On turning 50

I stood in the kitchen today and took a deep breath. I’ve just had a significant birthday.

I am exactly where I wanted to be by 50.

This would not be by many people’s standards, but I’ve never paid other people’s standards much attention, so that’s unimportant. It’s also vastly different from my working class roots, but still has aspects of working class sentiment.

What prompted this thought:

A battered passport filled with 18 countries that most people don’t get to. Not your usual suspects, but the kinds of places that make conservatives heads spin. They’d think me a drug lord or a terrorist. All travelled on shoestring budgets, for lengthy stays, guided by locals and more like immersion than tourism. Not just travel for travels sake, but for love of diversity and the planet.

A home filled full of meaning, not just objects. Things like a hand made chess set from Bolivia – with comical chess pieces (that I bought from an old lady in La Paz). Second hand up cycled furniture, some traded, gifted, some bought, some salvaged. Babysitted plants. Art and music space. Everything has a story and not just for decoration, but stories of not just of how it got here, but also why I have it.

Stories worth telling. I am that quirky character I wanted to be as a child. Really I am; but it still shocks me that I am. I had no desire for a suburban life filled with people. Rattling around a house minimally filled with the quirky, living alone, monitored closely by an overprotective greyhound, onto the next course of study (of many) and in no need of validation from anyone or anything. I study because I love learning, not to prove anything, just because I’m curious and interested.

Wealth beyond money. I’ve rejected the notion of acquiring property and land and instead, exchanged it for a life filled with experiences. To others monetary wealth is not renting and staying settled and acquiring property – and that’s fine for them, I have no issue with that. But it’s not for me. To me wealth is the freedom that I’ve got the next few years here doing a planned PhD and getting back to teaching work and I’m not sure what else is next.

But I’m promising myself it will be interesting. Today’s the first day in a while I’ve felt this hopeful, this is huge for me.

2020 was rough, but it was only 1/50th of my life.

I’m looking forward to the rest of this life, however long or short in time, however challenging or rewarding that might be.

The “C” List – The Case for Curiosity in times of Crisis.

I’ve been inspired by the #kindnesspandemic but I think we also need a #curiositypandemic to help us get through.

During uncertain times of this scale, human behaviour escalates in both positive and negative ways. I’m a list person. I’ve found through tough times lists are helpful, particularly in times of crisis, but I felt I needed to be more creative with my lists – and in particular foster curiosity instead of fear.

Humanity hasn’t seen something of this nature and size for 100+ years.  I’m currently writing this in the middle of being very ill.  It’s taken a lot longer than usual to draft because of that.

In my lifetime I’ve faced off with medical trauma and the very real possibility I might die a few times now.  I’ve become somewhat expert in neurobiology since a traumatic brain injury and an autism diagnosis.  But this was because I choose to foster curiosity to quell fears.

In recent times the climate of fear and misinformation has made things worse, not better.  I’ve encouraged to seek information and not just consume the nearest meme or video without question.  But to do this we need to reestablish our curiosity and replace our fear with curiosity.

I’ve always resisted the idea of a bucket list because people use buckets lists as though the only important time to do things that you dream of – is just before death.  I’ve always felt we should honour our lives throughout them and experience the world as fully as we can throughout, not leave it until the end.  Because the end is unpredictable, but the choice to live a fulfilled life of curiousity doesn’t have to be unpredictable, we can choose.

When I pursued a career in remote anthropology with the challenges I had – everywhere I went I had a note with me.  It said:

“Live a life fulfilled, not imagined”.

It was stuck on computers, written on post its in my wallet, paint penned inside my backpack.

I have posted before about the “f’k it list” of things you should aspire to do anyway – because they are worth doing.

Recent events, or the C word I don’t want to mention has prompted me to think of new lists.  Not to do lists, goal lists or shopping lists (although these are present).

It’s a curiosity list.

Yesterday was a struggle and I found myself thinking I had so much more to do and experience in the world and writing a list of things I was curious about exploring.

