Out of the Box: Kati Contreras
Posted on March 26, 2012
Kati moved from Chile to the sunshine and humidity of Cairns in 1989. She was just 16 and spoke no English. Within three years of arriving in Australia, Kati gave birth to her son Jorge, now 19.
I interviewed Kati via email, and even on this most impersonal of channels, her personality shone. I start now with the ‘off the cuff’ questions as a way to introduce you to her. Meet Kati.
Off the cuff
You are sitting in a meeting room with a group of senior executives of your company and a person sits next to you. What is the first question you ask them?
Actually, I have done that in the past. When I worked at Suncorp I walked (late) into the Board of Director’s meeting and sat next to the GM and asked if I had missed much. She turned to me and said…”I think you are in the wrong meeting room dear.”
If your house burnt down, what would be three things you would save?
This seriously almost happened too! One of the units next to us caught on fire. I grabbed my white suit because I had a job interview the next day. No undies, bra or shoes or even a top to go under it. Just the suit, I think my rationale at the time was, I need to get this job more than ever, so I better have something to wear to it.
I’ve seen you argue with a stylist when she suggested vetoing opaque stockings. What advice would you give someone who asked you?
Haha yes. I would say there are no rules when it comes to your style. It is whatever you feel beautiful and confident in.
I wore a tutu and cowboys boots to a parent teacher interview once. Some may think (actually, Jorge may say) ‘what a ridiculous combo’. I say ‘what a cool, out of the box mix’. I would also say, dress for yourself, not others.
Your dad was political. Describe him.
Well, I am still yet to meet anyone like him. He was very passionate about his people and what they believed in. A lot of people wear Che t-shirts without realising that there is a Che in most Chileans, most South Americans actually.
My dad was a freedom fighter; he lived and died for what he believed in. My sister used to go to demonstrations with him but I was too young. I was born only 3 days before the “coup d’état” and my dad was incarcerated in 1975 like many of his friends and comrades. He was lucky to be alive as many died or were exiled under Pinochet’s regime. My dad never wanted to leave Chile but he was happy for us to come to Australia. When he died, the people in his town gave him a state funeral.
Are you passionate about Australian politics?
It puzzles me. Jorge came to me for guidance at the last state election and to be honest, I could not explain the difference between the Labor and Liberal parties. At the end of the day it is like voting for whatever your situation is, so if you are a student like Jorge then maybe explore the policies behind each party and choose based on that.
In my country, that would never happen. The left is left and the right is right.
You were quite young when you moved to Australia. Briefly describe the first months, years.
It was so HOT and humid but it didn’t stop me from giving this country my best shot and getting to know it. I went everywhere, I spent a lot of time at Coles looking at all the amazing foods and gadgets. I actually thought that Peanut Butter was Caramel (my favourite food). I was so disappointed when I eagerly launched into the jar with a big spoon only to taste the salty peanut butter.
I made flash cards and had English lessons at home and got my whole family involved. I went to school with a spring in my step every day, I felt so lucky to be here and experience freedom for the first time in my life. Even though Chile is no longer under a dictatorship, I now and then think about how lucky I am to be here.
I always say that I am loopy and lusty and complicated enough to make me interesting and definitely not boring
You strike me as bold (in a fabulous way, of course). What is the most outrageous thing you have ever done?
How long do we have? I really think that my whole life is based on a series of crazy and outrageous events. I mean I Katiuska Contreras had a baby at 19, raised him mostly on my own but not without the support of my beautiful mum and family. I went into film production and did some outrageous things from milking a cow for a famous actress (that did not want pasteurised milk for breakfast) to babysitting several reptiles, including a snake, during a shoot. I travelled to Chile without a passport and got interviewed by the secret police for about two hours before they let me travel back to Australia.
I learnt how to swim at 25 and then went on to complete too many triathlons to mention and one Gold Coast marathon. I am about to finish a 90-day Bikram Yoga challenge and almost went without alcohol from Christmas to Easter.
That’s not even including my love life. I got so sick of waiting for a dude to call that I chucked my phone off the balcony. A year later my beautiful friend gave me the broken phone and said, ‘this is a reminder of how far you’ve come’. (By the way, I am still single, but with hope that one day I will meet someone who loves me ‘just as I am’… and that calls back!
You were quite young when you had Jorge. Tell me about him and about how you raised such a great guy.
Yes, I was only 19 and Jorge is 19 now. I think with youth comes patience and also I was a little ignorance I think, in a good way. For example, while these days everyone is concerned about what to eat and what not to eat when pregnant, I was eating steak, refried beans and feta cheese for breakfast.
I also had my mum to keep me in line. Jorge was like a doll and I used to dress him up all of the time…I really was just a teen. For a long time it felt like Jorge was my brother even though I was 100% responsible for him. Mum had a way of bossing both of us around (I mean it in a good way). I was never the boss of Jorge. He has always been an equal partner in crime, every decision we have made has been discussed and I guess that’s what makes us such a good team.
Credit given where due! Thanks for the photos:
Vanja Stace http://vanjastace.com/
Keith Rowell: http://keithrowell.com/articles