As Samilya shared her horrific story of being raised in an orphanage in Far North Queensland I learned of the setbacks and frustrations that Samilya had battled all her life. She had fought through limited education, institutional abuse and neglect, the mental health system, and the challenges of engaging with the legal system when seeking justice. Writing the book mirrored many of these challenges and injustices, extending the project beyond the planned two years to eight years.
It was quiet in the practice on Wednesday evening, some of my colleagues were away, and others were working behind closed doors. I finished my last session at 7 pm, closed my trusty laptop, picked up my raggedy pad with scrawled notes, untangled the cords to my old-fashioned earphones, and packed my bag. Took my favourite green teacup to the kitchen, said goodnight to Millie who was managing the reception desk and slid out the backdoor.
I left behind the psychologist’s chair, its contours will be warmed by someone else, but no longer by me.
Tears slid down my face as I drove the 10 minutes to my home. That was it, I’d retired. I’d finished my career as a psychologist. Who was I now?
I was only working two days a week but those last 20 sessions in the final fortnight were gruelling. Every session was a heartfelt goodbye. It was like putting unfinished books back on the shelf, but therapy is often like that. This time though I knew that the clients could not return. I would not witness chapters yet to be told or future chapters of their lives. I’d worked intensely with these wonderful people, some for many years and knew their hopes and dreams. I knew what held them back and I had to let them all go.
The tears that escaped only hinted at the turmoil within me. Grief, joy, fear, hope, regret, and relief whirled within me but were mostly contained during those last sessions. I hugged clients, shook hands, patted backs and, accepted gifts, letters and cards. “Goodbye, go well, take care” I whispered. I hoped I would bump into them in the street some time, but I have rarely seen clients outside the therapy room. Floundering for the final words, nothing I said felt enough.
I will miss the laughter
A friend asked what would I miss most when I stopped being a psychologist, and I surprised myself when I said “the laughter”. The laughter of therapy is like no other. We expect tears in therapy but not laughter and yet they come from the same deep well of emotions. I will miss those moments when a client suddenly laughs at what they are saying or thinking. It’s not a dismissive or condescending laugh, Nor is it an avoidant laugh. Rather it seems like a ray of sunshine, giggling with the delight of new knowledge. The joyful newness of discovering a new way of being.
How I will miss those clever, ironic and humorous comments made by clients when they suddenly understand a part of themself. I rarely laugh as deeply and with such compassion in my “real” life.
You’ll find me drinking Bloody Marys in my PJs
My son, daughter, and daughter-in-law celebrated my retirement by gifting me a bottle of vodka, Bloody Mary mix, lemon juice, a glass, and PJs. The Bloody Mary tradition was born while living in Papua New Guinea for eight years. I would board the plane to leave and order a Bloody Mary. It’s become our family marker of travel and transitions. Is this what they think I’ll be doing with the rest of my life?
Therapy is an act of love
While part of me still longs to do the therapeutic work I no longer want to sit inside a closed room for many hours of the day. I want to be free to create (perhaps to write another book), to enjoy the sun on my face. and perhaps to do nothing much at all.
I want to re-connect with the people I love but have not seen enough of.
For me, therapy has been an act of love. A love full of respect, safety, caring, boundaries, vulnerability, growth and hope. Therapy has often included raging against the injustices of the world. I will find ways to maintain both love and rage.
I have such gratitude for the wonderful, inspiring and insightful clients and colleagues with whom I have shared my therapeutic journey. Thank you.
I’d finished the manuscript, but we still didn’t have a book cover that we loved. I needed to hold the cover lovingly in my hands. I wanted to feel the warmth of it when I hugged it to my chest but most of all I wanted Samilya and I to experience a burst of pride when we said, “this is our book”. How could we get one photo to represent the trauma and complexity of Samilya’s life?
We weren’t without ideas and had two photoshoots where beautiful photos were taken. In my head I had this ethereal image of Samilya walking into the distance, holding the hand of her younger self. Both photographers captured the image as I’d described it. I loved the photos, and one of them appears in the book… but they didn’t call to Samilya or myself in the way that we needed for a cover.
