Kathy of the Community
She’s just a small town girl but Kathy Poulton is the embodiment of what it means to be a community member. Whether it’s driving an ambulance, helping to save lives, pumping petrol, publishing the local newspaper, coaching netball or nursing, Kathy’s life path has led her to a very special place.
Her various roles are simply the consequence of a girl who won’t say ‘no’ to her community.
Kathy finds it amusing that she could be the subject of a feature article.
To her mind, she is one of many with a similar level of devotion – and she is probably right.
But let’s go there anyway. Kathy was born and raised in South Melbourne.
Her mother was also a city girl but her father had grown up at Beulah, and when Kathy was a teenager, he moved the family back to his Mallee roots.
Kathy attended school at Beulah and then Warracknabeal before the family moved back to Melbourne.
When she finished school, Kathy got a job working for OPSM in Collins Street.
She enjoyed her work and was content with her life but still travelled back to
Beulah for holidays and to visit family.
It was during one of these visits she met Malcolm Poulton, who worked for the family business Poulton Motors in Hopetoun.
“We met on the foreshore of Lake Lascelles while I was water skiing with friends. I’m not sure but I think it was my red bikini that grabbed his attention,” Kathy laughed.
In 1982 as the romance blossomed, Kathy left her comfortable city job and moved to Beulah where she worked at the local hotel as its very first female bartender and played netball among other social activities.
Two years later she and Malcolm married. Kathy was suddenly a resident of Beulah’s rival neighbour Hopetoun where she and Malcolm started a family.
Personal tragedy made life tough for the couple after a series of miscarriages and the tragic death of their first baby boy Kade on Easter Saturday, 1987.
But heartache was lessened by the joyous arrival of Brittany the following year and later brothers Cohan and Keaton.
In 1998, when Keaton was in grade three at primary school, Kathy was asked to become a volunteer ambulance officer with Rural Ambulance Victoria.
The town had several volunteer officers including Malcolm. She jumped at the opportunity.
The position required monthly training which Kathy still attends now, though it has become much more involved.
The role also nosed her closer to the career she had always felt was tugging at her timeline – nursing.
Kathy was considering career options when Malcolm decided to leave the family business, allowing the couple to set up their own small-engine repair service and manage the BP service station.
They raised their children ‘on petrol fumes’ in a home behind the auto-shop, while the business endured the region’s longest drought in living memory.
In 2006, Kathy’s passion for a nursing career had taken hold and she decided to go back to university.
During her second year of study, Mobil asked Kathy to manage its service station in Hopetoun while Malcolm was kept busy with engine repairs.
She took on the role with the support of her family who helped where possible.
Her routine suddenly became working the service station from Saturday to Wednesday then attending classes in Horsham each Thursday and Friday.
As times got tougher and the drought took its toll, Mobil closed the business and Kathy was suddenly looking for work.
Then, out of the blue, she was approached by local farmer Barb Hallam to see if she was interested in being the new editor of the local newspaper.
Like many small newspapers, the Hopetoun Courier is owned by the community and Barb is a long-standing board member.
Although she was still studying for her nursing degree, Kathy accepted the role and after just one week of on-the-job training, she was left alone to produce a weekly newspaper.
What she hadn’t realised was that she also had to look after the accounts.
Her new role presented a whole new set of obstacles, but being the archetypical country girl, she showed resilience and ingenuity.
Kathy remembers moments in class at Horsham when she would be writing a story for the paper under the desk so the instructor couldn’t see.
Kathy networked with other newspapers to pick up tips on writing, photography, graphics and layout.
And she almost always took the camera with her when she was called out in her ambulance role.
“I would throw the camera in the back just in case,” she said.
I love my job. I have a supportive manager and a wonderful team I can talk to when the day has been difficult. If I can make a difference today I don’t care about tomorrow
“It might have been a little naughty but I never took pictures at accidents or where it was personal,” she said.
“But if it was a more public incident we were attending such as a bushfire, I would take a few photos when I had an opportunity.”
Kathy graduated as an enrolled nurse at the end of 2007 and started working casually for Rural Northwest Health at its Hopetoun campus.
She worked her hours later in the week after the paper was put to bed.
By 2012, the draw to nursing grew stronger as Kathy studied further and gained more qualifications, so it was time to remove her newspaper hat.
In 2014, Kathy was approached by Rural Northwest Health management to pioneer an important new role as the region’s cancer-resource nurse, and suddenly her career had taken on a whole new meaning.
Kathy supports community members living with cancer to make sure they are getting the right information and treatment and utilising the appropriate services available.
Speak to any of her clients and they will tell you how fantastic she is at her role.
Kathy believes she is now doing the job for which she was destined.
“As busy as I am now, I feel that my whole life has come to this point,” she said.
“I had to learn so much more and it has given me a great understanding and appreciation for how the health system works and how every minute impacts on residents, clients, the community and the service.”
Kathy also continues her role with Ambulance Victoria.
She shuffles that role around six days a fortnight as a cancer-resource nurse, one day as a palliative link nurse and one day as a nurse in aged care at the Hopetoun campus.
Kathy believes Hopetoun has such a strong community because there are many people who dedicate themselves to community as much as she does.
“People who influence my life are not famous. They are locals who say ‘I can do that’ or are just willing to give it a go,” she said.
Kathy said she wasn’t trying to make ‘a difference’ or make things better.
She just wanted to build on the foundations of others.
“I love my job. I have a supportive manager and a wonderful team I can talk to when the day has been difficult,” she said.
“If I make a difference today I don’t care about tomorrow.”