Thursday, September 30, 2010

From Floristry to Millinery....Absolutely Fascinating!

Nicole pictured in the middle with 3 of her
stunning creations at last years Melbourne Cup.
Pictured left her creation that won the honours.

Nicole Leonard is thirty something and currently studying millinery at the Hunter Institute of Technology.  This Newcastle born and bred creative force is creating a
bit of stir on the racing fashion scene.

Nicole grew up the youngest of four girls in Birmingham Gardens.  At 16 she left school to start an apprenticeship in floristry.  During her career in the florist industry she created a following for her beautiful bridal bouquets and stunning flower arrangements.

I caught up with Nicole at her home in Wallsend.  A beautiful Californian bungalow that has been lovingly and meticulously renovated, blending refined modern taste and convenience with old world charm.  Of course when I walked in she apologised that they had not completely finished the job with the gardens still retaining a little too much of the old world for her liking.  That is the perfectionist coming out and after a tour of the house and her current projects and past creations I realise just how passionate she is about beautiful things.

We sat down, with a glass of wine and discussed her past career in floristry.  Nicole loved the creative design involved in floristy, but the hours were long and hard and some customers could be a bit on the difficult side.  "It's not that they were hard to work with, but some people were convinced we were making millions from their flowers when the truth was much poorer."  "People just don't realise the time and effort that goes into their flowers, from seed to delivery.  In fact I am sure some customers thought we were growing the flowers out the back."

This was one of the reasons that pushed her to consider a career change, "I had gone as far as I wanted to go in floristry and I had no ambitions to own my own store. It is a lot of time and hard work for very little reward, it is such a competitive industry."

The other reason was her love of her horse racing.  "My love affair with the races started when I first went to Broadmeadow races. I loved the atmosphere and the women with their beautiful dresses, hats and accessories, it all seemed so dignified and almost regal."

About six years ago Nicole met her partner Matt McBrien who is originally from Melbourne and was working on the Central Coast and it wasn't long before Nicole developed a love for Melbourne and Matt.  "Everyone is so stylish in Melbourne, even the men. They take such pride in their appearance and yet they are really friendly and open people".  

On her first trip to the Melbourne Cup Nicole was unable to find a hat or fascinator to match her dress, "I already had in my mind what I wanted but I searched high and low, far and wide and just couldn't find what I wanted.  So I thought why not give it a go and make one myself!" and that was exactly what she did.

Nicole admits her very first creation was a little on the crude side as she had no idea of what she was doing, she just knew how she wanted it to look.  It was at this point Nicole starts using millinery terms that completely lost me! 

While it may not have passed the test of an expert she received lots of compliments at the races and it wasn't long after that friends and family started putting their orders in.  "With all these people wanting me to make headpieces and fascinators and my passion for floristry waning I thought why not start my own business."  So she looked into her options and signed up for her Tafe course and started her business Absolutely Fascinating

Nicole has come so far from that first attempt,and her drive to be the best at what she does, you know that her work is only going to get better and more in demand.  "I know I can't compete with department stores and I have no desire to do so.  I want to produce individual and unique pieces of art that will be cherished by the women I make them for, not these cookie cutter designs made in China."

At heart Nicole is an artist, you can see the passion that takes over when she shows you her latest creation or talks about all the technical aspects of her work.  With all of that and an exceptional talent it won't be long before we see her creations walking down the runway of a high end fashion show and even at the famous race that stops a nation!

Examples of Nicole's exquisite designs


PS. If you want something unique for  Melbourne Cup day you can contact Nicole on 0438 662 834 but be quick as she can only commit to a few projects at a time.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Newcastle's Heart Lies in it's Stomach

This was a great feature a couple of weeks ago in the Newcastle Herald.  There is a lot of debate in Newcastle about it's future as a city.  As you will read in this article Newcastle has number of great restaurants in and around the CBD, so let's support them.  Next time you are looking for a venue or just somewhere to have an intimate dinner with your partner or a night out with a few friends why not try somewhere new. 


