Monday, February 19, 2018

The Cultural Planner

My innermost dream? Since I had children, it’s all about them. I just want them to have a peaceful and happy life. Before having children, I always wanted to make sure I always had a way of expressing creativity, the opportunity to create.

When I met Susan for the first time, it was a fortuitous encounter. At the time, I was blissfully unaware of her Community and Cultural Planning Manager position at Ginninderry and of how quickly she would become someone whom I love and respect very much. We met at my favourite place in the whole wide world – Strathnairn Arts, while I was sitting the Annual Squares exhibition. I was very taken by her frank way of talking, taking art in and showing her interest in the local arts community. Susan doesn’t do that type of polite conversation, where one finds it well-mannered to simulate interest into everything, however boring it could be. Instead, she gets engaged and her interest is genuine. She makes you feel safe, appreciated and noticed. As an emerging artist with not much to show (at that time), our encounter prompted me to think that maybe there was something in my art after all and that maybe I was ready to take the plunge. When someone believes in you and tells you they like your ideas, your self-confidence goes rocketing; and looking back it’s been quite the year for me, making a start.
We hit it off instantly and we discovered that we had many things in common. Susan is the type of person I can talk about anything with – we had the most amazing conversations with topics ranging from gypsy souls, farming and bees to movie-making, art styles and the need to have an organic connection with nature. 
However, when it comes to making her portrait, I feel that I have failed in recording properly the true essence of Susan's soul. And this is a lesson I had to learn the hard way: sometimes, no matter how hard we try, time constraints and own emotions can come in the way and impact the final results. And so, one image is all I have to show. 

- When I was a child I wanted to be an actress; I loved movies at that age, especially Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet.
I was a mad, crazy reader – I loved the Nutcracker story, I had this beautiful book that had the music and the story and really amazing illustrations of the nutcracker characters.
Nowadays, one of my current favourite movies is Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom.

- Coming out of high school, I wanted to be an artist. I loved painting. I still do; I haven’t done it for a while, I have been too busy. But I have set myself a goal; I have got some painting equipment here in Canberra. At the end of the day I feel so tired but I am determined to make it.

- I have had a really great episode of being an artist, working and exhibiting. I did a fine arts degree in Victoria, with a major in painting but what happened there was that in my 3rd year I discovered a basement filled with brand new video cameras. I pretty much put the brushes down and swapped them for cameras. No one was using them; they were there to be used by students. I ended up having one constantly because I’d take it back and then say I wanted to book it out for another week, then another week, then another one… and then the Tech said to me “just keep it”.

The best thing Susan ever filmed? 

 - There are a few favourites. The one I am most proud of for its creativity is a music video we made for Jeff Duff,
“Walk on the Wildside” We slowed the music down by 4 and then recorded that version. We gave him that recording and got it to him to learn it at that speed. He learned the slow version, so he could mime that slow version while filming. We then played it and he sang while his face was made up by one of Australia’s best makeup artists. Then we played it at normal time so that the face is being made up really, really quickly while the song is now at the normal speed. It worked amazingly but we didn’t know how it would work out until we got back the footage from the lab - that was 35 mm film - and we played it and we just danced around the office – we were so excited that it worked. We did about 4 versions and they all worked out beautifully. 

 One of the first things I ask every sitter is to try and articulate who they are now, in the present time and whether they like it, whether it fits with the original dream.

- Nowadays, I am a planner, after all of those different roles I have had– a painter, a film maker, a farmer, a partner and a mother. One day, these all came together as skills extremely useful in cultural planning. Do I like it? I love it. I love being able to bring a creative world together every day. Seeing the effect it has on people – like earlier today, when walking out on the terrace and seeing the visitors looking at the artwork and enjoying it. It’s a great feeling.

This project (Ginninderry) is the ultimate job. When they contacted me, I was a bit hesitant. Then another member of this team said to me: “listen, for people like us, this is IT. This is what we love; this is the job we have always been dreaming about”.
I consider the whole development as an artwork: the roads, the footpaths, the parks, the houses, the greenspace, the activity – it’s all one big artwork. It’s incredibly exciting and intimidating a bit, to be able to design something that people will live with, generations after generations.

- My innermost dream? Since I had children, it’s all about them. I just want them to have a peaceful and happy life. Before having children, I always wanted to make sure I always had a way of expressing creativity, the opportunity to create.

- A dream I wouldn’t confess? To be a famous actress. Or I would love to be in a rock and roll band. I learned guitar for a while. The one thing I am sorry about is that I never had the time for music or better said, the time to learn an instrument. I listen to music all the time, I made lots of videos but I never had an opportunity to learn how to play an instrument properly. Recently, I have joined the “One Voice” choir - in the beginning it was just to make up the numbers and then I discovered that I really liked it.

What is the one thing that keeps Susan going? And what motivates her?

- Music. Music keeps me going and saves me if I am stressed. The other thing is cooking. And often I combine the two.

My family motivates me. Everything I do has this underlying motivation to make things good for my two daughters.
My motivation is to be a good role model for them and I know that everything I build now, they will eventually benefit from it. My daughters are both into arts as well; one has completed a degree of fine arts and now is doing graphic design and the other one is studying film.

Where does Susan see herself in 5 years’ time? It’s far from being a dry interview question, I find that often my sitters look at it as giving themselves a timeline where they can come back and see how they achieved their dreams.

- I know exactly what I will be doing in 5 years. We will be moving onto a property on the Dorrigo Plateau, which is inland from Coffs Harbour. This is my dream place, a place where family and friends will gather. We are going to make it so beautiful that people will love being there; it’s going to be a place for dreaming. We are still going to run some cattle but these are going to be our wind down years.
We recently found a property that fits the bill. We won’t move there straight away, but probably in 5 years’ time we would have set up it the way we like it, with the gardens and the indoors and outdoors spaces the way we like it Steve (my partner), has been talking about the Dorrigo plateau for a long time.

How is Susan looking at those 15 minutes of fame?

- There is one thing that has been most important to me ever since I had daughters. I tried to be the best role model I can be for them. In saying that, I’ve just tried to really be myself and show that you make mistakes, you cry, you lose your temper but beyond all that, everything you do is based on “do no harm and try to do good”. 
I am sort of famous in their eyes; I know that from their career choices. They are looking at what I have done, thinking they’d like to follow in that.

