Emma Balfour made her name modelling in the nineties. Gracing a myriad of magazine covers and runways throughout the years, she’s one of Australia’s most recognised faces. Now a mother of two teenage boys, Emma’s considered approach to living is seen best through her poetry and community work.
Photography by Hannah Scott Stevenson.
What does the notion of nurture mean to you?
“Nurture means to look after, to guide and to love. To nurture someone you have to have a little bit of something to give. And to guide, you have to know the way. You have to be strong, to nurture. You need to know yourself enough to help someone else.”
Looking back on your career were there any experiences that made an impact on you?
“I look back on my whole working life sometimes and can’t believe it all happened. Working with Richard Avedon was one of the greatest moments because he was the real deal. And when you get to work with people who can express themselves, so amazingly, for so long – it makes you feel like you’ve made it. I don’t know quite what making it means in the modelling world, but for me that felt like I’d gotten to the top.”
“Then about two years ago I did a show in Paris where they brought out all the girls from when I was working in the nineties. That was incredible. It was all these women who have all grown up, all had families and all in different stages of their life, and they were all on the runway again together. I hadn’t seen any of them for twenty years, everyone flew in from everywhere and it was the most amazing show.”
As a young model, was there anyone who took you under their wing?
“Throughout the years when I was doing all the runway stuff, there was such a cool group of girls – everyone looked after everyone. We were a pretty tight crew, it was way less awful than you imagine it to be. We got to fly all over the world, all together and it was pretty inspiring. It seems totally surreal now. At the time you’re so busy that you don’t take in everything you’re doing. I’ll see pictures or people will tell me stories that I barely remember happening because you sort of were on fast forward that whole time.”
Has being a mother changed your perspective on life?
“You watch your children grow and you wonder what the future holds for them and for the world. I’ve been very conscious of raising my kids so that they’re good in the community and that’s really coloured a lot of decisions we’ve made as a family. You want to keep their world continuing as nicely as our world was.”
“I really wanted to teach my kids when they were younger by being very hands on about how they can best impact the world around them. We got chickens when they were little, so we have a very circular eco-system in our house where very little gets thrown away. They were very much a part of that and it was a lot of fun. That grew into me starting the Kitchen Garden at their primary school. It’s still running and they’re fourteen and eighteen now – it’s one of my proudest achievements, instilling in children where food comes from, how they can best grow it themselves, to actually eat it, cook it, where the waste goes – the whole circle of life which is really important. You can’t tell kids, you need to show kids.”
Is there anything in your life you are taking care to nurture right now?
“I just got a new horse, so I’m nurturing a bit of a new relationship with her. I find it really rewarding, the horse and rider relationship. Unless you do it, you don’t really get it I don’t think. It’s very meditative and you’ve got to find the right creature to pair with and I’m just loving that at the moment.”
“My older boy just started university, so he’s needing a whole lot of nurturing all over again. He’s been pushed out into a totally new world and he’s finding it a bit difficult. So we’re putting the fences up a little and helping him out. That’s always highly rewarding.”
And is there someone or something that is nurturing you at the moment??
“I think my kids bounce it back. They look out for you if you look out for them. They give it back in spades, and that’s the best thing. I have boys, and having boys that are unafraid to be affectionate with their mum is pretty special. I think they are the ones who nurture me the most and look after me the most.”
How is it that you nurture yourself?
“Every day I ride – and that fills me up and settles me down and sort of balances everything. And on days where I really feel like it, I write. It helps make sense of stuff that has happened that I otherwise can’t. Often I’ll write things down that I’ll think is stupid, then a week or so later I’ll read it and it will completely explain how I was feeling about something. That’s hugely fulfilling because it comes from somewhere that you may not get. I write very simply and it’s short and sweet. When you get it right, it’s more than a sum of its parts. Everyone needs to be creatively fulfilled, which I think we tend to forget about that.”