“The world stops when you’re shearing,” jokes Michelle McGillivray from her farm, located twenty minutes from Moora in Western Australia.
When she’s not busy managing the farm and chatting with shearers, Michelle is an artist. She specialises in creating large outdoor sculptures from papier-mâché.
She is also a valued member of MSWA’s fundraising community and regularly hosts events that combine three big loves in her life – her art, the farm and eating cake.
Michelle has always been crafty and in particular, loved to sew when her kids were young. When multiple sclerosis (MS) led to a weakness in her left side, she began favouring crafts that didn’t require the use of two hands.
“Papier-mâché is really forgiving,” explains Michelle.
Michelle was diagnosed with MS one month after her fiftieth birthday. An MRI confirmed that the weakness and loss of balance Michelle had been experiencing were symptoms of this neurological condition.
“It is what it is,” explains Michelle, with her trademark good-humour. “I can’t change it. I used to be a state netballer, now I can’t even run!” she laughs. “But I’m at home on my farm and I love it!”
Michelle is grateful to have her husband Ian, their three children, and other family members for support. Not to mention the support of the local community, who know to match Michelle’s good-humour when it comes to her neurological condition.
“Everyone in town knows that if they see me wobble or fall over, they pick me up and we have a laugh
This community support extends to attendance at yearly fundraising events on Michelle and Ian’s farm.
“I do something different every year,” explains Michelle. “It usually involves a Devonshire tea. Last year I made and sold little papier-mâché birds to raise money for MSWA. I have a lot of regulars who come out to show their support and donate. People around here are really good.”
Sculptures by the Paddock, September 2020.
In 2020, Michelle went bigger and better than ever, hosting a fundraising event she titled ‘Sculptures by the Paddock’.
“For $15 a head, people came to have a cuppa and some baked goodies, wander around my garden and see my papier-mâché sculptures.
“If I do say so myself, it was a bloody good day!” laughs Michelle.
There were 12 sculptures in total – some old, some new, some small, some huge. Michelle waterproofs her sculptures in marine varnish, and there were two on display that have been in her garden for 10 years.
Michelle’s garden was also an attraction, particularly because everything sprouted earlier than usual, and the plum trees were in full blossom.
Guests were also treated to a live shearing demonstration in the shearing shed.
“My sister came up from Mundijong,” says Michelle. “She was in the kitchen all day doing dishes and preparing food. She was amazing. I was so busy answering questions and talking to all the ladies who came along.”
A special mention also goes to Michelle’s husband Ian, who on the night prior was out battling the mosquitoes to get all the sculptures in position, with Michelle shouting instructions from the verandah.
$1,625 raised for MSWA
Sculptures by the Paddock raised $875 at the door and Michelle recalls her astonishment that, when her shearing squad heard what she was up to, they pooled together to donate a further $750.
For Michelle, the fact that MSWA contributes significant amounts to neurological research is important. She says she is realistic about a cure, but hopes for a deeper scientific understanding of MS. “There’s still so much they don’t know,” she says.
Michelle is already thinking about her next event. “I’ve been trying to think how to top it next year, I think I’ll get someone out here to do a talk, but I’m not sure who yet. I’m open to suggestions!
“It was just a bloody good day!” Michelle laughs.
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