• Helen Ferguson

Essential Beginnings

Rel - Small Business Owner, Essential Oils

Rel is 54.

She spends her life surrounded by an intricate, multi-generational network of women.

She has a strong group of female friends, some dating back to her early school days.

I count myself as lucky to be one of the friends that came into her life 13 years ago through our pre-school children growing up together.

She is in close and constant contact with her Mother, her sisters, her adult daughter, her cousins and nieces. It’s a magnificent array of female influence, opinion and support.

She is the 3rd of 6 girls born into a family with an Anglo/Scottish heritage.

Spending the first 8 years of her life in rural Moss Vale, NSW.

Rel remembers clearly when her parents' marriage ended.

Mum moved herself and the children away from their Father and family home, to Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs to live with their maternal Grandparents.

The family was raised Catholic by Mum, who, to this day, is a practicing Catholic.

Rel calls to mind being dragged to church every Sunday as kids, and then when they were old enough to make their own decisions, taking a step back from religion.

As a mark of respect now, as an adult, she will accompany her Mum to Mass when she is visiting.

When I asked if I could interview her for ‘Her Middle Age’, she was open and willing to help me with my project. The prospect of being asked questions about her upbringing and her life’s path prompted her to examine some of her influences.

She holds dear that she and her sisters were all raised to feel that they could do whatever they wanted to do with their lives.

They never felt that they ‘needed’ a man to progress in life.

The family doctrine was ‘If you want to do something, and you don’t know how; figure it out’.

The girls and their Mum were a tight knit unit for 4 years and then their Mum remarried.

How did you girls react to that? Was that a welcome development?

Yes! Very welcome.

Looking back we all think he must have been crazy to take on a woman with 5 kids, some about to head into their teens!

He’s lovely, extremely supportive.

We were very happy about it.

At least I was at first, until I became a proper teenager!!

He’s still an active Father figure in our lives.

Who were the Leader Women in your life?

Definitely Mum.

As far as I was concerned, everything that she said was correct.

It shocked me when I got older to think that she might not be right about everything!

What was your view of Middle Aged women as a girl?

Middle Aged women in my view, were probably only in their 30’s!

I realise now how young they were.

I think we were quite naive kids compared to children today.

We just weren’t involved in the adult world, so I didn’t really pay attention to who was middle aged and who wasn’t. For a large part they weren’t really involved in our lives either.

We just did as we were told when it mattered.

I definitely looked up to older women in a respectful way.

Now, when I look back I can’t believe what their generation did.

My Mum had 6 kids at 30 and my eldest daughter is 31 with no children, and that’s fine.

Did you have any female role models, outside of your family and friends?

I’ve been thinking about this, and there weren’t many.

Adults and kids tended to keep pretty separate and we thought that adults’ conversations and interests were boring usually.

One of my friends had a gorgeous Mum that I admired though.

She was good to be around, always a very hands on Mum to her 7 kids.

She was always baking, and I really love to bake too.

She seemed to be continually available to her children and their friends.

I always wanted to be a Mum, and she seemed to be the type of Mum I’d aspire to being.

Who else?

Another lady in Her Middle Age that I learned a lot from was in my first ever role in the Real Estate sector. She owned the agency and she taught me how to run an office from the ground up.

This was when the internet and the digital revolution was just really starting to happen in business, so she had me learning so much that put me on a career track for years.

When you look back at these women, do you see any similarities between them and yourself now in your Middle Age?

To be honest I don’t compare myself to people in that way.

I’ve just done what I’ve done.

I’m just who and what I am.

I look at my Mum, she is such a good Mother and I try to be like her as a parent.

My Mum was so independent and that was just what I knew.

I don’t compare myself to other women and judge my life next to theirs.

The adults in my life didn’t compare me to others, or place any expectations on me,

so I didn’t learn to do that.

I just learned to pursue what I wanted in life.

What were your ambitions or driving forces?

When I was 17, my Mum and Stepdad moved up to Queensland, with my younger siblings.

I stayed in Sydney, as did my older sisters.

I could have gone with them, but why would I?

I could stay in Sydney and do what I want!!

I had left school, so I just moved out of home, got an office job in Admin and started my adult life.

I lived day to day, there wasn’t really a plan behind it.

At 17, effectively all on my own, I got a bit lost.

I started going into the City with my two older sisters, partying too much and found myself drinking every day. I didn’t know how to organise my money, or any part of my life.

I was quite shy, with little self-confidence and I found that drinking relaxed me.

In the early days of my working life, I didn’t have any specific goals.

I left school after year 10 and did a secretarial course.

Over time, with each new role I became a good organiser and gained strong administration skills.

Eventually I went on to become an Office Manager and Project Manager as my career grew, but I hadn’t foreseen or planned that.

I grew into my skill set and my strengths.

Were there any family expectations for your working life?

No, just to be anything you want to be, do what you want to do to be happy.

Stand on your own two feet and make a life that suits you.

