FREEING ASIA’S BEARS
From housewife to bear rescuer
DOWN SYNDROME MODEL
Revealing true beauty
head with the
SAVING LIVES IN CAMBODIA
Horror at desperate acts sparks action
Risking life to save rhinos
AFGHANISTAN’S SKATER GIRLS
Education and smiles for war-wearied kids
Issue 1, December 2015
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may have overcome tragedy
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really fire you up, please feel free
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I am super excited to welcome you to the first edition of Inspired in print –
a collection of the top 10 stories from Inspired’s online fortnightly feature stories
(check out the full story list at www.inspired.org.au).
We launched Inspired in November 2014 to share stories that uplift, engage and
inspire. As a long-time journo I had become fed up with the media’s focus on
negative, Tweet-sized and celebrity-obsessed news. I knew there were all these
amazing everyday people doing incredible things but I wasn’t finding them in
mainstream media. And I wanted to fill my head with the good stuff.
Enter Inspired. Inspired is designed to remind us of the possibilities that life
presents, of all that is good, wondrous, beautiful in our world.
For me personally, interviewing and writing about Inspired subjects gives me
hope. Maybe I too could be like the people I write about. Maybe I too could make a
How? I sincerely hope that, after reading Inspired
articles, readers may feel inspired to step up, to fight
for something they believe in, to take action to gift
the world with their magic. If everyone’s taking that
extra step, just imagine the possibilities for humanity,
for nature, for our planet.
So please enjoy reading about the people striving
to make our beautiful world that bit more special.
Take note of their tendency to feel self-doubt and act
anyway, of their courage to risk scorn or failure, of
their ability to think big, of their seemingly unfailing
belief in their cause. And use it as inspiration for you
and your life, in filling the world with your own unique
brand of magic.
1. aroused, animated, or imbued with the spirit to do something, by or as if
by supernatural or divine influence.
Synonyms: brilliant, wonderful, impressive, exciting, outstanding, thrilling,
memorable, dazzling, enthralling, superlative.
6 12 18 24 30 36 42 48 54 62
Saving lives in
A Perth woman’s desire
to help the desperately
poor has saved and
transformed hundreds of
lives in Cambodia.
girls’ lives with a
skateboarder is injecting
new life and hope into
the lives of Afghan
children wearied by war.
Risking life to save
Fighting for a cause
you believe in is one
thing but risking your
life to do so is quite
another. What drives this
Australian woman to risk
her life to save rhinos
amid achingly beautiful
Music brings new hope
for Aboriginal kids
swapped his leafy
green home in Margaret
River for the red dust of
the Pilbara in Western
north with a dream of
transforming kids’ lives
through music. The
result, Boonderu Music
Academy, is providing
new hope for young
Marcia Huber &
Love, loss and new life
After Marcia Huber
watched her sister
Eleanor Gorman suffer
through the grief of
failed IVF attempts and
miscarriages, she offered
to carry Eleanor’s child
through pregnancy as
a surrogate mother. The
resulting journey took
them on an emotional
whirlwind of fear, hope,
love and joy.
Mid West Charity
Begins at Home
Easing pain, capturing
This wildly successful
captured the hearts of
a region with its tireless
efforts to raise money
for the seriously ill. In the
process it has changed
the lives of those it has
helped – and those who
are doing the helping.
Down Syndrome model
reveals true beauty
Brisbane model is
turning the fashion world
upside down by showing
that true beauty comes
from within, and this
often-fickle industry is
falling in love with her for
offering the reminder.
Hooked on the high of
Young Australian of
the Year for 2014 John
van Bockxmeer has
started three successful
won an impressive list
of awards. Oh yes, and
he manages to fit in a
job as an emergency
department registrar too.
Freeing the bears
Mary Hutton has
a humble mum
in the suburbs to
with Asian governments
in her ongoing bid to
rescue Asian bears.
A journey of love, pain
As the mother of a
17-year-old son with
autism, Clara Harris
has embarked on a
mission to help others
living with disabilities
and depression by
sharing her own often
raw, painful and lifeenriching
doing so she is capturing
the hearts of those she
meets with her warmth,
love and honesty.
SAVING LIVES IN
A Perth woman’s desire to help the desperately poor has
saved and transformed hundreds of lives in Cambodia.
Right top In Phnom
Penh alone between
10,000 and 20,000
children live and work
on the streets.
desperately poor live in
homes such as this.
Kay Eva was travelling through rural Cambodia
on the day she realised her life calling. She was
with a group handing out supplies to those in
need when they approached a devastatingly poor
family living under sheets of tin. Grubby children
played in the dirt, the air hung heavy with humidity
and traffic roared down the nearby road.
They were here to deliver powdered milk for the
family’s new baby. But the baby was missing. It
had been sold the day before for $20 – a desperate
act to raise money to feed the rest of the family. The
news hit Kay like a punch to the stomach. Horrified,
this mother of three knew she had to act. “That really
shook me up,” she recalls. “I thought ‘I’ve got to do
something. I can’t just stand back and say ‘how
Fast forward 11 years and Kay has launched a
thriving charity, Stitches of Hope, which operates
a sewing centre to train women and help them
find work, a children’s home for under-privileged
kids, a community centre and a school. The charity
has sunk wells, built houses, sponsored families of
AIDS victims, funded cancer treatments and aided
grandparents looking after their grandchildren.
But how did Kay – a once-humble mother of three
who battled sexual abuse as a child and cancer as
an adult – go from an everyday housewife living on
the outskirts of Perth Western Australia to someone
who is quite literally saving lives in a developing
BURNING DESIRE TO HELP
Home in Australia after her first Cambodian trip, Kay
couldn’t rid her head of the image of the mother who
had sold her baby. They’d been told the baby would
go to someone unable to have children of their own.
But there were also whispers of babies and young
children sold for sex trafficking. If the traffickers got
kids early, there’d be little chance of escape. Kay was
horrified at a mother being in such a position - it was
almost beyond comprehension.
But what could Kay do? She wasn’t a nurse, a
doctor, even a teacher. How could she possibly help?
“I felt inadequate,” she says. “I carried this insecurity
that I wouldn’t be able to do anything for anybody.”
Kay shared her feelings of inadequacy with a
friend who worked in Cambodian prisons organising
activities and providing basic supplies for prisoners.
The friend asked: “Well what can you do?” “My only
training is a commercial dress makers’ certificate,”
Kay replied. “Well that’s exactly what they need –
teach them sewing,” her friend responded.
A CHARITY IS BORN
Kay enlisted the help of family and friends to raise
$600 and journeyed back to Cambodia. Her friend
had organised sewing classes for women in a village
gripped by poverty, at a women’s prison and at a
children’s home with teenage girls.
A nervous Kay ventured in with hand-sewing kits and
an interpreter. She taught them how to thread needles,
to sew in a straight line. Interest soared. Kay bought
several sewing machines and soon her students were
cutting patterns and making children’s clothes.
The most promising students were given their own
sewing machines to take home and start their own
business. “They were wildly excited and started
coming from miles around to learn how to sew,” Kay
says. “We trained 24 women from the village on that
trip and more than half of them went on to get work
in a factory.”
Kay was exhilarated by the program’s success. “It
wasn’t even about helping with basics like education
and health,” Kay says. “Basically, [getting some
income] meant they didn’t have to sell their children
into sex trafficking, or [to be] cleaners for the wealthy.
And in the prison it enabled women to obtain the
skills to get a job when they were released so they
didn’t have to go back to a life of crime.”
Below The streets
can be brutal for
I have always been
inspired by people who
can leave their home
country and show love,
kindness and mercy to
the people who live in
desperate poverty and
hardship. In Cambodia,
that would be someone
like Marie Ens from
Canada who leads Place
of Rescue – a home for
hundreds of orphan
children, AIDS families
and grannies. And in
Baker from Iris Global
children’s homes is
a pure example of
transforming love into
Love in the midst of
pain. Forgive in the
midst of evil. Comfort
in the midst of agony.
DEPTHS OF POVERTY
In the meantime, Kay came to better know her
new interpreter Chanthy and Chanthy’s husband
Narith. The duo showed Kay the depths of poverty
experienced in their home village. So they started
sewing classes here too and taught English. But Kay
realised the problems went much deeper. Soon she
was fundraising to install toilets, water filters and wells.
