Meet & Greet: Caroline Milford

After playing a role in her own version of The Nanny Diaries between careers as an English and History teacher and newspaper journalist, mother-of-three Caroline Milford is all too wary of the perils of hands-off parenting, more particularly with daughter Nadia, now 15, who is mortified by her mother's presence on her Facebook wall, but might one day be appreciative of Caroline's commitment to instilling good values.

"Fashion's nice; it's okay to be a bit trendy, but you certainly don't dwell on that or prioritise that over your sport and your academic achievements," says Caroline. "It's a dangerous way to head. The thing with being a hands-on mum is you have a much bigger influence. Your child could be getting all the wrong messages from their friends, from magazines, and that's not healthy. I'm a mum who has a career, and a healthy marriage, and who is fashionable but not obsessed."

Caroline's own mother was responsible for the care of all five of her children, while her father was a "high-flying businessman" and a rare presence (he's making amends now, she says, by playing a more frequent role in his grandchildren's lives). She resented that her mother wasn't able to have a career outside the home, so has focused on cultivating a career that meets her needs, as well as her family's, achieving, it would seem, that all-too illusive work/life balance in the process.

"To me it was about finding a husband who was prepared to be flexible when it came to looking after the children, willing to support you in your career, knowing that it was important to you, and both of us finding time for the kids," says Caroline. "I really think the thing that makes you happy is your home – happy husband, happy kids, happy me. I'm not the sort to sit down and have long cups of coffee or go to too many tupperware parties. And some women don't have a career so that's what they do and that's fine; but I think women are looking for something more. It's not just the career aspect, it's the income. It gives women a sense of, 'Well, I earned this and I can afford this, so I'm going to buy that dress'. It's healthy, I think, in relationships, too; keeping that balance. Making your family recognise you still have value outside the home."

With her grey skinny jeans, snakeskin print top and fresh blonde highlights, Caroline might be mistaken for a city-slicking yummy mummy, but she's called Dalby, an hour west of Toowoomba, her home for the past 20 years. The country life, she admits, makes it easier to be family focused: there are no hour-long commutes to work or the kids' weekend sporting fixtures.

"You get to know the mums. And you socialise around your family. If you're a family person, you can really achieve work/life balance here. People are more patient; they're flexible; they understand when it comes to families."

The face of @Dalby magazine's autumn issue, Caroline completed her journalism degree at the University of Queensland, Brisbane, aged 27, where she was earmarked by a lecturer for a role in the rural press. She was working at The Toowoomba Chronicle as News Editor when she met her husband, Carl, a vet, who coerced the city girl to lay roots in the country. She had been posted to Dalby as News Editor for two days when they met.

"There was some backlash in the community about APN doing the printing in Toowoomba," says Caroline. "They'd pulled staff out of town. So they needed someone to go out there and do the feelgood thing. I was doing that two days a week, talking to the council, and that's how I met Carl. He was running for mayor to protest taking the council chambers out of town. I didn't want to get involved because I had travel plans. I'd done India, Africa, Europe, and I really wanted to do South America. He said, 'Well, I've been to South America and I can tell you all about it.' He still owes me that trip to South America."

Ditching any dreams of becoming a city paper features editor, Caroline set about adapting her skill set to her new environment, taking on work with the council to raise awareness of Dalby Cotton week and initiating the town's Young Designer in Cotton Award.

"In the early 2000s, Dalby had one of the biggest cotton crops in Australia, right up until 2006/7, before the drought hit, it was really buoyant and the festival was still getting sponsorship. But then cotton prices went through the floor. There were big cotton crops coming out of China and India that drove prices down, and the drought. People stopped planting cotton, and the festival dried up. I pulled out, as I was looking for a new challenge. I'm now working with a civil construction and engineering company. When you're doing PR and marketing, you have to support the industries that are around you."

If adaptability and thinking of yourself less as a solo operator, more as a support to others, is one of the keys to a life well lived, then Caroline's nailed it.

Girl With a Satchel