28 February 2024

How Wild Women of Wollongong is changing lives beyond unleashing adventure

| Kellie O'Brien
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Wild Women of Wollongong

Wild Women of Wollongong has now grown to 8600 members. Photo: Supplied.

Adventure-based group Wild Women of Wollongong has gone beyond women embracing being wild in nature with newfound friends and has become a heartwarming space that’s changing women’s lives.

Teala Stephens took on helping moderate the Facebook group after founder Tahlia Russell moved overseas, with the group now boasting 8600 members and numerous subgroups that organise events from bushwalks to singing, rock climbing, surfing, kayaking, book clubs and skating.

Started in November 2022 to “get back into being wild and enjoying nature”, Teala discovered the group four months later, in March 2023.

“She (Tahlia) started it because she had a group of friends that she would usually go camping, hiking and to the snow with, but they had moved away from Wollongong,” she said.

“She opened it up to start including new people, because she needed new people to be able to go away with.”

For Teala, her background working in a hospital meant she had a “fairly transient network of friends”.

“I was looking for social connection post COVID and post working in a hospital and discovered the group and that they were going out and doing fun outdoor stuff that I wouldn’t go and do by myself,” she said.

“I jumped in and went to a couple of events.”

In the midst of a career change and with an interest in online community management, Teala contacted Tahlia to see if she needed help managing the group due to its rapid growth and discovered she was moving overseas.

“We just clicked in that we were both on the same page in really wanting to create a space where women could connect with each other, it was safe and it meant they could do things they wouldn’t normally do,” she said.

“We really aligned on those as values and that’s what we could see the group creating for the area.”

READ ALSO Bush school encourages kids to get back to nature-based childhoods

Teala said members joined for various reasons, including having moved or returned to the area, life changes that had left them feeling disconnected, such as kids growing up, or a significant relationship end that saw them wanting to enhance their social connections.

She said the other reason for its growth was due to the nature of the content being posted.

“I think it’s the fact we do try and post photos of activities that have happened so people are seeing relatable people doing things they could go and do that maybe they thought they couldn’t,” she said.

“Rather than it being the curated social media feed of the ‘fitspo’ (‘fitspiration’) influencers out doing things, this is real people that they know, or someone connected to who they know, or they’re in the same group, and they’re like, ‘Oh, I actually could go and do that and maybe that’s not quite so scary.’”

She said what had come out of the group had been “quite heartwarming”.

“Some of our favourite things that have happened since the group started is we have a ‘Spoonies’ chat group for people with chronic illnesses, and we’ve heard some wonderful stories of women with rare chronic illnesses that have finally met someone for the first time that has the same condition as them,” she said.

“That’s super powerful.

Teala Stephens Wild Women

Teala said one of the events was a monthly yoga class to raise funds for Women Illawarra. Photo: Supplied.

“More recently we were at the Wollongong City Council awards – we got nominated for one of the community groups of the year – and I had a person next to me that said, ‘I’m part of the group but I haven’t been to anything yet, but it’s just so reassuring to know that if I wanted to connect with all these people, they’re just there.’”

She said there were stories of women who were good friends 10 or 15 years ago but had lost touch and then randomly showed up at an event together.

“It’s been wonderful to see the kindness where someone’s struggling – they don’t have a car at the moment and other group members will organise picking them up,” she said.

“Or maybe they want to try an event but they don’t have flippers or a snorkel and there are group members who are like, ‘Well, I’ve got spares. I’ll bring them.’”

She said while some activities were seasonal, like camping, snorkelling and bushwalking, the events were quite varied.

“One of the group members got the book about all the different walking trails in the Illawarra and so for a while there pretty much every week she was putting up a different bushwalk,” she said.

“We have a volunteer yoga teacher who does a once-a-month Sunday morning yoga session and donations go towards Women Illawarra.”

READ ALSO Nine of the best bushwalking trails to try in the Illawarra this spring

She said one subgroup caught up once a month at the Music Lounge to sing, another formed a band, one did guided photography walks, there was a craft group, an e-bikes group, and even old-fashioned games afternoons.

“There’s a lot of champions in the group that are very proactive in listing events, so people get to go along and try new things,” she said of the group now being self-sufficient.

Teala encouraged women to “feel the fear and do it anyway”, admitting she was yet to hear of anyone who had regretted attending an event.

“There’s that awkward moment of ‘Um, are you with the Wild Women?’, followed by a bit of an awkward chuckle, and then you’re like, ‘Yes’ and you’re instantly friends.”

To join the group, visit the Wild Women of Wollongong Facebook group.

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