Growing up, I was a typical suburban kid. My passion was netball and I spent as much time as possible outside throwing a ball at the brick wall in our garden. After leaving technical college, my first job was in advertising — during the 1980s (think shoulder pads, big hair and liquid lunches) — and I even gave modelling a go. Sensing there was more to life, I worked three jobs to save for a travelling adventure. Telling my mother I would be away for three months, I set off — returning six years later with a two year old.

Just a simple girl from a simple world

I once read a book that suggested we actually ‘pick' our parents. If that's the case, I picked the quintessential ‘Aussie Mum and Dad'. Mum stayed home and Dad made the bacon. Dad worked for Fibremakers, a carpet-making company, in a middle management position. His aim was to move up the corporate ladder during the week and enjoy his time off on the weekends.

I'm the youngest of their four kids, born in Knoxfield, about 30 kilometres east of the Melbourne CBD. Back in the 1970s, the suburb was semirural. Our home was a tiny green weatherboard house — only 10 squares — but it was set on a quarter-acre block of land that had previously been an orchard. It was full of fruit trees, with an abundance of fruit every year (which could have something to do with my brother needing to manually pump the septic tank every day). Uhmm … perhaps the love of fruit started here? We were outside children by necessity. Weekends were spent at the football oval for my brother, Greg, or the netball courts for my sisters and me. Our family was obsessed with sport. Netball was the one thing I was truly interested in during those years. I played and trained six days a week (even as an adult, I played netball until I stumbled into yoga at 41). Okay — healthy living and a bit of obsessiveness started to shine through during my childhood, but the availability of fruit and overachieving netball skills do not a businesswoman make.

My childhood was relatively uneventful; my siblings and I were much loved, and it was a stable upbringing. Life was simple, with not too much money being left over after the expenses were paid, so everything we did have was appreciated. I remember as a child the joy of seeing black and white television for the first time. I also remember going to the movies and watching that huge man on a horse, telling everyone how good for you it was to smoke Alpine cigarettes — as opposed to the other horrible, unhealthy cigarettes. I wasn't sold on the habit of smoking but, on the big movie screen, I did notice the vibrant green of the grass, so when I returned to the black and white television, I made a point of telling my whole family what colours we were missing.

Holidays were eight-hour road trips to Robe in South Australia, in a car without air conditioning or seatbelts. For Christmas one year, I got a bike that was second-hand with a damaged seat. (Mum told me Santa had damaged it on the way down the chimney and, of course, I believed every word because I knew Santa existed.) Looking back at my childhood, my memories are happy ones; my parents ensured we never felt like we missed out.

Even though my parents were encouraging of anything and everything we did, their aspirations for my siblings and me were minimal. Neither thought that someday we would own our own business, become a lawyer or even a doctor. This had nothing to do with not believing in us, and everything to do with expectations and our environment. My parents sent me to Knox Secondary College for two reasons: it was close to home and it had a business course. Okay, it was more of a typing course … In our neighbourhood, you completed your Leaving Certificate and then you got a really good job as a secretary, preferably in a bank. My school only went to year 11; my parents had no expectations that I would go to university. In fact, it was never discussed. Being the youngest, I could slip through the cracks. I was never the class clown or class dunce; I was smack in the middle — Miss Average. I never pushed myself too hard and rarely did my homework. How is that for dormant entrepreneurial DNA? I seemed to be always thinking, What is the point to all of this? In contrast, my older sisters, Rae and Lisa, were diligent, smart students. Not seeming to match them in potential or politeness, I was a bitter disappointment to the teachers who had taught my sisters prior to me.

My school was a technical college, focusing on practical skills like woodwork, typing, basic bookkeeping, graphics and metal work. As a result, I can type, build a solid birdhouse and do basic drafting, and I'm very handy with a soldering iron. But don't ask me the capital of Azerbaijan or where the country is located on a map!

At the age of sixteen years and ten months, I left tech school and could type 100 words per minute. At the time, I didn't realise that this was probably the most useful skill I had learned; everyone on earth was about to switch to computers. I could also handle very basic bookkeeping, which would serve me well later when Boost was without a CFO. The technical drawing class came in handy when building the birdhouse, but also when designing the first Boost Juice stores. You never know what subjects are going to be helpful in the future.

