Cara re-writes her next act

Alfie, Cara, Clementine, and Tom. Pictures: LOUISA JONES

By Angie Hilton

Surprise! You’re having another baby.

There’s no bigger reality check than seeing those two strong blue lines on the pee stick… especially when you thought you’d packed up those parts of your body eight years ago!

Forty-year-old Cara Oliver, mother of kids aged 10 and 8, could not believe her eyes when she discovered she was about to be revisiting the nappy aisle at the supermarket.

But in her true improvisation style, the performer-turned-builder simply shifted her mindset and re-wrote her next act.

She’s like a bag of mixed lollies – full of sweet surprises.

Cara has thoroughly explored her creative side with decades of performing in things such as a one-woman risqué comedy show, Captain Starlight children’s entertainer at the Royal Children’s Hospital, and lead roles in local musical theatre shows such as Sweet Charity.

Now she has switched into her brilliant business mind and swapped her tap shoes for steel caps as she brings people’s dream homes to life through her business, Geelong Built.

Cara started Geelong Built in 2021 with her co-director Andrew Carroll. Both spouses also work in the business so they have a really great balance of sharing family life with business.

Quick questions…

Name: Cara Oliver

Occupation: Director and business owner, Geelong Built.

Children’s and hubby’s names, ages, and three words to describe them:

Son Alfie, 10 – affectionate, sensitive, driven.

Daughter Clementine, 8 – outgoing, charismatic, joyful.

Husband, Tom – domestic God, amazing dad, athletic.

Quirky habit: My sneezes have an incredibly high-pitched WOOOOOO at the end of them. It’s quite intense but I just can’t hold it back!

A book you love: Mao’s Last Dancer. Reading this book made me so incredibly appreciative of everything in my life. It’s one I try to re-visit occasionally if I feel like I’m taking the amazing things in my life for granted.

A movie you love: Dirty Dancing. “I carried a watermelon?” – what’s not to love?

An embarrassing moment: We were doing a show at VCA and I went to the toilet and my mic was still on, so the audience could hear me peeing.

Mantra: No one but you can steal your own joy.

Three people you’d love to have for a Sunday roast, living or passed: Ghandi, Tim Minchin and Marilyn Monroe, though thinking about it that would be a very odd bunch!


Tell us about young Cara, before marriage and babies.

Well, I’m the youngest of three girls. We grew up in Geelong and went to school at Sacred Heart. Dad was a local GP and Mum ran businesses. There was no TV during the week but we were always flat out with activities such as dancing and sports.

I was strangely academic in school – right into maths and all that sort of stuff. But I also really loved performing and wanted to pursue that. If you had asked my teachers, they might have thought I’d study medicine or something like that. Um, but blood freaked me out – still does!

But I had a bug for performing from a fairly young age. So after school I moved to Sydney to study dance full-time and then came back to study music theatre at VCA in Melbourne.

Through VCA I got introduced to the world of cabaret and did some really fun solo shows, which at the start terrified me because you have to be yourself and not a character and that was kind of, you know…Performing is easy, in a way, because you can hide behind the character that you’re performing but when you do a cabaret, it’s about you and that really made you feel very vulnerable. But once you’ve done it, it’s very addictive.

How did you meet your darling husband, Tom?

I studied full-time dance with Tom’s sister, Jessie, and we became great friends. When I came back from Sydney, randomly, Jessie was in Geelong. I met her at the Wharfshed Cafe

and her brother Tom was there. I was like. “Oh my God, you never told me you had a hot brother!”

I remember after lunch we went back to the Waterfront Apartments and randomly watched a Kylie Minogue DVD, which is hilarious because Tommy’s so not into Kylie or anything like that. He was obviously into me enough to fake it (laughs). The rest is history!

So let’s dive straight into your birth stories. How were they both?

Ugh…Horrendous! So my first birth was pretty traumatic. I had 40 hours of labour which ended in an emergency caesar. Alfie was stuck and when they got into the caesar, they still had a lot of trouble getting him out. It took them about three hours and they thought they had cut my bladder. The obstetrician’s words were, “Uh, he’d kind of rearranged the furniture in there so we think we might have cut into some of your internal organs.” This is all while I’m lying on the table having a full-blown panic attack! It all worked out in the end but it was a pretty terrifying experience.

