Communications professional Nichol Plumbe is looking forward to sharing the stories of the Good Samaritan Sisters and their charism of ‘being neighbour’, both with an eye to tradition and to innovation for the future, writes Debra Vermeer.
By Debra Vermeer
A successful career in public relations, marketing and communications, coupled with a desire for meaning in her work and an opportunity to share that meaning is what attracted Nichol Plumbe to her new role with the Sisters of the Good Samaritan.
Nichol started as Communications and Media Officer with the Good Samaritans in July, a role that not only includes editing the award-winning The Good Oil e-publication, but also a range of other internal and external communications duties.
“My life has led me here for a reason,” Nichol says. “Already I’ve found that working with the Sisters has had a strong and positive impact on me personally, that I know I wouldn’t get anywhere else. Just being at work nourishes and strengthens me.”
Nichol, an only child, was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, and lived there until the age of 11.
“My family moved to Australia because it wasn’t safe in South Africa anymore,” she says.
“My early childhood was quite safe. I rode my bike around the neighbourhood and Mum would just tell me to make sure I was back by dark.
“But then one day it felt like it all changed quickly. My Dad was held up at gunpoint and forced to withdraw our savings from a nearby ATM.
“Another time, we came from dinner to find our front door open and a man ran out of the side of the house with a machete. Straight away, Dad said, we had to leave.”
Within three months, the family had moved to Australia.
“We sold up everything for far less than we could have gotten had we had more time and came to Australia. We spent the first six months living in a caravan park in Narrabeen (on Sydney’s Northern Beaches).”
The family then moved to Wahroonga and Nichol attended the public primary and high schools in Turramurra.
After leaving school, Nichol embarked on a Degree in Tourism Management, but soon realised it wasn’t what she wanted for her career.
“I think I wanted to be a tourist, not work in tourism,” she laughs.
“So, I took a year off and lived in Greece as a nanny.
“I was living in a small town and nobody spoke any English, but it forced me to learn Greek very quickly and to adjust and get into Greek life and when I look back now, I see that year as probably being one of the best years of my life. I sorted through a lot of my own stuff and came out the other end knowing exactly what I wanted to do with my life.”
When she returned to Australia, Nichol headed to Curtin University in Perth to study a Commerce Degree with a major in Public Relations.
While at university, she worked for a driving holiday website called DriveWA, doing graphic design, web-development and copy-editing.
“That job was fabulous because I learnt to be a jack-of-all trades, which has been essential with the changing nature of the Comms industry. It’s not just the written word that’s required anymore and in the two years I was in that job, I learnt a lot in a range of areas,” she says.
While in Sydney for a brief visit, Nichol met her future husband. After a six month cross continent relationship, she relocated to Sydney where they later married and settled.
Nichol started working for Weber-Shandwick, a global Public Relations and Communications agency, managing big-name clients, including Singapore Airlines and Lipton Iced Tea.
“I was doing work for big corporate clients, but with not a lot of meaning,” she says.
After two years there, and following the birth of her son, now aged nine, Nichol left Weber-Shandwick and spent the next six years working in boutique agencies with corporate clients. “But at the end of that period, it started to niggle in the back of my mind that I wanted to bring on some not-for-profit clients which had smaller budgets but bigger meaning,” Nichol says.
“I had also had my daughter by then, now aged five, so my husband encouraged me to go out on my own and start my own business.”
Nichol started out with just one client, a plus-sized swimwear company and then gained clients in sustainable furniture and well-being companies.
At the same time, she trained to become a qualified yoga teacher, specialising in Hatha yoga, kids yoga and yoga for people suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“I was loving life,” she says. “Working for myself for clients that were trying to do good in the world and teaching yoga as well, and being there for my kids, I just hit this really sweet spot in my life.”
Unfortunately the financial reality didn’t reflect that ‘sweet spot’, so Nichol went in search of another job, but this time was certain she wanted to explore the not-for-profit space, rather than the corporate world.
She took a part-time job as Communications Coordinator for the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of Australia and Papua New Guinea, the first time she had worked in a faith-based workplace.
“My Dad is a Catholic and my Mum is Methodist,” she says, “But religious practice wasn’t a part of our daily life.
“So when I started working for the Sisters of Mercy I was really in awe straight away,” she says. “I was very much drawn to working with these amazing women who had committed their lives to doing good for other people.
“In a world which is so male-dominated, the prospect of working with these remarkable, prayerful women who were doing such good, really appealed to me.”
After a few years with the Mercy Sisters, Nichol saw an advertisement earlier this year in which the Good Samaritan Sisters were looking for a Communications and Media Officer and she felt drawn to the opportunity.
“I just knew it was the right thing to do,” she says.
“When I went in to meet them, [Congregational Leader] Sister Patty [Fawkner] gave me a big hug as I was leaving and I knew that’s where I needed to be.”
Nichol says she is excited about the scope of the role she has taken on, which has lots of potential for growing the culture of communications within the congregation.
“The role is looking at how we make touch points internally and externally,” she says. “It will look at the communications structures within the congregation and how the Sisters and staff can be more supported by communications.
“The Good Oil is obviously an important part of our external communications, but we will also look at extending this activity beyond The Good Oil.
“There’s a lot to live up to, especially after The Good Oil won the Bishop Philip Kennedy Memorial Award (for Best Overall Publication) at the recent Australasian Catholic Press Association awards. I hope I can live up to my predecessors in the role, especially Stephanie Thomas who brought The Good Oil to where it is today and was in this role for the past eight years.
“I feel very proud to be working amongst a bank of writers that were able to make that award happen. Each person has such a different and unique voice.
“I’m looking forward to continuing to tell the stories of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan and their network and helping spread that good news and share their charism of being neighbour. It feels like such an amazing opportunity to me to be a part of all this.”