THE LOCAL FILES: MELISSA WALSH
Melissa Walsh grew up in a home her parents built in Bulleen, on what was known as ‘Mortgage Hill’ back in the 1970s. It’s here that she was raised with her two sisters attending a nearby school. And whilst Melissa’s writing skills have seen her become a published author and well respected journalist, it took some years before her career took shape. “I was so lost in high school,” says Melissa. “I loved writing and it was the one thing I always felt good at, but because I didn’t know what to do I just left school and got a job working as a Receptionist.
"Life changed considerably when I found out at the age of 18 that I was pregnant. It was a massive shock especially because I had been told by doctors, who had treated me for an illness during my teens, that I wouldn’t be able to have children. So falling pregnant really was a gift, and it changed my philosophy on life because I understand that circumstances that can seem too difficult often turn out to be the best opportunities. Sometimes it just takes a while to work out the reasons why things happen.”
Melissa’s son was born when she was 19 and she married her boyfriend when David was around six months old with the support of her family. All during this time Melissa was writing about her experiences – what it was like to be a teenage mum - handwriting or typewriting on a piece of paper, pre the age of computers.
“One of the most difficult things was what my father said to me - that was that he was worried I would always just be a mum and that I’d never do anything else. His words spurred me on to enrol in University, and I did my B.A as a mature age student at the age of 19 with a young child. Writing was a very cathartic way for me to deal with everything. What started off as notes on paper turned into my first book. Whilst at Uni I met Gwen Harwood who was a writer-in-residence and at one of our lectures she offered to read any writing we had done – so I showed her my work and she said it should be a book and that she would edit it. I would send her my writing by post to Tasmania and she would work on it, and we became pen pals I guess. However when it came time to publish it I didn’t cope well with rejection. It was a steep learning curve in both writing and resilience.”
Melissa moved to the Mornington Peninsula nearly 27 years go with her now ex-husband Brendan, who was a diving instructor. As a young family (with son David, daughter Molly and newborn daughter Chloe) they made Somerville their home. (Melissa now has four children including her youngest daughter Ellie).
After University Melissa decided to make writing her career, and after joining the local paper initially as a sales rep she was offered a role writing for the paper’s real estate section. The paper was later bought by Fairfax where she expanded her role writing advertorials and features. And then around four years ago Melissa joined MPNG (Mornington Peninsula News Group) when a position as a Features Writer became available. She was integral to the launch of Peninsula Essence which has been a publishing success story, growing from a quarterly to a monthly glossy publication. She also writes the major features for Peninsula Kids, and for the publishing group’s free weekly newspapers.
You may also recognise Melissa from Channel 9’s ‘Married at First Sight’, which she entered in search of love and with the support of her family and the MPNG team. Whilst her dream didn’t come true on the show, she has since fallen in love with local artist Fred Whitson, whom she had interviewed for a feature story before appearing on MAFS.
Explains Melissa, “Our first date was so much fun and I’ve never before had the experience of feeling such an immediate connection. It is unbelievable that it happened after MAFS. It’s interesting because the application process for the show really makes you answer so many questions about yourself and what you truly want in a person. It’s brutal honesty because - why lie? It’s really makes you soul search, so you understand the sort of person you want to be with. I feel like I put it out to the universe, and the universe delivered me Fred.”
Whilst Melissa still suffers the sadness of losing her beloved father who was always a guiding force in her life, as time goes on she is learning to accept it. "My Dad would not want me to become a misery because of what's happened to me, he always said that it's not what happens to you in life, it's how you react that matters."
So now Melissa finds herself with the love of her life, with four healthy, beautiful children and grandchildren, and with a career that she enjoys and where she is valued. And she's finally writing a new book that she knows she has the resilience to self-publish - she's lived a life since the first time around.
And that's a story with a happy ending.