Desert dearth – love and loss

This post is a sad one, I am sorry to say.

I came to Alice Springs in 2005. I knew the place from many visits and travels in the 1980’s with my parents.  My father lived and worked here in the 1960’s.

Arriving a freshly minted, honours graduate of anthropology; I was a fierce 35 year old divorcee with a huge passion for social justice. With a seven year old son and an aging and cantankerous mother in tow, I was undertaking the bravest move of my life.

2006 – Better days when my son thought I was cool and not the enemy.

I’d had a traumatic past, recovered from a serious and unusual accident and desperately wanted a happy future.

Did I get it? 13 years later I’ll let you be the judge.

I plan on leaving end of July. Partly because I came here to do what I was qualified to do, but the pressure to be a mother (and a bad one at that as far as I am concerned) and a career professional meant I moved away from my anthropological passion in 2009.  Since then it’s been a hodge podge of stressful community service work where I never felt I could achieve anything and where successive governments just don’t seem to recognise the worth of NGO’s.  Watching a community that you love die from government neglect is devastating.  For some they cannot leave and their heart and health is deeply connected to the place.

My first job here was a sacred sites anthropologist and I loved it. Lots of deep desert field work with people whose culture I admired and respected, in up to seven different languages.  Over an area of 583 000 square kilometres.

Three big camel bulls strutting their stuff on a ring road – Kata Tjuta. I remember the ladies in the car yelling at me to get off the roof of the Toyota Troop Carrier while I took this photo.

Old ladies danced for me and we would exchange stories of love and loss. I developed linguistic skills I didn’t know I had the potential for.  We mapped sacred places and stories and gave them legal protections.  It was complex work and my military logistical and technical background and love of mapping technology meant I loved the challenge of remote work.

When I say remote. I mean remote.  I once drove 2600 km for a one hour meeting, picking up women from three different language groups over three days.

I’ll never forget a memory from that trip. Not far from where Lasseter’s Cave is, almost to Western Australia and half way down Tjukaruru Rd we sat under a mighty desert oak.

Myself and four ladies aged 65 – 85 and who spoke nine distinct languages between them. I can’t name them as they have all passed now.  We talked about the women dancing dreaming.  The women noticed my scars on my legs from knee surgery.

This lead to a stripping off and comparison of scars. Cancer.  Childbirth.  Car rollovers.  Violence.

I have never felt so in awe of female strength. I have never felt so privileged to be considered worthy of this information. 

This work I will never forget. Leaving it I will always regret.  I left because my family thought my relationship with my son should have been more important.  So I came into town.

Not that it made any difference; I no longer have a relationship with my now adult son because of a long history that goes back to before my time at sacred sites. But that’s another story.  I never found love with a partner again, just abuse.  But that, again, is another story, for another time.

I left the love of my life, field work and I have never been able to get back to it.

Since then it’s been jobs that tore out my soul.  Community service, death and violence.  People working in senior positions with no skill but clearly benefiting from the suffering of Aboriginal people.  My skills being used up and becoming exhausted.  Burn out and severe illness.  I ran away for three years, wrote a book and came back in 2016.

The jobs got worse and I am tired of a government that spends $51 million on promoting tourism and nothing on community service.  But throughout this, all of this, there have been amazing times and experiences.

Some highlights:

  • Resurveying Uluru sacred sites.  Getting to legally register an important women’s site that hadn’t been registered for political reasons for 20+ years.  The path was moved and the women were delighted.
  • Driving over 36 000 kms off-road in a 4WD, often on my own.  Through amazing country and with amazing people.
  • Seeing amazing cultural and sacred places with traditional owners.  Over 36 major sacred sites projects.
  • Designing a new procurement system so that Aboriginal work-crews on construction projects got work instead of fly in fly out labour.  Community employment options that were not previously available and I got to hang out on remote community road construction projects.
  • The kids.  I love them to pieces.  My own family say I loved them more than my own son.  Not true.  But then my family never understood why I cared so much about remote communities.

The lowlights:

  • Death.  Losing people you work with and love.  All the time.  I can’t stress the sadness of the realities of working with disadvantaged Aboriginal communities.
  • Incompetence.  Government incompetence largely.  Senior bureaucrats running the show without a clue and the impact on remote communities is devastating.  Pointing it out means you eventually get a reputation as trouble – even if it is things that would not be tolerated in the cities that you are pointing out.
  • Corruption.  Chief Minister Gunner, I hope you are serious about an Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC).
  • My health.  It has taken a huge toll on my health and I already had disability issues when I came here.
  • Now.  How I feel now.  I don’t want to leave, but I have to, I can’t bear another job watching people die.  I feel I will be better used spreading the word about how it is out here from somewhere else.

I don’t think I’ll come back.  I’m sad about that.  There are people here I consider family.  But my heart can’t take anymore.  I cried when a friend posted pics of Uluru on her Facebook today.  I don’t think I will get back to thank the earth there.

I think I am going to study, I am not sure.  I will do more comedy and write some political satire about how shit government is.

Did I find the happy future? I’m not sure.  Depends on whether happiness is your only destination.  I found enormous life experience.  I found resilience.  I found love of culture but mostly loss.  But I also found me and I like the me I am now instead of that angry 35 year old.

There are some things I would do differently if I could go back 13 years.  For sure.  But I can’t and who knows what the future holds?

I love you Alice Springs.  I am very sad to say goodbye. I am fairly well broken.


  1. Thank you for sharing your story, Jacci. I have just started the blogging journey and admire your honesty and courage in telling your story. I was a teacher in Darwin 40 years ago and know The “government incompetence” of which you speak. I believe the land you write so lovingly of has helped you find yourself, as I believe it helps all who open their hearts to listen to the “Mother” as our First Nation people so rightly call her. My your future be blessed. Jim


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