When I left school, my mother made me sit for the Commonwealth Bank test so I could get a job at the bank. She thought working in a bank would be the perfect job for me; I could think of nothing worse. My parents' plan for me was to finish school, get a good stable job, marry well, have lots of babies and live happily ever after. God forbid you not having a child by the time you were 21 (this was Mum's expiration date for starting a family). All I wanted was an adventure. But, to please Mum, I attended the Commonwealth Bank test to see if I could get a job. I doodled my way through the test and I didn't get the job (surprise, surprise).

I would like to be able to say that it was during this time that a wise teacher saw the flicker of an entrepreneurial spirit in me and encouraged me to think higher, but I would be making it up. My childhood was loving, yet simple. I was happy, but somewhere buried deep within, I knew there was a bigger point to this, that there was more to life. I just needed to figure out where and what more was.


First job, bad hair and many lessons

After turning my back on a safe bank job, I managed to get a job in advertising. My sister Rae was working for a huge ad agency at the time and she recommended I go to the employment agency she used to get her job. So, in I went, even though I had absolutely no experience. The woman I met with told me she thought she had the perfect job, and with a quick phone call she'd arranged an interview (telling my future boss I was a ‘freebie' for him and that she thought I would be perfect, even though I was a bit green). After a ten-minute interview, and answering the question on whether I made good coffee (‘Absolutely!'), I got my first job.

I was a very junior, junior (did I mention I was junior?) media assistant at an advertising agency. Advertising in the 1980s was all about short skirts, bad hair and long boozy lunches. Each Friday, lunch started at noon and ended at 5 pm. For a while, the fun in advertising significantly outweighed the boredom of my first job. (And it was a very dull job, mostly just typing little numbers into little squares, which, to be honest, after many liquid lunches, was a challenge.)

The ad agency was very advanced and had some nifty devices to help me out. They had these boxlike things called ‘Apple computers' that allowed me to do a spell check (after coming from Knox Secondary College, I thought all my dreams had come true). Three months after I started, they also purchased a brand-new machine where you could insert a photo (or whatever) in one end, and it would print out on a similar machine somewhere else. (If it was a photo, it would print out a bit grainy, but if you looked really hard you could see what it was.) They called this machine a ‘fax'. Still, the spirit within wanted more.

One of the many terrific things my mother did was to continually tell her daughters how beautiful they were. Personally, I think a degree of rose-coloured glasses was involved when she looked at us, but it was always nice to hear. While I was at school, I completed a Suzan Johnston modelling course, like my sisters had before me. Twelve months into my new job at the agency, the people who ran the course called and asked if I wanted to audition for a job promoting Australian-made products. The promotion was to be government-funded and they wanted one girl from every state. Never one to die wondering, I went to the audition — and, to my surprise, was given the role of the Victorian model. So I handed in my resignation and off I went to Brisbane to start my very short-lived stab at modelling. After settling in to Brisbane and meeting all the girls from each state, we started our ‘training'. Unfortunately, however, after about three weeks we heard the government had decided not to go ahead with the promotion — and I found myself out of a job.

Still, with the confidence I gained after getting the role, I thought, Why not try modelling more seriously? I had some photos taken and did the advertising rounds with my new photo book. It became fairly clear fairly quickly that my mother's view and reality did not quite match. Tall and thin I was; Elle Macpherson I was not. However, I did land the in-house modelling job at Adidas and made a few front covers — admittedly not the cover of Vogue; more like Greyhound News and CB Action magazine. In the end, modelling was not for me — a fact cemented after an appearance on The Bert Newton Show. I was modelling the new Olympic uniforms and went in the complete opposite direction to everyone else, tried to turn, tripped and fell. Not my finest moment and the end of a very short modelling career.

Next, it was back to the wheel of advertising for me with a job as an account coordinator. Multiple lessons were learned in this place. One senior male had octopus arms, which he used for big, long hugs and touches. When I complained to one of the bosses, I was told that I just had to put up with it (got to love the 1980s). The same male spent absolutely no time teaching me anything and kept everything regarding his work to himself. When he was sacked, I was given his accounts to run (Johnson Tiles and the SEC) and found myself way out of my depth. I tried my best to swim, but I simply did not have the experience or knowledge to do an effective job. In the end, the agency lost the accounts and I lost my job.

