Helen Perrottet’s first official date with the man who would become her husband was over coffee at Hughenden, a Victorian mansion in Woollahra. The lanky young law student was too nervous to eat. “He’s such a gentleman,” she said. “That’s very kind. My parents just love him. My dad loves him.” She liked his wit and sense of humor. But something is holding Perrottet back.
She just returned from six months in Canada. The career future of defence public affairs and the gendarmerie is uncertain. As a reservist, she was trained in assault rifles, grenades and tank battalion command. She wants adventure, not suitor. They dated for a while, then parted ways and reconnected a few years later. “I think, actually, he’s a bit powerful, why did I say no back then?”
However, over the next few years of courtship, Perrault was torn between taking risks and settling down with the man she loved. In her moments of rebellion, she said, she resisted family life, fearing she would become a “suburban mother”. “Until I want that, [she thought at the time], I don’t do that. “
Perrottet is a suburban mother these days. For seven children, their father has a time-consuming job as the Premier of NSW. This is home life on steroids. After listening to her story of the ups and downs of her early years, I asked if it would be her turn again when her husband was out of politics and had time to take on more household chores. “It was my adventure, and I wouldn’t have thought about it until I got married,” she said. “I thought this. “
We meet outside Yo Sushi, Perrottets’ date night restaurant, An intimate Japanese bolt hole in the leafy Beecroft Mall. Perrottet greeted the owner like an old friend and guided me through the menu. We ordered steamed shrimp dumplings, salmon sashimi and mouthwatering beef sushi, but I asked her so many questions that she barely had time to eat. There’s a lot I want to know about the logistics of raising seven children. It turned out to be the least interesting thing about her.
Perrottet, 42, who grew up in Centennial Park in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, is the sixth of eight. They were Catholic, but she and several of her siblings went to public schools, Sydney Girls’ High and Sydney Boys’ High. Perrottet excelled in science and took four units of mathematics, but fell behind in advanced English. Her mother asked her to study HSC English at TAFE so she could study the same text twice. “I learn the great gatsby,” she said sharply, and we both laughed. My name is the same as that of a character in the novel. “You’re so excited. “
This is an academic family. There is no TV in the house. There is also a culture of financial independence. “Apart from basic needs,” Perrottet says, “if we want something, we pay for it.” Her first job at age 11 was babysitting. By the age of 19, she had four jobs. “I paid 18 for myself [birthday party], I paid for my 21-year-old,” she said. “I bought my own car, I bought clothes. I became incredibly independent. I don’t think any of my siblings have any sense of entitlement. “
Given her talent in math and science, Perrottet’s parents wanted her to pursue a career in medicine, perhaps following her mother in physical therapy (her father worked in computer software). The unexpected success of English gave her other ideas. “any [my mother] I’m saying [was] would do the opposite,” said Perrottet, who chose Communication Studies at the University of Technology and majored in Public Relations.
But it wasn’t communications courses that caught Perrottet’s imagination at the university. That’s the army. As a child, her two older brothers loved to play soldiers. In the absence of television, the young Perrottet also flipped through a box of used WWII comics and the entire book of Biggles, about a fighter pilot who served in two wars. “I thought [the army reserve] It’s going to be fun,” she said. “It’s incredible. “
Perrottet loves her diverse high school, where girls are taught that they can do anything without realizing how gender segregation subtly reinforces stereotypes. Girls learn to sew and cook, while boys at the school next door get more manly pursuits.
In the military, she does everything. She couldn’t go into details – the Australian Defence Force doesn’t like to discuss its inner workings – but reserve training typically includes training assault rifles and grenades, taking long marches in the bush and working out the ins and outs of rocket launchers. “That’s when I realized, ‘Actually, I’m totally capable,'” she said. “Your abilities are not based on gender. The girls I met through the military were amazing. They were like, ‘I can do it’. There was no if about it. ‘I’ll keep trying’.
When she returned from a working holiday in Canada, Perrottet called ADF to say it had a chance to get a PR job. It did; the first Iraq war had just begun and they needed help from headquarters. A few years later, she moved to Darwin to live at Robertson Barracks. During her defense career, she has undergone military police training and has a particular interest in legal aspects. “My hand-to-hand combat is terrible, but I just love the law,” she said.
