Ellanore, or Ellie, considers the pedals cautiously. She grips tightly to the handlebars and slowly lifts her head to look out and down the hill she’s about to cycle.
Her breath shortens. At little more than two years old, the surety of training wheels and the ever-watchful eyes of her parents, Courtney and Tom Luck, are irrelevant in this moment.
Fear begins to take over, and Courtney and Tom both know it.
“Go, Ellie, go!” They start to cheer. It’s a cheer that becomes a chant – their family chant – as they repeat it, growing in enthusiasm. “Go Ellie! Go!!!”
It’s exactly the boost Ellie needed. Her left foot pushes down, followed by her right, until she bravely lifts them both and lets her momentum downhill spin the pedals wildly, as she simply enjoys the ride.
Soon, all three are at the bottom of the hill, and the fear of a few moments earlier have completely disappeared.
The Luck family chant has worked its magic again.
It was in the spirit of this chant, and building her daughter’s own inner cheer squad, that Courtney made her submission to Antola Trading’s shirt-naming competition.
“Dirt and dust may be our makeup,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t look like a lady! This is a belief I want to instil in my daughter.”
“I want her to walk into a room and own that room, to be confident, to be the person that involves everyone, and that people want to be around.”
In its simplest form, Courtney just wants her daughter to have the self-belief to have a go.
Courtney knows while simple to state, self-belief is not a simple concept easily mastered.
Indeed, it’s a skill to be learned and relearned throughout life. Something that has to adapt and change with all the adaptations and changes we go through as we grow older, and experience different life chapters.
Right now, Ellie is in her first chapter, learning self-belief from those around her as a child with little agency. For Courtney, she’s in the middle of a much later chapter, developing a renewed belief in her abilities as a first-time parent.
“I think you definitely have to grow in your own confidence as a mother or parent as you are so aware of your own weakness, so you work harder, so they don’t have those self-doubts,” Courtney said.
“You always try harder as a person for your child. You want to be the best person. I want Ellie to think of me as her best friend; I don’t want just to be a mother, I want to be a friend.”
The basis of friendship is having shared values, and it’s easy to see Courtney and Ellie will have no issue there when it comes to their earliest memories. Both will remember childhoods spent growing up around nature – the flora and fauna of rural Australia.
For Courtney, that childhood was spent on sheep stations Yinnetharra and Mount Philips, near Mount Augustus in the Gascoying region of Western Ausralia, before her parents transitioned to beef cattle in her teenage years.
After school, Courtney continued in the same vein as her parents, working on their farm before moving to work in the Northern Territory where she met her husband, Tom. For the past four years, the pair have been contract mustering around Australia.
As a by-product of their contract work, the childhood place names are a little different for Ellie. Right now, she spends her year between Moranbah, in Queensland, the Victoria River region in the Northern Territory, and the Camperdown region on the Central Coast of New South Wales.
Courtney’s memories of her childhood are summed up as “absolutely the best”. With two sisters and a brother, she remembers constant adventures: on foot, on horse, on a bike, or in a car.
Although absent of any siblings at the moment, Ellie is experiencing her own rota of adventures. She has already gone on multiple mustering trips. She opens the dog pens and tells them off if they start barking.
“We just want Ellie to have as much time outside as possible,” Courtney said. “To know my daughter is safe in our working environment, she’s absolutely a part of everything we do.”
It’s the need to ensure Ellie’s safety that will always place Courtney as foremost a mother, and secondly a friend to her daughter (although providing a feeling of safety is undoubtedly another aspect of friendship).
But, as a mother, that feeling is concentrated. So much so that, as much as Courtney loves the fact her job affords her access to nature and a safe environment for her daughter right now, she also has a few concerns.
“I’ve been thinking about, ‘Is this an industry I want her to grow up in?’ and wondering if it’s the best choice for her and, honestly, I don’t know.
“Sometimes, I query my own destination in the industry, although there is no way I would want to be locked up in the city working nine to five.”
The mounting division between the city and country is at the heart of Courtney’s concern. And, more than that, Courtney feels people are closing themselves off, and becoming more insular.
“People just aren’t opening themselves up,” she said. “I’m not shy when you get to know me, but I can be reserved in a crowd until I feel comfortable. I get that. And, if you don’t have that person that helps you open up, it would be extremely challenging.”
The challenge of creating community and understanding is something Courtney aims to tackle with her photography business, Courtney Robinson Photography.
“Out here, there are so many things you see all the time, and then you take a photo and see what a beautiful moment it really is,” Courtney said.
“And, those beautiful moments captured are something people can relate to.”
Ellie herself acts as inspiration a lot of the time for Courtney’s photographs.
“She has no concept of skin colour, or gender. When we’ve worked remotely in the Northern Territory, where others may be standoffish to the local community, she’s given them the biggest wave.”
Apart from the divides that exist because of differing postcodes, race, culture, and absence of community, Courtney also recognises the divide between genders.
“I’m not one of those women that say, ‘Women can do everything a man can do’ because I don’t think that’s physically possible,” she said. “I’m not offended by what a man can do better.
“I’m blessed to have learnt working for people and with my own family to stand in for each other, to enhance each other’s weaknesses.”
Since Ellie’s arrival, Courtney said there’s more emphasis now on looking after her daughter.
“I can weld the dog cages. Or, I can clean the house and play with Ellie. That’s an easy decision for me – to dedicate time to the house and Ellie.
“Tom and I just work it out as we need to do. We’ve worked together long enough and know what needs to get done and the quickest way to achieve it.
“There’s definitely pressure on females to perform, unrealistically as well. It would be hard to feel you have to prove yourself simply because you are female. That’s why I put a lot of effort into making sure Ellie can be exposed to whatever she is comfortable with. Just so she can learn from it, even at this young age.”
It also helps to have Tom’s support, Courtney said.
“Tom is a great man for other boys and men to learn off: to respect women and not to make them feel like a fool, or incapable. I think that is important for any man or Dad.”
Courtney said while there are real concerns, she does believe perspectives are changing and that more and more people are being called out for those old beliefs.
“People have to change,” she said.
Courtney is sure of it, because she enshrines it every day in her roles as a mother and wife, as a woman in the agricultural industry, and as a photographer exposing others to a world unlike their own.
And, what about those looking to make their own changes today?
It comes back to the same principle as the Luck family chant: you just have to have a go, Courtney said.
“Just say yes and then figure out the rest later – if you just say yes, then you’re committed. And, the people that surround you in those situations will give you that extra bit of confidence, even if it’s your partner or child.
“You don’t need a tribe. Sometimes, a small team is just as good.”
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Story by : Megan Stafford