So there I was — 20 years old and jobless — when my friend Deborah asked me if I wanted to go travelling around the world with her. That was it. That was exactly what I wanted to do! I said I would join her, but the pull of a good party and buying new clothes meant I had very little money saved. When she packed her bags and took off without me, I knew that I had missed out. It was time to get serious so I could investigate my deep-seated knowledge that there was more. I started to work at night for two nightclubs. One was called the Chevron. If you're from Melbourne and over the age of 40, you probably remember that this was the hippest place to be — and I most likely checked your ID. I was hired as ‘The Door Bitch' (a term that was not always affectionate). The nightclub life was an eye-opener for a girl from the 'burbs. I saw all sorts of things: girls being taken out the back for a quickie, drugs and gangsters. I worked six nights a week at these clubs and got a job at a little advertising agency during the day. I was too busy working to spend any money, so rather quickly I had saved enough to start my travelling. During this period I was so determined, most nights I worked until 2 am. I remember driving home thinking that if I drove in the centre lane, I might wake up before I hit anything. Young people can be dumb and, once again, I was no exception. (I can only hope my own children are wiser than I was.)

The adventure that was supposed to last three months

At 21, with a blue backpack, $6000, a plane ticket and a determined look, I set out on my own. I can still see Mum's bewildered face as I kissed her goodbye at the airport. To this day, she still complains that I didn't turn around to wave goodbye like all the rest of the travellers; my sights were firmly set on the future. I was off to Marine County, San Francisco, to work as a camp counsellor during the American spring and summer.

The camp was for children of different backgrounds, some with health challenges. Many were deaf and in one of the sessions all the children were blind. At the camp I taught the kids about trees and nature, and how to swim, make candles and light a camp fire. At the start of the camp I had to take the children through what to do in the event of a fire or an evacuation. I also explained what they needed to always have at the bottom of their bed — a blanket, shoes and a torch. I asked at the end if anyone had any questions. A blind child lifted her hand and asked what the torch was for. I said to see in the dark, which clearly would not help this particular child; she laughed her head off at this, as did the rest of the class. Obviously, they had played this joke before, but the experience was such a great learning curve for me on how people are people. Not only did I learn a bit of American Sign Language, but I also learned patience and appreciation for what I had as I watched these children with extreme physical challenges overcome daily obstacles.

When the camp ended, I travelled with some of the camp counsellors I had befriended. We travelled up and down the California coast, hiked the Grand Canyon, sat by Lake Tahoe and eventually ended up in New York. From there, we flew to London. I found the city a bit too depressing — grey skies, little houses and lots of rain. I contacted an agency and quickly scored a job as a nanny in Le Cateau-Cambrésis, a little village in France, about two hours from Paris. It was the birthplace of Matisse and the site of much fighting during World War I.

I arrived in the village and couldn't find anyone who spoke English (or at least chose to speak it to me), except the woman I worked for. She was, not to put too fine a point on it, a cow. I was hired to look after her three children and ended up in the basement doing all the ironing and most of the cleaning; I felt like Cinderella, without my Prince Charming in the distance. She wouldn't talk to me for days on end; at other times, she would shout at me for mispronouncing the little French I knew. The kids were lovely — or at least I think they were. They spoke no English and I no French; perhaps they actually said awful things to me. I will never know. Overall, it was a horrible situation, but at the time I couldn't see many alternatives. All I could think was that I should give it my best shot. And sticking with the job was good grounding in finding solutions to problems; when you travel you have to rely on your own resources.

I had been playing Cinderella for the evil French woman for a few months when a friend from Oz called me. She was visiting her father in Munich for two weeks and invited me to meet up with her there. I was so miserable in France, I jumped at the chance. Days later I was in Munich with the one line of German I knew, ‘ein Weißbier, bitte' (which literally translates as ‘one white beer, please'). A much-needed and well-used phrase when travelling through Germany. With the same friend, I travelled on to Denmark and that's where I spent my first Christmas away from home. In Australia, my family celebrates Christmas on Christmas Day; Mum makes a big Christmas lunch and we all sit around eating and opening presents. Denmark celebrates on Christmas Eve, so my Christmas lunch there was spent in a local hotel eating a sandwich and drinking a beer. Even the white Christmas didn't lighten my mood — I'd been travelling for nearly a year and I was starting to miss home.

