Arriving

100_0035Arriving somewhere new, for a holiday or work or to meet someone is often accompanied by varying emotions and have layers of meanings. I’ve often people watched at airports and wondered what was going on in different people’s lives at the time. Airports and train stations are places of transition, arrivals and departures are portals into another life and with any journey the traveller never really knows how their lives are going to be affected by their destination.

When my partner arrived in Aurukun, a few months before me and before I even knew that he existed he wrote in his diary after landing “This is a strange place.” A short sentence but filled with many meanings that he was yet to discover, as would I too, months later.

On the 1st September 2008 and a few hours after landing in Aurukun this is partly what I wrote in my diary:

“I flew into Aurukun today, the first day of Spring. From the sky the area around is criss-crossed by dirt roads and rivers. Dense bushland, small fires spiralling up smoke, odd patches of semi-cleared ground…and still more flying time left. How far away is this place I’ve come to work in at the top of Cape York. I have no idea what to expect. I don’t know what my curiosity has landed me in this time. A place I’ve never heard of and couldn’t even find on the map. I don’t know what a paediatric nurse is doing in a place like this. I climbed down the stairs of the plane and walked into thick heat, dust and dark-skinned faces tinted dusty red by the gritty wind. There were people everywhere, standing about, shouting, waiting, kids on bikes, skinny, mangy dogs and police checking bags for alcohol…while I waited my turn to have my bags searched curiosity dissipated the shock of strangeness.”

We both described Aurukun as strange immediately on arrival. I felt afraid, Fasi was intrigued, we told each other months later. It was a place like no other we’d ever seen, nothing in my experience as an Australian prepared me for it and certainly nothing in Fasi’s experience as a Samoan had even come close. Neither of us had a clue how our lives would change after the long journey there.

Perhaps there’s more than one reason people feel apprehension at the beginning of a journey, for themselves or those close to them. And maybe it’s not always the hope for a physically safe trip…it’s because travelling and arriving has the potential to change our lives. There’s no guarantee that the person who arrived will be the same when they’re ready to depart.

The photo here is of the airport shelter at Aurukun place of so many arrivals and departures and in the wet season, the only way of entry.

Change

Aurukun from Air 009I’m looking through my Aurukun photos for an image to represent the change in my life when I began remote area nursing. But I should go back in time about a year to 2007 when I divorced, sold up and divided my assets with Stephen, and bought a small house in a country Queensland town with our 14 year old daughter.
I took a series of photos, then, of packing boxes and furniture waiting on the timber verandah of our colonial cottage to be transported by a removalist to the modern two bedroom hardiplank house in Tiaro. The photos showed lives in transition. They weren’t taken on a digital camera so I have no way of accessing them while I’m working here in East Arnhem Land, two flights from home.
In the few months of divorcing, moving and setting up home as mother and daughter I worked in a nursing home. My new neighbours were all retired, attending their gardens and driving caravans on long holidays around Australia when the weather was better somewhere else. I wasn’t ready for a change that involved reminders of reducing my life to old age and retirement. I enjoyed creating a home for us, filling it with as much timber, cane and cushions that I could and anything ethnic to add character. I painted out it’s boldly purple walls with soft greens and built a garden to look out at. Once I was satisfied with the result I craved a bigger life, an enlarging change.
Apart from the packing box photos and before and after photos of the new house I don’t have any visual images in my mind or in print of the changes that led up to me running away from home. Words about change appeared in bold in unexpected places. A friend sent me a card with a butterfly on it and the words “Without change there’d be no butterflies”…in the preface of a book by an Australian rehabilitation doctor called ‘Cry of the Damaged Man’ the words “What was has changed, what is will change”. Those words, and others, held my fears at bay long enough to allow my curiosity to explore possibilities.
I put my contact details on the Queensland Health website in the expression of interest in remote and rural nursing section. The Director of Nursing in Aurukun rang me a few days later.
I think a photo of Aurukun from the air will be just right for my change image. Finally after an almost two hour flight from Cairns on a Skytrans plane, over trees, red dirt tracks and meandering watercourses this was the image I saw and it was then that I realized just how far away I was from home and where change and curiosity had brought me.

Curiosity

          “I was curious, that’s why I came. The Director of Nursing at the clinic told me to read all the bad stuff about Aurukun and get back to her. I did and I couldn’t believe that any place in Australia could be as desperate as the internet described it.”

          Hi, my name’s Sharon and welcome to my blog and my first post. The above are the opening lines of a memoir I’m writing about the past five years of my life as a remote area nurse in Indigenous communities in Australia.

          It was curiosity that led me from being a Paediatric nurse in a Base Hospital to my first job in Aurukun on the west coast of Cape York at the top of north Queensland. It wasn’t a cold, detached or clinical curiosity. It was warm, caring and almost passionate. I wanted to see the hidden places in my country. I wanted to experience and understand Indigenous culture. I think I also wanted to learn what it meant to be a real Australian! That was the preoccupation of my high school English classes where we perpetually searched and questioned Australian literature in the quest for our national identity. But I always had the feeling that the reality of the identity wouldn’t be found in books, plays and poems but in traveling the country and knowing it and its people intimately.

          It’s been an amazing five years and my passion to understand it all has led me back to books…to reading, writing and photography. And curiosity still won’t let me go. I’m about to embark on a new journey. I’ve enrolled in university next year to study creative writing and photography.

          My blog is about change, curiosity and following your passion. Come with me on a virtual journey and glimpse the hidden Australia and maybe you’ll be inspired to take the first steps toward what’s beckoning you. As the Sufi poet, Rumi, wrote “Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.”