Every time she went home she and her friends
would conduct shed parties, movie nights and garage
sales to raise money. The funds started rolling in. Kay
is continually humbled by the generosity of donors.
As momentum grew Kay registered Stitches of Hope
as a charity and formed a board of directors.
Together with Chanthy and Narith she
founded the Stitches of Hope Sewing Centre – a
permanent institution that teaches women to sew,
accommodates and feeds them, pays them a wage
to fulfill factory orders, and encourages them to set
up their own sewing businesses.
HOMING UNDER-PRIVILEGED CHILDREN
The more time Kay spent in Cambodia, the more
she realised just how far poverty’s tentacles stretched.
Everywhere there were heart-wrenching tales of
desperately needy children – innocent little beings
whose parents had died, or had to leave them
to search for work. So, in 2008, Stitches of Hope
launched a children’s home which today houses 24
children cared for by live-in Cambodian couples.
Kay remembers one toddler whose parents were
leaving the country to seek work and had sold him
for cash to fund their journey. However, fortune tellers
warned the buyers that the boy was bad luck so they
returned him to his grandparents. Unable to care for
him herself, the grandmother brought the then two
year old to the Stitches of Hope Children’s Home and
handed him over. “It took quite a while to put a smile
on his little face,” Kay says. “They’ve all got sad stories
to tell, but now live in a place of love and security.”
School-aged children at the children’s home
attend a nearby school and the older kids can go to
university or, if they’d prefer, learn at the Stitches of
Hope Sewing Centre.
It was through her work at the children’s home that
Kay realised how badly HIV/AIDS was affecting some
communities. Some of the children in the home had
been left without a carer after one or both of their
parents had died of AIDS.
One village was particularly devastated by the
condition. “It’s in a very poor area of Cambodia where
the men go to the capital city of Phnom Penh to
work, and sleep around, then bring HIV back to their
wives,” Kay says. “There are predominantly women
and children in the village because many of the men
have died. It’s a very sad place. The women are very
downtrodden, but we are restoring their trust and
giving them a hope and a vision for an improved
Some of the kids in the children’s home are taken
back to villages like this one to care for their surviving
parents when HIV overcomes them – their chances of
a school and university education often gone when
they leave Stitches of Hope.
Kay learned that many HIV sufferers were foregoing
their treatment because taking a day off work to
receive medical help meant they were docked a
week’s pay. So she organised sponsors to pay for
these victims to access their treatment. Stitches of
Hope also installed fish ponds, rice paddies and
vegetable plots in the village to help residents feed
themselves. They built five houses, dug a well and
established a meeting hall. Five more houses are in
OVERCOMING THE POVERTY CYCLE
More and more Kay came to question the ongoing
poverty cycle. She says those entrenched in poverty
are too busy surviving the day to ponder how to
escape its cruel clutches. “But I believe we need to get
them to think outside their own needs, to think as a
community, to think beyond today and plan for the
future,” she says.
With this in mind, Kay, Chanthy and Stitches of
Hope launched a community centre and school which
now teaches more than 80 children. “It’s working
exceptionally well,” Kay says. “It has brick walls,
desks, lighting, fans and school equipment. It’s such a
delight to see them so keen to learn.”
The charity’s new in-country director is particularly
passionate about empowering and educating
the rural children and families who often miss the
opportunity to be supported. “Our Cambodian staff
are committed to improving the lives of the people we
work with and we keep in regular touch with all that is
happening,” Kay says.
NEW HOPE FOR CANCER PATIENTS
Through their work in the children’s home and the
villages it became increasingly obvious to Stitches of
Hope staff that it was grandparents who often bore
the burden of caring for children, because the parents
had left to find work. So again the charity stepped
in, this time sponsoring individual families from one
Kay got to know the people here and met one lady
who had an external tumour on her breast that was
size of a saucer. The woman had wrapped the tumour
in plastic and tied it up with a piece of string to avoid
offending the westerners with the smell. She had
visited the doctor about it but he took one look, knew
she couldn’t pay for treatment and dismissed her.
Top A cancer survivor
sponsored by Stitches
of Hope, with her four
children and Kay.
Above Stitches of Hope
supports a village left
reeling from HIV.
Left Stitches of Hope
provides fresh water
to some of Cambodia’s
peace of mind...
Another lady Kay met, a mother of four, had
experienced a similar situation. She’d been told,
“if you can’t afford treatment there is none.” Kay,
who’d battled ovarian and bowel cancer herself, was
outraged. She organised Stitches of Hope funding to
pay for their treatment.
She visited the women as they suffered through
chemotherapy, assuring them their hair loss and
fatigue was normal. “I was just able to lie with them
and hold their hand, encourage them and tell them
I’d been through cancer treatment so I understood
what they were going through.”
Both women finished their treatment and survived
When Kay looks back on what Stitches of Hope has
achieved she feels immense satisfaction – especially
about the children’s home and school. She says there
are so many stories of individual lives changed. The
journey of a woman aged about 22 springs to mind.
The woman had a tumour on her lip and
approached Kay begging for help. She’d never get
a job, she’d never get married, she sobbed. The
disfigurement had made her an outcast.
Stitches of Hope paid for the woman’s treatment
and, the next time Kay saw her, she skipped up to
Kay to kiss her. All smiles and gratitude, the woman
gushed that she’d never before been able to kiss
people. The next time Kay visited the young woman
was no longer there – because she’d finally got the
job she’d never before dreamed possible.
Below Stitches of Hope Sewing Centre.
You can support Stitches of Hope and its work
by making a donation or hosting a fundraising
event. For more information visit the website
right and the
passion is within
just do it ... who knows
where it will take you.
Free the Bears Foundation
An Australian skateboarder
is injecting new life and
hope into the lives of Afghan
children wearied by war.
TRANSFORMING AFGHAN GIRLS’ LIVES WITH A
The 14 year old grabs a skateboard, jumps
aboard, leaps off the skate ramp’s steep edges
and seemingly floats through the air before
landing the board and shooting back up the other
side. It’s a talented performance. Yet that’s not what
makes it so compelling. For the skater is a girl. Her
family is poor. And she lives in Afghanistan.
Hanifa has transformed from a waif selling tea on
the streets of war-ravaged Kabul to a skateboard
instructor who is training to re-enter the school
system thanks to a grassroots initiative that now
employs 70 people and educates 1500 students a
week across four sites in Afghanistan, Cambodia and
Skateistan is transforming young lives by luring
youth with skateboards and offering skating lessons
alongside formal education. In the process the charity
is overcoming class distinctions, transcending social
barriers, and boosting confidence. It is injecting new
light into the eyes of Afghanistan’s children.
AN IDEA IS BORN
Australian Oliver Percovich, or Ollie, was five years
old and living in Melbourne when a cousin gave him
his first skateboard. “I loved it from the moment I fell
off it,” Ollie says. The passion endured as Ollie grew
up, and his skateboard came with him on extensive
travels around the globe.
So it was that Ollie brought his skateboard with him
when he joined his then girlfriend looking for work in
Afghanistan. Though he had studied environmental
chemistry and worked as a social scientist in
emergency management, Ollie didn’t find the
work as a researcher that he’d hoped for. He found
himself on the streets, skateboarding to kill time. The
Afghan street children flocked to him and his strange
contraption. What was this chunk of wood with
wheels, they asked? How did it connect to his feet?
“I found the skateboard was a great way to break
the ice,” Ollie says. “There was a huge cultural gap
and I had no language skills so skateboarding was
a great way of connecting with the street-working
kids that were hassling me for money. I gave them
my skateboard and noticed girls as well as boys
becoming interested. I hadn’t noticed girls doing any
other sports so it really piqued my interest that it
could become something more.”
OLIVER PERCOVICH 13
Previous page Young
Afghan girls like this
one experience soaring
mastering the art of
Above An Afghan girl
at work in a Skateistan
Top right Skateistan’s
girl skaters in Kabul.
Above right Oliver
(right) has worked on
with Afghans of all ages.
Photo – Chad Foreman
CONNECTION THROUGH SKATING
Intrigued by the possibilities, Ollie convinced a friend
in the skateboard industry to donate more boards
and started holding impromptu skating lessons in
public places in Kabul. “I had no money, everyone
thought I was totally crazy but for me it made a lot of
sense,” he recalls.
