according to Rachel Evagelou, the brains behind Handmade Canberra, talking about how Canberra has changed in past five years. She and her business partner, Julie Nichols, can take credit for unearthing some incredible local talent – and they are both unapologetic in their love for Canberra!

What brought Gai Brodtmann to Canberra? “I came to study politics at ANU with the original intention to stay for six months, but then I got a job and fell in love …” There seems to be a lot of that going around! Gai is an inspirational woman who truly takes pride in her role as Member for Canberra very seriously, and her passion for looking after her constituents is obvious, particularly when we talk about the current cuts to the APS. But she says she struggles with the idea of being seen as a leader, getting into politics because she loved public policy – she has, however, stepped up to the challenge.

“Who is your role model? My Mum. She is tiny, strong, determined and while, has lived a very different life to me, has given me the conviction that people are self-made and your life direction, especially in Australia where there is so much opportunity, it is up to you,” says Deborah Hill (aka Bambi von Smash’er) founder of the Canberra Roller Derby. Deb is amazing, combining being a leading force in one of Canberra’s most popular female sports, with a demanding professional role – and she also has a PhD in Thai Tattooing, something that took her nine years to achieve.

“What has been your biggest personal challenge? Being a parent and a worker.” – the ever fabulous and fascinating Carmel McGregor, Deputy Secretary Department of Defence. As a woman in a senior position in a male-dominated culture, Carmel says it ‘can be pretty lonely’. But she and Gai credit Julia Gillard with doing much to put feminism back on the agenda. “‘Feminism had slipped back,” they said “Julia brought it back as a modern movement.”

What are Trish Mackey’s dreams moving forward? I think professional writing will be more significant in my future. I want to tell stories that count.” As Principal Public Advocate for the ACT Government, Trish has accomplished a lot in her career, but she is embarking on a new chapter, as a writer. She proves that it’s never too late to pursue a dream or reinvent yourself.

Stay tuned over the coming months for what is certain to be an amazing set of videos – and also make sure you catch our Fascinating Women’s contributions to our ‘My Canberra’ series!

Who we need to thank 

This event would not be possible without the support of some amazing and generous local businesses. The lovely Sarah Bowman of Chalk Design’s for welcoming us into her home; Foodish for the incredible food – we’ll be sharing the Foodish story very soon on HerCanberra (and the amazing recipes!) Fyshwick Fresh Food Markets for supplying the amazing fresh produce and pantry items that Foodish used to create the dinner; and Craft ACT for coordinating the supply of the beautiful handcrafted servingware from some of Canberra’s top designers.

Huge thanks to the talented Richard Graham and Murray Barton of local video production company, Positive Influence, for their video work and the very lovely Beata English for her gorgeous photographs.

Last, but not least, massive gratitude to Catherine Russell, who came up with this brilliant idea and ran our social media ‘dinner party’ and Samantha Midgley, for being our interviewer with the mostest.

It was an amazing night…we’ll do it again soon! But, for now, let’s relive the night with these gorgeous pics…

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About Author

Amanda Whitley is the founder and director of HerCanberra. In her 'spare time', she instructs zumba, loves to cook (and eat), and wrangles two gorgeous little girls. She's done everything from present the tv news to operate a stop and go sign and is passionate about connecting Canberra women.

View all Amanda Whitley posts.

(5) Readers Comments

  1. Trish
    Reply →
    November 26, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    Oh WOW that looks amazing! What a brilliant thing you have created, Amanda. I can’t wait to read more, watch more from the night. Meanwhile the photographs are all stunning and you all look FABULOUS!

  2. Sarah
    Reply →
    November 26, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    Beata your photos are amazing! So privileged to have been apart of this fantastic night!

  3. November 26, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    What a wonderful night it was! So thankful to have been part of this event and to have had the opportunity to meet these fabulous and fascinating women.

  4. November 26, 2013 at 9:33 pm

    It looks like it was an amazing night! I’m really looking forward to reading more about it. We do indeed have some fascinating and awesome women here in Canberra!

  5. Catherine Russell
    Reply →
    November 27, 2013 at 10:22 am

    It was a brilliant evening – and the conversation was amazing – my take away was these were women that made life happen not let life happen to them. They had overcome some incredible barriers, were strong in themselves and their perspectives on the world and Canberra and oh so vibrant … and you should have seen the facilitator in action – the women who made connections like this possible – Amanda Whitley – from strength to fascinating strength! XX

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