We had a couple of old photos of Samilya as a child, but they were poor quality and not compelling. We also had some photos of St Joseph’s Orphanage, Neerkol, but I didn’t want that ugly, horrible place on our cover.
I hate this book cover!
Then the publisher came up with a concept, which quite frankly I hated. They had another go, kept the concept but tweaked it, I hated it more. Friends I showed it to also disliked it. How do you diplomatically tell someone you hate their work? Aagh…. it wasn’t meant to be like this. They were meant to come up with a wonderful concept, I didn’t even see myself as a writer and I certainly wasn’t a cover designer. I was exhausted and burdened by the book, I so wanted to hand this part of the process over. The publisher had finished with the manuscript, the pressure was on, only the cover was stopping publication.
Peyton Blake to the rescue!
In despair, I sat on the couch late on a Saturday night scrolling through stock photos “I’ll just buy something” I thought. Disappointed that although Samilya and I had both put our hearts into the book, the cover would be impersonal, disconnected from us. That Saturday night I found a picture of a sad girl sitting on a step, “maybe this will do”.
Then I turned to my friend who was staying with me, Peyton Blake. “You take photos of fashion models: do you think you could recreate this photo for me if I get a model tomorrow”. “I can do better than that photo” she responded.
First thing in the morning, I called the young model’s mum with inspiration brewing… “Can I borrow your daughter for a couple of hours, now?” I begged. Thankfully our model was available, and I could see Peyton eyes dancing with creativity and relishing the challenge of bringing our inspiration to life.
Then Peyton realised she was missing the specific memory card she needed to store images on her camera. That tiny memory card was held up in storage due to Covid, as Peyton was only passing through on her travels north. Peyton rang camera stores trying to locate a card but none were available close by. My heart plummeted, more lost time, more delays, did this mean no cover?
Peyton had seen billboard images advertised as being shot by a phone, so she convinced me that she could take the photos on her phone and get the quality we needed for the cover. We arrived at our location, a professional photographer and an apprehensive author, ready to ‘shoot’ using a mobile phone.
A professional photographer, an apprehensive author and a mobile phone on a shoot.
Peyton used her skills and experience to style the model, keeping my concept in mind, and we ventured around the neighbourhood, searching out steps and spaces to capture photos of a sad girl destined for a book cover.
As Peyton captured multiple images, she showed me the photos. She knew I wanted a specific look, but she also knew that it was about an elusive feeling, something that would convey the trauma, isolation and despair of Samilya’s life. The images were beautiful, but nothing quite captivated me…..yet. The model’s mum suggested another location, by this point I was disheartened. I’d almost had enough but reluctantly agreed to one last stop.
The perfect photo for our book cover
This time Peyton took the model a short distance away, and mum and I stood back chatting distractedly in the distance. Peyton believed the model would relax with fewer eyes on her. I believe it was in this quiet, intimate moment that Peyton and the model formed a bond and created the storyline. Then there it was, the perfect photo, of a sad, lonely, traumatised little girl captured empathetically and brilliantly by Peyton. There was no doubt in my mind that Peyton had captured exactly the photo I needed. Thankfully, Samilya wholeheartedly agreed.
Peyton later told me she felt great pride and satisfaction in being able to bring my image to life, knowing Samilya and I could now hold our book in our arms with the burst of pride I had hoped for.
And the model – that’s Samilya’s youngest granddaughter.
Our hearts are full of love, gratitude, delight and pride each time we pass our precious book over to a new owner.
An apology to Forgotten Australians was clearly needed
It’s been 12 years since 11 am on Monday, the 16th of November 2009, when Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised to the “Forgotten Australians” and to former child migrants.
As a Forgotten Australian, Samilya only has this one bedraggled photo of herself from her eight horrendous years at St Joseph’s Orphanage, Neerkol. Samilya had yearned for this apology and hoped that her life would be better once it was made. Surely the little girl in the photo deserved an apology, for all the abuse and neglect she had suffered.