One of the things I have really instilled in them is that they have a great sense of social justice. Now that they are in their 20s, I can certainly see it. I couldn’t see it when they were teenagers, because that’s just how teenagers are, perhaps a little bit self-absorbed, but now it brings me such joy, seeing they care about people.

For example, my youngest daughter is 24yo and she moved to Melbourne to do a graphic design course. It was very hard because she didn’t know anyone there and she is very shy. She was struggling to find a place to live in a shared house. You have to go to these excruciating interviews with the other persons sharing and it was a nightmare. Because she is not bubbly at all, she is such a shy person and so reserved, she was getting constant rejections. She rang me, while walking and she was crying, asking me why was it that no one picked her and all of the sudden she went “are you all right?” and stopped talking to me. I could hear the conversation; she was asking someone if they needed help and if they lived far.
Finally when she came back to our conversation she told me that she saw a man fall over and she wanted to make sure he was all right.
I loved that. She was in the middle of her own crisis and she was able to put that aside when a total stranger on the street needed help. I heard the tone of her voice – the empathy was instant and that was so rewarding to me, because she didn’t hesitate to offer help - there are so many other women her age who would have just walked past.

I feel like my work is done in some ways. If you can impart to your family and the others that we are all responsible to and for each other, that every single person around us is our responsibility; if you can get that across, I think you have done a fantastic thing for the community.

- My first role model was a lecturer at art school. He taught me a lesson about drawing – a lesson that bled out into everything else I do. I was doing these really tight drawings that weren’t very expressive and he was really brutal with his comments. I cannot remember the exact words but he was spot on that it was stitched up, there was no freedom and there was no heart in it.

I look at artworks now and I can see so quickly and easily whether there is heart in it or not. The way he said it to me, made me get it straight away. “Being able to do something with heart takes nerve, because you are putting your real self out there. You have to let go of that fear and free yourself”. I did and it was really good for my artwork and I think it has influenced everything I do. It taught me to not be contrived and to listen to your instincts and go with them.

- My role models now? I think there are people on the team here at Ginninderra that I really respect and look up to because it is not often that you get to work with a team made up of people who are all outcome driven and so diligent. I really respect the diligence of people in this team. It’s a really satisfying way to work and it is very rare for a whole team to be like that. The level of dedication, commitment and diligence is truly inspiring. I have worked in many places – the film crew probably comes close to this team, but apart from that, I haven’t come across a team that is so well put together.

What is Susan’s biggest regret?

- I have had regrets about leaving the film industry but it’s not really a big regret. I only have to remind myself of the reason, for the regret to dissipate. I met somebody – my partner, who is a farmer. I continued making films for a while but after we had children, I couldn’t be in Sydney or in Melbourne and be able to look after them on the farm. I had to make a choice and I know I made the right choice. But I guess it’s human nature to sometimes wonder about that “what if”. But I wouldn’t be here, then. Living in the rural area introduced me to cultural planning. Film and music are my first love but I still enjoy them without being involved in producing them.

- I feel at peace on the farm. I have lived there for 32 years and I know every tree, every hill; I know the birds and the kangaroos and the plants, the sky, the mountains and everybody who visits there says the same: this place is so tranquil, so peaceful. It has that effect on everybody.

What does Ginninderry means to Susan?

- It’s an extraordinary opportunity to test out a lot of ideas that I’ve developed over a career working in the arts and cultural planning. It means having the opportunity to implement those ideas which were impossible to apply in smaller projects.
I love that here we can develop a culture that recognises artists and craft people and artisans as an essential part of the workforce. One of the strategies is to set up a creative industries hub that would be integrated with other industries. For example, when people are going to buy plumbing supplies – next door there will be someone selling handmade tiles.

During her career, Susan went from being the mastermind behind video clips for famous artists to being the Cultural Planning Manager at Ginninderry. I asked her how this change influenced her.

- It has given me such a lot of confidence in my instinct. I ‘ve always tried to live by my instinct but this job has taught me that not only is it better, it is almost essential to function that way and to listen out for that creative voice, because it is always there. When you have a dilemma, that creative voice is always there and will never let you down. But we can become deaf to that voice and we have to make sure we’re always receiving that. If I was a religious person, I’d probably say it was God. But I am not. So I don’t know where it’s coming from. But I hear that voice coming into my head – things like “what about an artist catalogue?” These things just come to me and it’s easy to ignore them. They come out of the blue and seem to arrive at the right time and you tend to be a bit wary of things that seem to fall into place too easy but you just have to let all of that go and it’s amazing what happens when you do.

What is Susan most proud of?

- I am proud of some of the things I achieved in my career and I am very proud of my daughters.

One of the most rewarding projects in my previous job was to save some beautiful heritage buildings in Goulbourn from being destroyed and to get the funding to restore them. It’s really rewarding to see those building and know that you have been part of the reason why they are still standing.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Visionary

"My innermost dream is still the same: to be a successful author and to be abundant in all areas; to have the resources to do what you want to, when you want to".

I have heard many times this joke, that in Canberra practically everyone knows everyone, based on the algorithm that everyone knows someone who knows someone who knows you. Lately, it has been true for me in more than one occasion. For almost two years now, I have been witnessing from distance the makings of Canberra Wise Women, going from strength to strength. Although I have been following Lisa’s story for a while, it was only recently that I came to meet her in person.

The day before the interview, I was having a walk with one of my best friends and we were discussing our common disappointment with the high expectations society places on women, particularly on working mothers. Even more so, we were discussing our frustration with the high expectations we place on ourselves, striving to be perfect in everything and brilliantly failing at it. We were also talking about the lack of empathy witnessed over several incidents and about support, about that good old village that used to have your back and how women could better support each other. Coincidentally or not, this was an excellent preamble to interviewing Lisa, who is a firm believer in bringing people together - to shine a light on their dreams.