Were there any big transitions that changed the direction of your life?

When I was 19, I was feeling lost and knew I had to make a change.

I decided to move up to Queensland to be with my parents.

I’d hit a wall.

I’d been living alone in Sydney with no life skills, just drinking each day.

It all became too hard.

The turning point was when I had lost my job, I made a decision on the spot that I needed to move to Mum, go Inter-state to find my feet again.

Mum was so excited and happy to have me come up to rejoin the family.

It was a great decision.

Where did your life take you once you were surrounded by family again?

We did everything together. Sporting commitments, Tuck Shop Duty, no matter what, I just got involved in the nitty gritty of family life.

Even if I had a hangover! Well I was still young enough to enjoy the night life!!! (giggles)

I was there, being an active part of the routine.

I started dating a man, and after 3 months together I realised I was pregnant, aged 21.

I was overjoyed because I was going to be a Mum.

I had always wanted to be a Mum; you know, ‘get married, have children’.

My Mum and Stepdad were great and incredibly supportive.

I just went with the flow, this was going to be the next stage of my life.

As a couple, we only lasted 12 months with the baby.

Separating was realistically for the best - having a relationship was alien to both of us.

It was a disappointment though, out of home, with a baby, I felt lost again, unsettled.

I was pretty relaxed about having a 4 year old by the time I was 25, but I did struggle with managing the complexities of co-parenting with my Ex.

I’m a laid back personality overall, so just went through and dealt with whatever happened to me.

When I was 26 I reconnected with an old friend and moved to Huon Valley in Tasmania with my 5 year old, to pursue a relationship with him.

We had a 2 year relationship and I immersed myself in the country lifestyle.

It was a positive experience and I learned some useful life lessons.

I also had 3 years as a single Mum in Tasmania before moving back to Sydney.

What age were you when you realised you were Middle Aged?

In my late 40’s. Pretty much when my body started playing up!!

I had my 3rd child when I was 40 and that’s hard on the body.

Different things started aching and needing medical attention.

Having young children is a physical load whatever your age, but you really feel it in your 40’s.

Did you ever imagine what your life might look like as a Middle Aged Woman?

Are you anywhere near that?

Yes, I did, and I feel that I’m in a good place.

I’m married now and happy in our marriage.

We’ve had 2 children together and we both have children from our earlier relationships.

We finally bought our first house together last year, which had been a struggle.

Our home is in the area where my roots have always been.

It’s good to have been able to stay rooted in the area.

Looking Forward

What is next for you?

At the beginning of the Covid mayhem, I lost my job in a Real Estate business.

I’m happy to keep working for years, I wasn’t ready to stop altogether, but I had been thinking about what my next steps might be. I was feeling it was time to build something of my own, so Covid and isolating at home moved me forward really.

I remember speaking to you on the phone around that time and you were toying with the idea of Doggy Daycare!!!


I’d just had a shoulder reconstruction surgery and walking and lifting dogs really wasn’t feasible.

I was at home recuperating, I’d lost my job, I had time to focus on what I could realistically do, and what would make me happy.

How did you arrive at your business idea?

My close friend and I decided to start a business together, something that we could grow from scratch, so we started brainstorming. We had both been working 3 days per week before Covid, since we have young families that need us, so we had to factor that into our plans.

She’d been making candles for years. I had been wanting to start producing beautiful Bath Salts but never did anything about it! It is so hard to find nice bath salts these days, everything is shower gels.

I had been using Natural Essential Oils at home for my family for years. My eldest daughter got me into it. She would mix blends together for aromatic purposes, or for natural health remedies for headaches and stress. She’d put blends into roller bottles for me and the younger children, and I really enjoyed using them. I’d be sending her messages saying

“I absolutely love these oils! I love them, my headache has gone!”

That's what got me started, and in turn that’s what got us looking in that direction for our business.

One of our inspirations around that idea was that some of our nieces and sisters have young babies, and people are paying fortunes for natural products for Mums and Bubs, so one thing led to another.

Before you know it we had set 3 days a week aside and said

“Ok, let’s do this, let’s do it properly. 3 days a week we are at work in this business, this is our job!”

We were both so excited and dedicated to the idea.

Explain your Business name to me.

Essential Beginnings


Essential Oils and it’s a new Beginning for us, so we came up with Essential Beginnings.

It’s a new focus and a new partnership for us, built on a very long friendship.

All of the products that we make are developed from our own recipes, you won’t get these anywhere else. I’m extremely proud of that.

What have you enjoyed about the process so far?

Through all of the brainstorming and debates, we’ve had so much fun.

Just spending time together working towards the same goal, we’ve been laughing,

taking the mickey out of each other.

It’s been great.

Rel and Business Partner, Paula

What has frustrated you?

Just not knowing how to do things! (laughing and shaking her head)

Being Middle Aged means some of the technical side has been a massive learning curve.

We’ve been laughing at ourselves and how much we don’t know. We haven’t grown up in the digital world the way kids who used computers at school have.