The long term impact of a childhood spent in institutional care is complex and varied. However, a fundamental, ongoing issue is the lack of trust and security and lack of interpersonal and life skills that are acquired through a normal family upbringing, especially social and parenting skills. A lifelong inability to initiate and maintain stable, loving relationships was described by many care leavers who have undergone multiple relationships and failed marriages. Many cannot form trust in relationships and remain loners, never marrying or living an isolated existence.
The Senate Committee’s first recommendation was that a national apology be made to the children in institutional care who were its victims.
Sorry – that as children you were taken from your families and placed in institutions where so often you were abused.
Sorry – for the physical suffering, the emotional starvation and the cold absence of love, of tenderness, of care.
Sorry – for the tragedy, the absolute tragedy, of childhoods lost – childhoods spent instead in austere and authoritarian places, where names were replaced by numbers, spontaneous play by regimented routine, the joy of learning by the repetitive drudgery of menial work.
Sorry – for all these injustices to you, as children, who were placed in our care.
I hoped this apology would make a difference
Samilya hoped that this apology, unlike the two other formal apologies she had already received, would make a significant difference to her wellbeing. Samilya was clearly moved but the apology when she blogged the following in the lead up to the national apology:
Today is 4 November 2009. I have forgotten a day but today went well. I finally got out of bed after talking to myself and doing a workout before going to work. That is a choice. But 57 years ago the choices were taken away, and from many others, who were abandoned and put into orphanages. November 16 is sorry day for all of us. It was not about sorry or the money. It was and still is about the truth behind the disadvantaged kids, who are now adults and still misplaced.
A few days after the national apology Samilya wrote again:
Pain is cruel to live by. I lived with pain as a little girl from my abandoned past. Now I would like to die as it is lonely and I am in pain. No wonder the elderly don’t want to live, I have finally come to this point, body pain is horrible how does anyone want to live in a world without love and not knowing love from parents, or family. That was the hardest pain of all.
16th November 2009 was a great day it was the sorry day. It meant a lot as it all finally came out that we were telling the truth. Can anyone describe love and how to be loved by one self? How can you love yourself when you weren’t loved as a child?
I am still forgotten and misplaced
Not long after Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made the apology, Samilya’s view of it changed.
I am now living in the past since going to the third apology night at the state library and I couldn’t go to Kevin Rudd’s one yesterday, I watched it on youtube. It was very painful as I still can’t seem to understand, I have written and emailed before and have gotten no reply and this to me is very confusing, I have gone backward not forward, I missed my psychiatrist appointment due to this, not good. I have to wait now till I see my doctor. Having some kind of faith in any system is very hard for me and for my family to trust. It has affected my daughters in many ways and my sons, I also emailed the Sisters of Mercy about the Royal Commission and all they can say is that they hope this makes families understand, but what about making us understand and why wasn’t this done years ago? Unless you lived in the shoes of us you will never understand or be able to. I would like to add my name to the list for the Royal Commission as I wasn’t heard the last time. So much more needs to be said. I am the one who is still left in limbo and believes in hell and heaven and I will be struck by the devil if I am bad. I have emailed others in the government and no reply so I am still forgotten and misplaced.
Did “sorry” make 2021 better?
Many Forgotten Australians are still awaiting payments through the National Redress Scheme which was established after the Royal Commission into Institutional Sexual Abuse concluded in 2013. The Redress Scheme offers payments of up to $150,000 but the average payment is only $80,000 and the process is slow, arduous and for many who apply, re-triggering of their trauma. There has been no similar scheme for F0rgotten Australians who were not sexually abused, but who were violently abused and neglected.
Forgotten Australians have petitioned for a Health Care Card for medical and dental care for all Forgotten Australians. The card would provide ease of access to health care and government services similar to the Gold Card for Veterans. The petition seems to have lost impetus despite having almost 7,000 signatures and can be found here:
Samilya has volunteered at LECNA for over 10 years. LECNA is a special place for Samilya, inspiring a chapter in the book – Somewhere to be and Something to do. As Samilya writes:
The Centre has been a lifesaver for me, they’ve helped me more than any Royal Commission or Forde Foundation. I did the Knowledge, Networking, Intervention and Training Program with them, they call it the KNIT program, it’s a positive behaviour management program. That was good. For a while, I went to the Centre just about every day. They gave me somewhere to be and something to do.
