Whilst making beautiful hand-crafted jewelry and writing romance novels certainly requires quite a considerable amount of talent, it is highly unlikely that anyone could regard either of the two as falling into the category of rocket science but, even if that was the case, local author and jewelry maker Catherine Bilson would have the necessary qualifications. Catherine, the youngest of four children, grew up in a rather remote part of North Wales on her parents’ sheep farm and she explained to me that as well as being a farmer, her father was also a builder.
‘As a child, I learned to do things such as lay bricks and tiles,’ said Catherine. ‘Other than the plumbing and electrical work, my father believed in doing the work himself and I learned a number of skills because of that,’ she said. Catherine told me that while still living on the farm, she was particularly fond of horse riding and although never serious about competition events, she did ride in gymkhanas from time to time and worked at the riding school that was across the road from her home.
‘It was a good way to earn some money and as well as that, I worked as a waitress at my sister’s hotel in the evenings,’ she said. Identified by the school as being very adept at mathematics and science, a trait that she believes that was inherited from her father, Catherine was steered away from the arts in favour of a career in a science and, following her years at school, she commenced a three year university course at Southampton, graduating in 1996 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Electro-Mechanical Engineering. ‘There were three girls and forty guys on the course but, even though we were the minority, the guys all respected our right to be there,’ Catherine recalled.
‘After three weeks they were treating me as their sister and after five weeks, they were even vetting my dates. That actually made it hard to get a date sometimes,’ she added. Immediately after graduating, Catherine’s skills were quickly enlisted by British Aerospace (now BAE Systems) and she went to work as a rocket scientist, involved in projects such as the Mars Rover and integrating missiles into the new Eurofighter. She also worked on missiles that were to be used during the Desert Storm conflict. As one of very few girls that were employed as engineers by a defense contractor, Catherine’s ability to convert technical jargon into easy to understand language was called upon many times and this meant working extra hours on top of her normal duties.
‘The result of working so hard was an eventual burnout and I was left with no choice but to resign early in 2001,’ said Catherine. ‘My boyfriend (now husband) Nick is Australian and we decided to move to the land down under, eventually settling on Bribie Island after spending a period of time traveling around. I found work with a local building company and Nick went to work in the hospitality industry,’ she told me. Some years on, and with the desire to work for themselves, the couple bought the Retravision Store in Kilcoy which they operated for seven years until the effect of the Global Financial Crisis forced them to close the doors.
‘The hardest thing that I’ve ever done was to put our staff out of work but we had no choice,’ Catherine said regretfully. Following this obviously hard time in her life, Catherine made the decision to concentrate on her longtime passion for writing and this is now one of her two main sources of income. ‘My mum taught me to read when I was only three years old and she would leave me alone with a big pile of books. I would stay there and amuse myself for hours but I was never happy about how the stories ended, I wanted to write my own endings,’ Catherine remarked. ‘I have been writing forever and, like most writers, I have all these characters running around in my head.
After I decided to re-commence writing, I discovered that there are some works by authors such as Jane Austin which is now out of copywrite and this means that people like me are able to write books which are based on their work. I wrote a book called “Mrs. Gardner Knows” which I self-published on Amazon and, to my absolute surprise, it made about $3,000 in the first month so that was a great encouragement to keep going,’ she explained. When someone is as super talented as the extraordinary Catherine Bilson, it comes as little surprise to learn that she is adept at a lot more than just writing a good romance novel and, when she said that she has been making jewelry from not long after moving to our beautiful island, somehow it just seemed to be what one would naturally expect.
‘On one of my days off from running display homes, I wandered into the Gem and Fossicking Club and I guess the rest is history. After learning the basics, I taught myself a lot more from books and ended up with a diverse set of skills,’ said Catherine. ‘As well as now having a long-standing amount of loyal customers, I sell some jewelry at the markets, mainly the Bribie Vibe Markets at the Arts Centre, and I do a lot of repair work for customers such as re-stringing beads and so on, working from home. I also volunteer as a tutor for the Gem Club,’ she pointed out.
Although he does work as a sales representative, Catherine’s husband Nick also runs an online business from home, selling Leggo parts and apparently, people will pay quite a lot of dollars for the right piece. The couple has two boys, Kieran who is twelve and also nine years old Connor. Catherine tells me that they are both very sporty like their dad. I am not usually lost for the right words when describing someone but in this instance, I have been tossing up between gifted, dedicated and talented but I think that the appropriate description for Catherine Bilson is, as the title suggests, extraordinary. Anyone who would like to find out more about Catherine’s jewelry business, Banksia Creations, should log onto the website www.etsy.com/shop/banksiacreations or call her on 0408 735 597. For details about her work as an author, (she writes under Caitlyn Lynch) www.caitlynlynch.com is the site to visit.