With eyes as bright as the sun, Philippa Lowe’s love for the outdoors is expressed in her demeanour. Her muscly, toned body is the epitome of a beach lover and surfboat rower of ten years. With a smile that lights up her entire face, Philippa beams with confidence and love for everyone she crosses paths with. Recently finishing her job with BlueScope Steel, Philippa exudes excitement for her future.
Philippa was born in Caringbah in Sydney, New South Wales, in 1961. She is one of three children, with one brother and sister. Philippa described her childhood as “fairly educated, whilst also maintaining a free lifestyle”. Eyes lighting up when questioned about her childhood, Philippa states, “I had an amazing childhood! Time after school involved going into the bush with a sandwich until dark and following the Creek down to the Georges River. All we did was played chasing up Sutherland Road. Most of my childhood was spent outside”. Unfortunately, at the age of 10, Philippa lost her mother to cancer, creating a change of lifestyle, as her grandmother soon moved in. Soon after this, Philippa’s father re-married, creating issues within the family.
Philippa attended Jannali Primary School, continuing her education at Jannali Girls High, before furthering her education at the University of Wollongong. Philippa graduated with a Bachelor of Science, achieving Honours in Chemistry. She also furthered her studies with a Post Graduate Diploma in Science, with a Masters in Logistics and Operations Management. Philippa’s move to Wollongong was to chase work opportunities. Through obtaining a traineeship to work with AIS at the Port Kembla Steelworks, she left home during her education. This was a highlight in Philippa’s life, as she was having difficulties with her stepmother, continuing to earn money whilst studying.
When asked how she met her ex-husband, Stewart, Philippa laughs “A friend invited me to dinner. She was matchmaking!” She became pregnant with her daughter, Rosalind Michelle, within six months of knowing Stewart, “I actually worked my last day at the steelworks, and my waters broke that night”, she laughed. She married Stewart nine months after she was born. Her son, Peter, also not planned, was born only one year after their marriage.
Unfortunately, things at home weren’t the best, creating deterioration in the marriage. “Stewart wasn’t very supportive and the communication broke down. It felt like I was doing everything around the house and with the children. He was always travelling, which was an all around crap experience every day.” Issues soon arose in the relationship. “He changed – he was no longer the man I had married.” Philippa officially left home in 2006, much to the dismay of the two children. “I tried to go back,” she says, “For the sake of the children, Stewart said no whenever I tried. I eventually gave up. I was happier anyway.” After bouncing from town houses to apartment, Philippa finally settled down in Port Kembla, before moving to Newcastle in 2013. The divorce became finally only last year, after 8 years.
Philippa began her journey with BlueScope Steel on the 12th January 1981, situated in Wollongong. It’s been a long, exciting and somewhat painful journey, “When I first started working at BlueScope, there were 23, 000 workers there.” She obtained many different positions during her time at BlueScope Steel, including Research and Development, Customer Service, and many more. Though, being there for 34 years, she only ever obtained two promotions, she stated,
“With the advances that technology has given us, and a minor decrease in sales and customers, jobs were made redundant. I was lucky enough to be moved around instead of losing my job completely. This also helped me cover a wide variety of jobs and meet lots of friends.”
Philippa worked at BlueScope Steel for 34 years and was supposed to be a Chemistry trainee. When asked about her start, she laughs,
“I started out at the Tinmill, testing different sorts of tin coating and welds with another Chemistry trainee. Although, he went into the labs while I was “put in the kitchen with the other girls”.
Philippa believed that BlueScope was one of Australia’s leading companies, but unfortunately, things were ‘pretty bad’ when it came to the hierarchy of the company. Philippa’s job was to can food and test the cans over time, looking for eventual corrosion or side effects on the food. Although, this was not the plan Philippa originated for her future, she was moved around the company quite a lot – experiencing many different job opportunities. When asked about challenges throughout her time, Philippa laughs, “My entire time there was a challenge!”
Many of the challenges Philippa expressed involve her struggles of being a woman working in amongst many men.
“Some of the more challenging jobs include when I was working shift work at the Slab Caster, where I was the only female amongst 300 guys, who were all much older than me”.
Philippa was headstrong and motivated with her work, continuously looking to improve her skills. “Another difficult job was when I was 24 and was the supervisor for six men with an average age of 55. Each of them had a different nationality as well!” She laughs, “That made tensions quite high at times.” Though, she takes it with a grain of salt, expressing that it was quite entertaining most of the time.