Many of the lessons took place in a dish-shaped
concrete fountain built by the Russians during their
invasion of the country. At first the boys were his
sole students, while the girls stood far back, smiling
shy smiles and giggling behind their hands. Within
two weeks the girls were standing on the edge of the
fountain watching, intrigued. A few weeks later and
they were on skateboards.
While Afghan girls aren’t allowed to ride bikes,
skateboarding was such a new entity it hadn’t had
the chance to be outlawed. The girls relished the
opportunity to escape the sidelines.
After one girls-only session in the fountain, Ollie
watched gobsmacked as the girls – some middle
class, some desperately poor – joined hands and
started singing and dancing as one. He caught a
glimpse of the trust, the sense of community, that a
shared love of skateboarding could forge.
SKATEBOARDING-EDUCATION LINK FORGED
Ollie got to know the kids he was teaching and
realised many worked the streets to help support
their families and were therefore unable to attend
school. Among these kids was Fazilla, whose parents
had taken her out of school to beg full-time on
Afghanistan’s grey streets. Ollie approached her
parents with a deal. Could Fazilla go back to school if
Ollie paid her $1 a day? Her parents agreed. And the
link between skating and education was formed.
But Ollie was so broke he was sleeping on friends’
couches, so hard up for money that he’d attend
market at closing time to bargain for rotten fruit to
eat. He knew the $1 a day arrangement couldn’t last
for Fazilla, let alone all the other kids he dreamed of
Impressed by what he witnessed during Ollie’s
skating sessions, a friend of Ollie’s arranged a
meeting between Ollie and the incoming president of
the Afghan Olympic committee. Ollie convinced the
president to donate some land and then embarked a
mass two-year fundraising effort that resulted in the
construction of Afghanistan’s biggest indoor sports
facility – site of Skateistan’s first premises.
Skateistan would offer skateboard instruction on
the condition its students embarked on one of three
programs – Skate and Create, in which students
receive weekly skateboarding instruction alongside
an educational arts-based curriculum; Back-to-
School, an accelerated learning program that
prepares out-of-school youth to enrol or re-enrol
in the public school system; and Youth Leadership,
in which participants help with skate sessions and
classroom lessons, help to plan and manage events,
and take part in special sports, arts, and multimedia
Unlike traditional Afghan schooling which largely
operates on rote learning, Skateistan concentrated on
teaching critical thinking skills, enhancing creativity
and encouraging self-expression. Skateistan also paid
some of its students to become instructors, freeing
them of the need to peddle wares on Kabul’s streets
and enabling them to access
Several students who’ve
Youth Leadership program
have gone on to represent
Afghanistan at UNICEF
events in Germany. One
young girl attended
the World Urban Forum
in Columbia along with
20,000 other delegates as
Afghanistan’s only female
Another boy, Noorzai, whom Ollie
met as a street kid clad in filthy clothes,
escalated through the ranks of Skateistan to
become sports coordinator of Skateistan’s north
Afghanistan operation. He is now enrolled in law
TRANSCENDING SOCIAL BARRIERS
For Ollie the biggest satisfaction comes from
witnessing new relationships form and students’
confidence soar. “Over a period of weeks they gain
a lot of confidence as they do something they never
thought they’d do,” he says. “And the relationships
they form are vitally important.”
Ollie gains particular satisfaction in seeing povertystricken
kids interact with their middle class peers
– something that otherwise rarely occurs. He watches
the street kids, who are often bigger risk-takers and
“He caught a glimpse
of the trust, the sense of
community, that a shared
love of skateboarding
Above Afghan girls
Wahila and Fazilla were
able to leave the streets
and return to education
thanks to Skateistan.
OLIVER PERCOVICH 15
The dozens of Skateistan
youth whose lives I’ve
seen change for the
better because of their
personal strength and
The way travel
Utilise your passion. If
you are passionate about
something, you will go
the extra mile.
Your holiday is a personal
adventure and the planning should be
just as exciting as your time away.
Above Oliver introduces
the magic of skating
to a group of Afghan
girls at a public
fountain in Kabul.
Above right Skateistan
puts smiles onto the
faces of children
wearied by war.
Right Skateistan offers
Photo – Rhianon Bader
Opposite page Hanifa
therefore better skaters, helping their middle class
peers with skating and then, in return, the middle
class kids helping their lesser-schooled friends in the
“You see these street-working girls and these middle
class girls skating together and overcoming these
huge barriers in society and making vital friendships,”
Ollie says. “I really see that [relationship building] as
the basis of what needs to happen in Afghanistan
society. The first thing that needs to be built is trust,
and that’s built through social connection. When trust
is in place then other things are possible.”
Inspired by the success of Skateistan in Kabul,
a Frenchman living in Cambodia’s Phnom Penh
approached Ollie about starting a similar program
there. Skateistan offered a small grant and helped
launch Skateistan Cambodia. While the issues
Cambodian children face differ vastly from those in
Afghanistan, the lure of skateboarding remains strong.
“We really tailor the program to suit the country so
that they’re locally relevant,” Ollie says. “But the thing
that remains constant is that skateboarding is a lot
of fun and a great way for people to meet each other
and interact. Lots of things can grow from there.”
Buoyed by the success of the Cambodian operation,
Skateistan is now opening a facility in Johannesburg
in South Africa.
Of course such success doesn’t come easily.
Skateistan has faced grumblings from Afghanistan’s
more traditional sector for having the gall to educate
girls, for introducing a western sport to its youth. As
girls age many are forbidden from attending. And yet
Skateistan has never received threats to close.
Skateistan staff also face the difficulties of living in
a society still gripped by the cruelties of war. In 2012
several Skateistan students and staff were killed in a
suicide attack at an international military base while
they attempted to sell trinkets to the soldiers – a loss
that reverberated through the Skateistan community.
There’s also the human resources problems of
working across a deep cultural divide, and the time
spent living internationally away from family and
friends. And yet Ollie feels honoured to do what he
“I really believe all humans are equal and there
should be equal opportunity for people all around the
world,” he says. “To be able to work towards that in
my own little way is very rewarding. And seeing the
children blossom is the best reward.”
Watching Hanifa on her skateboard, light dancing
across sparkling eyes, it’s easy to understand
the reward Ollie speaks of. Speaking about her
involvement in Skateistan Hanifa mentions her love
of skating high on the ramps: “I like going high on the
ramps,” she says. “When I’m up there I feel free, like
Johannesburg, South Africa
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Skateistan relies on sponsorship, donations
and merchandise sales to operate. You can
help Skateistan to continue its work by
visiting its website at www.skateistan.org
and pledging money or buying merchandise
such as T-shirts and a book or documentary
Creating a classic destination
itinerary is easy but the fun is in
journeying with you, getting to
know the places you want to see and
activities you want to experience.
So for a tailor-made holiday that is
all about you, contact Rebecca, your
Personal Travel manager.
Personal Travel Manager
M: 0413 161 550
Part of the House of Travel Group
ACN: 113 085 626 Member: IATA, AFTA, CLIA
Fighting for a cause you believe in is one thing but
risking your life to do so is quite another. What drives
this Australian woman to risk her life to save rhinos amid
achingly beautiful Zimbabwean bush?
It was August 2008 and Natasha Anderson received
a call from the field. Poachers had shot a mother
black rhino in the shoulder. The rhino was injured
but likely to survive. She had a two-month-old calf
Natasha and her team leapt into land cruisers and
sped to the site. They captured the duo and put them
in pens. While not mortally wounded, the mother
wasn’t producing enough milk to sustain her calf. So
Natasha embarked on a mission to save him. For 10
to 12 hours a day she’d sit just outside their enclosure
wooing and attempting to bottle-feed the infant.
As if sensing that Natasha was trying to help, the
mother rhino, Teressa, positioned her enormous form
in a way that forced the calf towards Natasha and
the bottle. The hungry calf, reassured by his mother,
took to the bottle and regained strength. Over three
weeks Teressa’s wound healed and the duo was
returned to freedom in the vast African bush.