I got a very warm welcome in her house and what I loved most, from the first moment I stepped inside, was the fact that she welcomed me straight into the heart of things. My visit was not rehearsed for, she didn’t dress up especially for me, the house was beautiful and intimate – a house where people lived, not a house for showing off. A house filled with love, was my first impression and then I felt at ease. It’s not always easy, striking a conversation with people I haven’t met before and interviewing them can be challenging, since I am virtually asking them to open up to a stranger. Likewise, it can be equally challenging for me to find the right opening words, right tone or approach.  I furtively thought of the conversation I had with my bestie, when we were questioning why we sometimes feel that we cannot receive guests without an immaculate house. Which in my case is impossible, living with two little tornadoes who like to explore.  Understandably, I instantly loved Lisa for treating me like family, sitting me down for a cuppa and allowing me to make friends with her adorable dogs. The conversation ensued naturally and as we went through the questions, I knew I have met another friend. This is the beauty of the Hat of Many Dreams: I don’t intend to stop these series any time soon, but I do know that at the end of it all, I will be so much richer for all the friends I made.

- My first favourite story was Thumbelina. I liked things that were little, petite – they used to intrigue me. I had lots of miniature things. I had the family treehouse when I was little, which was a plastic tree house; it had a little elevator in the middle where you could put the family into and wind it up, then the top popped up and there was a shelf in it and it had three rooms, a lounge, a bedroom and a kitchen. There was a mummy, daddy, their children and a dog... I was around 5 when I got it. I only got rid of it recently.

My favourite movie has always been “Dirty Dancing”. I love romance, happy endings; not sad endings.

 - When I was younger, I wanted to be an astronaut. Or an author, which is something I still want to be. Then later on, I wanted to be a detective.

- In my teens I wanted to be an interior decorator or an architect. Then I thought about being a journalist.  My mother made me change my mind about being an architect or interior designer; she thought that computers would be doing all the design work in the future. The more I thought about journalism, I didn’t think I could go to someone who just been through something really terrible and make them talk about it. I’m too empathetic for that.

Coming out of high school, I didn’t really have a big dream. One of my goals was to design and build my own house and to be an author. I have already done the first, still working on writing a book. I have a number of partially finished manuscripts.  

“Who are you now”? It’s a question I ask my sitters as a reflection over their path, looking back to their initial aspirations.  

- Who am I now? I usually describe myself as a business creative and inspirer and a wolf Mumma. I am a mother to three beautiful German shepherd dogs that look like wolves because of their unique colour. They are specially bred to be completely black.  
The main reason for starting this project was my genuine desire of finding out about other people’s dreams. The main question I ask my sitters in each interview is what their innermost dream is.

- My innermost dream is still the same: to be a successful author and to be abundant in all areas; to have the resources to do what you want to, when you want to.

The last few months have been really hard. We lost Mojo (beloved fur baby) and I lost my motivation. I really had to find what inspires and motivates me again. I feel like I have been on this journey for many years, finding what inspires me and keeps me moving forward. I’m just starting to feel better. I know it’s time to put all the hours of learning, training and information I’ve been gathering to use. It’s time to not let it all sit there, it’s time to find my courage and harness my ambition.

- What really motivates me is the desire to be better and to inspire others, to inspire myself, to see  people becoming the best versions of themselves. I often say I like to leave places, people and situations better than I found them.

Where does Lisa see herself in the next 5 years?  And what would she do with her 15 minutes of fame?

- I am bad at forward planning. When you do coaching, they do ask that – where do you see yourself? I find it difficult to project. Ideally, a published author with multiple successful businesses that are making a positive impact, a difference in peoples’ lives.  Having our home and garden the way we want it to be. To be enjoying our life..

What would she do with her 15 minutes of fame?
-It’s really funny because Canberra Wise Women has been going for 2 years and I’ve had my massage business for 20 years. Many people that I meet through CWW don’t even know I’ve spent over 20 years in the health industry. I find it interesting! That I’m known for my life’s experiences but not for my lifelong career.  

It was a well thought out decision to put my story forward when founding CWW. I knew that by sharing my story we would gain media interest, as well connecting with others who were facing challenges and feeling overwhelmed. I want CWW to get to the point where my story isn’t the drawcard. I want it to become about all the other stories that we share and the safe space that we create for people to connect.. My story and journey through PTSD have been used to create attention, so CWW can grow to something that is much bigger than me.

Even with my Massage business; I made the decision early on to not have my name in the business name. I always wanted Therapy Masters to be bigger than me. There are only so many people that you can help by yourself. When you have a team, you can help many more people.
I am always interested to find out about my sitters’ first and current role models. It’s always a question that draws complex answers and sometimes it is not easy to navigate through emotions.

 - My first role model was my sister. She was 10 years older than me and she was so good at everything she did: Dux of her school, state level athlete, smart – very driven. I don’t do role models now. My perception of role models changed greatly when my sister fell off the pedestal that I put her on, when I was much younger. When my sister was in her 20s she started to smoke marijuana – that didn’t work very well with her biochemistry. By the time she was in her early 30s she had developed an organic psychosis. She was diagnosed with late onset schizophrenia at the age of 32 and struggled with her mental health for the next 20 years. She died suddenly in 2013. She used to live here in Canberra, and was a science teacher. I came to study here in Canberra at ANU, and she was teaching in Canberra at the time. I was studying Abnormal Psychology when it became obvious she wasn’t well. There she was - a living, breathing example of my textbook.

What is Lisa’s biggest regret?

- I have various regrets but I don’t know if I have a particular biggest regret. Probably not having high levels of self confidence and self belief when I started Therapy Masters in 1997. I wish I had trusted myself and the ideas I had back then. At the time I was concerned about keeping others happy, keeping myself small and being influenced by people around me. If I had birthed those initial ideas even10 years ago, I would be leading the way in various areas now, I believe. It’s so common to doubt yourself when you are starting out. I guess it’s more about missed opportunities than regret.

Where is Lisa’s special place?

- I feel happy and at peace here, at home.  We moved here after we had some horrible things happen to us and this is has been our healing place.

Having witnessed Canberra Wise Women (CWW)coming to fruition, I wanted to know how Lisa drew her inspiration in putting it all together.

- I had the idea for a networking group for years and years, originally the idea was for a business women’s group.  Then the more I thought about it, the more I realised that most business women I know are pretty inspired and motivated, they are confident because they are doing work they love. It’s the other people walking around, doubting themselves, being unmotivated, that need to be inspired.  I don’t know how I came up with the idea for the CWW format – the idea for an interview style event just popped in to my head, all by itself.  It was very different from what else was out there at the time.  It ended up coming together really quickly.

