Those who have spent time in Port Hedland over the past 11 years are likely to have encountered Elise Batchelor.
This liveware latter-day resident has had quite an impact since moving to the town with her husband in 2011.
Chances are those in Port Hedland or the Pilbara have heard her on ABC radio as the ‘Pilbara Poet’, read the articles she wrote for a local newspaper, attended events where she was the MC, enjoyed theatre productions she has written, or known her as their children’s teacher.
One of Elise’s first MC outings was a town Christmas Carols spectacular on the back of a truck, but more recently she officiated at Welcome to Hedland, where she celebrated “wearing corduroy pants for the first time, probably since I was eight”, and enjoying “the glorious evening of cool air and infinite starlight”.
With a background as a high school English and Literature teacher in Melbourne who dabbled in theatre production and outdoor trekking, Elise, and husband, Rob, wound up in the Pilbara by “random chance” in 2003.
They arrived in Karratha with no money and a plan to stay for three weeks; they stayed for seven years before moving to Port Hedland.
Elise says her initial reaction to the move was “embarrassingly stereotypical”.
“Shortly after we came to town, my husband reassured me that I’d find my roots if I reached out to the community and said yes to social and other opportunities that came along,” Elise said.
“I did this, and the response was incredible. I always tell anyone new to Hedland that all they need to do is say yes to a single social invitation and if they are brave and head there, they will come away with several new friends and a bunch of new contacts on their phone.
“If you have not purposefully travelled to Port Hedland to stop, stay, and participate in its offerings, natural or social, I doubt that you would fathom the possibility that is available in Port Hedland.
“I was such a person before I moved here. What it takes to appreciate the wonderful things of Port Hedland is knowing that it is on you to be motivated, to put up your hand for opportunities, choose to understand the town and the region, and, mostly, enjoy the potential for acquaintances to become wonderful friends in the process.
“My heart is full in Hedland. In the meantime, even taking off rose-coloured glasses and recognising that there are many issues in the town that need solving, my way to approach this is to be the best person I can, to offer my skills and to be part of experiences that build others’ confidence, potential and self-belief.”
Saying yes to every opportunity was something of a mantra for Elise even before Port Hedland.
“After arriving in the Pilbara, I decided to put up my hand for every interesting opportunity that came my way and truly suck the marrow out of life,” she said.
“This has included working at the (now perished) Walkington Theatre in Karratha, as the Pilbara Poet writing and performing for ABC Pilbara for several years, and a radio journalist.
“I loved being a print journalist for the Pilbara Echo newspaper in its day and catching good stories from all over Hedland.
“I’ve worked as a TAFE trainer, a Bachelor of Education lecturer for Curtin University and, over the past 15 years, taught primary school, now as a qualified primary teacher.
“I’ve also had the utter joy of being an event MC for many Port Hedland community and corporate events over the past decade, which I absolutely love.”
A new plan was hatched after Elise’s production Melted – A Musical — a rewrite of Frozen with a nod to the Pilbara — was performed at Port Hedland’s Matt Dann Theatre in 2017.
“Next thing you know it, we have HATch — Hedland Amateur Theatre — up and running in Port Hedland,” Elise said.
“Just prior to forming our non-profit organisation formally, we staged Wizard of Odd in 2019. With the support of Roy Hill Community Foundation HATch has gained strength with its first showcase last year, HiJACK! and in June 2022, our first full-length musical, After Ever After.”
Elise is the Artistic Director and President of HATch, working with friends and colleagues in the grassroots theatre for children and adults where primary school-aged actors are HATchlings, and high school actors are HATchbacks.
It comes as no surprise that Elise considers investment in cultural and community assets as vital to Port Hedland’s development.
“I feel confident knowing what our dreams are to be a better community and having people working behind these ideals, very hard, towards those goals,” she said.
“I’d feel particularly confident in the community-cultural-arts space if our town had the facilities that other towns such as Karratha have, which can help to cement a town’s pride in its value. Bring on the new arts precinct. It can’t come fast enough.”
In the meantime, perfect weekends include “family time, and catching up with my friends in the evenings with great conversation and ideas, wherever it is. I also love events in town and, most definitely, dressing up for them.”
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