March 8, 2020
People & Places

“If your gut is telling you something isn’t right, trust that instinct”

She’s been a PR operative, worked in radio and now owns multiple businesses, with a focus on organic living. Adelaide's Lee Boys does things her own way.

I grew up in Blackwood in the Adelaide Hills, where my younger years were spent with my dad Ronnie in the garage, cutting wood, working on cars or annoying my brother, Jamie. I was very much the tomboy; I still love the smell of sawdust and engine oil. I just loved working things out, problem-solving I suppose, and Dad never did the gender stereotypical thing. He just said “here’s a hammer and here’s how you use it properly”. I never wore shoes: I actually used to bury them so I didn’t have to wear them. I’m still a tomboy and I still love to annoy all four of my brothers.

My mum Sue was tough, but so much fun. You know, the painful one that everyone’s friends adore and it’s kind of not cool to be “that kid with the cool mum”, but secretly you’re super proud that she is so awesome. She remains the same now, she is way cooler than I could ever be. I had a really open, caring upbringing; our house was always full of friends and laughter and always at least one stray person – someone who needed a place to crash or somewhere to spend Christmas.

Lee Boys at the Organik Store. Photo: Tony Lewis/Solstice Media

My dad was a massive joker who used to annoy the shit out of Mum. He was joking around one day, squirting the hose through the window into the house, and I was watching him through the window when I saw him fall over. We thought he was playing another joke. Mum pretty much carried him to the car and we went to the doctors, before he was rushed by ambulance to the hospital where he survived for four days. He had suffered a massive aortic aneurysm. I got to see him once before he passed. Mum was only 28, and all of a sudden she was a widow with two brats to look after. I was a handful that’s for sure, angry with the world after that. Mum was amazing, working four jobs to keep us above water. I never really understood how much she sacrificed at that time. Now I do. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at around the age of 30 (the first time) and she still got through everything with a wicked sense of humour. She is one incredibly tough woman.

In my teenage years, I was off in my car, near Glenelg where my grandparents lived. I had a good bunch of friends, we had so much freedom, we hung out, had lots of laughs. I was really lucky as a kid; I had a good time.

Luckily, Mum met David, or Daddy 2 as I call him, when I was 21 and he is quite simply the best dad a girl could ever ask for. I got lucky – I have two incredible fathers. I also now have four brothers and one super sister.

Lee as a baby with her mother.

I was first married at 18, because I knew everything, but was divorced at 19. I met Rod Jameson at FIVEaa when he was 20 and I was 22. I was working in the public relations department at the station and he was playing for the Adelaide Crows and he was in there doing an interview. I had no interest in football, so I didn’t know who he was. It was a crazy period when the Crows first started out – the pressure on the players was intense. Rod was an incredibly talented footballer, he worked so hard at his skills.

I’d say one of the greatest things to come out of that time were the friendships we made. To this day my closest friends are from the footy days. Being a footy wife back then was so different to what it is now. To be fair, a lot of us spent most of our time at the bar, but we were privileged to experience so many things that many people would never get to do. But the best thing remains the friendships I made – these people have supported me through the good and the bad, given me tough love when I needed it and a place to safely fall apart when I needed that, too. We had so many laughs, tears and fun times.

Lee (second from left) with colleagues from former Adelaide radio station 5KA, including (from left) Tania Hall, Bronwyn Klei and Vi Allamanda.

The most pivotal moment in my life was having my daughter, Hannah, in 1998. Nothing else mattered besides her after that. I was never really maternal during my pregnancy. I was all about work and when I had Hannah I really had no idea what I was doing. I went back to work pretty early which, if I had my time now, I would never do. I would give anything to be able to hold her as a baby again and just slow down and enjoy that time.

I remember someone telling me when you have a child you literally feel like your heart is outside your body from that moment on, they own it – it’s so true! As far as being a mother is concerned, it’s still the most important job to me, one which I know I am incredibly lucky to have. I still question if I am doing a good job. I’ve made so many mistakes and I’m sure I have quite a few ahead, but you’d have to ask Hannah that one! She is now 21 and when I look at her my heart still just flips. I still have no idea how I managed to raise this incredible human, along with her dad Rod of course. Hannah is smart, funny, strong, kind – she has chosen a beautiful partner Harley as well. She is pretty damn good!