I caught up for dinner with a friend of mine in September 2015 and I started to share the ideas and projects I was currently working on with her. She mentioned that her work might be interested in my women’s networking idea. Then I went to a conference in the October, run by The Women’s Collective and I left feeling really inspired. Driving home from the conference it felt like the universe was yelling at me “It’s time, it’s time, it’s time!” I emailed my friend and asked to chat further about my idea. We met in October 2015 and at the end of the month I found out that I would be able to use the function space of PWC here in Canberra. The only provision was that I had to hold an event before the end of year. 

I had just 5 weeks to make it all happen. Through my determination, network and friends we pulled it all together. We designed our logo in less than 2 weeks, found an interviewer, sourced our first three guests, started promoting, and put tickets on sale. We had 50 people at our first event.

- Behind CWW is our personal journey through multiple, horrible personal and business experiences. We had a long list of incidents occur in a short amount of time, one after another. My husband and I had a business targeted for crime. From 2007 to 2010 the business was repeatedly robbed or vandalised.
It was a chain of events that lasted for over 3 years – the first one, was a therapist being fraudulent in my massage business. I had spent the day investigating what had happened at the business and was looking forward to going home at the end of the day to eat chocolate and drink wine. But when I got home I found that our home had been burgled – we had $60,000 worth of belongings stolen. We went on to have 14 incidents at the store, including 4 armed robberies in the last 12 months it was open. We closed the business in August 2010.

I went to see ACT Victim Support in early 2011, expecting to be given a couple of hours of free counselling. I had written out a long list of everything we have been through and I shared all of it with the intake officer. Then she said to me “I’ll be back shortly”. It took longer than I expected but when she came back; she said “I’ve spoken to my supervisor; we have never had anyone in here with this amount of incidents in such a short time”. They allocated me 20 hours of counselling.

This was when I started to realise that maybe we had been through a lot, that maybe I didn’t need to be hard on myself and that I was coping pretty well, considering all we had been through. I went on to work with a psychologist specialising in PTSD for 18 months. Because of my background in health and well-being, I looked at my healing very holistically. I looked at the emotional, physical and spiritual aspects and I have done lots and lots of healing work over the last 7 years.  What I learned was that being positive, being inspired and being around like-minded people and letting go of negativity were critical for my healing.

It is these elements from my healing: positivity, inspiration, like-minded people that are the cornerstones of what Canberra Wise Women is about. In short CWW is a platform for positivity.

How much do you feel you have achieved from the initial purpose you set for yourself and CWW, to present?

- I know CWW definitely inspires people. Many people let us know that they leave our events feeling  inspired. I know we help others find their motivation and self belief to get their own projects off the ground. There is a saying going around at the moment: You can’t be what you can’t see. Part of what CWW does is shine the light on local role models. If you see someone who had been going through something horrible, and you see that they have gotten through it and moved on; it shines the light for you and shows you that you too can move on from whatever you might be struggling with. That’s part of what we share through CWW.

There are so many truly amazing and talented people here in Canberra. Canberra is such a creative, innovative space. I think there is a real diversity, positivity and brightness here that you don’t get in many other places. People often come to our events who have these amazing ideas, they have a deep yearning inside them and they are just too doubtful or scared to put their idea out there. I feel we create a safe space for people to tune in and listen to themselves. To really hear that voice that’s screaming – “it’s time” at you. To know that it’s safe and okay to put their idea out in to the world.

I know of someone who has been to our events, who then changed her career path, establishing herself in the fitness industry. Another friend started Canberra’s first giving circle, “Capital Giving”, a space that empowers people to be philanthropic in their local community. And another who has started a creative business, after finally tuning in to her inner voice. CWW also brings people together and they start beautiful collaborations and projects together. It’s wonderful to see it all of these things blooming from our events. I love that CWW was that initial spark, the introduction space - if you like, for many amazing things that are happening right now in Canberra.

The numbers to our events dropped over the winter months last year, which was disappointing for me. It makes you question what you’re doing. I wondered if it was our change of venue from Barton to the airport, or because we put on a higher number of events. There are also more events on now in Canberra and there is more choice for people who want to go out.

I’m in the process of planning our 2018 program at the moment. I’m looking at offering new events this year. I need to be the leader in what we are creating and sharing. After being in business for over 20 years I know we need to reiterate our brand and what we are doing every 18 months or 2 years.  CWW’s has just turned 2 - so it’s time to change.

What is it like, to be a Reiki Master? Does it make Lisa proud to achieve this title?

I haven’t received my Reiki attunements the same as most people. I’ve always been told that I had Reiki naturally (I am medically intuitive) and I had a friend who was a Reiki Master offer to provide my first Reiki attunement in 2006. Some people feel different physically after being attuned.  After my first attunement, I felt no difference. After my 2nd attunement, in 2011 I felt quite different. Then with the 3rd and Reiki Master attunements (also in 2011) I felt no difference again.  I am also a Theta practitioner – Theta also uses universal energy. As part of my healing journey, I booked in for a Theta session. I loved it and I decided I wanted to complete the training to become a Theta practitioner. That was in 2013.

With Reiki the energy passes through you to the person who you are sending the healing energy to. With Theta it’s like you are a traffic controller - you can direct the energy, and direct it where it needs to go; it doesn’t need to pass through you, unless you want it to. Both Reiki and Theta healing energies come directly from Source. When I do an energy healing, I use a combination of both Reiki and Theta.

Out of all my qualifications, I think I am the proudest of my massage qualification because they made us work for it! I used to joke that ANU were very nice and gave me my Bachelor’s degree, while CIT made me work hard for my Advanced Diploma.

Why does Lisa like helping people?
- Someone else asked me this last year, when I was interviewed at a CWW event. I became an aunt when I was 16. By the time I was 19 I had moved here to study at ANU and would only see my niece and nephew a few times a year. One summer holiday when I arrived home from Uni my niece would have been 2-3 years old at the time, and my nephew would have been 4 or 5. They were so excited to see me, to hug me and just spend time with me. I remember having that same level of adoration with my older siblings who were 10 and 12 years older than me. But they didn’t honour that adoration. To them, I was the annoying little sister. It was heartbreaking to not have that love received and returned with the same care and openness it had been given. So I decided in my late teens to honour that energy with my niece and nephew. My niece and nephew are now 28 and 30 – and we still enjoy a close connection.

- I know from personal experience that honouring people’s energy and connecting with them helps them find the positivity and confidence that we all possess. This is the space I come from when I’m looking to help people – whether that’s a health client, a friend or a guest at CWW.