While studying law by correspondence, Perrottet worked as a police officer with the Australian Federal Police in Canberra, another eye-opening job. “You’re going to have theft and theft a lot,” she said. “There’s a lot of domestic violence. You have a lot of heartbreaking moments, but then it’s really meaningful.” It’s never going to be a forever job. She has her eyes on the legal world. Moving back to Sydney is always possible. Then her boyfriend proposed.
Perrottet’s first meeting with the future prime minister was controversial. She said he ruined her party. He said he would never screw up a party. They met on a trip to Toronto for World Youth Day 2002, a Catholic festival for young people that takes place every three years in a different country.
“We clicked,” she said. “There is depth. We can debate. [There was] An intellectual connection. She knew he was interested in politics. So was she. They shared Catholicism (like Labour leader Chris Mings, faith was important to the Perots, but they rarely discussed it publicly).
But when he came home, she stayed in Canada and they didn’t have a coffee date in Hughenden until she came back in 2003. She was a few years older than him (he was 39), which doesn’t matter now, but it was then. “I thought I was a little too cool at the time,” she said. A few years later, she changed her mind—”What was I thinking?”—and they became an object.
About 18 months later, Dominic proposed for the first time. He hid a bottle of Moët on the balcony overlooking the harbour and got down on one knee. “It’s beautiful,” she said. They organized a party. Then Perrottet became apathetic. “The day before the engagement party, I said, ‘I’m not sure,'” she said. “‘Not you’ [she told him]. I’ve had amazing adventures running all over the country.I’m terrified [of settling down]. poor guy. “
They stayed together for a while and then broke up, but couldn’t be completely separated. Over time and long distances, they solved their problems. Then, one evening, after a quiet dinner at Mere Catherine, the famous French bistro in Potts Point, he asked again, and she said yes, because this time it was exactly what she wanted. They married in 2008 at St Joseph’s Catholic Church in Edgecliff. Dominic is one of 12 children. Their immediate family accounted for 50 of the guests.
The Perrottets now have seven children of their own, from Celeste, 6 months, to Charlotte, 13. “It’s not as hard as I thought,” she said. Military training helps. “I have to be very organised. I would say mental load is a killer.”
She developed mom tricks like buying only one style of socks so there’s no need to pair them after laundry. For a friend’s birthday party, “I buy birthday gifts in bulk, birthday cards in bulk, wrapping paper in bulk—bags, actually never wrapping paper, it’s just an extra thing. You have to incorporate these efficiencies into every day because There’s a thousand things.” And, of course, they had a human mover. “Tarago,” she said. “That’s the worst part.”
A big family is nervous – “I now have a better understanding of the work involved, my parents’ experiences” – but it’s also fun. “It’s a party atmosphere,” she said. “At dinner time, there’s a huge debate, or laughter, or stories. There’s always action. There’s also support. At one point, I’ll have four women [her sisters] By my side, that’s it. “
With each arrival, babysitting also becomes easier and more enjoyable. “I think I now have a pretty good idea of when something goes wrong and what works,” she said. “There’s less pressure.” She was coy when I asked if there would be any more Perrottet babies. “I’m 42 years old, so I think the chances of that happening are very low,” she said. “We’ve been lucky.”
Perrottet works three days a week, one with an employment law firm and the other with the Australian Defence Force, helping those facing disciplinary or employment issues. The work is flexible and can be done from home. Babysitters look after the youngest on weekdays and Monday nights (date nights).
But there is no way around it. Many times, Dominic is not there to help. They try to have a cup of coffee together every morning. He tried to go home for dinner. He would work from home if he could. He would get up at night with a sick baby and play the sport on Saturday. But he’s the Premier of NSW and he has an election coming up.
“I am very supportive [the children],” she said. “If there was a parent-teacher interview, I would lock it in a diary. He was on the basketball court with Charlotte on the bench Tuesday night. I would go through his journals and incorporate the kids activities as much as possible to make them feel like he was their father, that he was there and that they were the most important to him. I said, you have to… hug her, talk to her, play with him, and I pretty much gave him that structure to make sure. “
We finished our lunch. Perrault has to go back to work. I ask her if she’s looking forward to the post-political era, when she’ll get her husband back and her daughter won’t come home from the station with a poster attacking her father’s question, asking “Do people hate dad?” Perrottet smiles , and answered succinctly. “I think it’s every political wife.”
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