When Leila Sweeney competed in Mrs Australia, she was pregnant.
With absolutely no dress to cover her growing bump, she resorted to dying her wedding dress.
“I dumped it in the bath with blue dye. I thought if it doesn’t work, oh well, I’m never going to wear it again. It dyed well. I literally chucked it in the bath with warm water and blue dye from Spotlight. And that was my ball gown.”
And it’s this very moment that sums up Leila Sweeney perfectly. She’s determined, capable and resourceful.
Listen: Leila explains exactly what goes into this pageant on the I Don’t Know How She Does It podcast.
Leila grew up in Walcha in regional New South Wales. She met her husband at the local pub after failing to find everlasting love on the show ‘Farmer Wants a Wife’. Leila thought she knew everyone in Walcha but a friend took her to the pub in the hope of cheering her up and her love sat right before her.
“We walked into a bar at the local… and [my friend] pointed at this guy and said to me, “we don’t know him, let’s go talk to him” and it was my husband. We’ve been together ever since.”
Living on 3,000 acres in regional Victoria with her 20-month-old and seven-week-old baby, her husband, Sean, certainly doesn’t let pageantry go to her head.
“[Our farm] has sheep, cattle and cropping… now that I’m on maternity leave [from my job as a teacher], I help with feeding and driving tractors around where they need to be and I’m the sort of the “Canya”.
Canya? Huh? Indeed. There’s a simple explanation for the nickname given to her by Sean.
You see, the word “canya” seems to go at the beginning of everything he says to her.
“Canya go and get the tractor? Or Canya go and feed the sheep?”
She wears it as a badge of honour because that’s what she preaches at the pageant. Farm life.
“I just flog farming at these pageants”, and one issue in particular. Mental health.
“My dad is bipolar so growing up with mental illness is something that I knew a lot about and then seeing my husband struggle with mental illness and then my father in law.
“I think it’s something that all farmers face at some point. There’s a real stigma about it. Farmers are quite old-fashioned. They don’t speak about it at all. [I’m trying] to promote that it’s okay to talk about it."
Leila and her husband have even set up a charity called Live Rural in partnership with the National Centre for Farmer Health.
“We raise money... to facilitate farmer mental health checks and health days... as well as support [them] when hardship hits a community because $100,000 to any normal charity would be a lot but for farmers, it’s not much. That’ll feed your cattle for one week and that’s [only] on one farm.”
It’s not just men on Leila’s mind, either.
“For the wife, it can be a bit tougher on the farm... we always put everyone else first and we don’t look after ourselves as much so it can become quite stressful... it’s important I keep my husband talking.”
Her advice in the latest episode of I Don’t Know How She Does It applies to every mother – whether in the city or country.
“Look after yourself, it’s important to look after [your partner] but if you’re not healthy, you can’t look after everyone else in the family.”
And Leila certainly has a few things to look after. Beyond caring for her two children, helping on the farm and competing in the pageant, she also has to do what almost every mum has to do. (Except maybe Beyonce). Grocery shopping.
“I try and shop once a fortnight. We have lots of milk in the spare fridge... I look like a crazy person going through the checkout with five three-litre cartons of milk every time I go through.
“We don’t buy any of our own meat... but... veggies seem to go off really quick nowadays so I’ve got to be super quick with the veggies... I do a lot of freezer meals.”
But that’s a long way from Leila’s reality right now.
Away from the title: mum, farmer, teacher, wife. And all the other titles you can possibly think off...
She’s currently in West Virginia where she competed for the title of Mrs International.
And while she didn't win, it's certainly a title she deserves.
Congratulations on a successful season, Leila. And thanks for representing all the Mrs'.
Listen to the full episode of I Don't Know How She Does It here:
Subscribe to the show at apple.co/mamamia.
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