- One word to describe myself?
Depends on the time of the day. Crazed or Creative.

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Peaceful

"My innermost dream?  Initially, it is to be pain-free.  That would be lovely. And to keep taking photographs and making more glass works"...

I have known Tricia for over 9 years now but every single time I visit, I learn something new about her.
Her house is the most peaceful place I have ever seen; yet her life path has known some mighty storms.

She is a very talented artist. When she is not doing glass work or photography, she is attending to her amazing garden.

During one special morning we shared in her garden, she told me about the trying times recovering from cancer and about dealing with personal loss through her art. I have visited her house many times before, yet that was the first time when my eye was drawn to her powerful self- portrait. Naturally, I invited Tricia to wear the hat and join the other dreamers.
- "When I was young, I wanted to be happy.
I don’t remember many stories from that time but I remember our 1st TV program, “the Lone Ranger”. I loved it – I was 8yo at the time.

Coming out of high school, I wanted to be a teacher. I was passionate about learning.  Back then, my biggest dream was to be loved, and to love back. I come from an unhappy childhood. We were 4 siblings – I had 2 older brothers and a younger sister. We were constantly told by my stepmother that we weren’t loved.  My father died when I was 8. Two years later, my mother married my step father and then 3 years later when I was 13, my mother died as well, and my step father married my mother’s sister. Suddenly, we were orphans and our lovely auntie turned into the stepmother from hell. But in retrospective, she was a 51yo spinster; she was probably going through menopause.
Back then, my sister and I became Wards of the Court. We were packed off to a boarding school  - to a Convent actually; worse than a boarding school. It was a catholic school in just outside Berwick Upon Tweed". 

- "Who I am now? It’s very hard to define myself. A loving grandmother, a frustrated photographer and a good friend.  I mostly like who I am. If I were to change a thing, that would be intolerance.  Sometimes I do become intolerant and defensive. I have always been defensive – it’s a somewhat natural part of me.  I guess it goes back to my childhood and to that need of ensuring that no one is going to hurt me. So I’ll keep people at arms’ length.  I’m pretty independent – I wouldn’t say fiercely independent, but I am too independent for my own good. It is very hard for me to ask anyone for help and I want things done immediately".

- "My innermost dream?  Initially, it is to be pain-free.  That would be lovely. And to keep taking photographs and making more glass works. I would love a little studio to continue doing glasswork. I’d love to learn more, to do some kiln work, create more and certainly keep taking my photos".
I always ask my sitters if they have a secret dream, one that they not even confess to their closest friend. Tricia smiles.

- I’d like to find a tall, dark, handsome man – it’s always been a dream. Actually, at this stage he doesn’t need to be handsome. Just kind and funny".
- "The one thing that keeps me going is determination. I have proven that I can cope with life. I find motivation in lots of things. It makes me happy that I can see a beautiful plant or a lovely scenery each day. I am always looking for things to make my heart sing and when I see something that moves me so much, I love to capture it in a photograph. It’s mostly the beauty in plants or in isolated scenery, like a beautiful misty morning.  Music also lifts my soul and keeps me going.

- In 5 years’ time? I’d like to understand the computer side better. I would love to share my photography to a wider audience.  I’d like to progress my art. I’d love to make cards, prints and all sorts of artsy bits. If I had my 15 minutes of fame, I would like to sell a photograph. I’d like someone to like my work enough to actually buy it. I just had an exhibition, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and I would like to be involved in some more.
I was so proud of my degree show at the university, in July 2000. The feedback I got was lovely and very encouraging. I studied Contemporary Photographic Practice at Northumbria University in the north east of England, and looking back, I think I would like to produce more art. I would very much like to work in collaboration with other people, too".

- "My brother Pete was my first role model. He was determined, fun and passionate. He followed his dream. He was a film maker and what I liked most about him was his sense of humour. Pete is still my role model. I listen to my brother in my head a lot. I think about his life. He would have never given up. Even when he was dying of cancer, he was still planning things with a passion.  That was almost 18 years ago. But every day I think about him. We share the same birth date – lots of people thought we were twins but I was his birthday present on his first birthday.

- At the moment, my favourite film is “Hunt for the Wilder People”. It was poignant, funny and full of warmth.


- My biggest regret is not being a better mother to my eldest daughter.  I wasn’t a great mother to her, I was very young and didn’t have a clue but all I knew is that I loved her. I still do.I think that is why I am a really good grandmother now.
If I could go back in time and change something, I would lose my anxieties and I would try hard to be kinder and more loving.
And if I could, there is one big thing I would change. I would look in a very different way at feelings and at the grief process.  When Mum died, she died on a Wednesday and we were told on Thursday. Mum was buried on Friday. We were then taken back to school on Monday, like it never happened. She was never spoken about anymore. Never. She was only 46yo; that was the cruellest blow in our family. If I could go back in time, I would have asked for help; back in those days there was no counselling, no one knew much or talked about these sorts of things, the way we do now.  This is why I don’t talk about feelings; I think that this is where a lot of my insecurities are coming from. If you don’t have a solid anchor when you are a child, I think you flounder a lot. It doesn’t matter how old you are; you are still that little child crying quietly for their mother.


- I feel at peace in my garden. It’s tranquil, peaceful and beautiful. The other place I love is the ocean. I love watching and listening to the ocean. I love walking on the beach. (I am a rubbish swimmer, though!)

- When I look back, 2000 was my most trying year. I graduated from University in July. In August I was diagnosed with the need of an urgent hip replacement ,which didn’t take place till April 2001, because in September I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
I got through using my art. I photographed my journey all the way through, having my chemo and radiotherapy. That culminated in a self-portrait – a powerful and confronting self-portrait. Even the shaving of my head – I documented it all, the hair I found on my pillow, or gathering in the shower plug hole... I rang my friend Tony and he came over and shaved my head. I put on these very glamorous diamante earrings and got my head shaved. I should have probably asked him for a Number 3, not for a full shave, in hindsight. But I did it and to date, this self-portrait, although confronting, is also a great reminder of the adversities I endured, and I am still here !!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Optimist

"My biggest dream is to get off the pension and start living a life; instead of watching it, I’d like to be a part of it".
#ahatofmanydreams is slowly gathering a good collection of stories. They are the stories of the people living next doors, people who lead remarkable lives but we wouldn't know about them unless we stop and listen.
It is not unusual that during the interviews, my sitters have an "aha" moment, they relive a memory or have a sudden revelation. I have seen people in the brink of tears, when some of the memories were too painful.
However, this is the story marking the most defining moment in my project’s journey. Because this time it was me, left in tears.
This is the story to remind us all about the beauty of humankind. And about gratitude. It is a timely reminder about how we tend to take things for granted and we forget how easy it is to go from everything to nothing in the blink of an eye.

