Words Ellie Russell / Photos Troy Ruttley, Louth Races and Millinery Darling
I’m finding it is not unusual to come across some pretty talented people in the Far West region, after all, uncovering this talent was a big influencer for me to create Far West Living. Today’s feature is shining a spotlight on one of these special locals. Having known Leah for some time now, I am not surprised at how talented she is across a myriad of things although, I have to admit, when she shared her passion project with the world back in 2013 I had no idea she possessed the incredible millinery skills and creativity she does! I think it is fantastic we have such varied talents on offer in the area, particularly those women juggling many “hats” (pardon the pun) including ‘working mother’, ‘caring wife’, ‘farm hand’, ‘business woman’ and, in Leah’s case, milliner.
On Delta Station, comprising some 140,000 acres just downstream from the village of Louth on the Darling River, Leah Le Lievre, her husband and parents in law run a Merino sheep and Hereford cattle operation. Leah has been a local to the Cobar and far west region for the majority of her life and having spent some stints in Sydney and Wagga Wagga, found herself drawn back to Cobar.
“Both my parent’s families have been in Cobar for five generations. You’d call us ‘Iron Ringers’.
Leah moved to Delta Station in 2011 when she married Sam, they now raise their two children on the property and immerse themselves in life on the land. Besides her duties as a working mum and regular helper on the property, Leah started her own online business in 2013 called Millinery Darling, designing and hand making hats and head pieces, a skill that blossomed out of a lack of being able to source original pieces stocked in stores to wear to local race meets. “I didn’t want to go to a race meeting wearing the same as someone standing next to me. If I didn’t like outfits that were in shops, I’d sew my own, so it was only a matter of time before I started making my own headpieces too”.
In the early stages, Leah admits she made some “rookie” errors when making her own pieces using a hot glue gun to secure her designs. “This is a big ‘no no’ in the Millinery game. I’ve since learnt the fine art of hand stitching everything. There is some glue used, but very minimal amounts, mainly to secure a stitch.” Leah is dedicated to her passion and has attended the International Milliners’ Forum in Wagga Wagga twice to ensure she is learning from the very best in the industry. Leah also credits Waltraud Reiner, formerly of Torb & Reiner in Melbourne, for some of her tuition as Waltraud travels to remote areas of Australia teaching classes in millinery where Leah has been lucky enough to fine tune her stitching and finishing techniques.
“For me, I love to learn the traditional methods [of millinery] and then as many of the top Milliners will say, ‘let the materials talk to me’. Each type of material we use has a different purpose and behaves in different ways.” Since 2013, Leah has seen some significant growth in her business and has started to perfect her technique and find her spot in the millinery marketplace. “I’ve lifted my prices a little, due to the increase in skill and the final product I’m able to deliver now. This means less headpieces created per month but it means the quality is there and my customers are happy with that and so am I.” At present Leah is not a full time milliner and in addition to her millinery business, she offers her skills in business consultancy to locals within the region which helps with a little extra income as her millinery business and clientele develops. She is hopeful by Spring Racing Carnival next season that she will be offering her millinery services full time.
Despite all of this, Leah’s family are first and foremost graziers and the property and working on the land is their livelihood. Leah’s passion and her business consultancy has helped inject cash into the running of the household particularly in times of drought, which is so common in the far west area. Leah’s location is also unique in that her home is quite remote, which can often prove to be challenging when running an online business, but not impossible.
“Running a business from the bush has only one hurdle; weather. If it rains, our mail run gets put off. That means that sometimes I drive to the Post Office, which is 110kms to Bourke or 150kms to Cobar (one way). That’s not so bad though, as it means the kids get a milkshake and I have a coffee.”
“…Running a millinery business from the bush isn’t too different to a lot of other milliners. We [milliners] all request photos of your outfit and sometimes if you have a square of fabric from a custom outfit we’ll ask you to post it to us and we incorporate it into your headpiece. I’d say, living out bush means we add only a couple of days extra on postage, but if we’re organised, that doesn’t matter.”
Having grown up in the region and having a passion for the area, particularly the unique village of Louth, Leah says her favourite thing about living in the far west region is the people. “We know each other, help each other out and respect and accept each other for our differences. Especially in our local district. I love Louth. I have a shirt a bunch of girlfriends and I screen printed ourselves and wore to the local races a lifetime ago – before I met my husband. I still have it. I can’t believe I ended up moving here!”
Leah is a big supporter of shopping locally and loves the connection the local shop owners in Bourke and Cobar have with their customers. “If there’s enough interest, they’ll stock the items. For example, we couldn’t buy nice ladies shoes in Cobar after our local shoe store closed, so Nara at The Kidz Boutique is now stocking shoes such as Walnut. I’m also a regular at Gumnuts [Gifts and Homewares] in Cobar. Trudy has done an amazing job there – I can buy anything my heart desires and purchase most birthday gifts there plus Kim always makes the perfect coffee so I’m usually browsing whilst I wait for my coffee. The girls at Carole’s of Bourke also listen to their customers. They stock natural fibres in their clothing ranges, such as Goondiwindi Cotton.”
Leah’s top 3 things to do in the far west
- Farm stays at Trilby, Idalia or Rose Isle where you can fish and swim in the Darling River
- Lunch at Shindy’s Inn at Louth
- Hike through Gundabooka National Park (located between Bourke and Louth)