For my second birth, for Clementine, I was so traumatised by the caesar that I really didn’t want to have one again. I decided to try for a natural birth which was unfortunately unsuccessful. I had about 15 hours or so of labour and ended up with another Caesar which wasn’t as bad.

But they were both healthy, beautiful babies and the difficulty getting them here was far outweighed by the joy they brought with them.

As for number three? Well, this time I’m going to have an incredibly calm elective C-section. It’s going to be amazing, and instead of feeling terrified I’m actually really looking forward to it.

Speaking of little number three, how did you feel when you found out you were pregnant at 40?

Um, shocked! It was a complete surprise!

Getting pregnant wasn’t easy for us the first time around. It took us about two years to fall pregnant with Alfie and I was in my prime at that point in time.

He’s nearly 11 now, so I certainly didn’t think it would happen by chance at 40. Clementine’s eight and a half, so we’re well past the babies, nappies, toddlers, and all of the preschool stage but we are now very excited to welcome this new little being into the world.

Bubs will be so adored by Alfie and Clementine and, as parents, we can’t wait for those newborn snuggles again. We know how fast it goes by this time around so I’m really looking forward to enjoying every moment (except perhaps the sleep deprivation – that part is no fun!)

Give us a snapshot of your children, what their personalities are like, and how you parent them.

Alfie’s quite sensitive and can be a bit shy and nervous in new situations. He’s incredibly academic, very driven, and very sporty. He has this amazing determination to better himself in everything he does. He’s also incredibly affectionate and oh-so-loving. I think that’s something a lot of boy mums notice that really surprised me at the start.

And then there’s Clementine, who is just an absolute bundle of joy. She’s energetic beyond anything you could imagine. She’s exuberant, fun, incredibly confident (and exhausting!) but she’s just absolutely glorious. She’s a natural performer. She’s also very academic and talented at sports, dancing, and singing. But she doesn’t take anything nearly as seriously as Alfie does. For Clementine, it’s all fun! I find it absolutely fascinating how very different two children from the same parents can be. It will be intriguing to see how different little number three is, too!

So from life on stage to life on site – you’ve made quite the transition from the spotlight to the male-dominated building industry. How did you end up as co-partner of Geelong Built?

If somebody had told me 20 years ago that this is what I would be doing, I would have laughed. However, I did always love design and houses and have always been interested in real estate.

After I had Alfie, I realised that the performing, teaching, and choreographing lifestyle that I was doing for work was really difficult to do around kids because your schedule changes all the time.

At this time I turned to my passion for design and homes and started working selling custom homes for a small builder. Eventually, after having Clementine, I moved to a larger builder where I spent about five years and loved it.

At this point my passion for business was growing and I decided to study an MBA at Deakin, and this was perhaps the impetus for starting Geelong Built with my business partner Andrew Carroll. We were both looking to do something a little smaller and more boutique with a stronger individual client focus, and also both wanted to work more in the accessible housing space, creating solutions for families and individuals living with disability.

So would you say you’re a builder?

No, I’m not a builder. I certainly wouldn’t trust myself with a hammer! I’m a business person who owns a building company and works with incredibly talented project managers and tradespeople to deliver beautiful homes. My business partner is a qualified builder and we have a great team of people around us who help us bring people’s dream homes to life.

My role within the business is more in the realm of sales, direction, strategy, vision, and finance. I’m incredibly passionate about the design side of things and love working with our clients to achieve the best outcome possible to suit their needs, budget, lifestyle, and family circumstances. In terms of the actual structural side of things and what goes behind the walls, that’s where the expertise of many other brilliant people comes in.

Would you say a female in the role that you’re in is quite rare?

I think it is. If you look at the building industry on a larger scale, it’s an incredibly male-dominated industry. You go to networking breakfasts and you look around the room and it’s a perfect case study of the pale stale male epidemic. However, there are some amazing women in positions similar to mine who are paving the way for females in the industry. It’s also very refreshing to see women coming through in trade positions and in a broader sense in the industry.

Is there anything you learnt from your parents that you use to parent your own children?

