Interview by Caitlin Creeper
Renae Saxby used to own a day spa. She was good at it, had beautiful clients, and had a spa set on 100 acres in a major, scenic wine-growing region in New South Wales, Australia. She had a good income, and enough flexibility.
But something was missing.
“It didn’t inspire me or fulfil me at all,” she says.
“I would come home at the end of the day feeling totally zapped. It was dull, I felt like I was on autopilot and I craved creativity and adventure.
“Photography was always my passion but I guess I got sidetracked. I think the fear of failing at what I really loved was a huge part of that.”
Renae was in the process of bringing the spa to a close so she could hit the road with her partner. But then they split… heartbroken and a total mess she closed the business, moved out of her house, booked flights to Cambodia and left three days later.
“I basically left everything I knew and set out with my backpack and camera to try to put myself back together.
“When I left I was so skinny from my little world crumbling down around me that my Dad didn’t think I would even be able to carry my backpack… two weeks later I was in Southern Laos renting a road bike to ride my French friend and I around the 400km Bolaven Plateau loop through the mountains for a week.
“I remember it was because it was the first time I had felt strong and independent in a long time. I felt alive and free again.”
“I probably could have found a safer way to bring those feelings on,” she says.
“but it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as much fun.”
That adventure was only meant to be for 1 month but Renae ditched her flight home and made it 6 months.
“I spent a chunk of time in the Philippines doing Typhoon recovery work and had many other incredible experiences. At the end of my trip I went to Bali where crazy synchronicities started to happen and the doors to my career in photography began to open. Before I returned to Australia I had been published for the first time. Two days after I got home I was offered work shooting music clips so I moved to Byron Bay and learnt to film, got into fashion shoots and things just started to unfold.”
That experience led on to more crazy experiences and the opportunities continued to flow. From working in Bali and living in beautiful Pelangi estate with her own pool and butler to sleeping on dirt floors in remote villages, shooting Barunga Indigenous Festival in the NT, flying from there to India to shoot Mystical Yogini Yoga and the Dalai Lama’s 80th Birthday in his home temple in Dharamasla, back to Nepal for earthquake recovery, to more India, more Bali and then home to shoot summer festivals. Somewhere in amongst this she also became a travel writer.
In March last year Renae got a call from singer Toni Childs inviting her to join them on a trek through Nepal where her band would play the world’s highest amplified gig. Renae would be doing photography, film and makeup.
“[Childs called me back and said “Give me the spelling of your name, I’m booking you flights to leave in a few days to Bali then to Nepal and back to Bali with us!”
“So you might say the universe had this all mapped out for me since I was literally all packed up and had less than 12 hours to leave Byron. The next morning I drove all of my belongings back to Newcastle, flew to Melbourne to shoot the festival then onto Bali to join the crew.”
They trekked 10 days with a team of musicians, camera crew and 25 Sherpas carrying everything from generators to drum kits. There were no roads – only walking tracks – so everything had to be carried. The day of the concert they climbed up to Poon hill at 3am in the dark to set up for the sunrise show.
“It was so freezing!” Renae says.
“But Toni singing and the band playing as the light hit the snow-capped Himalayan mountains was the most amazing experience ever… so surreal but so perfect. We set up a series of random little concerts along the trek for the locals. Picture an Emmy-award winning artist playing on a rice field with goats running through the set and the audience is a group of people that have never seen a drum kit before let alone a full band. So good!
The day after Renae left Nepal the earthquake hit.
“We were in Bali when we found out and it cut right through me. Nepal had touched me on so many levels, our friends that were still there and of course all of the beautiful souls we had met. A group of us set up a concert in New South Wales and raised over $70,000. I also ran my own fund raiser in memory of my younger brother Daniel which received a lot of support. I flew from India to Nepal to begin AID work there and ended up staying for 1 1/2 months.
“Nepal will forever be a part of me now. It was a total game changer and I think about it every day.”
“I could tell a million stories of the people I met and the devastation in Nepal… it’s endless. Beautiful experiences, heart breaking experiences and many very frustrating experiences where the help is there but the government are taking it away from their own people.
Renae still runs fundraisers now to continue to help and create awareness for Nepal.
“They already had so little and now they are far worse off.”
Over Christmas she raised money for blankets and matting for villagers who were sleeping on the floor throughout the freezing winter under plastic or tin sheeting.
“I guess that gives you an idea of how little they have. In all honesty the best thing anyone can do to help is visit – they need their tourism back in order to be able to survive. It’s just such a sad, sad situation and one I am very passionate about bringing awareness to.”
Renae always wanted a vibrant and exciting life filled with adventure and crazy experiences,she says. Once she stepped into her truth and started to live life as a creative that’s exactly what unfolded
“and it really is pretty bloody awesome.”
“When I took the plunge some people thought I was crazy. I was already blessed with a very good life and business. But to me what would have been crazy was to live a life that wasn’t in line with what I believe, what excites me and what I am passionate about.”
The day before his 22nd birthday, Renae lost her little brother in a car accident.
“He was way too young but he was a wild spirit that had 22 years of fun and lived by his own rules with a huge cheeky smile. He has been one of my biggest teachers. You never know what the day will bring.
“So live a life that lights you up, that makes you proud of what you have experienced and achieved and that is full of passion. That passion will radiate out and inspire others to do the same!
“It’s not all rainbows and butterflies – the unknown can be scary and I still have massive ‘what the fuck am I doing?’ moments, but I remind myself that I am being true to myself, following my dreams and living from the heart. I strongly believe that if you are authentic and living your truth the universe will deliver.”
Renae’s top 5 inspiring quotes.
There are 5 quotes that I find super inspiring and have really proven themselves true for me. Hopefully our Salty Queens can find some inspo in them too.
1. Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls
2. She took the leap and built her wings on the way down
3. Life isn’t about finding yourself, life is about creating yourself
4. Be the change you wish to see in the world
5. Live your dreams awake
Follow Renae : @renae_saxby