Losses and griefs of all kinds fade a sense of beauty out of our lives. We forget what we once appreciated and held dear, even what we love and who we are. During the past two weeks remote area nurses in Australia have grieved the murder of one of our colleagues. After the first few days of shocked incomprehension someone on our Facebook site encouraged us to post photos of things that captured our reasons for doing the hard work that we do. The beauty in those shared photos was varied, individual and ultimately uplifting…some were of landscapes and adventures, others were of new-born babies and healthy mothers.Many of us will always see beauty in the shape of a Royal Flying Doctor plane coming in to land after a long night of waiting. Beauty is as unique as a snowflake, it’s to be cherished and nurtured in our lives wherever we find it and however we define it.
I’ve had my share of losses and difficulties since I began this blog site. I had a desire to share my experiences and insights from my remote area life, but beauty quietly disappeared for a while and all I could see and sense around me was a dull, drab landscape. The gentle energy of beauty hid in the shadows from me…until the past few weeks, for all kinds of reasons, and none in particular…colours are appearing again and curiosity beckons me forward. Life is interesting and I’ve picked up my camera and wandered outside.
I’ve just read an article entitled “Beauty Myths” by Dr Mary Grogan in a magazine called “Mindfood. She writes about how people are attracted to others with symmetrical facial features and how often beautiful looking people have a smoother path in life. But to balance that she mentions a book called “The How of Happiness” (Prof Sonja Lyubomirsky, Penguin 2007) which states that attractive people are no happier than plain-featured folk. Her ideas were interesting but what stopped and made me think was the following: “Interestingly, appreciation of beauty is one of two character strengths that have been shown to be associated with life satisfaction following recovery from a psychological disorder (the other is love of learning).
She continues “In a web-based study of 2087 adults published in The Journal of Positive Psychology 2007 Christopher Peterson and colleagues found that people who had a high appreciation of beauty were more likely to recover from depression and anxiety disorders with greater levels of life satisfaction. Thus, interventions that include how to develop appreciation of beauty may be useful not just as a general life skill, but in enhancing life when experiencing psychological distress and afterwards. So how do we find beauty in our world and appreciate it?”
When I worked in Aurukun, a remote Indigenous community in far north Queensland, for two years my sanity saver was to walk down to what was locally known as the landing on the Archer river after work and watch birds, sunset, sparkling water or misty mangroves depending on the weather and to photograph what was memorable. I’ve found in the years since I left and worked in various remote locations, finding beauty spots in nature and just sitting and watching and maybe photographing (which makes me notice more) has calmed my mind repeatedly. I can’t recommend appreciation of beauty, highly enough as a therapy for stress and a life enhancer. Remote area nurses are lucky to have access to some of the most amazing places in Australia if we take the time to find and notice them.
This photo was taken recently in the Northern Territory across the Gulf of Carpentaria from Aurukun.
I can’t drag myself away from the topic of creativity it seems to me to hold much that is hopeful and playful and worthwhile. I’ll share another quote from Eric Maisel’s “The Creativity Book” in which he invites the reader to think about creativity in a broader life sense than merely a narrow “artistic” view.
“Creativity is linked in our minds with poets, artists, inventors, and people of that sort. We think of the Edisons, Einsteins, Picassos and Beethovens of the world as creative. But any job can be done more creatively and life can be lived more creatively. What’s required are certain changes: that you begin to think of yourself as creative, that you use your imagination and your mind more, that you become freer but also more disciplined, that you approach the world with greater passion and curiosity.”
Even the dullest job, the most tedious task and the most unpromising day can hold possibilities if we approach them with curiosity and imagination. I found nursing like that…curiosity as to what was coming next, what my patients would be like, what could they teach me, what stories could I hear? and so on. Curiosity keeps us alive and growing.
Pictured here is an Indigenous weaver from the central Desert visiting Aurukun Art Centre to share her techniques with her Queensland sisters.
My first day off after starting work in the clinic in the remote Indigenous community of Aurukun, in far north Queensland, was spent walking around the few paved roads photographing the obvious landmarks of church, store, airstrip and police station. I wanted to take photos of the things that shocked or surprised me, the skinny mangy dogs, the rundown houses, families sitting on the bare ground cooking food over open fires. The intimate things like the profile of a grandmother, a naked child playing with a scrawny puppy or the women whirling out their cast nets in a wide white circle to catch a small fish meal. But I didn’t dare point my camera at any of those things. I still wonder about that, are people’s lives that are lived in a public space open to portrayal on film? I was concerned to not be intrusive or to add to any negative images the dominant white culture already has of such communities. But, now that I’m more experienced with my camera, I wish I’d at least asked some of the local adults if I could photograph them going about their ordinary lives, if for no other reason than to retain my memory of them, and of course, to offer them copies for posterity.
The photo here is the one I took of the store, not nearly as interesting as a group of people or a simple portrait.
When I first arrived in Aurukun I had a cheap “point and shoot” digital camera. I’d enjoyed taking photos for years but never had the confidence to buy and learn to use an SLR. The first weekend I was there I wandered off around the community taking the usual shots of the clinic, shop, post office and air strip. When I walked towards the church to take my last image for the morning I saw a huge pig on the grass in the church yard. It look oddly out of place there and so, of course, made an interesting picture. I didn’t need an expensive camera to grab that moment in time, just the eye to see it.
Now years later and the owner of an SLR and doing a course to learn how to use it I still think a photographer must have the eye to see and the intuitive feel for what makes an interesting composition. Good shots can still be captured on a cheapie camera, price isn’t everything.
I’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.
“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.”