1 in 20 Australians have been victims of scams

Hard to believe but true, recent statistics from the NSW Department of Fair Trading have highlighted a growing epidemic of scam related crime in Australia.  Today's online world has opened a flood gate of cyber-crime and made it much easier for these criminals to get you to part with your hard earned money.

I myself recently was caught in a scam that ran a job in our local newspaper.  The ad was very large and looked very professional.  The ad claimed they were a marketing company looking for mystery shoppers in our area.  It sounded like the perfect second job so I sent in my resume and application letter by email as the ad requested.

Within 24 hours I had an email saying I was successful and that they would forward me my first job in the next 24 -48 hours.  I thought great, I am going to get paid for doing what I like to do best - shopping!  While I expected that I would get a phone call about my first job, I didn't instead they emailed me account details to use my local post office's Western Union facility to see how helpful the staff were.  The catch was I had to send $500 of my own money and provide the company with the receipt details and my bank account so they could refund the money and also pay me for my service. 

Needless to say a red flag went up, so I decided to Google the marketing company.  What I found was a long list of Scam Report sites warning of this scam.  What was unusual in my case is they had advertised in our local paper, usually they only used employment websites or chat rooms to recruit people.  I was lucky, I can only imagine how many other people got caught by this trap, desperate people who needed the extra income or someone who had been long term unemployed may have been duped in to parting with their own money they could little afford to lose.

There are a million different scams, but they usually fall into the below categories. 

Phishing Scams
If you receive an email that appears to be from your bank asking for your account or personal details you can be sure it is a scam. Banks never ask customers for such information via email.

Work from Home Scams
Much like my own experience or they may offer huge amounts of money for little work, like data entry and require you to pay a joining fee.

Ring tone Scams
If you buy a ring tone online, be sure you what you are getting into. Some sites will quietly sign you up to a monthly subscription and then make it near impossible to cancel.

Nigerian Scams
Be very wary of anyone overseas offering to pay you for helping them transfer money out of their own country via your bank account.  Never disclose your bank details, not only could you lose your own money you could be aiding criminals in laundering dirty money.

Health Related Scams
The Internet is full of health related products that claim to be a miracle cure. Most are fakes and produce no results and some can even be harmful.

Online Auction Scams
While these auction sites can be great for picking up a bargain they can also be a trap.  Check sellers online ratings or for goods that seem much cheaper than competitors or to sellers that offer to sell to you more cheaply in a direct deal.  Major auction sites provide buyers with valuable protection but only if your trade within the system.

Where to go for help

For info on recent scams that are doing the rounds visit or phone 1300 302 502

For info on reporting a scam go to
or phone 1300 302 502

If you think your details may have been put at risk contact your bank asap to notify them of your concerns.

For any other advice you can call Fair Trading on 13 32 20.

REMEMBER....If it sounds to good to be true, then it probably is.

Christie Birch

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Light the Night for Leukaemia

A beautiful sight!
Light the night 2010 in Newcastle was a great night despite the heavens opening up!  Our team Light the Night Angels, raise over $2,400 that will go to the Leukaemia Foundation's vital programs. 
Thank you
 to everyone who supported us including
Three Bean Cafe
 Bright Buttons Day Care Centre
(to all the Mum's who ran the cake stall and those who baked cakes)
Michael Hall Financial Planning
Luke Di Prinzio Financial Services
The Strictly Limited Company
10X Newcastle
Newcastle Photo & Art
Dowling Commercial Real Estate
Kelso's the Law Firm
Forefront Productions
Janelle Gerrard
Greg McDonald
Yosi Tal
Rod Dawson
Courtney Forbes
Susan Lefmann
Julie Jurd
Gregory Politis
Mark Thompson
Sherynne Smith
Paul Bissett
Trent Goodall
Travis Tantos
Christopher Blaxland Walker
Richie Williams
Christopher Birch
Steven Quick
and to those who gave to our other team member Phyllis Cox in memory of her daughter Rhonda who passed away from Leukaemia.
We are excited that we did so well, it isn't always easy to get people to part with their money even for a good cause, so I hope everyone realises just how great they are!
Where your money goes
The foundation has made the following commitments to provide funds raised to investing $4,000,000 to support the work of Australia's best researchers to develop better treatments and find cures.
Supporting 9,000 patients, their carers and families.
Provide regional patients with housing during treatment.
Transport more than 4,400 patients to and from treatment.
Providing access to online support and information for 15,000 people.