Natasha watched the calf grow over the years like
a proud mother herself. She delighted in seeing new
offspring Teressa produced. Here was a good news
story in the intense battle to save black rhinos from
the poaching menace that is threatening their very
Today only 5000 black rhinos remain, their
populations decimated to provide horn as status
symbols, herbal medicine, even hangover cures,
especially in Vietnam and China. Natasha and the
team at Lowveld Rhino Trust are endangering their
own lives to save the rhinos, dodging bullets in gun
battles with machine-gun wielding poachers, dealing
with enormous and incredibly agile wild animals and
operating under challenging political and economic
So how is it that an Aussie lass from Melbourne finds
herself in shootouts in the Zimbabwean bush for the
sake of a wild African animal?
FALLING IN LOVE
Natasha was fresh out of university when she
applied to join Australian Volunteers Abroad in Africa.
She ventured to Zimbabwe to work with communities
on resource and catchment management programs.
However, given the volatile politics in the early 2000s,
Natasha’s work in the rural communities became too
dangerous to continue.
While friends from the villages risked their own lives
to warn Natasha of planned youth militia attacks,
she knew she had to be careful. She had to avoid
taking the same approach and exit routes to reduce
the chance of being attacked. At the same time,
funding support for her projects dried up.
As her opportunity to work on community
development declined, a new need arose – helping to
monitor critically endangered black rhinos helplessly
caught in the politics of the time. New clearing of
land for subsistence farming spread through roughly
Above Poachers hack
off only the horn from a
rhino’s face, leaving the
rest of the body behind.
Opposite page Only
5000 black rhinos
survive today, their
NATASHA ANDERSON 19
In Natasha’s words ...
Who/what inspires me
Wild places. The world needs to hang on
to the wild places we have left – we need
them in more ways than we realise.
Think about the consequences of your
actions. If we all made a bit more effort
in this regard we could make the world
a much better place far more easily than
we think. Lots of little actions add up –
both positively and negatively. It is in our
individual power to choose.
60,000 hectares of a 120,000-hectare private black
rhino conservancy, posing risks to both human and
animal. Wire traps were killing and injuring black
rhinos and the endangered animals needed to be
moved to safer areas before they were wiped out. It
was in this role that Natasha set eyes on her first wild
rhino – and fell in love.
“I was off-loading water and out of the corner of my
eye I saw this magnificent black rhino bull,” she recalls.
“He just stepped out and we both sort of saw each
other at the same time. He was fabulous, just magic.”
The sighting sparked Natasha’s quest to help save
these magnificent animals. Working with Lowveld
Rhino Trust and conservancy staff, Natasha helps
monitor rhino populations, de-horn rhinos to reduce
their attractiveness to poachers, educate locals about
rhinos and their plight, translocate rhinos from highrisk
areas, organise treatment for rhinos with snare
and gunshot wounds, rescue orphaned rhino calves
and work with authorities to stamp out poaching.
So what is it about a rhino that drives Natasha’s
work? “They are magnificent and fascinating
animals,” she says. “Even the cows can weigh 1.2
tonnes and they are socially far more sensitive and
bonded to each other than we fully understand. And
there’s the fact that they are critically endangered.
If we don’t make an effort to save them they will go
extinct. I just don’t think we’ve got the right to keep
writing off species.”
Smitten by these enormous beasts, Natasha
embarked on an awareness-raising program that
would help educate school children about rhinos and
encourage them to support rhino conservation. That
program operates in 140 Zimbabwean schools today.
But by 2008 the rhino poaching had flared up
among the Lowveld rhino populations. Poachers were
slaughtering nearly five rhinos a week for their horn.
Driven by such circumstances, Natasha was forced
out of the classroom to take up arms to help support
the anti-poaching patrols.
The anti-poaching units stage armed patrols in
certain areas to protect rhinos from the well-armed
poaching menace. But they must cover vast areas
with limited resources, and the poachers are hell bent
on their prize. Often the units don’t find out about
a poaching presence until they receive a call about
shots being fired. Sometimes they receive the call
too late, arriving only to find the rhino’s massive
bulk lying prone in the dirt, its horn sawn from his
face. Sometimes they turn up in time to rescue a calf
orphaned by the shooting. Other times the poachers
are still on the scene, bullets from their AK47s
whistling through the air around the anti-poaching
Mostly the poachers fire and run but sometimes,
when encountered at close range, a gun fight ensues.
“Often there is panic firing,” Natasha says. “The
AKs tend to kick up and to the right. Poachers aren’t
disciplined military people so they shoot most of the
bullets into the air.”
Despite the high-risk nature of the work, Natasha
knows of just one fatal injury among the anti-
poaching teams in the Lowveld – a scout from an
anti-poaching unit who was unarmed and fleeing the
scene when the poachers opened fire.
HOPE AMID HORROR
Natasha is adamant the risk is worthwhile.
“I believe in what I’m doing,” she says. “A lot of it is
really positive. We’ve managed to rehome a lot of
animals – that’s incredibly rewarding. If we are not
going to stand up and help them they will be gone.
I feel a responsibility to help them. They didn’t do
Natasha believes rhinos stand a real chance of
survival. She gives the example of markets for rhino
horn that have closed – places like Yemen which once
demanded vast supplies of rhino horn but has since
closed down the horn trade thanks to enforcement of
“There is hope,” she says. “So often the rhino
situation is presented as completely hopeless but
that’s not true. The trade has been shut down
repeatedly in the past. I think they will make it if we
can get on top of the poaching. We have to keep
enough rhinos alive to provide a viable genetic base
for them to survive long term.”
Above The bullet
wounded mother rhino
Teressa and calf Jo Jo.
Opposite page, top
Natasha has fallen
in love with the
wild beauty of the
Opposite page, centre
left Natasha in the field.
Opposite page, centre
right Natasha bottlefeeds
Jo Jo, a twomonth-old
Opposite page, bottom
Members of the Lowveld
Rhino Trust rhino
NATASHA ANDERSON 21
“They live up to
40 years so you
really get to know
Charged with such a hope, Natasha gains immense
satisfaction from seeing rhinos safely rehomed
away from high-risk poaching areas. But moving an
enormous wild beast is, of course, no easy task.
Natasha cites the case of a typical rescue she took
part in recently. A mother white rhino was injured
with a calf by her side. They called a vet in Harare
who embarked on the eight-hour drive from the
Zimbabwean capital to the rescue site. Along the way
he received a call – the mother rhino had died but the
calf was too young to survive alone in the lion-rich
area in which it had been found.
The vet had to backtrack to pick up a trailer to
transport the calf but the bearings in the trailer were
ruined. He spent two hours repairing the trailer before
continuing the journey. Uncharacteristically drenching
rain had turned the earth to mud and soaked the
rescue team as they battled their way to the calf.
They finally found the calf, terrified, sheltering behind
its mother’s carcass. Despite the conditions, no-one
in the rescue team uttered a word of complaint, all
intent on rescuing the calf before them.
In other cases the rescue team will approach a rhino
by helicopter and dart the animal with anaesthetic.
They then rush to the fallen beast and lift it aboard
trucks with cranes in a frantic bid to move it as fast as
possible. Too long under anaesthetic and the rhino’s
heart could stop. Too long lying in one position and
their legs could become damaged. It’s literally a race
to save them.
PASSION AND HEARTBREAK
Exhilarated by successful rescues, and in love with
the beauty of the bush around her, Natasha would
never swap her job. “It’s rewarding work,” she says. “I
work with such a great team. And it’s unbelievably
stunning here. It’s my home now. I think I gain far
more from this than I give up.”
And yet there are times that test her resolve. Take
the case of the mother rhino, Teressa, whose calf
Natasha bottle-fed all those years before. Four
months ago Natasha received word of a rhino killed
by poachers. The carcass had been there some
time, its flesh ripped off by hyenas. Inside the
carcass she discovered a fully-formed but unborn calf.
At the fallen creature’s shoulder was sign of the bullet
wound Natasha had tended all that time before.
Teressa, the mother she’d helped save, was gone.
“They live up to 40 years so you really get to know
the individuals,” Natasha says. “She was a real
sweetie. But you just have to face it, deal with it,
gather all the information you can. What bullet was
it, what style of horn removal, where did they get in,
where did they get out – clues that can help you build
your understanding of the poachers’ modus operandi
and hopefully be ahead of them next time.”
Natasha also takes solace in the knowledge that
Teressa’s children live on. They found the two-yearold
calf at Teressa’s side when she died without bullet
wounds. He was old enough to survive on his own.