Building a website from scratch!

Oh My God!

Learning Instagram!!! (@essentialbeginningsoils)

Actually that really did our heads in!

Suddenly having to do things on a phone, instead of a big screen and a keyboard.

Not having really used Instagram at all before then, so not understanding what people wanted from it.

I’ve worked in offices all my life.

I have learned many new programmes and also taught programmes to others.

If I didn’t understand things right away, I could make notes, nut it out and bit by bit, get on top of things.

With Essential Beginnings, the stakes were higher.

It was our creation, and time was ticking.

We wanted to launch.

My 30 year old daughter runs our Instagram for us now so that we can concentrate on the actual business side. I didn’t want her to roll her eyes and get frustrated with her old Mum not understanding things, because I’ve always been able to figure things out for myself.

She’s been really patient with me and reassuring.

She is helping us out because she is passionate about essential oils and wants to see me succeed (and she knows what she is doing!), she isn’t officially part of the business.

Rel and eldest daughter, Samantha

Sometimes you do have to accept that something is not your strength, and you need to ask for help.

I don’t do that very often though.

When you look at what you’ve created so far, even at this early stage, is there anything that you would do differently?

No, I’m so proud of what we’ve done so far. I often look at my business partner and say “look what we’ve accomplished in 2 or 3 months, we are awesome!”

We’ve done loads!

The feedback that we’re getting has been so positive; people love the look of the products, the feel and quality of them. It’s really encouraging.

Where is the business up to at the moment?

It’s so exciting: We’ve started to get our pieces into some shops!!

A shop in Windsor (NSW) called Rustic Rose Refurbs,

who stock only Australian made, handmade products,

have taken our products on consignment.

So that’s an opportunity!

Also, the Ugg Shop at Westfield Miranda has a baby section, and they are taking in our ‘Baby Bundle’

So at the moment we are figuring out pricing for wholesale, which we never really anticipated at the beginning.

It’s a bit surreal to go into a shop and see your product just sitting there on a shelf!

We just thought we’d be an online business, these opportunities have taken us by surprise, but it’s fantastic. We’re constantly learning.

We’re refining our packaging too, so we know that things will develop with experience and when we have the budget to make changes.

How did it feel when you made your first sale?

Oh wow!

My sister was being gorgeous and saying “I’m going to be your first customer”, and then when we went live, my business partner’s niece beat her to it!

But every sale is exciting. When the website pings, it’s so good.

What are you looking forward to?

I’m glad I’m running my own show, with the business. I’m so relieved not to be working for other people.

What are you hoping for as you progress through your Middle Age, into your late 50’s, early 60’s?

I’m planning to be financially stable enough to be able to choose what I want to do.

Our business will be successful enough to employ people, allowing us time.

More time to be with our families.

Time to have choices, and freedom.

Where are you on that track at the moment?

At the beginning! (laughs)

Well, we do have time for our family. We always make time for our family, but we are putting a lot of time into the business at the moment. We’re trying to be strict about the 3 days, as we have family commitments, and households to run…..maybe the household isn’t running too great at the moment!

What do you wish people understood about being a Middle Aged woman?

Oh Jeez!!

All of the medical and physical side of things, everything that we go through as women!

There is so much that we cope with; Periods, Babies… if that isn’t traumatic enough,

then you go through menopause.

You have so many balls in the air and your body is always demanding something from you, when you’re a woman.

Then there is your mind: you’ve got a house to run, you’ve got a business or a work role to run, you’ve got the kids and their education, their lives, their worries.

You’ve got to be sympathetic, understanding, have empathy, be sensitive, you’ve got to be happy and supportive, gentle, tough, a multi-tasker.

The whole thing!

All of that is on your shoulders.

All of this whilst dealing with your own stuff; your own medical issues, your own mental health.

Everyone else comes first, and it seems amplified in middle age. Your children going through the teen years, your parents going through their aged years.

As women we just take it all on, and that's just what is expected.

We’re always managing the calendar and the job list.

What frustrates you most about being a Middle Aged woman?

My body.

My body just isn’t what it was.

I’m not talking from a vanity point of view. It’s not about the wrinkles or the waistline.

It’s about the aches and pains. My knees are going, I can’t get off the floor like I used to.

I can’t bend down like I did.

Everybody has their own version of it.

It’s frustrating.

What Advice would you give to 20 year old Rel?

It always comes back to confidence. Have more self-confidence, believe in yourself.

20 year old Rel had no idea what she was capable of.

But please, have fun, enjoy your life, don’t take everything too seriously.

Finally, what is your Superpower?

Being a Mum.

There are always challenges there, but hopefully, I think I’m a good Mum, doing a good job.

I look at my son; I’m so proud of him and his attitude towards women. He’s going to be a good man.

Both of my daughters are very independent and know what they want in life.

I love that.

Oh! And organisation! I know I can do whatever I want to get done.

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