When I arrived for my first agency nurse contract on Badu island in the Torres Strait I wasn’t aware of having any expectations. My main thought was that I was having an adventure. After a day or two I realized I was waiting for “something” to happen. Maybe shouting in the street, or some other type of sudden violence. The Cape York community I’d worked in for two years experienced a high level of violent outbursts. Raised voices in the streets were often the background noise to every other day. I had been initially shocked at that, but by the time I left I had grown accustomed to it.
The Cape York community was my first experience in working as a remote area nurse. I learnt my emergency skills there and began to have some understanding of the health and social difficulties of Indigenous people living in traditional lands. I didn’t know, though, that I expected every group of Indigenous people to be similar. Leaving the place I knew and arriving to work on a small island, my first lesson was about my own expectations. The fact that I had them, and that they were wrong.Since then I have worked almost two years in various Torres islands and can count on one hand the number of times I’ve heard shouting in a street. Becoming aware of my expectations and letting them go is a lifetime’s work. I learnt after those first few days to be more open to what I actually saw and heard instead of living from my assumptions. And I’ve been constantly and wonderfully surprised at the differences within Australian Indigenous cultures and individual people.
I’ve been reading “The Creativity Book” by Eric Maisel. I recommend any of his books, he’s a creativity coach and understands well the link between creativity and human well being. He’s also written a book called “Rethinking Depression…How to shed mental health labels and create personal meaning.”
The book I’m currently reading starts off, “When you become an everyday creative person you instinctively solve problems more easily (I have a fridge sticker that says ” What else is possible?), see the world as a richer place, and enjoy life more. You get to use capabilities and skills that may be hidden under a barrel right now. If you’re a writer or would-be writer and begin to unleash your creativity, you write more deeply and more frequently. If you’re a painter or would-be painter, you paint more personally, passionately, and authentically. If you’re self-employed, you see your options more quickly and make changes more fluidly. If you work in a large corporation, you become more self-directing, confident, and aware. Whatever you do, creativity helps you do it better; whatever the details of your life, you feel more alive. Creativity improves your work life and enriches your life in general.”
I can’t add much to that except to underscore it by saying I’m happiest when I’m making something, and how much more creative can any of us get than finding meaning in our lives.
Living and working in a remote place offers few options for recreation. A doctor once slowly enunciated that word for me to explain why I needed more of it in my life…to “re-create” oneself, to “recharge” one’s energies. When I lived in Aurukun I fished, walked or read and that was about the limit of my choices. Fasi taught me to fish and we walked down to the landing at every opportunity to stand and stare at the water with a fishing rod in our hands. We often said to each other that fishing was just an excuse to get outside, if we caught a fish it was a bonus.
I experienced fishing as a perfect way to rest my mind. I listened to the quiet sound of water lapping the edge of the bank, watched dinghies and birds and water ripples and stared into the distance…the noise of the community and the rushing around in the clinic disappeared for a short time. It was a true re-creational activity.
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.
Incidentally, I never saw that pig again!
Have you ever had the experience of a few simple words changing your life? I have, over five years ago sitting on a red Weston’s flour drum at the landing in Aurukun, Fasi was sitting next to me watching local women fish as the November sun set. They were his words, “In my country we have a saying, when the sun goes down it’s the end of the day.” He first spoke them softly in Samoan and I thought I’d never heard anything so wise and sweet. I won’t tell you the rest of the story, except to say, I can still hear the whispered words in my imagination and their simplicity still makes me smile and it’s become a joke between us. I fell in love with him that evening.
When you find yourself in a remote place you welcome any overtures of friendship. loneliness, culture shock and generally figuring out how you’re going to fill in the hours after work can be quite a challenge.
A sulphur-crested cockatoo befriended Fasi and I one afternoon. It was sitting on the guttering of the clinic building just above our heads, leaning over peering at us as we talked. When we walked the hundred or so metres home along the red dirt track, it flew through the gum trees, over our heads and landed on the metal railing outside the kitchen, loudly calling “hello”. It must have once been someone’s pet, although we never found out whose, and it never ventured far from the back verandah and it’s water and sunflower seed tray, from the day it arrived till the day we left.
I loved that bird, it brought another dimension to the harsh life I was experiencing in Aurukun. Just watching it waddle about on the railing or wandering into the house made me smile.