It is the story of an amazing person who went from being homeless to becoming a talented self-taught photographer.
Peter’s photography has taken my eye for quite a while, even if I didn’t know him personally. His
Instagram account currently has over 1300 followers; a number he built diligently in a very short time; as he perfected his skills. What won me over was not only the amazing detail in all his photographs, but the lovely, optimistic tone of his stories – even when things went pear-shaped.

I met and photographed Peter during a Floriade Insta-meet organised by Visit Canberra last year. But for a couple of reasons, we didn’t get to sit down and talk until now.

Working on this project is the greatest and most humbling experience. Sometimes I find it extremely hard, when meeting a person the first time, to make sure that I managed to capture their true essence. However, in Peter’s case, I think this is one of the greatest stories to date. Because it holds some truths we all need to accept and know.

- When I was 4 years old, I wanted nothing more than to be a Pilot. My father used to fly full scale gliders before I was born and was also an avid Radio Control Aero modeller. We used to go out to a registered flying field each Sunday to fly some of my father's model Planes. By age 5,I was the youngest registered model-flyer. I was determined that one day, I would be a pilot and I almost achieved my dream of having my own private pilot licence. Unfortunately, an unexpected heart attack at age 20 put an end to that. It took me a long time to recover and I could no longer pass the medical.

- My first favourite story would have to be 'The Watchers' by Dean Koontz. My mother introduced me to that book and I have actually read it many, many times. It is a story about a Labrador that escaped from an experimental science laboratory, where it had been genetically altered to be able to communicate with and understand humans.
The Labrador (called Einstein) was found by a guy who was at the end of his tether and was considering ending his life, when they met in the desert.
He immediately realised that there was a lot more to this dog than meets the eye and decided to stick around to see why this dog was so special. He took him home and his life from that moment on was never the same. The dog was not the only escapee from the Laboratory. Another animal escaped that was just pure evil. It was designed to be nothing more than a killing machine...and it was hunting the dog.
I won't spoil the storyline as it is a great read. Everyone I have lent the book to in the last 20 years has loved every second of it and expressed the same thoughts as I had. They never wanted the story to end.

- When I was leaving High School, I wanted to be an Engineer. I got an Apprenticeship in a Coal Mine and spent the next few years buried in a substantial amount of study, but unfortunately, was not able to complete my qualifications and left the job with only 6 months of study left and 1 more year of 'On the Job Training'. I had a nervous breakdown. I was bullied relentlessly at school and at home. I couldn’t do it anymore.
I was working 2 jobs. I had my car stolen and I owed 30 odd thousands - the insurance company never paid out. I was living with my parents at the time and I couldn’t do it anymore, it became impossible. So I moved out and then I lost my job.
I was living in a caravan and I wasn’t eligible for any unemployment benefits. I never have been taught how to look after myself. I have been thought how to iron, how to vacuum, but I was never thought how to pay a bill. Especially when you never had the money to pay that bill. How do you pay a bill when you don’t have the money?

So I tried and failed very badly. I lived in the middle of Blue Mountains and I wanted to get away, as far as possible. I felt that Sydney was the best chance to get back on my feet but it never worked out that way. I went there and then I lost all my IDs.

Shortly after that, I was homeless and spent almost 3 years living on the streets and sleeping on trains. While I was on the street, (very shortly after) the laws changed on identification and I never had enough IDs to gain new IDs. I couldn’t apply for Centrelink because I didn’t have enough IDs; the System kept rejecting me – I’d reapply every 2 weeks and the system would reject me every time just before paying me.
I survived. I used to approach restaurants – Chinese restaurants in particular, because they were very generous people – and I would offer to clean their kitchen in exchange for a little bit of food. That is really how I survived throughout all that time – through the generosity of these businesses in Sydney. Nothing in life comes for free. I felt that if I was going to beg for food, it was only fair that I would offer something in exchange.

I have had some of the highest training in Australia, as an engineer; it was only 26 people that had qualifications as high as mine. I don’t think I could benefit now from any recognition of prior study – I’d probably be a liability now for them as an engineer. 

I asked Peter if he would consider drafting or technical design jobs.

- I love being constructive, I loved metal and wood works. I would need a bit of refresher, if I was going to be a drafter, but I can design anything: bridges, buildings…I absolutely loved engineering. As a joke, I call it I was “train-washed” – part trained, part brain-washed, to be an engineer. I would never ever forget it; it has been ingrained in my memory. My father was a mechanic. My grandfather was a very successful builder; he built half the town we lived in.

My biggest challenge in holding any job at the moment is my knee – it gets so unpredictable and some days I can hardly get out of bed. Not having a car also makes it difficult to be reliable in a 9 to 5 job. That is why photography would work out beautifully. I can do my own hours.

Back in the times when I was working, I was being paid quite a lot of money that I was going to use to pay for flying lessons. My biggest dream was to become a pilot. The will to be one has always been there; I think I was born a Pilot as I have always been able to fly both Full Scale and Model Aeroplanes proficiently.

The reason I am here today is really the generosity of a friend and his parents. I would always be in debt to them. The ironic thing about Centrelink is that you need to have a registered address for them to pay you. And you need to be paid, in order to get that address in the first place.
After 2 and a half years on the street, I had a friend and his parents said – “look, this is no good, we had no idea. He could come and live with us”. At the time, you needed to be at an address for a minimum of 6 months in order to get onto Centerlink. So I got to stay with them for 6 months, in Melbourne. Then I got to live back into a house and about 3-4 months later I had a heart attack. That certainly backfired a bit. 

If there was a piece of advice Peter could give another fellow human in distress or on the streets, what would that be?