They clamoured for signed copies
While we always envisaged launching the book at LECNA, nothing prepared us for the love and support shown to Samilya on the day, and the days following.
The launch took place after the volunteers monthly lunch. Before we even had the books ready for sale we were besieged by Samilya’s colleagues and friends wanting a copy. Everyone clamoured for Samilya to sign their copy.
For a moment we felt like movie stars as we lined up for photos, with our own paparazzi.
Finding joy at a book launch
Gillian Marshall, Executive Community Manager interviewed us and we did our first ever book chat to a wonderfully supportive audience. We finished with the painful, and seemingly endless silence that happens when you ask “Any questions from the audience?” Then the real magic happened – one by one audience members stood up.
They did not ask questions but instead, they made heartfelt addresses to Samilya. Recognising the importance of her story, the courage she has taken to ensure all Forgotten Australians are remembered, the contribution she has made to the centre and the work she had done in the community. There were promises to promote the book. There were tears of sorrow and joy.
We never expected to find such joy at a book launch.
Never have I been so focused on borders as I have during 2020 and now again in 2021.
Covid-19 and a broken ankle reduced the size of my world. In my smaller world I’m rebelling by not completing the borders on this jigsaw. I’m defiantly leaving them undone and mostly open! Though I have closed some!
The jigsaw was a gift for my 60th Birthday, made up of photos of my family. It’s kind of weird picking up a piece of your face and struggling to know where it goes! But weird fits these times. I had no desire to finish the border as I now have a love/hate relationship with them.
We were overjoyed to be able to spend Christmas at home in Queensland with our daughter and her partner from Melbourne, but I kept a watchful eye on the border news. I was fearful they would have to rapidly return to Victoria when Covid-19 raised its ugly head there again after 60 days of being virus free. I was saddened by friends who did not get time with family when our borders were closed to parts of NSW after an outbreak just before Christmas.
Like many of us, I can’t cross international borders and visit family and friends overseas. I find it difficult to see when overseas travel in and out of Australia will be easy.
I’m an avid traveller and 2020 has been no exception. This year I’ve travelled unexpectedly to places I’ve never dreamed of like the Transit Hall of the Princess Alexandra Hospital, a bed at the Mater Hospital, and their operating theatre. All good travel includes enduring some sleepless nights, getting lost, a hefty dose of discomfort, placing your safety in the hands of others and being unsure of what to do next. My 2020 trip did not disappoint.
Hostel vs Hospital
I spent two nights in a room with three others, reminiscent of backpacking around Europe and Asia in my 20’s. How’s this for similarities?
There is no real privacy.
Everyone is high on some type of chemical substance.
The man in the bed next to me is snoring like a pig.
The woman in the bed opposite is sleep yelling.
The guy in the corner is making all these weird groaning noises.
I’m still the person with the loud voice who can’t talk quietly even though its the middle of the night.
People come and go, waking me up, no matter what time of day or night.
Others encourage me to try free drugs repeatedly throughout the day.
The shared toilet and shower are always full when I desperately need to go.
As I restlessly try to sleep I tell myself to just relax and enjoy the “life experience” but all I really want is my own bed and pillow.
The food is a mystery, you’re never sure what you’ll end up with.
Transit rooms are dull soulless places, where you’re shuffled between monotonous waiting spaces. I spend endless hours waiting and whiling away the time. I’m positioned in front of a television which is stuck on a channel I’d never watch at home. It feels more like torture than entertainment, and I’m trapped! I doubt if my transport will ever turn up.
Community is where the healing happens
I broke 3 bones in my ankle after sliding down the bottom two steps of our internal stairs, a small fall with big consequences. Suddenly I was in need of some mobility aids. So, while in my hospital bed I reached out through Facebook to the Tarragindi neighbourhood community for some assistance. I knew that there was a great community close by ready to help out.
Hi community I have two requests:
1. Anyone have a wheelchair they would be willing to lend me for 8 weeks.
2. Anyone have experience of using a non slip varnish on bamboo stairs?
By the time I’d been operated on and reached home a day later, I’d been offered a number of mobility aids: wheelchairs, knee scooters, crutches, hoppers and bath stools. I didn’t need the crutches as a friend with five sets lent me a pair.