They parented in a very different era to us and I actually think that I take a lot from that era of parenting. I feel there is far too much pressure these days to be the ‘perfect parent’. I think you can read too many books, listen to too much advice, and, at the end of the day, every family is so individual and every child needs totally different things at different times.

I think I’m fairly relaxed in comparison to the pressures that a lot of parents put on themselves these days.

I want to be present with them, but I don’t want to be present with them in the way that I’m thinking about what I should or shouldn’t be doing and comparing myself to other parents. I remember growing up we entertained ourselves and we found things to do. These days there is a huge pressure to entertain your children and activities for them to do at home. I don’t prescribe to that. I love spending time with my kids and we do spend quality time together doing specific things, but the majority of the time that we’re at home it’s their job to find something to do, not mine. I think it’s so important for their brains to find creative ways out of boredom.

Speaking of entertaining kids, you actually worked as the ultimate kids’ entertainer as Captain Starlight for sick children at the Royal Children’s Hospital. How was that whole experience?

I worked as Captain Starlight for just over three years. It was an absolutely incredible job. It was a real privilege to have the opportunity to be a part of a family’s journey when they have a child going through illness. At times it was incredibly difficult, but it was also incredibly rewarding.

Being able to provide such release and joy for these kids was something I’ll never forget.

Kids have the ability to be very much in the moment, so if they’re hurting in the moment, they’ll be screaming and crying. But if you tell a joke that they find funny in that moment, they’ll still laugh. I think they are better than adults at being truly present and allowing themselves to be changed in that moment. It was such a magical thing to see. You could walk into a room and someone could be experiencing extreme fear due to a procedure that was about to take place, but we had an opportunity to turn that around by just being a total dork and being really silly and making them laugh.

You become quite close to families as well because they’re spending sometimes an awful lot of time in there. I remember my first day as Captain Starlight, I met this child who had been in hospital for more of her life than she’d been at home. Her family lived a long way away and had quite a few other kids, so weren’t able to be in the hospital very often. We went in and spent time with her and she was giggling and having a ball with us. But I was so upset by the thought of what she was going through that I got in my car and I couldn’t stop bawling. I thought, ‘my God, I don’t think I can do this job’. Then I had this realisation of, ‘well…if you don’t do it, she’s still there’. It doesn’t change it for her. She’s going to be in that hospital regardless of whether or not I was willing to acknowledge it. I could run away, but she couldn’t. And it was this pivotal moment of, OK, I can either keep turning up, and try to make a difference to her day, or keep my head in the sand and pretend it’s not happening.

What advice would you have for new parents?

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, enjoy it! Parenting is really fun. It also can be challenging, but there’s no one right way to go about it. As long as at the end of the day, those kids feel loved and you’ve had a laugh you’re doing well.

For some people, a routine that’s really rigid works for them. For me, when they were newborns, leaving the house in the morning with a pram, some nappies, and boobs full of milk and going for big walks, visiting the grandparents, and sitting in a cafe having a coffee while feeding was what I loved to do. That’s what worked for me and they slept wherever they slept. Newborns are very portable!

But some people swear by routines and that’s fantastic if that’s what works for them. I think we just have to pull ourselves out of the trap of comparison. With social media now being such a huge part of our lives, we compare ourselves in every aspect of our lives and I think there’s actually not just one way to do anything.

Do you and Tom sort of have carved out roles with home life and parenting? Are you like tiger parents or free range or whatever they call it?

See, this is how little I know about parenting. I don’t even know what the styles are!

We’re not traditional, so Tom does pretty much all of the cooking, and certainly during this pregnancy has done most of the cleaning and washing because for me it’s either been work or hanging with the kids or napping!

I’d like to think for us it’s just about sharing the load and making sure that the kids are happy, healthy, and loved. We balance the load of the kids between us depending on the outside pressures we are facing at the time. Things might be hectic for Tom at work and therefore I’m doing more of the logistics of drop-offs or pick-ups, but then it will shift and Tom will take that load when my workload is bigger. It’s a team effort and like everything in life it ebbs and flows.

Any cravings this pregnancy?

Yes! Melted Cadbury in the microwave. Oh and chips and gravy. My healthy craving was

watermelon which got me through those first rough few months!