When you first meet Sherlie McMillan you’re instantly bowled over by her disarming warmth, infectious laughter and wicked sense of humour.
During the last Covid restrictions, when only 10 were allowed into the Rotary meeting room at the Blackheath Golf and Community Club, Sherlie’s laughter rang out from ‘the naughty table’ that met outside in the dining room.
Christina Jackson and Sherlie at the 2019 Rotary District Conference in Newcastle
But don’t underestimate the hard work, strength of character and resilience that underpins her ‘joie de vivre’! In the ten years since the 2011 Christchurch earthquake severely damaged her house, and caused a lot of her friends to leave the City, Sherlie has ‘pivoted’ many times.
After a long career as a pattern maker, in which she worked for the Canterbury Clothing Company (CCC) in Auckland, and taught computerized pattern making at the Polytech and the Design and Art College, Sherlie worked as a carer while she rebuilt her house in the aftermath of the quake. She then eventually followed her three sons to Australia.
Sherlie and one of her sons, William Lewis
Ironically, not long after arriving, she had to confront the fires which made her more nervous than the earthquakes she grew up with in New Zealand.
Having now learnt to live with fire (albeit it nervously) her focus has also continued to change. While she moved her massive pattern making equipment to Australia four and half years ago (it’s so large she uses a ‘rat’ not a ‘mouse’ to digitally draw up her full-size patterns for anything from yacht sails to horse covers to clothing!) her main passion now is helping to set up the inspiring Blue Mountains Women’s Shed.
Teaching pattern making for the Blue Mountains Women’s Shed (via their FB page)
“When I was at High School I wanted to do woodwork and wasn’t allowed to. Not that we only do woodwork, we do all sorts of things. I’ve taught pattern-making, setting up sewing machines, basic sewing skills, mosaics, acrylic paint pouring. So there’s a lot of other things, but for me it was learning how to use tools properly and we’ve taught things like how to maintain and use chainsaws, to drills and circular saws and all sorts of things like that.”
Using a circular saw at the Blue Mountains Women’s Shed (via their FB page)
Sherlie’s currently the Vice President of the Women’s Shed and works closely with President Karen Stevenson. It’s taken dedication and a long-term commitment to become incorporated as a NFP organization, find a venue, gather equipment, and develop programs of activities. In the past year she ran workshops under gazebos throughout the Mountains to create a number of Kids’ Street Libraries, but now classes are being held at the Central Blue Men’s Shed at Kihilla in Lawson on Mondays from 10am-12noon.
One of the things she’s proudest of is that they’ve created a proper fully enclosed workman’s trailer (7’ x 7’ x 5’) with tools and a generator which gives them complete off-grid capability and will allow them offer workshops throughout the Mountains.
From the moment she arrived in Australia she’s had to work to create a new community of friends.
One of the reasons she loves the Women’s Shed is the community that is growing up around it. There are now 1.5K members of the Blue Mountains Women’s Shed Facebook group!
Sherlie connects with community and raises funds for both Rotary and the Blue Mountains Women’s Shed through Sausage Sizzles at Bunnings
“When I first came here I didn’t know anyone so I went online and joined Meet Up Groups in Sydney. I’m still friends with people I met through a Coffee Group, a Book Club and a Women’s group. (https://www.meetup.com/)
Even before moving to Blackheath from Lawson she also joined Blackheath’s Welcome Table and later she joined the Rotary Club of Blackheath.
So, for someone so gregarious, how did she cope with Lockdown?
Turns out the hardest thing was not being able to give people a hug!
While she’s very happy with her own company, the extended Lockdown did make her flat at times so she just gave herself permission to lie in, rest and not do anything … even just pop in a bath to relax!
“I always find nature is fabulous. One of my favourite places to go is down the Megalong Valley because that feels like New Zealand to me. I get out and I do biking … I go for walks in nature … I go and sit on a rock and watch the sunset.”
I asked her for a word of advice for young people who might be finding life challenging.
“Just be open to talking to anybody because people are interesting in general and I find people here amazingly nice. You can go and sit down and have a coffee in the village and always find someone to talk to.”
“Also find what makes you happy, then join in with other people that are like-minded. There are so many things you can join in …. and look for the good in everybody.”
“I’ve found people in Australia really friendly – except for being rude about my accent (mainly at Rotary!)”