Cungelella Art founder Glenda McCulloch grew up in Mount Isa in a big family, as one of nine siblings – with five sisters and three brothers! Naturally, they weren’t ‘inside kids’ – their mum would often encourage them to go and entertain themselves outside, and living in the heart of Outback Queensland, there were endless things to explore.
Glenda’s childhood was filled with visits to Gregory River, and time spent ‘out bush’ soaking up the magic of Kalkatungu Country. But in addition to its cascading desert landscapes, Mt Isa also plays host to the southern hemisphere’s largest annual rodeo, with a huge ‘cowboy’ culture embedded into the tiny town’s DNA!
Going to the local rodeos was another tradition Glenda grew up, and it’s something that’s continued to shape her own family now that she’s a parent. She and her husband Matt (who’s originally from Newcastle) have recently purchased their dream 7-acre property, where the couple and their three sons are living the idyllic country lifestyle riding motorbikes, horses and chasing chickens.
Glenda shares more about her family’s country lifestyle and how it feels to raise her kids on Kalkatungu Country, in the same way she was.
Hi Glenda! Tell us a little bit about your family and how you met your husband?
I’ve been with my husband Matt for 10 years and we met in Mt Isa. He works as an electrician down in the mines here, but he’s originally from Newcastle. His work was across the road from my work, and he used to come in. So, I used to see him there briefly, but he also lived across the road from my sister – so it sorta unfolded from there.
My first son is Levi, and he’s 7. Then we’ve got Asher (5) and then we’ve got a 9-month-old boy Elijah – so it’s the three boys. I tried my third luck for a girl, but it didn’t work it out, but I’m happy being a boy mum!
You’re really close with your siblings, and work with your sisters on Cungella Art. What’s it like being in such a big family? How is it when you all come together?
It’s funny because there’s six sisters in my family and then there’s three boys, but me and my sisters, 90 per cent of our kids are boys. I think we’ve got about 15 boys between us, but my dad’s happy he got all his boys now.
Because we grew up in a family of 11, it feels normal to us to be together with all our kids. But if people came in from the outside they’d probably think ‘holy heck’. Cause our immediate get together is 30 people pretty much! So even if we’re just having a regular barbecue it’s full on. And then having mainly boys, they all love football, snakes, riding motorbikes and chasing lizards out bush, so it’s always lots of dirt and yelling and chaos I suppose!
But we love taking our kids out bush and letting them all run wild. It’s easy for us and the kids get to go and explore and run amuck – and not make a mess at home so we love it. Cause we’re Aboriginal, Pop (my dad) loves taking the kids out bush and teaching them about different things. They get to learn about different artefacts and native plants, so it’s a really good thing for us.
As a Kalkadoon woman, how do you impart cultural wisdom within your family? Does your family have any special routines or rituals that help connect your kids to their heritage?
It’s not something that we plan really, it’s just part of every day. In Mount Isa we’re surrounded by the bush anyway – you only have to go five minutes and you’re in the bush. We don’t have a ritual, but we talk about it to teach our kids and we live it every day.
How does your children’s upbringing differ from your own? What’s it like sharing your lifestyle and culture with Matt and your kids?
It’s pretty much the same. We go to the same waterholes we went to when we were kids, and where we went fishing, or if we want to go swimming when wet season comes, we go to the same spot three hours’ way up into the Gulf where we’d go swimming and camping. Even my mum and dad both went to the same places [when they were growing up], so it’s special to be able to take our kids.
[When we would go to the Gregory River as kids] we didn’t take tents or anything, we just slept in swags on the ground. I remember when we’d wake up in the morning dad would stick a couple cans up and we’d all be grabbing the rocks and trying to hit the cans. And when we went to Gregory not long ago, our kids were doing the exact same thing. My sisters and I were laughing because it was us 20 years ago.
Matt always had horses growing up and he loved the outback, that’s why he came here. Once he came to Mount Isa he ended up with horses again, and he loves going to compete in the rodeos and fishing and all that, so this suits him perfectly. And it’s good for me because I don’t have to leave my hometown!
The rodeos are big part of living in Mt Isa – what’s it like going to the rodeos now with your own family?
There are rodeos all around us and some of them might be 3 hours away, so in rodeo season every weekend we’re going to a different one, so it’s a bit of driving but we love it – we go camping and set up and matt rides and the kids ride there now too. One wants to be bull rider and I’m trying to convince them to do what their dad does [with steer wrestling and roping] because bull riding is scary!
At our new place we’ve got room for Matt’s steer wrestling horse that he uses for competing, and a roping horse, and the boys have got a pony, Peanut, and then a little black Shetland pony called Vegemite. It’s funny because we have horses called Peanut, Bubbah, and Vegemite – I always laugh because it’s like Peanut Butter and Vegemite.
At the moment we’re living in a caravan [while we wait for our house to be built] and we are straight outside in the morning. Asher is obsessed with the chooks, and as soon as he wakes up he’s like “mum we need to go to the chicken pen!” Levi is usually running to the motor bikes. Our house backs onto the Leichhardt River, so he goes out the back fence and rides up and down the river with his fishing rod.
Our kids have so much freedom here, and they learn so much. They can head down the back and catch a fish, and they love collecting eggs. They build their own little fire and cook eggs to have on bread and do it all on their own. They even ask me would you like an egg cooked! They go to school about a 10 minute drive from here, and then [my sisters and I] will usually do some painting while our kids are gone.
Is painting something you do with your kids as well?
Our kids love painting. It’s cute to see cause they’ll paint symbols that we’ve painted now, so they’ll draw little emu tracks or water holes – so they’re watching what we’re doing and learning.
What do you love most about raising a family in Mt Isa?
It just feels like home because I’ve lived here for so long. I was saying to my sister sometimes I think “what if I left Mount Isa?” and I imagine myself leaving and I’ll literally start crying! All my family is here too so it’s a good community for these kids and its perfect for us with what Matt loves doing too.
What’s your biggest wish for your kids?
Well, I really hope they don’t become bull riders! I hope they do something they love. They’re so lucky they have so much support around them. Levi says that he wants to work on a station, so if he wants to do something like that he can – hopefully it’s something that doesn’t give me a heart attack! And if they do want to be a bull rider, I’ll probably be there supporting them and having a heart attack on the inside.