He now lives beside a young female rhino, whose
mother was friends with Teressa. Together such rhinos
provide hope for a population that, without the work
of people like Natasha and her team, may otherwise
already be gone.
Opposite page, top A crane loads a crated black rhino
Opposite page, middle Drilling into a rhino’s horn to fit
a radio-tracking device to aid in monitoring a rhino after
Opposite page, bottom The two-month-old calf Jo Jo
with its mother Teressa, after their recovery and release.
You can support Natasha’s work with
the Lowveld Rhino Trust in saving the black
rhino from extinction by donating to the Perthbased
Save African Rhino Foundation Australia.
In the USA, visit the International Rhino
Foundation (www.rhinos.org) and in the UK,
visit Save the Rhino International
I KNOW YOU HAVE A DREAM
YOU WANT TO SHARE WITH
THE WORLD BUT YOU ARE
CRAZY BUSY AND MAKING IT
WORK SOMETIMES SEEMS
You’re thinking through the risks,
the uncertainties, the unknown:
How do I set it up properly? Where
do I get clients? How do I get
myself out there? What do I
charge? Will my kids be ok? What if
it doesn’t work? Will my partner
support me with this? We’ve all sat
there, creating the late night freak
Some of you are doing it already –
and have been doing it well – but
it’s not bringing you the full sense
of freedom you hoped it would. You
get to help, or to heal, or to give or
to teach, but you feel overwhelmed,
under the pump. You feel like
there’s too many balls to juggle and
none of them are getting their fair
time in the air. And it doesn’t feel
like freedom or peace. It's reached
that point where it's started to feel
like a hustle.
I don’t want that for you. I want
you to find your magic. I want you,
every day, to find yourself in that
place where the thing inside you –
the fire, the beauty – gets its proper
place in the world. Where all the
people you could help are finding
you and being blessed by what you
have to offer, and you have a
business that is functional and
creating financial freedom.
Apply for a free strategy session
with Fleur to chat about finding
your purpose and magic. Go to
Qynn Beardman swapped his leafy green home in Margaret River for the
red dust of the Pilbara in Western Australia’s desert north with a dream of
transforming Aboriginal kids’ lives through music.
Up in Western Australia’s remote Pilbara
region, in the tiny town of Roebourne, sits
a transportable classroom – known as a
‘donga’ in the mining vernacular that dominates
this dusty corner of the country. Inside are a handful
of kids bashing out beats on the drums. Great
smiles flash across their faces, their eyes are alight
with excitement. These kids are here because they
turned up at school. No school, no music. And that’s
incentive enough for a great horde of Roebourne kids
to give up the truancy that plagues many childhoods
Boonderu Music Academy is helping to transform
the lives of Roebourne’s kids by luring them with
music on the condition they attend school. For some
of the 60 kids who attend the academy regularly,
their school attendance rate has shot from around 20
percent to more than 80 percent. It’s an outstanding
success in the town more often bemoaned as a
hopeless case, a town more often associated with
unemployment, family breakdown and alcohol
abuse. For these are more than music lessons – they
offer learning, somewhere to talk, somewhere people
In Qynn’s words ...
Who/what inspires me
My wife and kids inspire me beyond words.
Also, seeing anyone in a situation worse than
my own inspires me to make a difference
with my words and actions. Seeing anyone
who is achieving more than me inspires me
to strive harder to reach my full potential.
Never let fear of failure stand in the way
of a good idea, then act on that notion
and give 100 percent.
Top (main) Qynn
Beardman teaches the
intricacies of music
Top (inset) Boonderu
boasts a state-of-the-art
Previous page Boonderu
Music Academy is bring
new smiles to the faces
of Roebourne’s youth.
Photos – Elements
EDUCATION A SONG
The Aboriginal elders of Roebourne had long asked
for help in improving life’s lot for their kids. And they’d
said education was part of the answer. But education
had to be a song, they said. And, like the stories from
Dreamtime legend, the songs had to be sung over
and over and over again until they became part of
the children’s very psyche. It so happened that a
musician from the leafy green suburbs of Margaret
River in Western Australia’s south, Qynn Beardman,
was in Roebourne, playing a private gig when he
started chatting to one of the elders. He learned
about Aboriginal people’s rich connection to music:
how they sung stories to record historical events, how
songs delineated tribal boundaries, how generation
upon generation of people had sung songs to pass
on stories down through time.
He also learned how the strong family ties that once
bound the Aboriginal people so strongly had started
to unravel along with the traditional culture. Some
young people were no longer connecting with their
elders. They no longer came together as one for the
song and dance meetings so integral to their ancient
culture. It was after such a discussion that Qynn
began to wonder. Education, connection and music,
he thought. Surely the three could be linked? And so
began the vision for Boonderu Music Academy.
“I just saw these kids, they’ve got these little smiles,
and they are sharp, they can dunk a basketball
quicker than you can blink, and they just want to
learn,” Qynn says. “It just struck a chord with me.
I thought to myself, I can go back to Margaret
River and say ‘isn’t it terrible’ or we could try to do
something about it.”
Qynn elected to take action. He approached big
business CEOs and Aboriginal corporations and within
three months he’d gathered $200,000 to launch the
academy. He had been advised that he’d be doing
well if five to 10 kids turned up for music lessons.
Qynn arrived amid roasting January heat, visited
the school, obtained the donga-cum-classroom on
the school grounds and set up a recording studio,
complete with guitars, bass, drums, and digital
recording equipment. Expecting a handful of kids to
show, Qynn was swamped with 80 kids – nearly half
the number enrolled at the local school. About 60 of
these kids continue to visit Boonderu, and therefore
school. Some of these kids had never before enrolled
at school, let alone attended.
FROM FOREST TO DESERT
The unexpected popularity of the academy forced
Qynn to rethink his plans. His wife Susie came to visit
Roebourne and found herself similarly enamoured
with the town’s youth. The locals they met were full
of smiles and welcome, not the forlorn people they’d
envisaged from media reports filled with sad stories
of alcohol and drug abuse.
They fell in love with the rich history – in awe of the
ancient Aboriginal art that decorates the rocks here
in what is probably the world’s biggest collection of
outdoor art. They loved the sense of freedom the kids
here could experience – to be able to swim in the creek,
ride motorbikes, play basketball, fish.
Impressed with what they saw, Qynn, Susie and their
family decided to uproot and make the long move
north. They bid goodbyes to their friends, to the trees,
to the wineries, and the trendy shops of their Margaret
River home. They prepared to embark on a new life
in the desert north – a place where multi-billion dollar
mining enterprises operate alongside one of the
world’s oldest living cultures.
BOONDERU IN ACTION
And all the while Boonderu continued to lure the
kids out of truancy and into education. So what’s the
secret? “Music transcends everything, it just connects,”
Qynn says. “Music is a wonderful carrot, it’s universal.
The girls do Beyoncé songs and the boys want to be
hip hop stars. And while they are sidetracked with
music they are actually going to school.”
While going to school may be no big deal for some,
for many Roebourne kids it’s a feat. In families
battling a whole raft of problems, there are often no
clocks showing when school starts,
no adult telling the kids to get
ready. So some kids just rock up
at school around the right time if
they happen to feel like it.
And these kids are now voting
with their feet. They are coming
to school. And they are staying
there. “You give them music,
you give them food and, more
importantly, you’re just there for
them,” Qynn says. “We’re building
these relationships with these
wonderful little people.”
While the academy is impacting the lives of
many of its students, there are some who’ve really
transformed. There was one youngster who’d lived a
difficult life. “He was playing drums the other day and
put his arm around me and put his chin on my
shoulder and I just thought, good on you mate,”
Qynn recalls. “That was a special moment.”
Qynn hopes to expand the academy to a
multiplatform performing arts centre at the
Roebourne school. He dreams of also luring kids
from nearby towns such as Karratha and
Wickham to learn music, dance and acting.
He’d love to offer scholarships for kids otherwise
disadvantaged by their remote location. He’s also
working on recording an album with big-name
Aussie musos working alongside Boonderu students.
Documentary filmmakers are keen on recording the
“Deep in my heart I believe we’ve found an
answer. Not the answer, there’s no one answer, but
an answer for a fair portion of disconnected kids,”
Qynn says. “Because ultimately, if kids have got a
good education, they get a better view of the world
and an opportunity to broaden their horizons. With
education who knows where they could end up.”
