The first Mrs World Australia, a law graduate and advocate for raising awareness about ovarian cancer, is to return to the New England Girls’ School as the guest of the inaugural NEGS Foundation Ball.
We speak with Carin Hillman-Varma about her time at NEGS, career, and passion for a good cause.
You were a city girl. Why did your parents choose NEGS for part of your secondary education?
I persuaded my parents to send me to NEGS, because I’d been riding since the age of about six and wanted to get out of the ‘big smoke’ and into the country to be with horses. As soon as I saw the grounds, I fell in love with the school.
What are your fond memories of the school?
One of the funniest memories I have was the time when a bunch of us walking from Saumarez boarding house to the riding school discovered teeny tiny snowflakes in each other’s hair. It hadn’t snowed once since my first semester! We were jumping up and down screaming so loud, we emptied out the entire contents of the assembly hall, which was filled with girls, onto the lawn – although by then the flakes had melted, and it was raining cold and hard.
We must have looked so ridiculous! It took less than an hour for it to get around the whole school that a bunch of Year 10 girls had completely lost the plot and were laughing and dancing in the freezing rain.
What did you do when you finished secondary school?
After I left school (and inspired by Wool Expo), I decided I was going to be a supermodel. As it turned out, supermodels averaged about 52 kilos at 5’11.
I had to rethink my strategy. I did manage to land some really fun modelling gigs and travelled to Italy and Thailand for runway shows and print media.
In 2009 you were named the inaugural Mrs World Australia. How did you became involved?
I was introduced to The Mrs World Australia pageant (now named the Mrs Australia Quest) through the online talent agency ‘starnow’. I’d always admired the international beauties gracing the stage at Miss Universe every year, but at 30, married and with a toddler, I’d well and truly missed that boat.
I wasn’t about to miss this opportunity. I was so excited to find a competition which honoured the achievements, community and charity contributions, family values AND beauty of married women.
I believe the minute you put women on the bottom shelf simply by virtue of their marital status, age and the fact they might have had a child, you’re actually saying “You don’t matter anymore” and “You’re not beautiful or relevant anymore”.
What kind of message does that send to women? To men? Women’s value doesn’t diminish after these life-changing events; it is intensified!
A life of experience is an amazing and priceless quality, and the pageant recognises and rewards those experiences and brings women together to grow from sharing them together.
Winning the title gave you the opportunity to be an ambassador for Ovarian Cancer research. What have been some of the highlights?
When I became Mrs Australia International 2010, I went to Chicago to compete in the final. Ovarian Cancer Awareness was my platform. I was overwhelmed by the amazing, accomplished and beautiful women competing. There was a point in between all the on-stage speech rehearsal where I was just talking over bagels with cream cheese and coffee (staples of the American diet) about Ovarian Cancer Australia, the networking they do to keep OC sufferers in touch and about the love and appreciation in the letters I had read from parents of young girls who had lost long battles with Ovarian Cancer, and I noticed we all had tears in our eyes.
Women in groups have a phenomenal capacity for mutual compassion and care. That was when I realised just how important this was to me.
What have you learnt about the needs for resources for Ovarian Cancer from your role?
Ovarian Cancer Australia recorded no government funding and relies on the generosity of the private and corporate sector for funding. Running the programs they do and maintaining the human connections they have created between patients is a costly exercise.
Medical research and development charities tend to get the lion’s share of funding, because ‘the cure’ is obviously the ultimate goal.
In the meantime, it’s important not to forget that plenty of women with OC won’t live to benefit from a cure, and they deserve the quality of life that is provided by a human support network designed to inform and connect women sharing the same or similar experience – Ovarian Cancer. It does play a serious and vital role in these women’s lives and those of their families. Funding is enablement.
You studied law as a mature age student. How did you juggle study, work and family?
I have a lot to thank my in-laws and my husband for when I talk about my law degree. I remember researching and typing a 5,000 word paper on ‘property in equity’ at 4am, while my two-week-old daughter slept in her bassinet next to me. I soon realised that was the easy part! It’s when they’re two or three, awake and wanting attention / that particular Wiggles DVD / a Cheesestik / to know “Why ants always follow each other around” / orange, no wait, apple, no wait, orange juice and you’re in ‘the zone’ riding an assessment deadline with about three hours sleep and more caffiene than you’d like to admit … and then an angel appears holding a bouncy ball and a scooter, full of talks about walks to the park … then silence. THAT’S how I juggled everything. I didn’t do it alone.
What are your plans for the future?
The future will certainly involve completion of my College of Law requirement, more time for my beautiful families and friends and continuing support to raise awareness about Ovarian Cancer.
Thank you Carin.