More importantly this was a list of things I am curious about that I WILL commit to exploring in the coming years.

The thing we need most at the moment is hope.

To create my curiosity list I asked of myself three questions about experiences I can be curious about (and created lists under them) regardless of where I am:

  1. What ideas and experiences am I curious about and what new knowledge can I seek?
  2. How can I share what I learn from my curiosity journey and how can I encourage those that are curious about that journey too?
  3. How can I ensure that my curiosity does not hurt anyone, that the journey is kind, fulfilling and hope filled?

We have the internet and we have more access to communities of knowledge than ever before.  Others will be limited in that capacity, so question two should include a way that you can share things that don’t consume bandwidth, blog posts, images or where still possible, regular mail and mail outs.  It may just be a phone call where a topic of shared curiosity is focussed on, rather than fixating on events.

In isolation, in lockdown, let’s get curious. The focus is on what we can do, learn and experience, right now, to start moving our thinking towards hope and curiosity is the vehicle.

Let’s take this time to bloom with curiosity, not fear.

Let’s move into the future holding onto to curiosity as a form of hope.

Regardless of what is on the other side, it is curiosity that has allowed us to invent and adapt and feel like we can take back some control when things are out of control.

Love to all.  Please stay safe.  Please take care of each other.  Please replace fear with  kindness and curiosity.

Day 3 and 4 – On Comparison

Okay, yesterday I didn’t journal. So that leaves me with two responses to myself:

Get angry with myself and feed a cycle that means I will blog less because I’m feeding recent traumas with anger and berate myself for not being efficient to my plan to blog everyday.


Forgive myself and just blog today. Ta dah! Here it is.

Yesterday I caught up with a fellow artist and friend Tamara. We were talking about the perception of people who achieve a lot. I was going to say “over-achievers”, but I think this is a misnomer.

In fact, most people I know who are classed as “over-achievers”, don’t think they are and are often trying to live up to an internal dialogue that says that are not doing enough. That can be positive or negative in outcome or a bit of both.

We laughed at our modern tendency to overdose on self-improvement or self-help texts/blogs/books/videos and how that can become counterproductive, particularly to our sense of self-worth.

We make projects out of projects about projects about improving ourselves. Sometimes there is no room to just “be”.  Always comparing ourselves to something or someone else.

In the last five years I have abandoned everything that previous generations of my family thought were important. I sold my home and started a business and travelled extensively. I have abandoned that business because it became about 80-hour weeks and rejected a job in the one place. I have rejected the notion of life being about possessions and kept my possessions not more than I can sell quickly or put in my car. I’ve lived and worked in China and finished writing a historical fiction book and developed an emerging career as a performer and producer of comedy and spoken word.

desertpeasIt means I have been broke ass poor and then well paid in cycles that mean on average, I have not a stable income and that’s stressful in patches. But then I change something, and life becomes full of wonder again.

There are days when I doubt myself and mostly those days are when I am around people with settled lives. But the irony is these people are the people that admit to wanting to be able to move around and follow work or an ambition beyond the white picket fence.

But they are learning from me, that just as their choices are hard but often rewarding, so are mine.  They are just different, not necessary better or worse or equal.  Some are different and similar and all the variations in between.

There are so many things I have gotten to do in the last 5 years that have been things I never thought I would get to do. These are things my family of origin did not necessarily approve of, so there is always a sub-conscious negative hum running in my psyche that I must compete with. However, my experiences in life are the reward.

I’ve put a picture of Sturt Desert Peas here. Probably because they grow in the harshest of conditions, but are not perfect examples of what is traditionally thought a beautiful flower like roses or daisies. They adapt in often harsh conditions, but I am sure they are not beating themselves up about it.

When we all commit to just being kind to ourselves and others and listening to each other’s stories without judgement we discover something new about ourselves and others.  We discover a diversity of stories that is life affirming and often life changing.

Comparison is the thief of joy.

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.