Robyn Cook interviews Dr Kirsty Williamson
As a local writer, Victoria McGuin keeps informed through contacts across the range, word-of-mouth, emails and social media. It was thanks to the latter that she came across Robyn Cook, her family, Lucy the cat and Stories from the Red Couch.
By Victoria McGuin
On a regular basis, via Facebook, I have been enjoying one-on-one interviews taking place on a red couch in Palmwoods. Not only are they focussed on local entrepreneurs, but they look professionally shot and well lit.
Curious to know more about the team behind this enterprise, I contacted Robyn Cook who interviews all those who sit on this increasingly well-known two-seater. Soon, I was enjoying tea and conversation at the kitchen table with Robyn, her partner John and their youngest son, Matt.
“Stories from the Red Couch has come about after many years of different ventures,” explains Robyn. “It’s a family creation. John is a professional photographer and great with lighting and framing. Matt is learning about film-making and the technology that goes with it.”
John and Matt are clearly relishing in their roles buying second-hand equipment on eBay to create their compact TV studio.
“Last year we were doing some live streaming at the Hinterland Harvest Market,” says Matt. “Then I saw this live-stream gadget online, by Blackmagic Design, and thought it would be a great investment.”
This gadget looks like a small black box to me. Matt laughs, “Everyone looked at it and said, ‘What does it do?’”
They soon found out. Set up with a camera, Matt filmed Robyn reading a book, “in a newsreader voice” with the help of the mini-recorder. This was followed by the first podcast, Clucking Chooks.
“The sound was out, and initially there was a time lag,” says John, “but as we have gone along we’ve tweaked things – the light, colour grade and sound synching and, we now use three cameras.”
After two episodes of the podcast, Robyn came up with the idea of interviewing locals. “I was over 50, finished in a rewarding role with a mountain of experience but no formal qualifications. I had kids and in-laws next door to support.
“I realised I was one of the ‘sandwiched’ generation and I still needed to work part-time. So, what to do? Start your own business.
“I knew there were many women, and men, in my boat trying to reinvent themselves, so I decided to start interviewing them.”
So far, the family have filmed 45 interviews and people are lining up to sit on that red couch.
But perhaps, the most famous character in each episode is Lucy, the cat. This friendly feline settles herself in front of the camera without fail for every interview. “One time, we had some tea and cake in front of us and she started on the cake… I couldn’t stop her until we’d filmed the segment!”
Robyn and John’s guests find the whole thing amusing – many having known the couple for a long time since their move to Palmwoods 17 years ago.
“I set up the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden project at Chevallum State School,” says Robyn. “It was the first one in the national program on the Sunshine Coast.”
Robyn worked as Queensland Project Officer for two years, then travelled the country for another two years training school principals. “Overall, I trained 600 adults,” she shares. “It was exhausting but rewarding.”
During this time John stayed home for the kids, “I was Captain Dad for a few years,” he smiles.
Before their life in Palmwoods, the family lived at Cotton Tree Caravan Park where Robyn and John collaborated on a venture of a culinary kind.
“I looked around for a camping cookbook for when you have a young family,” explains Robyn. “I could only find things about freeze-drying or cooking kangaroos over a fire! I really wanted something in the Women’s Weekly style and thought, ‘how hard could it be?’
“So I began to write my recipes, living in the environment I was writing about, and John took the photographs.”
“We had a guy In Mapleton put it together; we used local businesses wherever we could,” says John, “but there was no social media or online system for selling back then.”
Robyn had a strategic approach for where to place her cookbook. “At a bookstore, 100 people walk in, and ten might be into cooking, one into camping – but at a camping store, 100% need to eat!”
Robyn also rang the Today Show for three days in a row until the producer finally answered and she convinced them to interview her.
“We were ahead of our time, appearing on the emerging shows promoting outdoorsy stuff.”
Back to the present day. The family (except eldest son, Lewis) is involved with the Old Ambulance Station in Nambour whose mission is to build a sustainable creative practice for those in the arts and media.
“I joined the board last year,” shares Robyn. “Matt manages the budget and space for the Media Makers and the council gave us money to buy studio equipment.
“We are helping others and Matt is developing a whole range of skills in live broadcasting and recording,” John says. “With this and Stories from the Red Couch, our mantra is to get better every week.”
Robyn adds, “And from our red couch, I want to show people they can start again, create a business, run with a new idea, at any age.”
With Robyn’s knack for reinventing herself, there is no one better suited to championing those who are doing the same.