“... if kids have
got a good education,
they get a better view
of the world and an
opportunity to broaden
Above left Boonderu is
not only about music,
but spending quality
Above Qynn helps one
master the art of the
Photos – Elements
QYNN BEARDMAN 27
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Marcia Huber and Eleanor Gorman
After Marcia Huber watched
her sister Eleanor Gorman
suffer through the grief of
failed IVF attempts and
miscarriages, she offered
to carry Eleanor’s child
through pregnancy as a
surrogate mother. The
resulting journey took them
on an emotional whirlwind
of fear, hope, love and,
Eleanor Gorman lay on the sonographer’s
patient table, a cool gel upon her stomach,
the ultrasound device rubbing over her skin.
Her husband Andrew stood beside her. The duo was
ecstatic. They had just married, Eleanor was already
pregnant and their life together was full of promise.
Smiling at each other they watched the hazy form of
their unborn child appear on the ultrasound screen.
Excited they glanced at the sonographer. Her face
was stern. Where a heartbeat should have sounded, a
heavy silence screamed back at them. “I’m sorry,” the
sonographer said shaking her head. Their tiny baby
had died in Eleanor’s womb.
“It was just horrific,” Eleanor remembers. The
miscarriage was the start of a seven-year battle to
produce a child they so desperately wanted. Their
journey took them to lows from which they feared
they’d never recover – times when grief pierced their
very souls with a weight near impossible to bear. Yet,
they persevered. And when Eleanor’s sister Marcia
Huber offered to carry Eleanor’s child as a surrogate,
they dared to hope once more.
Today, with son Arlo who Marcia carried through
pregnancy, Eleanor feels like the luckiest mum in the
world. Watching his face while he sleeps, grasping
his tiny hands in hers, Eleanor feels like her heart
could burst with the love she feels for her child. But
surrogacy is not an easy gig. How did they reach
this point? How did Eleanor cope with someone else
carrying her child in their womb? How did Marcia deal
with handing over the life she’d nurtured?
QUEST FOR PARENTHOOD
After their initial miscarriage Eleanor and Andrew
craved parenthood more than ever. In her evermore
desperate attempts to conceive, Eleanor tried
acupuncture, she went gluten free, she gave up
coffee, she did her best to manage stress, and she
visited doctors and specialists. Finally she found
a specialist who diagnosed her with Asherman’s
Syndrome, a condition caused by the scar tissue from
the curette she’d endured after her miscarriage.
The condition was preventing her falling pregnant
again so the scar tissue was removed with surgery.
Above left Marcia (left)
acted as a surrogate
mother for her sister
Eleanor’s child Arlo.
Opposite page New life.
MARCIA HUBER AND ELEANOR GORMAN 31
“You want it so
much that it’s in your
thoughts the whole
time but you have to
push it aside.”
procedures as cold,
clinical and uncaring.
But no pregnancy ensued. Two years
had passed since the miscarriage and
Eleanor decided it was time to get
serious. They’d try IVF.
Eleanor grimaces as she remembers
visiting the IVF clinic with its
factory feel, detached nurses and
uncomfortable conversations. “I’d catch
the train into the city in the early morning
to go to the clinic and see dozens of women
going through the same thing,” Eleanor says.
“It’s not a nice feeling at all. Everybody tries
to avoid eye contact with each other. Everyone is
in a world of pain and you put a big barrier around
As Eleanor’s IVF attempts continued to fail that
barrier got harder to penetrate. “After the first few
times it doesn’t work you build up a fantastic shell,”
Eleanor says. “Your whole head is just filled with ‘I
want a baby’. And you just have to tell yourself not
to get too hopeful. You want it so much that it’s in
your thoughts the whole time but you have to push
PREGNANCY – AND LOSS
After five attempts at IVF Eleanor finally got
the news she’d craved with her very soul. She was
pregnant. Ecstatic, she phoned Andrew and the duo
dared hope once more. The pregnancy lasted six
weeks. Another few IVF attempts later and another
pregnancy. Six weeks later another loss. Yet again
Eleanor became pregnant, and again the baby died
within two months.
After so much loss, so much pain, doctors
conducted more tests and Eleanor was finally
diagnosed with a condition which caused Eleanor’s
body to produce ‘killer blood cells’ which would go
into attack mode against the embryos in Eleanor’s
womb. It was unlikely Eleanor would ever carry a
baby to full term.
By this time Eleanor and Andrew had endured 11
failed IVF attempts over seven years. Eleanor’s sister
Marcia had grieved along with her sister each time,
comforted her through her four miscarriages. They’d
discussed surrogacy as an option before. Now it
appeared to be Eleanor’s only hope.
Marcia eventually broached the subject with her
husband Rob. “Rob wasn’t surprised but he was
concerned for my safety,” Marcia says. “We’ve got our
own beautiful girls. I was older now. He felt caution,
and we didn’t rush anything. There’s the physical
side but there’s also the mental side – would it be ok
for me to give a baby away that I’d carried all that
After months of steps to gain approval for surrogacy
– including medicals, legal appointments and
counselling – they finally received the green light,
and one of the embryos produced with Eleanor’s
eggs and Andrew’s sperm was placed inside Marcia.
They’d have to wait 10 days for a blood test to see if
the embryo had survived. They had decided Eleanor
would be the first to receive the results of the test.
That phone call came. The attempt had failed. The
spark of hope that Eleanor had dared to let glow, was
nearly extinguished. “You have to tell yourself it won’t
work because you want it so much,” Eleanor says.
“But it’s incredibly disappointing.”
During the second attempt Eleanor said she
wouldn’t speak to Marcia for the 10 days until they’d
discovered if she was pregnant. She couldn’t bear the
thought of reading into Marcia’s every statement –
did she feel tired, was she sick, could she possibly be
Ten days later Eleanor and Andrew finally received
the news they’d so ached for. “I was like ‘you’re
kidding’. I was excited but kind of non-believing. I
rang Marcia, she was really excited. There’s a fine line
between wanting to run around and be totally excited
but you don’t know if there’s going to be a baby at
Weeks passed and it was time for the first
ultrasound scan. Eleanor drove from her home in
Sydney to Newcastle where Marcia lived and they
attended the scan together. Eleanor had nightmarish
visions of the ultrasound of her first pregnancy,
when the heartbeat had failed to sound. Grasping
hands Eleanor and Marcia waited. The baby’s
form materialised on the screen. And there was the
heartbeat – a furious beating that lit up Eleanor’s
“We both cried,” Eleanor recalls. “I was so excited
to hear the sound of the heartbeat – that’s what I
wanted to hear. I recorded it and called Andrew and
said ‘you’ve got to hear this’.”
Marcia was similarly elated: “She’d been trying
for seven years,” Marcia says. “They’d had all these
losses and then there’s a heartbeat – that was really
emotional. You really can’t describe it.”
A LIFE GROWS
As the pregnancy progressed Marcia became
stricken with the nausea that had characterised her
other pregnancies. Her family rallied around her. “Rob
and the girls were very supportive and patient with me
if I had to run away from the kitchen,” Marcia says.
“Poor Rob had a huge load – the emotional load and
physically he needed to cook, he did the shopping, he
was wonderful. It was big for everybody.”
As Marcia’s stomach swelled, Eleanor tried to keep
her hope in check. Each time she saw Marcia she
marvelled at her grace, how calmly and beautifully
she handled the pregnancy. Jealousy was never
an issue. “I wasn’t jealous at all,” Eleanor says “She
was this mother earth person – it was just like it was
meant to be. I’d been through so much. I knew this
was my only option, so I could fully embrace it. I was
somehow able to go ‘well my body wasn’t able to do
this and yours can’. I was ok with that.”
And while Marcia was nervous about how her body
would respond to handing over the baby, she knew in
her mind that she’d get through it. “I always knew the
baby was going to be theirs,” she says. “It was like an
extended babysitting gig.”
At the 12-week pregnancy scan Marcia, Rob, Eleanor
and Andrew crowded into the room for the ultrasound.
