My Favourite Place: Suzanna Sheed

By John Lewis

In the front garden of Suzanna Sheed’s central Shepparton home, there are six white unopened bags of sheep manure lined up and gathering dust against a low stone wall.

They are a sign of jobs to do.

In a shady spot, near the manure bags, squats a small Japanese Budddha statue with a serene smile under closed eyes.

That too, is another sign of jobs to do.

When her parliamentary duties are done for the week, Ms Sheed does not spend any more time in the big smoke than she has to.

‘‘I just go to Melbourne on Monday and I get back as soon as I can,’’ Ms Sheed said.

‘‘I rarely accept invitations for events in Melbourne unless they are connected to Shepparton — such as water-related events.’’

She was hoping to get some time off this week during the approach to Easter, but duty calls.

She is flying to Sydney to meet someone who might wield a big water stick in the next federal government — Labor environment and water spokesman Tony Burke.

After that, she might squeeze in few quiet moments at her favourite place.

Home for Suzanna Sheed is a heritage-listed brick-built house in central Shepparton a few minutes walk from the CBD or Victoria Park Lake — which she loves.

‘‘I love walking around the lake at 6.30am, it’s so beautiful,’’ she said.

‘‘It’s used by so many people during the day — especially our migrant community.

‘‘It feels like a safe place — and it’s right in the heart of the community.’’

Her home is a place of bookshelves, a long hallway shelf crammed with family photos, scattered cushions, varnished wood floors, slightly frayed rugs and high ceilings.

There is a feel of homely clutter about the place.

Originally a farmhouse on the edge of Shepparton, Ms Sheed thinks it was built in 1906.

‘‘I’ve spent my whole life in old homes,’’ she said.

‘‘I grew up in an old listed farmhouse at Jerilderie.

‘‘Then I lived in an old terraced home when I went to Melbourne Uni.’’

Ms Sheed came to Shepparton as a newly-qualified lawyer in the 1980s and moved into her brick home with then-husband Joel and their young family in 1991.

When Joel died suddenly in 1994, Ms Sheed was left with two young children to support.

‘‘I set up my own legal practice and worked from home and saw clients at my office in Wyndham St,’’ she said.

‘‘The kids would walk to my office from school, then I would work into the night at home. You do what you have to do.

‘‘There were very dark times, but grief is a part of life. You never forget, but you move on.’’

In 2000, she married well-known pediatrician Peter Eastaugh and the couple has lived at the central Shepparton home since.

Mr Eastaugh brought with him his own family and the pair count six children and 14 grandchildren between them.

‘‘We are a very lucky blended family,’’ Ms Sheed said.

Her and her family’s life changed again when she became the independent member for Shepparton in a shock win at the 2014 state election.

After years on catchment management committees and water boards, she felt the time was right to stand up.

‘‘When we saw ministers going everywhere but here, with so much disadvantage in the area and no sign of anyone really taking an interest, I thought things had to change,’’ she said.

At 65 years old and after winning a second term last year, she has no plans to step down any time soon.

‘‘I come from a family of longevity — my mother opened a restaurant at 60,’’ she said.

‘‘I intend to stay with it — and achieve a whole range of things that need advocacy for this area.’’

But even the toughest politicians need somewhere soft to fall and recharge.

Ms Sheed stands in her small, newly decorated kitchen and looks at her iPad.

It could be for recipes or emails, but today it is for photos of Rosie and Quincey — her and her husband’s much-loved golden retrievers.

‘‘We both really enjoy them,’’ she said.

‘‘I feel less guilty about leaving Peter when I’m in Melbourne.

‘‘He’s not alone, he’s got the dogs. The house would be so empty without them.’’

She looks down the cluttered hallway.

‘‘This is where I feel at peace, grounded. I walk through the door and I have the strongest sense of being home,’’ she said.