We have decided that we will support Light the Night for 2011 also and we have some pretty great plans to raise even more money so look out for our announcements in March next year.
If you need more information about the Leukaemia Foundation and the services they provide click here to go to their website.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Cancer Council NSW is a community funded, community focused cancer charity dedicated to the defeat of cancer.

Through the development of prevention strategies, research into new treatments and cures, and by providing clinical and emotional support to those affected by cancer, we work towards realising our vision of a society where lives are not cut short by, or their quality diminished by cancer.

We have the broadest reach of any cancer organisation in New South Wales and have been a trusted cancer charity for more than 50 years.

Much of our success is based on our ability to work in collaborative partnership across many areas of the Community.

Cancer Council has recently formed a partnership with Wayne W Lennan Financial Services to provide a service reviewing personal insurances.

At the time of a cancer diagnosis the last thing anyone needs to worry about is their financial situation. Personal insurances can help to alleviate this worry.

Cancer Council will promote this service through their networks and if an individual decides to take out a policy Wayne W Lennan Financial Services will donate $100 to the Cancer Council. Also, if a review is undertaken and they can't save the client any money, they will also donate $100.

This partnership has benefits for both parties, but more importantly for individuals who will have the peace of mind to know they have financial coverage should they ever have a diagnosis of cancer.

Christine Roach | Regional Manager, Hunter & North West

Cancer Council NSW

T: (02) 4923 0701 | M: 0411 408 662
22 Lambton Road, Broadmeadow NSW 2292

Client Story - A $300,000 Phone Call

Nearly 18 months ago a cancellation letter came across my desk for one of my long time clients. I thought it was a bit odd and decided I would give him a call to find out why he was canceling his insurance.

During our conversation he advised that he had been diagnosed with Cancer and due to the cost of his treatment and medications could no longer afford to pay his premium. Thank goodness I decided to give him a call!

As it turned out our client had a life and trauma policy for a significant amount of money. I pointed this out to my client and he admitted he had forgotten what a trauma policy covered. I proceeded to explain that trauma cover pays a lump sum benefit upon the diagnosis of a specific illness including cancer.

My office contacted the insurer that day and within 10 weeks our client received his benefit of over $300,000 which greatly helped him and his family. When my client first contacted me he was not very hopeful of making a recovery, indeed the doctors did not hold much hope either. Since receiving his money and greatly reducing the financial stress he has since advised me that things are looking better.
While I don't claim that his improvement was a direct result from his financial gain , it did ease the stress he and his family were under and allowed him to concentrate on his treatment and recovery.

My point in sharing this story with you is to highlight how I work for you, my client. My job is not only to put a protection plan in place for my clients, but also to manage and maintain that plan and provide any assistance to my client on an ongoing basis. This however does require a degree of regular interaction, including annual reviews and keeping in touch with our clients.

You will notice over the next 12 months that we have introduced a new review process which will require our clients to complete a review survey. The survey should only take about 5 to 10 minutes to complete but it is extremely important that it is completed and returned every year so I can make sure that I am giving you the best service and advice that all my clients deserve.

Of course if our clients need to contact us they can call our office on 02 4925 6125 during business hours Monday to Friday or they can contact us via our website by visiting and clicking on the contact us link.