With Mother’s Day nearby, Focus spoke to respected local parent Tonia Wheeler. She says that the credits for her well balanced children go to an amazing husband, close family and great friends.
> Where were you born?
I was born in Armidale. I went to school at Ben Venue and PLC. My mother, who was then Pam Burgess, was also educated at PLC. After school, I went to Teacher’s College. It was difficult to get a teaching job back then, so I did all sorts of work before I eventually got my first full-time teaching position in Bonshaw, on the New South Wales and Queensland border.
> Where were you teaching when you met your husband Bill?
I was teaching in Bonshaw in QLD and I had a little teacher housing home there. Jenny Robinson, Bill’s cousin (who was one of my very best friends) introduced Bill and I. Jenny claims that she has made my life as it is today (giggle).
> Tell us about your children.
We were married for two years before we had Samantha, our eldest, who just turned 20. She is in her 2nd year doing marine science at Macquarie Uni in Sydney. It only seems like yesterday when she was a curly headed little girl clinging tightly to her father as the waves came towards her, and she’s now embracing life with maturity, poise and a love of everything around her.
Nikita recently turned 18 – I can’t believe that our little entertainer is 18. From when she was a little girl until now, she has acted, danced and sung her way into all our hearts, with a passion for life and all it has to offer.
Jonathan will be 17 in August. Where is our blonde headed little boy? When Matie was born, Bill was a tad over excited and just happened to say, “My sweetness, you can have anything you want! I already had it all … and the rest is history. Matie has suddenly grown up before us and so reminds me of Bill; he always has a real twinkle in his eye – not sure where that comes from. The girls attended PLC and Jonathan is at TAS. Wonderful schools.
> Tell us about your childhood.
We grew up in Armidale, in Kirkwood St. We were overlooking a football field, but I had no interest in football whatsoever. My interest was horses, and from the time I was a tiny little girl all I wanted was a horse. They tried to make me into a ballerina, but thank goodness my sister Joey had that covered. I annoyed my parents so much and begged them for a horse. My father had horses when he was young, and eventually they gave in and they got me a little pony from the coast. It didn’t have any hair on it, as it was allergic to the mosquitoes down there.
It was only two and wasn’t yet broken in. My father knew a bit about horses, so he broke it in, with the help of Peter Jackson. We had to find somewhere to keep it, and a very good friend of Dad’s lent us a paddock, which was south of Uralla. Eventually we got the horse moved closer to town … gee, what had Dad started?
I have loved horses ever since. Horses were always a major part of my life. We eventually moved out of town, and many a happy weekend was spent riding with friends or going to shows and events with Dad; I could never have done it all without him. Mum was always so happy for us, when we were doing what we loved.
Somehow I always got what I wanted. Gee… what’s changed?
> Does Bill share your passion for horses?
Yes, but he has really only been interested mainly since he met me. He literally said one day “If I can’t beat her, I’ll join her.”
I have done a lot of dressage and show riding in my life, but not a lot of jumping. We were at a NEGS event one day, and I was riding a young horse. I was taking it very easy, and I had just arrived back from the cross country. Bill said “If you had gone any slower you would have died. You look like an old chook going around there.” He didn’t understand I was on a new horse, so I was taking things easy.
I remember jumping off the horse and throwing the reins at him and saying, “Alright smart-Alec – you do it!” And to my surprise, he did! So two years later he was out there on another horse called Bridgewater Boy, and he was coming up behind me and said, “Hurry up TJ, I’m coming up behind you and you’d better get going!”
From then on, he became a keen rider. We probably share a healthy competition, but he is way more competitive than I am!
> As a child, did you do anything special on Mother’s Day?
Mother’s Day was always very special, because Dad made it very special. Mum always came first, and one of my very dear friend’s. Dad once said, “The best thing you can do for your kids is to love their mother”. My dad was like that with my mum too. We used to make her a Mother’s Day card, and Dad would send us down town to buy her a present. We would always try and do something special.
My kids are much the same as I was; they make things special for me.
> What advice would you give other parents of teenagers?
We have managed to raise great kids so far. I’m not sure exactly why, whether it is potluck or more about good management. I think it helps if you are always there for your kids to give them advice (without being over the top).
They need healthy interests too. Music has been a very important part of the kids’ life, especially the girls. Both did music for their HSC. My children all played sports like hockey and rugby, and they have had a bit to do with Pony Club. School, I feel, plays a major role as well. They have met a lot of different people from all walks of life. I think also having the horses and other animals at home have given them a real sense of responsibility – mainly because we live on the land. They have always had their jobs to do.
> Are you proud of what your husband does?
Totally proud. When we first met, we were just drinking mates for a year. That is the funny part; I can’t really remember how we came to be together. He gave me a call when I was in Ashford and asked me out to dinner. I think that was our first real date. I remember that night – I will never forget it. He was going on about all of the things he would like to do, and I was thinking, “Gee, this fella’s going to be busy!” He has done it all but, and more. He has always had his goals, and his dad was the same.
We are very proud of Bill’s achievements as a builder. His recent project, The Tamworth Equestrian Centre, is amazing.
> Looking back on your family unit, what are you most proud of?
Just the fact that we have always been able to do a lot of things together. Bill is the one who keeps it all going for us. He has given us everything, and it was a struggle when we started. We didn’t have much as in things, but we had an amazing family and truly the greatest friends. He has just done it all.
I have been able to be there for the kids when they come home, to listen to who did what that day. I think that has been one of the key ingredients. Many times Bill may have been away for a week on end, and when he came home I could fill him in on everything the kids had been up to. He loved hearing about all that.
If I had been off working and someone else was minding our children, we might have missed some very important moments. Bill is the one though: he is the glue that keeps us all bonded.
> What part have your parents played in your children’s lives?
Well, our parents have always been there. Our children love their grandparents. John and Pam Ryan are my parents. We lived with Mum and Dad for 16 months when we moved back from Bonshaw. Samantha was born while at Mum and Dads’. Kath lived there at that time as well … what a happy time we had.
I will never forget the time Kath’s friend’s dog got Dad’s prize rooster; he came home to find poor Bill standing there with the chook in his hands! Or the time Bill left his ute out the back still running, only to find all of us standing watching it in Dad’s fence as he came back around the corner. Dad turned to Samantha and said, “Your father does some funny things.”
They would do anything and drop everything to be there for us all. Mickey, Bill’s mother, lives in Port Macquarie and makes the trip to Armidale to partake in all our special events. Laurie, Bill’s father was an engineer; he was an amazing man, who towards the end of his life did some work for Bill. He gave Bill a lot of support.
There isn’t any rivalry among our families; they all get along really well. Bill and I have wonderful parents. We have a great extended family, especially my sisters and their families and Bill’s brother and sister and families. We have an amazing circle of friends. With our family and very dear friends, even though I have just turned 50, life is all good. No … it’s all great!
> Thank you Tonia.