I Wanted to Be the Next Olivia Newton-John, But Became Siri Instead

"You are now arriving at your destination, Whitsundays."

karen jacobsen siri

Karen Jacobsen’s voice is one of the most downloaded voice’s in the world. You might recognise her as Siri, or in your GPS or navigation system. Although, behind her golden voice is a much bigger story. Karen shares her story of becoming Siri, of empowering people with her voice, and her singer-songwriter career. As told to Natasha Bazika.

I was living in New York City, where I lived for 20 years and there was a client looking for a native Australian female voice over artist living in the northeast of America. Once I saw that brief, I thoughts, that’s a description of me, so I went to the audition. They had me do a lot of different things, and after the audition, they instantly gave me the job. The only information they gave me, was that they needed to record a voice system, which would require 50 hours to create. It took three weeks and I could only record for four hours a day. The rest of the day I had to rest my voice. After that, I went back to my life in New York and it wasn’t until two years later when a friend of mine bought her husband a GPS, said she heard my voice coming from the GPS. I remember, she called me, said that she switched the GPS to the Australian voice, and instantly said, that’s Karen. That’s how I found out my speaking voice ended up in over a billion GPS, smartphone, and elevator software systems, telling people what to do. That was back in 2002, so coming up to almost 20 years ago I recorded that huge voice system that is still in so many places today.

I’m a singer-songwriter, have been since I was seven. I grew up in the Mackay, Whitsundays region, and had done a lot of different things before I moved to New York to become the next Olivia Newton-John or at least a singer. When I got there I performed, sang and became a recording artist. When my voice came out, that’s when everything changed.

Over time, people would hear about or recognise my voice. They would stop me in shock and say, your voice is in my car and they tell me all about their travel stories as if we had taken so many of these wonderful trips together. It’s funny, people create this relationship with this voice, like a companion. some would even apologise for yelling at me, but of course, they meant Siri or the GPS.

This led me to create an empowerment brand, The GPS Girl, where I became a motivational speaker, helping people recalculate in life and business. I’m grateful for all the opportunities that came my way, from professional speaking to books and speaking on stages around the world. I’m someone who loves life and is inspired by it. Here, I have a voice, and I wanted to be a force of good, to use my recognisable voice to share uplifting information and remind people that they have the power to make choices. We need to allow ourselves to dream big dreams, and be able to take the steps necessary to have the life we want.

Right now we’re in the middle of a global event that has changed everyone’s life. In March 2020, when we first caught wind of the pandemic, my husband and I left New York with our son and came back to Australia. At first, we thought we would wait it out a few weeks, but then as we all know, we’re still in the midst of it all, and now we call Whitsundays home.

It’s funny when you come home, you never know what to expect, but when we arrived in the Whitsundays, it welcomed us with open arms. Everything fell into place, and we’re fortunate to live somewhere so beautiful and welcoming, so it was an easy decision to stay. I love it so much, I decided to become the destination ambassador for the Whitsundays, helping get the word out and shine a light on this beautiful slice of paradise. Being that it’s my hometown makes it even more special and perfect.

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Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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