 - It’s a hard one. Never give up, I’d say. There is always someone who cares.
It is so much easier now to end up on the street – people won’t believe that it can happen at any moment in your life; you could be only couple of weeks from living on the street. The patterns will start as soon as you start missing your first bills; before you can miss too many, it will happen. People start to come and take all your possessions and in the end when you have no possessions left, they will take you to court for money you will never have. It doesn’t stop until you pay your debt and if you don’t have money, it never stops. It’s 7 years before any debt is written off. If it wasn’t for my friends, I’d be on the street for 7 more years. And I still worry to this day that I would be chased up for some bill that I might owe all those years ago. There seems to be this misconception that to be on the street, you did something wrong, you are a bad person. But as I said, there is always someone who cares. Not in the Government departments or any organisations, but you will always find someone who will make the difference in your life – almost always you will find that right person on the street.

It’s an awful cycle: being homeless you smell, you can’t wash or brush your teeth for a long time, nobody wants to come near you. It’s almost a common belief that you did that to yourself, you put yourself on the street and if you are still there, it’s because you don’t want to move up. People don’t want to help you; or people don’t feel that they can help enough so they don’t do anything.

 Keep working at getting yourself out of the streets and please, go to the restaurants late at night and ask for spare food in exchange for work. That is really the only thing I can advise – do not give up. I met people living on the streets for 15 years. It’s such a hard situation because if you go to a shelter, they can only take you in for 3 weeks but then you can’t go back for 3 months otherwise nobody gets in, so they have to cycle you through. And it’s a very demoralising situation in life.

 What about the people who do want to help? What can they do to help ease the homelessness situation?

- Don’t give them money. Give them an opportunity. The only time you give them money, make them work for it because working for the money you earn, gives you a sense of good self-worth. Without that sense of self-worth you will stay on the street forever, because you are just a ghost. Nobody wants to look at you – they’ll look straight through you; there is no department that would recognise you. 

Who are you now?

- Now...I would call myself a Disability Pensioner. Not exactly the path I chose for life. But you can only make the best of what you have got. I was walking home late one night when I was 21 and was set upon by 3 guys who robbed me and beat me quite severely.

During this, my left knee was smashed beyond repair and as a result of the damage, I have lost over 20% mobility in that leg. About 20 years ago, I have had 2 surgeries on it, in order to stabilize the knee joint so that I could walk. Realistically, it needs a total joint replacement to make it any better so technically, I still have a broken knee.
Unfortunately, due to my height (6 foot 2 inches), the success rate for total knee replacement was extremely low. The artificial knee joints only lasted about 8-13 years before it would need to be replaced. This made the fact I am so tall and skinny, even worse. Generally (at that time) replacement knee joints in people my height, age and weight had a very low success rate. Often, the bone that holds the joint in place would fail before it wore out, which would leave me unable to get another knee joint put in. The only thing to do then, is to put in a straight bar with no knee joint (walk permanently stiff legged), or have it amputated as the only other choice.
My surgeon recommended I wait until I am in my mid to late 40's to get the replacement surgery done because the success rate was far higher at that point in life, because of a slowdown in personal activities and lifestyle.

I absolutely HATE being a Pensioner. I have tried my hand at countless jobs since my knee was damaged, to try to get off the Pension and back to being a contributing member of Society. It’s hard to get out and about - without realising they do it, many people look at me like I am a fraud and a dole bludger because - upon immediate impression - nothing seems to be wrong with me and I should be working.
I can't blame people for thinking that way because everyone has to work mighty hard for every dollar they get these days; and to see someone just taking handfuls of cash for doing nothing – that’s bound to annoy anyone.
In this life, nothing is free. It always ends up costing somebody down the line. I too would rather be working than handed a small amount of money each fortnight for nothing.

On my income, you just get to watch everyone else enjoy life and be successful, while I had to spend 2 years saving to buy a cheap TV because my old one died 2 years ago. You never eat at a restaurant without tightening your belt for the other 41 meals that fortnight.
No matter what you want to do, you always have to settle for what you can afford, instead of having something nice to be proud of, like many workers do.

I don’t think being on a pension truly defines a person or their dream. So I asked Peter whether he could see other dimensions of himself. Even if it’s simple affirmations like “I like to fly” or “I love photography”. 

- I don’t know who I am. I am me. I take each day as it comes – I am extremely grateful for each day. 

Many times I have been asked to take photos of people and I always got comments like “Jeez, you take nice pics!” even if I was using their camera, their settings. My parents used to have lots of books about Australian Photography, mainly landscape and wild life and I always admired the genius behind those photos. I used to dream about being able to do the same. I never knew who it was until a few years ago I met Steve Parish and it clicked – good God, that’s the guy from the books, the guy who takes those amazing photos. I recognised him from the pictures.

The rare opportunity finally came up – I have overpaid my electricity bill for a few years and they reimbursed the money. Over the last 3 years, I have bought some extremely expensive camera equipment in an effort to get off the Pension. But to do that, I had to make the items I currently own, last as long as I could.
That being said, over the last 2 years, I have watched many electrical items around my home, expire without the money to replace them. I'm now down to a fridge, a washing machine and a PC. And all 3 of them are on their last legs as well.
A disability pension is not a great place to be.

- My innermost dream is actually quite a simple one these days:
Be Happy
Be Helpful
Be kind
Be thoughtful.

And of course, to win Lotto. It doesn't have to be a million dollars. To me $50,000 is the same thing. I could do so much with that amount of money, that I swear I could earn the other $950,000 myself. And if not, I'm sure I would have a lot of fun trying.

-I would have to say that my biggest dream is to get off the pension and start living a life; instead of watching it, I’d like to be a part of it. It’s a very simple dream but after 20 years, I had enough. I would like to move forward in life. That’s my biggest goal. I always believed that if you work hard enough, it would get you there. If you have no talent, no skill, it would be apparent pretty soon and you would need to chance course. But if it starts getting you somewhere, then go hard at it.

I really don't think I have any close-guarded dreams. I'm a pretty open person and I am often not shy to hold back. Other than my lifelong dream of flying, like Peter Pan, most of the achievable dreams I have are pretty much out in the open. I work towards them every day. I may never get there, but I would much rather try my best and fail, than spend the rest of my life dreaming about something and never make a move to get there.
Like my photography. I have dreamed of being a photographer for a long time but never made an attempt because of the huge investment needed and no guarantee of success. Many years I walked away from places, frustrated because I could not capture a photograph to show my friends and family.

