Alison Treloar (Laing) was a part of the first cohort of women to come through St Andrew’s College in 2002. In this interview, she discusses how College has changed for both men and women in many ways since she attended Drew’s, but how the supportiveness amongst peers and the intercollegiate community remains much the same. Alison also shared with us her love for the country and passion for advocating the benefits of regional and rural areas to potential “tree changers”. She has had a number of career changes, initially setting out to study a Bachelor of Exercise Science and undertaking a research internship at the AIS, changing to a Brand Ambassador & Sales Rep for niche high-quality foods & beverages, and also running her own business. Her current role at the Department of Regional NSW sees her promoting economic growth and liveability in these regional and rural areas.
Please tell us a bit more about yourself – where are you originally from and where did you grow up?
As the daughter of a rural bank manager, I spent my childhood moving around the state – Tamworth, Baradine, Newcastle, Narrabri, Murwillumbah, Glen Innes. Changing schools was challenging at the time but looking back it’s great to have been part of a number of different regional communities. With my family moving again when I was nearing the end of year 10, I began my last two years of schooling at PLC Armidale in order to maintain continuity.
You were part of the first cohort of women to come through St Andrew’s College. Could you tell us why you chose to come to St Andrew’s?
I took a year off and lived in London. When I returned I applied to a different University of Sydney college. My mother and I travelled to Sydney from our home in Kempsey for an interview, and we stayed at St Andrew’s College – at that time it was possible for the general public to rent accommodation during the holidays. My interview with the other college left me disappointed and demoralised – I didn’t get a good feeling from the student representative or the Principal. It was a chance meeting with Dr Bill Porges immediately afterwards that set me on a course of three fun-filled years as the first women at Drew’s.
How did you find your first year at College? What were the challenges and what were the best parts about the year?
I was privileged to be one of an amazing cohort of women in that first year. I believe our success was partly due to our willingness to give everything a go. It was certainly intimidating at the time, but the College did a great job of integrating women and I do think lessons were learnt – by both College management and students – from St John’s College, which went through the transition the year earlier. I felt there was a sentiment from the existing students that “we’re not sure about this, but you’re here so let’s make the most of it.”
Being involved in the first St Andrew’s College Rosebowl teams was definitely a highlight. I was fortunate the be the cox for the Fresher rowing team – none of us had much rowing experience but we had a ball learning the art down on Blackwattle Bay and surprised everyone, including ourselves when we came a close second to Women’s College. It’s great to see the Rosebowl success growing over the years. Back in 2002 every game, win or lose, was celebrated. We had some great sportswomen, but more so we had a great bunch of young women keen to give it a go with all we had, whether we’d played before or not.
How do you feel the College has changed for women since you attended?
In recent years there has been a lot of attention on the behaviour of students at University Colleges across Australia. I would like to add to my previous answer a host of other fun times we had, but we live in a newer era – the experiences, the events, the way we all socialised – are no longer acceptable, particularly surrounding alcohol and casual sexism. We were undoubtedly young adults out to have fun. The “have a go” sentiment towards sport was also applied to social gatherings, victory dinners, college traditions and so on. We undoubtedly drank way too much and both male and female students probably acted obnoxiously. But I certainly felt safe amongst my peers across the intercollegiate community, and especially amongst the older Drew’s boys. They really did look out for us girls.
Initially, you studied a Bachelor of Exercise and Sports Science and you now work for the Department of Regional NSW as a Business Development Manager. What led you to this particular career path?
I completed my Honours year whilst living in Leichhardt, after which I moved to Canberra for a 12-month research internship at the Australian Institute of Sport. The next logical path was a PhD, but that didn’t interest me much. Instead, I accepted a role as a Human Performance Scientist with the Department of Defence, and moved to Melbourne. My boyfriend at the time, now husband, moved down with me and we had a great four years living in the inner suburbs. Somewhere along the way I became disengaged with science and instead followed a passion for food. I took on a role as a Brand Ambassador and Sales Rep for niche, high-quality food and beverage producers, as well as working in a deli.
My next career move came when we moved back to regional NSW. I drew upon the stakeholder management skills I’d developed whilst at Defence and landed a job with one of Australia’s top rural and regional PR and Communication firms based locally. I had dabbled in writing whilst in Melbourne and found my groove drafting media releases for tractor companies, trucking businesses, state agricultural agencies and even the Country Women’s Association. I also wrote for a number of local publications.
Somewhere along the line I also started my own event business, offering high tea and picnic services. I was never very good at it, likely because I was juggling a few too many things, between working, writing and raising children. The process saw me join the UNE SMART Region Incubator (UNE SRI), a University of New England initiative. Despite hanging up my own business boots I stayed on with the organization and worked to support regional startups for nearly two years before starting my current role at Department of Regional NSW.
What is involved in your current role? What are the best parts and what are the challenges?
I am now working with the Department of Regional NSW as a Business Development Manager in the New England North West region. I work with local government and local businesses to promote economic growth and livability. Much of the past two months has involved providing support to apply for a number of grant funding opportunities centered around local economy growth, and community amenities and programs. There are some exciting learning challenges, most notably understanding the structures and opportunities that come with some large scale infrastructure projects that are set to benefit regional NSW, particularly the Inland Rail and a number of Special Activation Precincts (SAP) – including the Moree SAP in our region.
Having grown up in the country and returned to the country, I care deeply about rural and regional Australia. I have always said I am passionate about regional communities and this role is a great opportunity to make a genuine contribution. It’s my aim to foster and promote the benefits of regional living to potential “tree-changes” whilst advocating for all that is needed in the regions to create prosperous and thriving communities.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I love hanging out in the garden with my husband and children – seven year old twins Georgie and Tommy and five year Audrey. We love the space that Tamworth offers – never was this more evident than during the lockdowns of the past few years. I love cooking for and catching up with friends, I play social tennis very badly and try to walk up to the local lookout a couple of times a week – a favourite activity for lots of locals. Tamworth is a great place to live and raise a family.
What are you reading/ watching or listening to at the moment that you’d recommend?
I can highly recommend Stolen Focus by Johan Hari – I find reading difficult these days, and ironically Hari delves deep into how our relationship with devices is eroding our ability to concentrate on written text, among other things. I enjoy listening to the Future Women podcast and my television watching doesn’t go much further than Bluey at the moment.
Do you have any advice for current Androvians?
Don’t ever be afraid to shift paths in your life.
St Andrew’s College is celebrating 20 Years of Undergraduate Women in 2022. To mark this important milestone, we have created a range of commemorative merchandise for our community. All proceeds from the sale of these custom-made, special edition items will go towards funding the new scholarship for undergraduate women, established in 2022 to support women with financial need to attend St Andrew’s College. Take a look at the full range here.