“It was weird going in and saying ‘yes it’s me and
here’s my husband and these are the parents’,”
Again they heard the heartbeat. Emotion soared
and tears flowed as another pregnancy milestone
passed. Like the life inside Marcia, the ember of hope
was beginning to grow stronger.
By the time Marcia was three months pregnant they
decided to tell people about the pregnancy. Every
movement Marcia felt from the growing life inside
her was a confirmation that the baby continued to
prosper. “There’s the extra burden of concern when
you’re carrying someone else’s child so it’s good
when there’s movement,” Marcia says. “But it’s very
different to your own pregnancy in terms of talking
to people. You need people to realise that you won’t
have a baby at the end.”
As the pregnancy reached full term Eleanor and
Andrew travelled to Newcastle in preparation for the
birth. There was no way Eleanor was missing her
child’s arrival into the world. Marcia had elected to
(Marcia) Those who
find their passion and
follow it even if it is
People who are positive
and keep searching for
new ways and ideas.
(Marcia) Be nice to
others, it isn’t difficult!
(Eleanor) Listen to that
little voice inside your
head … and NEVER
have a natural birth. She’d given birth to her own girls
naturally and felt it was the best for the child. She
also feared being stuck on the labour ward after a
caesarean, the cry of other newborns a reminder of
the child she’d handed over.
As the labour started a tension hung over the
hospital. As they had previously arranged, Eleanor
and Andrew waited outside the delivery room where
they watched staff rush in and heard Marcia’s cries
of pain pierce the ward. Hope turned to fear. Was this
normal? What was going wrong?
“The hardest thing was hearing her at the end and
just being so scared,” Eleanor says. “I was crying
and praying please let us come out of this with two
healthy people. We couldn’t lose Marcia, the most
wonderful person in the world, and we couldn’t lose
this baby we wanted more than anything in the
world. I bargained with God, with the universe, could
we have got this far for something awful to happen.
This story couldn’t end with heartbreak.”
As the baby failed to arrive more people rushed in.
The air was thick with fear. The baby’s head finally
crowned and Eleanor was called. She watched him
enter the world. She cut the umbilical cord. Andrew
came in. Eleanor pressed her child to her chest, closed
her eyes and thanked the universe. “I went totally into
my own little world,” Eleanor says. “We had a baby. I
just looked into his little button eyes.”
Eleanor had taken a hormone which enabled her to
breastfeed her child. She enjoyed skin on skin contact
with her new baby. Laying on the delivery bed, Marcia
Above Marcia, while
pregnant with Arlo,
MARCIA HUBER AND ELEANOR GORMAN
MARCIA HUBER AND ELEANOR GORMAN 33
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Top left Marcia enjoys an extra-special bond with Arlo.
Top right It’s a boy! Marcia and Eleanor in the hospital after Arlo’s birth.
Above Eleanor classes herself as the luckiest mum in the world.
witnessed Eleanor and Andrew’s sheer joy. “It was
amazing,” Marcia says. “She had this baby. She could
put him straight on the breast – that all helps with
bonding. I’m sure she would have bonded anyway
but that was extra special.”
Andrew and Eleanor were able to stay with their
baby in the maternity ward. Marcia and Rob elected
to go home the same day. “I was hugely emotional
and I think shell shocked and tired,” Marcia says. “We
went home and ate, I was exhausted. We went to
bed, lay there and read, chatted and I was sort of on
a high in a way. But then I woke in the night and just
cried – all the emotion, having the responsibility of
carrying the baby, that he’d come. I don’t know – just
all of it. I just cried and cried.”
The next day Marcia, Rob and their girls went to the
hospital to see the baby, named Arlo. Marcia revelled
in holding this child that she’d carried inside so long.
She relished the joy her sister was radiating. After
several days Eleanor, Andrew and Arlo went home to
Sydney to begin their life together. Eleanor and Marcia
spoke every day on the phone. “The first week we’d
just call and cry – we were both so emotional,” Eleanor
Meanwhile Marcia battled the discomfort of stitches,
hormones and swelling breasts that were preparing
to feed a child that was not there. “I let myself cry
whenever I needed to cry,” Marcia says. “I spent about
a month feeling fragile. I think when you’ve got a
baby you’re busy but when you don’t and you’ve
gone through all that and you’ve got these hormones
that’s not totally easy. But I knew that I would
gradually work my way through and gave myself
time and let myself feel whatever. And my little
family huddled around me and gave me hugs –
that was amazing.”
When Marcia and her family visited Eleanor and
Andrew several weeks later they knew they’d done the
right thing. The new parents were alight with the joy
of a parenthood they had fought so hard to
experience. “Giving Eleanor and Andrew something
that they really wanted was really special,” Marcia
says. “You can’t beat being able to give someone a
baby. It all worked so well. The hormones and all
after the birth were not easy but I knew that was
part of the deal.”
So would she do it again? “It’s certainly not
something to be undertaken lightly but it’s very
rewarding to be able to help in such a huge way,”
Marcia says. “It’s definitely not for everyone but if
you think you can do it, it will bring such joy.”
That is certainly the case for Eleanor. “Because
Marcia did it so naturally and in such a giving way
it feels so normal,” Eleanor says. “Every day I say to
Arlo we are so lucky to have you. I am the luckiest
mother in the world. I’m totally blown away by what
a gift Marcia has given.”
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MARCIA HUBER AND ELEANOR GORMAN
Contact Jo – email@example.com or 0438 557 688.
Mid West Charity Begins at Home
At 30 weeks pregnant, Linda Mason was feeling
uncomfortable and exhausted on the day her
life changed forever. She’d taken her two-yearold
Ethan to swimming lessons, where his instructor
said he looked unwell. Linda hadn’t really noticed.
He’d been a bit tired but was otherwise fine. But
when Linda’s Dad echoed the swimming instructor’s
concerns she called the doctor in her hometown
of Geraldton, Western Australia. A junior doctor
called them in, saw Ethan, and suddenly turned
pale. He called a more senior doctor. Linda’s pulse
quickened. Rush him to the hospital, they instructed.
Fear grasped Linda’s heart. One blood test later
and doctors scrambled to organise an emergency
transfer to Princess Margaret Children’s Hospital, 450
kilometres away in Perth. Panic. Linda’s husband
Aaron wasn’t answering his phone. They thought
it could be leukaemia. No, not this. Not a possible
death sentence to her bright, beautiful, blonde baby.
In Perth they confirmed the worst. Ethan had
acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. He was in a fight
for his life. They’d have to move from Geraldton
to Perth for at least six months of chemotherapy
treatment. The new baby was due to arrive
within weeks. They couldn’t all squeeze into her
brother’s apartment in Perth. But how could they
afford to rent in Perth and meet the mortgage
repayments at home? With a newborn on the way
and daily trips to hospital required for Ethan, Linda
needed Aaron by her side. But his job was back
in Geraldton. This couldn’t be happening. How on
earth would they cope?
This wildly successful fundraising
phenomenon has captured the hearts of a
region with its tireless efforts to raise money
for the seriously ill. But what drives the
volunteers behind the charity and how has it
helped families fighting serious illness?
Below Julie Camp’s battle
with cancer provided
the incentive to start
Bottom MWCBH eased
the financial strain for
Ethan, Linda, Aaron and
Reece Mason after Ethan’s
Who/what inspires us
Our recipients – meeting
them, hearing their
stories and being able
to help at such a hard
time for them is what
motivates us to keep
If you have the power to
make a difference, do it.
The world needs
more of that.
EASING THE PAIN
Step in Mid West Charity Begins at Home Inc
(MWCBH). This Geraldton-based, volunteer-run
charity got wind of the Mason’s predicament. The
charity had formed in 2008 with the sole aim of
providing financial relief to people stricken by serious
illness. They sent a cheque and Linda finally felt she
could breathe again. They weren’t alone. And this,
says MWCBH president Chris Dobson, is what the
charity is all about. “It’s about helping to take the
pressure off financially at a time when people need
it most,” Chris says. The Masons are among more
than 130 Mid West families to have received financial
support from MWCBH since its inception. Last year
alone the charity raised $850,000 for seriously ill Mid
West people. And it has achieved this through the work
of a committee of volunteers who dedicate much of
their lives to the cause – all without payment. So what
drives them to donate such enormous amounts of
time to raise money for people they don’t even know?
And what’s the secret of their massive success?