But, 2 years ago, I finally bit the bullet and bought a Professional Camera and equipment. Since that day, my life has never been the same. It has been a wonderful journey with so many rewards along the way and I have met some wonderful people who have made this journey much more enjoyable than I could ever have expected.

In many ways, I am the happiest I have ever been in my life, so anything on top of that, is just magic.

What is the one thing that keeps Peter going?

- Coffee, Lots of it. Apart from that, life itself. As I get older, I appreciate the smaller things in life and often think about my parents, who worked their knuckles to the bone so they could retire happy and travel the world. But before they reached the age of retiring, they realised they are not going to be as healthy as they hoped and would not be able to do much of the travelling they had hoped to do. In effect, they regretted not traveling with my sister and me when we were younger.

I have never wanted to get in a position where I regretted not doing something when I could have. It would be so disappointing to retire and be wealthy enough to follow your dreams, but not physically able to do many of the activities you had hoped for.
Unfortunately, I have lived like that for 20+ years and it’s a lot like the movie 'Groundhog Day' with Bill Murray. I want more out of life, than getting up each day, turning on the TV and turning off my brain for the day. So, I do whatever I can to learn a new skill or experience something new. I believe this is the key to a long healthy life and an active mind.

What motivates Peter?

- The thought of one day, being able to throw out my Pension Card, because it no longer applies to me. I certainly hope I do get to see that day.

I always like to ask my sitters a question that gives them a timeline: “Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time”?

- Assuming I am still able to afford camera gear, I would love to be a paid nature photographer. It's a lot of hard work and effort, but that's the way I like it. I am constantly challenged by new scenes and experiences which help me to grow both personally and professionally every day. To me, that is all I would love from life. Travel, work and have an income I can be proud to earn.

How would Peter use those 15 minute of fame?

- I would use my '15 minutes of Fame' to encourage people to follow their dreams. I feel like I was born a Pilot. Instead, I have been a cook, and an engineer, a radio DJ, a car washer, a fruit picker and many, many more. Yet in my heart, I had nowhere near the success or enjoyment as I would have had being a Pilot.
I think we have too many Plumbers who want to be a Doctor, but couldn't afford the costs of training. We have too many shop assistants, who would make great teachers, mechanics and trusted professionals, but they are a shop assistant because that was the only job they felt they could get. Too many people settle for a 9-5 job that does nothing to satisfy their desires, nor compliment their natural skills.
Hardly anyone these days is passionate about the job that they do. And the ones that are passionate, are very successful and happy. I think we need more people to be passionate about the job they are doing to make the world a different place.

Great discoveries have been made in the past because people sank their teeth into their job and did not give up, even when all odds were against them. But these days, we take any job we can get so we don't end up penniless and living on the street, and we just watch our dreams and ambitions drift and fade into the distance.
If that job no longer meets their needs, they move onto another job that does the same thing.

- My first role model would be my Grandfather. He instilled many of the beliefs I have today, just by watching the way he lived. He refused to get older and just never stopped; he was always working on something. He lived until he was 89. At 86, he suffered 2 massive stokes, a heart attack, and septicaemia...and still did not give up, even though he was paralysed. Though his body was failing, his mind was sharp as a tack. He ate nothing but healthy food, did not smoke and never once sipped alcohol. I think these are key ingredients to living a long healthy life.

He was the first man to ever walk unassisted across Australia and back taking 2.5 years, during the Great Depression, and he never once believed that he couldn't do it. Even though, it was thought to be impossible at the time by all medical standards, and is still regarded as almost impossible to this day.
You have to admire anyone with that much courage and commitment. He did it because his doctor bet him 20 pounds he could not do it. That was on a Wednesday; he left 3 days later and didn’t return for 2.5 years.
But when he did, he claimed his 20 pounds and proudly showed his doctor he was wrong.
He is still my hero. He was an amazing man who took on life like he was 10 feet tall, instead of his actual physical size of 4 feet high.

What does Peter like to read?

- Over the last couple of years, I haven't had much time to sit and read anything other than Photography books and magazines (I'm a bit O.C.D in that respect). And I really don't watch a lot of movies as I find they have very little substance and very low morals.
In many cases, they are really just a Get Rich Quick Scheme for the Producers and entertainment for people who don't like to think much.

However, I love Documentaries about anything. If I can't travel the world and learn about these things for myself, I would rather sit and watch a good documentary about it any day. David Attenborough has always been King of the Documentaries in my life and I have to admire his amazing career. The world has learnt so much from this amazing man, that without him, we would still be wondering what the rest of the world looks like.

- My biggest regret is becoming estranged from my family. It was mutual, but still not an easy thing to live with, even after 20+ years.

Is there a place where Peter feels at peace?

- I'm not sure I feel at peace anywhere. Up until I am able to check a few things off the old bucket list and form some sort of career for myself, I don't think I will ever be at peace. I'm quite a socially awkward person which is probably why I hide behind a camera these days. It’s a separation device that allows me to drop my guard and just enjoy the moment. This, in turn, has allowed me to meet many people and have a great time.

But, I can say openly that I am most happy when I am busy and constructive. I can't stand sitting and doing nothing. I have had many years of that and sitting at home all day is not at all what people think it is like. Honestly, it's enough to drive you out of your mind.
I have to stay busy and work hard to be happy. Maybe that is what peace is: just being happy and content with where life has taken you. I'm not sure. But I certainly hope to feel at peace one day. Certainly before I rest in peace.

Perhaps - to some - my story will sound dark. But in truth, my past has been exceptionally dark and withdrawn, and as strange as that sounds, it really only started to improve after I had my knee crushed.
It gave me the determination to get life moving. Before then, I still didn't have a clear path or structure to my life. I was in trouble with the law, hanging out with really bad people and being massively in debt. I never believed I would amount to anything better than that.
After my knee was crushed, I realised that I could end up spending my life crippled and unable to do any of the things I still dreamed of. I made a plan to get out of my hometown before it killed me and start creating a life I could be happy with, before it was all taken from me by an aging body.
I moved to Canberra and my life has improved in leaps and bounds ever since because I work on it every day.
When I think back to where I have come from, I find it very hard to believe that is my story. Many times while re-telling certain parts of my life, I stop and think "Did that really happen to me?" My life is so much better now, that my past seems like a nightmare I had once, but no longer suffer from it.

As we parted, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the next chapter in Peter’s life should be a new approach, offering photo-walks and macro “how-to” courses.