Although she has held many positions throughout many different departments of the steelworks, her last position at the company was quite stressful. “I was part of a four-person team, trying to fill the role of a six person team. I had a boss that didn’t like me and five million dollars worth of stock that I couldn’t get off the ground – or even sell!”
Her time at BlueScope eventually took her to Newcastle, “I was looking to move. Both of my children had moved away,” she believed that there was nothing left for her in Wollongong. Even though, she had no intended direction for her life to go, she’s not complaining at where she’s ended up.
Unfortunately, due to the lack of business and budget cuts, Philippa’s department was cut resulting in losing her job. Philippa knew that her department was going to be cut, as business was going poorly, the only factor was ‘when’ it was going to happen.
“Eventually, I was made redundant when my team collapsed completely. Since then I have been working casually at a bar and relaxing in my free time – in between rowing of course!”
Philippa was accepting of her redundancy, as she knew the business was ‘basically dead’. Philippa believed that it was ‘typical Australian manufacturing’ as the Australian dollar was so high that it set the situation to allow imports at a good foothold. Philippa was frustrated at how the government went about it,
“We had such a good Australian made product, and just like that, they took it away.”
Philippa began her favourite hobby in July of 2005. Surfboat rowing has been a part of her life for ten years now, quickly becoming a favourite activity of hers. Her local surf club, at the time (Towradgi) had the opportunity to purchase a cheap boat and enter it into the George Bass. Rowing has taken Philippa to many places, including Queensland and Western Australia, and has had the opportunity to be a part of a team. Through the sport, she has achieved many State and Australian titles and medals.
Beginning in 2005, Philippa jumped straight into the sport, by competing in a major marathon.
“When I first started rowing, it was with a bunch of boys 2-3 years older than my son! We took part in the George Bass Marathon.”
The George Bass Marathon involves rowing 177km over seven days. Philippa’s eyes light up at the memory, “It was extremely tiring, but worth every bit!” Exuding with pride, Philippa comments on the boys she participated with “The boys were impressed that I was able to do as well as I did and often remarked that they wished their mother were like me!”
Philippa’s son, Peter, also began rowing soon after Philippa did, creating a stronger relationship between them. When asked about their relationship, her eyes light up with love for her son, “My son, Peter even got into the sport, and it was great because it turned into something that we both loved and were extremely passionate about.” Philippa and Peter spent more time together through the sport, “And it’s always a plus to be able to embarrass him at the presentations”, she laughs. Surfboat rowing has taken Philippa to Queensland and Western Australia many times for the Australian titles.
With a surfboat pendant hanging around her neck, it is evident that Philippa’s love for the sport is greater than almost anything – except her children of course. Surfboat rowing is a great sport, that’s fun and requires not only skill and power, but also, always a bit of luck. When speaking of luck, Philippa thinks of many moments when luck has come into play.
“At my 5th Australian Titles, we were beating in the finals by one crew. After a freak wave at the turning cans (350-400m off shore) broke in the boat, almost rolling the boat over completely! It’s crazy, but I loved it,” Philippa laughs.
The Australian Titles following, Philippa gained another silver – another medal to add to her collection. “Our steering oar broke, just as we were riding the wave home with a solid 100m lead on the next crew! They ended up snaking us on the line. I was quite upset at the time, but what can you do? It’s the nature of the beast.” When asked about achievements, Philippa’s modest nature expresses that the main thing she’s gained is fitness. She has, however, collected quite a few State and Australian titles, with around thirty – give or take a few.
Although Philippa’s rowing career is behind her, she still moves from club to club, “Masters Women’s crews are actually difficult to keep together,” she states. “To date, I’ve rowed for six different clubs, and more crews than I can remember!” Philippa’s joy comes from being a part of a team, and the people that come with it. She appreciates that the people are accepting and can relate to them on the same level, wherever she goes.
“I love the sport, the exercise, the social life, but it’s the people that I meet that really keep me going back. They are all really lovely and we always have stories to share.”
Now that her time has ended with BlueScope, Philippa is looking into the many opportunities that her future holds. Although she is currently doing bar work, and has the option of being an office worker, she is looking into the Australian Defence Force. When asked why, she has to think carefully,
“It just ticks a lot of boxes. All my favourite qualities are involved – Teamwork, fitness and discipline. My son is in the army, and it’s really exposed me to it enough that I feel like I could take it on.”
Although Philippa’s future is bright and holds countless opportunities, she’s still taking things as they come, “At the moment, I’m just looking forward to seeing where life takes me.”