Within 5 minutes of being home my lovely neighbour, who I used to walk with regularly, delivered a luxury wheelchair, a wedge pillow to sleep with between my legs and a shower wheel chair.
The next morning we collected another wheelchair and a knee scooter, gifted to me by a stranger. Now I have a wheelchair upstairs and downstairs. I’ll ride that knee scooter fearlessly, just like I used to ride my motor bike through the windy roads of Wellington, New Zealand as a teenager….or maybe not!
I also have a range of ideas to help make the stairs slip proof, given that I’m not the only one who’s slid down them.
Sweetest of all was the message from a stranger
Hi Anne, saw your post in Tarragindi community group. I work at home, so does hubby… please reach out if you need any help … its so hot as well ! I’m happy to drop by any groceries etc …. or make the bed etc
This fills my heart with joy
I’m a strong advocate of laughter as part of healing and this card provided a belly laugh. It may well be the best card I’ve ever received.
I’m back at work for the last two weeks of the year, sitting sedately in my therapist chair. Grateful that my job is sedentary and I can continue to work. Thankfully I’m allocated an easy access room and will not have to display my new skill of butt scooting up stairs. My lovely colleagues fetch and carry for me, after all I work in a beautiful space focused on healing.
It’s going to be a tough 6 weeks, managing without putting any weight on my right leg, but its already been made much easier through the help of friends, neighbours, colleagues and strangers. I’m well on the way to recovery.
Hopefully I can pass on my stash of mobility aids to the next community member in need though I hope they sit unused and unneeded for a long time.
Merry Christmas to all. May you all be more mobile than me.
You came quietly into my counselling room, looking a bit unsure, eyes cast downwards. Hesitant to speak.
It had been tough to pluck up the courage and ask your GP for a referral to a psychologist. You hardly ever see your GP and felt uncomfortable when they asked about your mental health and living situation. You gave the GP brief answers, just wanting the appointment over and done with. This stuff so hard to talk about.
Starting your treatment
You left the GP with a Mental Health Care Plan for 6 sessions, a bit surprised to learn that they’re not free because most psychologists can’t afford to bulk bill. Ouch, this is more expensive than you anticipated. You also learned that you can only have 10 Medicare subsidised sessions each year. Still, you think, 10 sessions must be enough for the psychologist to “fix” you. Why else would they only give you this many? It seemed like quite a lot of sessions at the time.
It was so hard for you to come to the first appointment. Initially you tell me you are “just a little bit depressed and anxious”. By our fourth session, you’ve trusted me enough to share the Continue reading →
Let’s take time out to acknowledge and celebrate stepfathers on Fathers Day. Over 20% of Australian children live in step or blended families, therefore, thousands of men are stepping into an ambiguous and difficult role.
Those passionate and delightful “in love” feelings couples experience in a new relationship don’t necessarily encompass your new partner’s children. And kids don’t Continue reading →
I love attending a wedding, as I wrote in Wedding Rings and Canoe Paddles. As a psychologist, my days are often filled with the sadness and problems of life so it’s joyous to take time out to witness the joining of families, friends, communities, and in this case countries. There seems to be so little opportunity to come together with old friends and family, separated as we often are by geography and busyness. A wedding is a wonderful chance to pause and celebrate the expression of love, to honour a shared history, to laugh, to cry and to reflect on the odd things that happen. This international wedding was no exception.
The Bride and Groom, Chelsea and Sean, live in New York, the bridesmaids in Brisbane, New York, Dubai and Cairns, the groomsmen in New York and Dubai, the Mother of the Groom in Florida the Mother of the Bride in Los Angeles and the Father of the Bride in Cairns. The guests were predominantly from Australia and the USA. That’s a lot of coming together. We attended the Cairns wedding and there was a second wedding in New York.
This is a couple who don’t live where either of them grew up, where either of them went to university, where either of them started work or near any family. They have worked hard to form and maintain friendships and family relationships across the world. This wedding celebrated and strengthened these connections.
So what traditions did this international couple keep, or make their own? Continue reading →