After Denmark money was running low. My friend and I heard there was work in the Canary Islands selling time share, so we made our way to an island called Tenerife. Tenerife was a major tourist attraction for the English; its beaches had velvet-soft, black sand attributed to the local volcano, which not everybody thought was a good thing. (Two years before the time I was there, the council thought having white sand would help tourism and dumped 200 tonnes on the beaches. Within 48 hours, the white beaches turned back into the black sandy beaches they were meant to be.) My job on the island was to get tourists to visit the timeshare resorts that were popping up everywhere. One of the many downfalls to the job was that ‘promoting' was considered illegal. ‘Illegal' in the Canary Islands was a grey area as far as I could tell. As long as the police were making money off the promoters, they turned a blind eye to the dozen or so on each corner. This is how the system worked: a police officer would issue an ‘on the spot fine' to the promoter (me), the promoter would give the police cash, the police would then give the promoter a receipt, the promoter would then take the receipt to their boss to be reimbursed for the ‘fine'.

This all appeared to be a viable way to earn money, until my friend, who was now also my flatmate, revealed her dodgy side. She and an equally dodgy policeman decided she would purchase a receipt book off him. My flatmate then used the receipts to fraudulently claim reimbursement from the timeshare company. In addition to the scam, my flatmate used the money to buy drugs, thus leaving herself with no money to pay off the policeman for his part in the arrangement. My problem wasn't that I did anything wrong, it was that I was associated with her. I knew over a dozen English friends who were arrested and held without charge for simply being in the vicinity of a pub fight. (They had done their annual ‘boys booze up' in the mountains and a fight broke out in one of the pubs. The police instructed all taxis to take anyone in the area who wanted to go to Playa de las Américas — where we lived — directly to jail. One of the lads was only fifteen.) In a country where corruption exists, association often means guilt; I was in as much hot water as my flatmate. I was facing the same fate as her if she didn't come up with the money ‘owed' to the police.

The straw that broke the camel's back was when my flatmate asked me to leave the front door to our flat open because she had lost her key. I awoke at 2 am to find a six-foot-five security guard standing next to my bed complete with baton, handcuff and a gun. One of his hands was heading under my sheet and the other was undoing his pants. You never know how you're going to react in these situations. Strangely what went through my mind at that moment was not fear — it was pure fury! Who does he think he is? How dare he touch me! Oh my God, is that a gun? — these were the outraged thoughts that were running through my head. Making a split-second decision, I yelled, ‘GET OUT!' To my surprise, he did. I kept yelling and he backed away saying something in Spanish as I stood at the front door. I slammed the door shut, returned to bed and slept. Thinking back, I can't believe that was my reaction. If asked, I would have assumed that I would be a dribbling mess at such a frighteningly close call. However, the next morning the full extent of what might have happened sank in.

After that night, with only a few days until my flatmate's debts were due to be paid back to the police, I decided it was time to leave. It was an easy decision to make, especially because my fifteen English friends were still in jail with no chance of even seeing a judge. (They'd been there for three months by this stage.) This place was not a place where you wanted to get into trouble. My flatmate decided to come with me. After living in Tenerife for four months, we hitched a ride with friends on a catamaran heading for Portugal. Ten days later, we found ourselves in the Algarve in southern Portugal. I was funding both myself and my friend, who kept promising she would pay me back, but never did. In the Algarve we came across some fellow backpackers who had just returned from the south of France. They had been working on yachts for the rich and famous and their stories convinced me this seemed like the direction to head in, so I packed my bags and headed back to France, alone.

So, I'm in Antibes, France, with $40 to my name, no ticket home and $2000 in credit card debt. (I had cashed in my return airline ticket months ago.) Yet, interestingly, I wasn't the slightest bit concerned. Was it the arrogance of youth or perhaps that I knew I would figure it out? I'm not sure — but I do know, if it was today, I would be having heart palpitations. But in 1985, I just knew all would be fine.

