Living with intent, social engagement, learning, growing, giving
When I was 5 my family left the suburbs for a large block of hilly land with rainforest and waterfalls. While preparing to move there (building an access track, establishing a water supply, levelling a site for a dwelling), we lived in a caravan in my grandparents backyard.
Well to be frank, my parents lived in the caravan and my brother and I lived in a canvas annexe with an open front to it (no problems with ventilation although a bit chilly during a frost). Soon we moved into a ‘shed’ on our farm and that was moving up in the world for us! It was cosy and we lived there until I was 15 (except for 18 months living interstate in an apartment with a shower and toilet). We had an orchard, a permaculture vegetable garden, hens, ducks, geese, hand-raised cows, lovely dogs, solar power, rainwater, an outdoor shower and ‘toilet’, no garbage pickup, and motorbikes (in fact I learnt to ride that before a bicycle). It flooded a few times a year making getting to the school bus 1km down on the highway an adventure! The rainforest is so beautiful that I feel a visceral longing to be there.
During primary school there was no problem with the other kids at school thinking I was weird for the way that we lived with a bath in the kitchen/dining/bedroom and a ‘toilet’ under the stars because it was a semi-rural school. Once I got to high school the first girl that I invited home told everyone in my year about it and I was ostracised. I was crushed and struggled to make friends for a while. It was awful but there’s something to be said for adversity and the strength of character that can come from it. Perhaps that gave me the strength to deviate from the norm and develop some more the fringe-dwelling habits!
From high school I went to the local university and attended some of the same courses as my boyfriend from school. I studied chemistry because it makes so much sense and it’s hands-on!
And geology because it’s easily applied and I love being outdoors, bushwalking, camping and enjoying nature. I was the first person in my family to attend university, with both sets of grandparents coming from hard-working backgrounds with little opportunity for study. In particular my Polish grandfather was delighted that I went to university because he valued education very highly and disagreed with the maxim ‘Work will set you free’ and felt that it was actually education that would do it (he didn’t get to finish a qualification due to Nazi occupation and then forced labour in Germany).
The year that I graduated (first place in my Honours year) there was a major downturn in the resources sector in Australia and I couldn’t even get into an unpaid internship! This made it very easy to accept a PhD scholarship (to my grandfather’s delight and my mother’s horror because she wanted me to marry a wealthy man or failing that become a school teacher). My high school boyfriend did the same and we sat side-by-side at university and at home working away on our theses. What halcyon days! The life of a PhD student, living near the beach and with plenty of likeminded youngsters to party with is a great one. This experience of self-directed research was to help me to realise that I want to continue to do research whenever I can (at work if possible or in my spare time if not) and to continue learn throughout my life.
When we submitted our theses we realised that we’d been looking at our navels for far too long and it was time to see something of the world. So we started with the safe option of New Zealand before venturing to South America with a smattering of Spanish between us. We had a great two months exploring Chile, Argentina, Peru and a little of Uruguay before heading to Spain, England, France, Switzerland and Italy.
So we returned to our hometown unemployed and fearful of our job prospects but pretty soon we both found research jobs and enjoyed having our first real jobs without the looming spectre of a thesis to submit. I married my high school sweetheart and we moved cities in time for the arrival of our first child followed two years later by our second child. Since then we’ve juggled family life (in a different city without any family or friends to help), trying to build careers and building a social network from nothing. We both work part-time to allow us to spend more time with our children and minimise their usage of childcare.
Initially we clung to long distance friendships with our university friends and then over time we built meaningful friendships with a range of lovely people in our new hometown. The best step that I took in the early days was to join a mother’s group and from that I’ve made some lasting friendships. Next I started a book group (in 2007) that’s still going strong and is fertile ground for friendships.
In 2010 I finally found a charity that I wanted to devote my (admittedly limited) spare time to, called Room to Read. I also enjoy volunteering at my children’s school with reading. I continue to love learning, particularly languages. So far I’ve studied German for 4 years, Spanish for 2 years, Polish for ½ a year (and didn’t manage to learn much of that difficult language of my forefathers) and now I’m learning Arabic which is helpful when I travel to the Middle East for my work.