A Life of Contrasts

In the lead-up to moving overseas for two years, I have moved out of my house and been house sitting.  I’m currently staying in a beautiful architectural home, and have use of the car while I’m here, a near-new Mazda 3 which I’m getting around in happily.

Another friend is also away.  I house sat her beautiful, newly renovated apartment on the edge of the town centre for about ten days before moving into this house.  A lot of my gear is still there, and I’m popping in regularly to organise things.

In effect, I am living between two very nice abodes.  I can’t really imagine a more privileged existence.

Ten years ago I met a small girl at one of the town camps, I’ll call her Sally.  The first time I met her she was running around in the dust naked, with her wild blonde unkempt hair giving her an electrified look.  Her story has been one of poverty, homelessness, dysfunction, ill health, victimhood and sadness.  Yet, now 18yo, she is coping with life amazingly, she has a kind and empathetic nature, wants to help people, has avoided buying into the culture of sex, alcohol and drugs, and has a genuinely responsible way about her.

When she was thirteen she was removed from her mother and put into a “Safe House”.  Her mother has been unwell for many years, and has never provided a good environment for Sally.  She rarely if ever attended school.  Oneday when she was about ten she came to my office to visit me on a school day, asking me to take her to the cinema.  When I declined because it was a school day, she replied along the lines of “but I have my own money, you just have to take me”, and produced 6 x $50 notes.  Mum being an artist regularly gave her wads of cash, and she walked the streets with no supervision and masses of available cash.  I tried a number of times to report her as a child at risk, and was told that the information was not enough for authorities to act on.  Soon enough, of course, she ended up in trouble, and had to be removed from the care of her mother.

One of the services involved with her at the time she was removed, contacted me to say that Sally had nominated me as a possible carer, and to ask if I would consider it.  At the time I wasn’t prepared to consider it.  Four months later I received a call again, she was still living in a Safe House, and still nominating me as a carer.  I agreed to try it, and she moved in with me.

In the main we had a really good four months living together.  She went to school daily, and we developed a routine.  After missing out on almost a decade of school, while she was with me she had a “reading epiphany” – she suddenly began reading independently, thanks in part to Dr Seuss and his repeating rhymes.  It was a really special thing to experience with her – we read each night at bed time and one night, she asked if she could read some of the words.  Then reading “some of the words” became reading “some of the pages”, and soon enough she was reading the books independently, which she was soon brave enough to transfer to other, less easy books, and whilst she remains at a primary level of reading, she can now read simple texts with only limited assistance.

At the end of 2008 I was going away for an extended period, and had to relinquish care of Sally.  She was moved to a “group home” with other children in care.  When I returned, there were different people involved with her care, and the plan in place for her was to keep her in the group home, where she had bonded with some of the other girls and also with some of the carers.  She came to see me on occasions, including for sleepovers, and we remain connected even now.

For her 15th birthday I purchased tickets to the Beyonce Concert in 2009, and we went to Sydney together with one of the other local girls I know.  We had a big weekend in Sydney.  Upon arrival we made our way to a Pyrmont apartment where my cousin was staying, to meet some family for dinner.  We got out of the lift of this apartment and next to the lift was a painting which looked remarkably like Sally’s mother’s style.  When we lifted this dot painting off the wall to check, her mother’s signature and name were marked clearly on the back!  As well as the Beyonce concert, we went to Taronga Park Zoo, and a number of other Sydney sights.

Today I popped in to one of the local hostels in town to see an elderly man I was helping with something.  I learned while there, that Sally has been staying there, but it is against the hostel rules because she doesn’t meet the resident criteria.  The manager has broken the rules for her, because at 18yo she is suddenly “independent” of the supports she previously had, and  has found herself homeless.  Her father died interstate, and she travelled into town from a remote community where she has been staying, to visit her mother.  She is also very much an urban child, having spent almost all of her childhood in Alice Springs, so her visits to the various remote communities she is connected to are always temporary.

She receives $500 per fortnight now, in unemployment benefits.  Staying in a room at this hostel costs $420 per fortnight.  She has nowhere else to stay, and would be very vulnerable on the streets or in the camps.  So after talking to the hostel manager, I have offered for her to move to this house sit with me whilst I’m here.

It makes me wonder what the point ever was, of removing her from her family, community and culture?  It is not as though they engaged her with a strong support system elsewhere?  It seems to have merely left her stranded.

It’s obviously a very  temporary option, as I am leaving for overseas in exactly four weeks time.  But I can’t live this privileged existence while this beautiful young girl continues to live in such deprived and hopeless circumstances.  So I’m about to inherit a housemate for a few weeks.  Here’s hoping I can use the time to work with her on what her options might be now that she’s an independent adult with limited support now available to her.

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