The south of France was magical, complete with cobblestone lanes and old men playing boules in the parks. Restaurants and cafes spilt out onto the streets and dogs sat at tables like people, eating off china plates. The quays were full of large white palace-like boats. I was off on another adventure.

At the local pub, an Englishman informed me there was a job on a boat called the Deneb Star, based in Villefranche-sur-Mer, near the border with Italy and a 20-minute train ride from Antibes. After a couple of phone calls (from a pay phone), I got an interview. I was wearing the only nice outfit I had, which just happened to be a woollen jacket with a matching woollen mini skirt. It was summer and 30°C. Unbeknown to me, the train that I hopped on was an express train to Italy (and remember — this was before the days of the EU). With no passport and no fluency in Italian, I had to convince the Italian border guards that I simply needed to get back across the border to my appointment. Many hand gestures later, I was back on the train and off to my interview.

I arrived in the beautiful village of Villefranche-sur-Mer. I had a moment of bliss, soaking up the surroundings; then I realised I had an hour's walk in my woollens around a massive castle to the quay where the boat was berthed. The bliss turned to big drops of sweat and throbbing feet. Miraculously, I arrived on time, dripping in sweat from head to toe, to meet the captain. I'm pretty sure he didn't offer me the job because he felt sorry for me in my ridiculous attire and with my red, sweaty face. I believe it just may have been the tiny, white porky pie that came blurting out of my mouth: ‘I have enormous yacht experience. I'm from Melbourne!' Suddenly, my money troubles were over. I now had accommodation, food and a job as head stewardess, all in one fell swoop. And after all, I was from Melbourne, and I had seen plenty of yachts.

The boat was 74 feet long. Think of a three-storey house with four bedrooms, a guest area and a further four bedrooms for crew. Now think of a cupboard — that's the cabin I shared with the other stewardess. The space in our cabin was about 1.5 × 2.5 metres and it was at the front of the yacht, so it was pointy in shape. It had a bunk bed about half the size of a normal single bed and the ceiling height was about 2 metres. And we had to share the tiniest wardrobe you have probably ever seen. Despite travelling in a cupboard, I was in heaven — I was on the French Riviera, cruising in a multimillion-dollar yacht. I had gone from dodging police, a potential rapist and a drug-addicted flatmate to floating in paradise.

Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll

Six weeks after I started on the Deneb Star, David Bowie (yes, the David Bowie) bought the yacht. I was sailing the Mediterranean on the luxurious boat of a bona fide celebrity. Bowie was an amazing, down-to-earth, great bloke. He spent an enormous amount of time with the crew and we were very much part of his ‘gang'. He took us to parties and was generous with his time. We cruised with him and many other rich and famous people to such events as the Cannes Film Festival and Monaco Grand Prix, and across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. We even stayed in his Bali-inspired house on Mustique Island in the West Indies.

David travelled with an entourage that included his financial adviser, Bruce Dunbar, his son, Joe, Joe's nanny, David's girlfriend and a couple of others. Just to name-drop, here are a few passengers who came on board: Robin Williams, Mick Jagger, Eric Idle, Steve Martin and Michael Caine. This time in David's life was family time; there were actually no drunken parties, drugs or sex (although that doesn't include the fact that he sunbaked naked on the top of the yacht). There was, however, a lot of rock and roll. At the time, Bowie was starting a new band called Tin Machine, which meant a great deal of time was spent practising. During the day-to-day routine of life on the yacht, I would honestly forget that he was the David Bowie, although one day he was warming up with Space Oddity and my mouth just dropped. I then said out loud, to no-one in particular, ‘That is David Bowie!' (For the record, Bowie was a beautiful person who kept his feet on the ground. And if you want to know why Bowie has two differently coloured eyes, it's because he and his best friend were in a fight at school and the damaged eye was the result.)

Working on David's boat sounds glamorous, and at times it was, but it was also really hard work. We would have back-to-back charters for four months, which meant that you worked those months without a break. I needed to be available 24 hours a day and the job involved everything from cleaning silverware and the toilet to organising the helicopter to take guests out to dinner. While it was very glamorous to fall asleep in France and wake up in Monaco, the sea sickness was not. At times you wished someone would throw you overboard. And I won't go into the gory details regarding a very large man who managed to destroy the toilet, leaving whatever had just left his body all over the walls and roof — aargh, not glamorous.