I met another man years later and married for the third time. I’m now divorced for the third time and I will never marry again. My biggest mistake in life was getting married the third time – that one was a doozy of a mistake. Let me just say ladies, if your gut is telling you something isn’t right, trust that instinct. That’s the one thing I learnt out of the whole horrid experience, to trust myself, trust my instincts. Don’t waste time, get out and know that people will help you to do just that.

These days I have finally found the right person for me. I have a strong bond with a man called Sputnik. We are not a conventional couple but he is the man who actually lets me be the pain in the arse that I really am and laughs at my forehead in return. He is incredibly strong, kind, highly intelligent, generous, funny and we have the best conversations and adventures together.

When I was a kid I wanted to be Quincy MD when I grew up: I always wanted to be a forensic scientist and solve murders!

But I ended up falling into public relations by accident after I bumped into a friend Cathy McHugh at the Central Markets. She said she was going to the States and I should come (she wasn’t really inviting me she was just being nice) but I bought a ticket anyway and we did a road trip with Hannah and Cath’s three children, and a gorgeous kid called India and her mum, Lyn. On that trip, we decided we should work together. The company was Grays PR and we had awesome clients and we juggled everything with the kids, travel etc. Cath still runs Grays PR – she is the PR queen, I was more the sidekick.

One thing that people may not know about me is one of my tattoos covers my entire back, thanks to the incredible Matt Deverson at Progression Tattoo who I pretty much let do what he wanted (thank god it didn’t turn out to be a tattoo of Spongebob Square Pants, or something equally horrible).

Lee with Sputnik. Supplied image

I’m really passionate about saving the environment. I think we are doing a really fabulous job of fucking up this one chance we have at life on this incredible planet. Humans are meant to be so smart, yet we are stupidly destroying the very thing which sustains us – so I’m passionate about doing my teeny tiny bit wherever I can.

I believe in food as it should be. Can anyone honestly understand and accept why an organic farmer has to pay to prove that they are growing food how it should be grown without spraying it with chemicals, chemicals which mess up the ecosystem and destroys the soil, yet other conventional farmers can do whatever they want, destroy the soil and get away with it? That’s just BS.

These days I own the Organik Store & Cafe, a combination of two business in one. It’s an organic cafe and fresh produce/retail store. I also own Chick N Chips, a gluten-free chicken/chips and fish shop. Everything is gluten-free, freshly made and the healthier option to the traditional takeaway.

I also own a skincare brand called Nourished Skin, an all-natural, organic, small-batch, handmade skincare range, and I own Skin Things beauty salon. It all keeps me very busy but I believe in the healthy rationales behind the businesses.

Lee with daughter Hannah.I also feel strongly about acceptance and non-judgment. The whole marriage equality, racism, gender bias, LGBGTQUI – I have an issue with how we as a race cannot simply accept others, not judge them, we ostracise, belittle people for simply being who they are, loving who they love and being comfortable in the skin they’re in. I just don’t get it. I have zero tolerance for it – accept all, love all.

When it comes to the hardest lesson in life I think it would be to trust in yourself, to have that confidence to back yourself in, whether that be to get out of a really shitty marriage to a really shitty person, or to have a go at opening another business, or making any decision. I think I lost myself for a while with that. I’m slowly working my way back there.

I’m 51 now, although I’m feeling about 84 at present! I’m probably a bit more round that I used to be – gravity has hit a bit, I’m a lot greyer, but I’m still rather young on the inside. I’m certainly getting a bit of the grumpy old lady syndrome, but I’m also absolutely clearer in what I want and don’t want and what I will tolerate.

These days what brings me joy is every single aspect of my daughter, in particular her smile. She made a piece of art for me which reads, “Behind every successful woman is herself”. I friggin’ love this, but I would add, “Behind every successful woman is herself, being the best she can be for her daughter”.

Sputnik brings me joy with his weird sense of humour, and our teams across all the businesses are a cracking group of humans.

Seeing customers happy makes my heart skip a beat, and seeing someone achieve something they have strived for. My other soul foods are hiking, yoga, wine, gin, the sea, and … did I say wine and gin already?

Just once, I wish I could sit and talk with my dad Ronnie, just talk for hours and tell him how much I love him and miss him. Oh, and just once I wish I could win the Hospital Research Lottery! And then, of course, solve the water problems, the sustainability issues and climate change … that’s to start with.

My South Australian Life is a new first-person series, published each Sunday.

Read our previous profiles here.

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