Susie Boswell chats over lunch with busy political wife and dedicated mum, Cathy Stoner.
Admiring glances are being cast in the direction of our lunch table: my companion is one of those notable people who stand out, whom strangers stop to stare at and remark on.
Cathy Stoner is a very pretty woman, with a lovely complexion, pearly white teeth, a happy smile and dressed in blue jeans set off by a white jacket with touches of black, a cute handbag, modest classic jewellery – overall, a picture of casual elegance. As well, she wears an air of being very approachable, not at all above-the-crowd … a typical fresh-faced country girl in the prime of life.
Her home is in Port Macquarie’s rural outskirts with a small paddock for a horse, she has a handsome husband and six kids, enjoys ordinary hobbies, helps out in the community – and if most pundits are right is the wife of the next Deputy Premier of NSW. Andrew Stoner, Member for Oxley, looks after constituents in Wauchope, Kempsey and surrounding areas and is Leader of the Nationals in the State Parliament.
But while she actively supports her husband’s activities and enjoys a happy marriage and wonderful family, Cathy Stoner’s life is not at all circumscribed by politics. Indeed, her life’s story would make an absorbing book, running from a confused childhood and teenage years through many chapters, until she reached the calm and contented place she’s in today.
Stoner was just five years old and the second youngest of seven when her mother died. Her father was the stoic type and in keeping in part with the times “we couldn’t grieve,” she recalls. Throughout her younger life she had immense trouble coming to terms with the loss of her mother. “We children struggled in our own ways to cope, and all during my childhood and teens I never got over it”. Her father was in the navy and moved about a lot, she and her siblings naturally changing schools along the way, which must have affected their stability. She remembers times from her infancy with her mother and even at five she’d earlier experienced another family death: she knew it meant a person was never, ever, coming back.
She was a lonely girl for a long time and then “when I finished school I’d never been able to let go, so I travelled around a bit and I was working in Brisbane when I met Andrew. His family is from the Grafton area; he was working with the Department of Social Security.” The couple married and moved around Queensland with Andrew’s job until he was ultimately transferred to Port Macquarie as regional manager of the CES. And so began the past 14 years of security and contentment and being settled in one place for the first time in her life. Physically, that is.
It was around six years earlier that, with Andrew, she’d finally found some spiritual peace. “I’d been raised in the Catholic Church and I knew of God but I’d never had a personal relationship with God. I’d gone through hard times when I left home and I carried a lot of emotional problems from my childhood … then one day my brother introduced me to Christianity. My life’s never been the same since. Now God has healed my heart and transformed my life. I was insecure; God brought security and confidence into my life. We practise Christianity seven days a week: it’s a really good guide for daily living.”
Clearly, Stoner has been on a long and wide-ranging journey of life discoveries, yet the fact that her two oldest sons, Stephen and Beau, are in the workforce is the only real key to her age: in person, she looks a good 10 years younger than she is. She has three boys and three girls: at 17, Gemma is doing the HSC, then there are Abbie, 11, Annalise, 8, and the youngest, Nathaniel, 5 – just the same tender age she was when she lost her own mum. Not surprisingly, among her most treasured times are family holidays at Minnie Water, where Andrew loves to surf.
I’m in awe that she seems so capable. Aside from the active roles of political wife and mother, some days she busies herself with housework, listening to Rhema-FM and playing evangelical songs – “they’re up there with the best music” – as she sweeps and dusts. Other days she pursues her own hobby-business, selling designer clothes on the internet. Then there is her new pastime: horse riding lessons. She’s also involved in a personal crusade following the Victorian Parliament’s move to, inter alia, decriminalise abortion up to nine months, on the board of a group known as the Providence Foundation. Its Facebook page attracted some 15,500 members in just three weeks. The issue is complex, but essentially Stoner wants to see women properly informed of their choices before abortion. “Having six children and seeing my babies born, even considering a law like they propose is beyond my understanding …”.
It leads her to raise the subject of women in politics. She naturally supports Leslie Williams, the Nationals’ candidate at this month’s Port Macquarie by-election. With commentators tipping the Coalition to take government in 18 months or sooner, she’s hoping Williams will return the electorate to the Nats and restore the regional string of seats to the rural party. But it’s not because she’s following her husband’s lead. “I know Leslie well, and apart from the fact she’s very smart and a strong campaigner for the local community she’s a very hard worker, compassionate and a lovely person too; she’d be a fantastic representative. She’s a nurse, a wife and a mother and we need more women in politics.” Women are an essential complement to men, Stoner believes. “Women can bring something to politics – a balance and a perspective – that men can’t.”
This woman, though, has a more traditional feminine role in mind as our lunch draws to a close. She checks her watch and is delighted to see she’s in time to pick up her kids from school, a surprise treat instead of their regular bus trip home.
Mums are so special.
> Out to Lunch is hosted by Lou Perri at The Stunned Mullet on Town Beach.