Some of the wealthiest people in the world hired the yacht, and I wasn't too sure what to expect from them when I first started. I knew from my upbringing that people with money were ‘not us'. My gran experienced the Great Depression and worked as a cleaner — in her mind, if we got a job at Myer, we were doing exceptionally well. She believed we should never get above ourselves. (As I mentioned earlier, years later, when Boost started to get off the ground, she couldn't get her head around her granddaughter running the business. Gran was convinced that the part-time bookkeeper was the person I worked for — because who would listen to Janine?)

Meeting the rich and famous was great fun and a significant learning experience, especially about people. Most people who came on the yacht were lovely, like David Bowie; others thought they were superior to the rest of the human race.

On board, we had guests whose attitude ranged from ‘show us where the fridge is and leave us alone', to those who would send a boiled egg back because it was too hot. We once had a group of Americans on board and their kids were obnoxious. They thought they were better than everyone and treated all the staff like dirt. On the flip side, we had one of the wealthiest men in Kuwait as a guest, and his son was a lovely young man. The father asked me to type up a list of expenses for his son who was off to college in the United States. I was expecting to read that his son was allowed a fortune. To my surprise, his expenses were moderate. In fact, for the son to survive, he would have to get a part-time job.

After two years and a great deal of fun and hard work, I left the Deneb Star. I was seeing the engineer on the yacht at the time and we both left to work on another yacht with him as captain (this yacht was anchored in Monaco). We purchased a property in Valbonne, a lovely village just outside of Antibes, paying way too much for the house because we had no idea what we were doing — and it didn't help that my French was far from perfect. A few months later, I found out that I was pregnant. Sadly, I realised that I wasn't in love with this engineer; I knew that he was not my future. Although the pregnancy was not planned, I gave it a couple of years to see if I could learn to love him. But he just was not ‘the one', so we discussed it and I told him that it was time for my son and me to leave. It was as amicable a separation as you could possibly want. We had a beautiful friendship and he is a lovely man; he was just not my man.

In 1993, I turned to the first love of my life, my two-year-old son, Samuel, took his hand in mine and headed back to Australia. It took me 35 hours of travel and I had nothing but the clothes in our suitcases. Financially, the house we had purchased was not worth what we paid for it, leaving me without a cent to my name. My dear friends in France lent me the money to return to Australia. I felt like a failure — I was 27 years old and going home to live with my parents until I got myself back on my feet.

Landing back in Oz with a thud

Back in Australia after my travels, and feeling like a failure, it seemed the party was well and truly over. Finding a secure job and supporting my son was now my biggest priority, even if I had to finesse my CV a little to come up with relevant skills. Sink or swim? I swam like crazy.


During my time on David Bowie's boat, I met a film producer named David Puttnam (referred to now as Lord David Puttnam; two of the many films he produced were Chariots of Fire and Midnight Express). At the time he was a director on the board of Village Roadshow. He told me that he knew Graham Burke at Village and that if I ever needed a job to contact him and he would set up an interview with Graham. Little did I know that Mr Burke was the CEO!

Regardless, I did get an interview with Graham and he was delightful — and I found myself with a job as a junior manager at Village Cinemas Knox City, not far from where I grew up. I did think it was strange that they didn't read my beautifully presented CV, or notice that I may have exaggerated the emphasis on my ‘leadership' skills, but I found out later that Graham was simply doing David Puttnam a favour. I took the job happily and worked my butt off. I owed it to David Puttnam and Graham to prove that I was worth the punt.

Even though I had never been a manager of anything before, as it turned out, I was good at it. At Village Cinemas Knox City, I worked with a small management team of three. I ran the marketing, a woman named Robyn headed up accounts and Sylvan was operational. Between us, the cinema did exceptionally well. We did so well that after six months I was transferred to run my own cinema in Frankston. That was a real eye-opener — the cinema was dark and smelly, and the curtains were infested with spiders. It was a challenge to say the least; completely unloved when I took it over, the cinema could not have been in worse shape. My first priority was to clean the place up; after that, there were bigger issues to tackle.

