She’s been around the world a couple of times or maybe more, but liquorice plant farmer Nicole Pelet has rounded up a sheep or two and a kangaroo and made her home among the gumtrees on Bauple farmland near Maryborough.
“I’ve really struggled with the heat in Australia,” she says taking off her Akubra, wiping her brow, and fanning herself in search of relief from the baking sun. “It’s so hot here. At first I would cry all the time, but I’m learning to cope. That’s what everybody does around here… just gets on with it,” she said.
Born in picturesque Lausanne, Switzerland, Nicole grew up gazing at the nearby snow-capped alps, keeping warm through icy winters in front of crackling cabin fires and slowly sipping on decadent Swiss hot chocolates. During the week, she worked in community services ensuring that hospital wards complied with stringent health regulations. But it was the weekends, when she would kick off her heels and attack the white powdered snow, that she enjoyed most.
Moving to Australia 13 years ago, Nicole now wakes up to roosters crowing at the crack of dawn, creepy crawly creatures at her doorstep, and the dry northerly wind whistling over the rolling green hills of her 40-acre liquorice plant farm at Bauple.
“I must admit, the snakes, spiders and flies were a bit of a shock to the system,” she chuckles, gently shooing away flies with tranquil ease - a skill now second nature to her.
So how exactly did this highly skilled, highflying health worker with an appetite for adventure, migrate from a winter wonderland to a farm down under?
While holidaying in Australia in 2003, Nicole met her very own Mick ‘Crocodile’ Dundee at Rainbow Beach. She found the love of her life, a ruggedly handsome Australian. Together they settled in Bauple to start a family.
“My mother thought I had lost my mind. She thought I was crazy. But I knew there was a life for me here; new adventures to have; and new challenges to face. I was excited to make something of myself in Australia,” she said.
Since moving to Bauple, Nicole has been learning how to be a fair dinkum Aussie; cooking up roasts and eating vegemite on toast. Having faced raging bushfires, flooding rains and serious drought, she now appreciates what it means to be Australian.
“I think with every challenge I’m starting to be a real Aussie,” she said.
With her husband a fly-in fly-out worker and her two young children at school, Nicole felt isolated from the Bauple community because she couldn’t speak fluent English.
“You feel very alone in the bush,” she shrugs. “It’s hard to connect with others when all you know are basic words – it’s so frustrating. I wanted to show my kids that their mum is someone who they can look up to. Life is a wonderful adventure and just because I’m 50 it doesn’t mean it’s too late to start something great.”
In 2014, to improve her English, Nicole enrolled in the Australian Government’s Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) at TAFE Queensland and hasn’t looked back.
“It was a huge confidence booster,” she said. “And I met other migrants who understood what it was like to move here from somewhere far away. They were just like me. We shared the same feelings and emotions; it was a breath of fresh air and looking back, something I really needed.”
“I was very lucky. I had so much support at TAFE Queensland, from students and teachers alike. My fabulous teacher Anne Kettle not only guided me through the course, she also made me believe in myself again – something I had left behind in Lausanne. She’s an incredible inspiration – thank you Anne.”
Nicole’s dream is to start up her own farm stay at Bauple with a liquorice theme, and has since re-enrolled at TAFE Queensland, this time in a Certificate IV in Small Business Management. “Very soon people will be able to visit and stay with us on the farm, kayak in the creek, explore the bush, and even learn all about liquorice if they want to,” she said.
Some people like their houses, with fences all around. Others live in mansions, and some beneath the ground. But Nicole, she likes the bush. With a clothesline out the back, a verandah out the front, liquorice planted in the ground and an old rocking chair.