Spiders aside, one of the scariest aspects of the job was the accounting system. At the nice, new, shiny cinema I was used to, everything was automated. I could push a button and the accounts would magically appear. When I got to Frankston, I didn't even get a handover. I was presented with a key to the front door, a manual ledger and that was it — I had to just figure it out. Sink or swim? I decided to see it as a fantastic learning experience. Again, I got to work and within four months the cinema turned a profit for the first time in years; it was exhilarating.

The Frankston cinema was an excellent development ground for my marketing skills because I was so unconstrained there. I could try pretty much anything, and I did. I set up a movie club, sent a staff member out each week to put up as many posters as possible, used promotional material to create competitions and established loyalty programs. It doesn't sound too extraordinary now, but at the time no-one else was doing it, so it set us apart. It was like running my own small business in a regional area. Instead of seeking permission to do things, I simply went ahead and did them. There was no assistance, no manuals, no occupational health and safety policy — absolutely nothing. It was challenging but definitely rewarding.

I was, however, on a very minimal salary. I had recently bought a tiny house in Ringwood East (very tiny — it was built behind another house), borrowing money from the bank to do so. I did my sums and, on my salary, I could just afford the mortgage — and it would only take me a mere 25 years to pay off. After completing my budget, I discovered if I was very tight with my money, I could save $50 per month.

The house was close to my mum's house, so I could drop Samuel off in the morning and then make my way to work. With driving an hour each way to and from work, the time spent with my son during the week was a quick morning rush and a cuddle at night — thank goodness for weekends. So along with the long hours came the guilt. It was a new era for me. Gone was the freedom of letting life take me wherever it wanted. I was now responsible for another human being and the weight of this responsibility was never far from my thoughts.

Finding out what I'm made of

I'd worked for 14 months with Village in Australia when an opportunity arose in Singapore to assist in growing the cinemas there. With my three year old under my arm and a bewildered look again on my mother's face, I went to Singapore to start another adventure. When I returned home 12 months later, I was a basket case. I was burned out to a crisp. So what went wrong?

It turned out that the standard working week was six days and I worked between nine and 12 hours a day. Given my work schedule, one of the biggest challenges I faced was finding suitable care for Samuel during the day. After hearing horror stories about some of the local nannies, I ended up ringing my cousin Rachel, who was 19 at the time. The company flew her over from Australia to be my son's nanny. Even with her there, I was still doing two jobs — working for Village and raising my son, Samuel, without the support of other extended family such as my mum.

I also hadn't done my research about my finances. I was so flattered by the opportunity, I didn't realise that I would be even more financially constrained living in Singapore than in Melbourne. The stress and the hours simply took their toll; I became an emotional wreck. Also, I wasn't prepared for the isolation I felt in Singapore. The expat community can be a wonderful support network, or it can make a place feel like the smallest town in the world. Everyone knows your business and feels they have a right to an opinion on you.

It was tough but, having said all that, at the same time it was exciting doing business in another country with all the differences in cultures. And Singapore taught me an enormous amount and was a great grounding for my future with Boost. Often in business and life the lessons you learn from your negative experiences have more of an impact than the positive experiences. Take, for example, my direct boss in Singapore, who was not as warm and welcoming as she could have been. Or my senior boss who, upon first meeting, said my shirt was inappropriate for the workplace. We were making massive improvements and increasing profit, yet his only comment was a derogatory one about my choice of clothing (which was, by the way, a business-style, sleeveless shirt). I vowed that day I would never judge people for what they wear but, rather, only by what they can deliver to the business.

Through networking in Singapore I landed a job back in Melbourne, as a publicist with United International Pictures (UIP). I wanted a role where I wouldn't have to work nights and could have my weekends back to spend with Samuel. I'd never had a job in public relations — like all the jobs I'd had thus far, I wasn't qualified for this one either. However, my marketing background was strong and my portfolio of promotions work showed the UIP interviewers that I had the necessary skill set, even if I'd never had the title. So, one year after moving to Singapore, Samuel and I returned to Melbourne. This was a great time to be at UIP and, as on David Bowie's yacht, I was once again surrounded by movie stars. My overseas adventure had ended but a new one was about to begin.

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