TRIUMPH FROM TRAGEDY
Rewind to 2008 and Geraldton woman Julie Camp
was sitting in a doctor’s office when her world came
crashing down. You’ve got stage three breast cancer,
the doctor announced. It’s aggressive. The worst
type of breast cancer you could get. The room spun.
Shock set in. Julie had two kids at home. She was
a single mum. What if she died? Who would look
after her kids? A whirlwind of treatment followed – a
mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation treatment.
She couldn’t possibly work. There were days she
couldn’t get out of bed.
“I rang my aunt Ros (Worthington) bawling,” Julie
remembers. “I just said I’ve got two kids, I’m a single
mum, I can’t work, how am I going to afford this?”
Having worked for several charities, Ros was used to
fundraising. She called her nieces Tara Luff and Chris
Dobson in Geraldton. Ok girls, she announced, it’s
time to get to work. They enlisted the help of a friend,
Caroline Pettet. And the foursome rallied into action
to fundraise for Julie. “We were kind of just – well
what the hell do we do?” Tara remembers. “We really
had no idea but we thought we’d give it a go.” They
decided on a fundraising gala dinner with the aim of
raising $10,000 for Julie. They got on the phone, hit
the streets and, within five weeks, they’d organised
a dinner for 120 guests, with a fundraising auction
of goods donated by local businesses. By the end of
the dinner they’d raised $38,000. “We never expected
to raise that kind of money,” Tara says. “We were so
happy we could help her. On the night I remember
just standing there being so overwhelmed. Julie’s kids
were there. They were stoked. The family was crying.
The whole night had so much emotion.”
The feeling of satisfaction Tara, Chris and Caroline
experienced was life-changing. And what started out
as a one-off fundraiser became an annual event. The
second year, 2009, the charity helped another three
families, another three the year after that. Things were
getting serious. They formed a registered charity,
which required a committee of seven. Others came on
board. Momentum increased. “It was so exhilarating
to be able to help in that way,” Tara says. “And that’s
an addictive feeling. Going to see the recipients,
sharing their stories, becoming part of their lives, it’s
amazing.” Chris agrees that the feeling of helping
out is addictive: “There’s the adrenaline rush of the
gala dinner and the feeling you get when you go out
to hand over the cheque. You enter the house of a
complete stranger, walk into their lounge room, have
a cuppa and hand the cheque. It changes their lives
and that feeling is so addictive. You hear a lot that
you get so much more than you give but it’s so true.”
By the end of the 2013 gala dinner MWCBH had
handed out $1 million since its inception. At this time
the Mason family had just returned to Geraldton after
enduring 10 months of treatment for Ethan in Perth.
They arrived home without a cent to their name,
when MWCBH presented another cheque. The Mason
family attended the MWCBH gala dinner where Ethan
received a giant green bike and a bucket of toys.
Linda remembers the relief at their homecoming. “We
really wanted to be home for the charity dinner – it
was so great to be able to celebrate being back,”
she says. “I remember getting home and crying – I
literally kissed the ground.”
COPING WITH GRIEF
Of course, for the MWCBH committee, becoming
close to those with serious illness has its downside.
Some lose their battle with life-threatening illness.
And yet the committee gains strength in the
knowledge they’ve helped ease someone’s final days.
“The recipients are such beautiful people,” Chris says.
“They manage to be so positive, and so grateful.
So it can be really heartbreaking [to lose someone].
It affects all us girls on the committee, especially if
you’ve been the one to visit them and hand over the
cheque. But we just know that we’ve made that road
a little less rocky, a little less difficult for them and
that gets us through.”
Tara remembers being particularly traumatised by
the death of a child recipient, Alex Ashworth-Preece.
“He was such a larrikin, such a beautiful kid and I got
on really well with his parents,” she says. “But he did
pass away two years after [he received MWCBH help].
He was the first child. Having kids yourself, it just
breaks your heart to see a family lose such a smart,
really cheeky, gorgeous soul.”
For Chris it was an elderly couple that really touched
her heart. “There was one lady and gentleman and
they were living on food vouchers, they didn’t have
a kettle, didn’t have a toaster and (after receiving
the money) she was just so excited to be able to buy
a pair of slippers for him,” Chris says. “I just think of
the relief he would have felt to know his wife was
On November 29 last year some 420 Mid West
residents prepared to look their very best. Women
deliberated over ball gowns, visited salons for hair,
nails, make up and fake tan. At 6pm they descended
on a sumptuously decorated hall to sip cocktails
and dine on seafood canapés. Inside the hall they
eased into chairs set at tables draped in folds of
white, admired handmade table centrepieces,
and gasped in delight at the elegant handmade
bracelets gifted to guests. Author Peter Fitzsimons
welcomed the crowd as MC and, later, the auctioning
of 20 packages had the city’s movers and shakers
clamouring to win their bids while dining on a threecourse
meal. A pearl ring went for $17,000, a One
Direction package for $11,000. Next a representative
of Redink Homes Midwest presented funds pledged
to MWCBH through the sale of a newly built charity
house. As he presented a cheque for $550,000,
the crowd went wild, confetti rained, champagne
bottles popped. By the time the dance floor cleared
at the end of the night, the committee had raised
another $850,000 for their cause – through the sale
of the house, gala dinner tickets and a specially
created cookbook. For the committee, the frenzy
of activity, the sheer volume of hard work, was
suddenly worthwhile. They were gobsmacked by the
Top The MWCBH
committee of volunteers
last year (left to right)
Lisa Pirrottina, Amanda
Kennedy, Renee Doyle,
Chris Dobson, Anne-
Maree Hopkinson, Sonya
Above left Last year’s
fundraising gala dinner
raised $850,000 for
seriously ill Mid West
Above When funding
his battle with cancer
the committee was
MID WEST CHARITY BEGINS AT HOME 39
Chris believes the secret to the wildly successful
fundraising is a generous local business community
and the promise to keep the money local. “I believe
it’s because every dollar given out stays in the Mid
West,” she says. “With other charities you may give
away $100 and never see or hear about it again. But
with us, a lot of the time people know who the money
is going to. And because we’re not paying wages, the
money goes directly to the people who need it. I think
it’s a model that could work in any community.”
Among the crowd that night was Julie Camp, whose
battle with cancer unwittingly started this fundraising
phenomenon. She had offered to work as a waitress
to help the charity that had eased the pain of her
darkest hours. After being re-diagnosed with cancer
of the spine in 2011 and being told to “get her affairs
in order”, she sought a second opinion, embarked on
new treatment and continues to keep the cancer in
check while working and caring for her kids.
Also following the charity’s success this year were
Linda, Aaron, Ethan, Reece and their extended family.
Linda’s mother Annette Evans had been diagnosed
with breast cancer while Ethan was receiving
treatment and embarked on chemotherapy at the
same time. Living with serious illness had become
second nature to this family.
Sitting in her Geraldton home, four-year-old Ethan
frolicking nearby, Linda looks back on their journey.
She remembers the Christmas just after his diagnosis.
She was lying in bed with Ethan on Christmas Day,
stroking his soft blonde hair when it began falling out
in her hands. She had been waiting for this. But the
reality struck hard. Now, with Christmas approaching
two years later, Ethan is in much better shape. He
continues to receive chemotherapy and a cocktail of
other drugs, but he’s well enough to go to kindy next
year with his friends. They’ve just moved into a bigger
house. Linda’s mum’s cancer is in remission. For now,
the nightmare of two years ago is over. For now, they
are daring to hope for a brighter future.
You can support the desperately ill
in the Mid West by making a donation to
MWCBH. Find out more at
To start up a similar charity in your
community, contact the MWCBH
committee via its website
People in the Mid West dealing with serious
illness and suffering financial strain can
apply for MWCBH help via its website
If you have the
power to make a
difference, do it.
The world needs
more of that.
MID WEST CHARITY BEGINS AT HOME COMMITTEE
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PO Box 1442, Geraldton WA 6531
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MODEL WITH DOWN SYNDROME REVEALS TRUE BEAUTY
This 18-year-old Brisbane model is turning the fashion
world upside down by showing that true beauty comes
from within, and this often-fickle industry is falling in love
with her for offering the reminder.
Below Madeline wowed
the crowds at New York
Previous page Madeline
has captured the hearts of
the modelling world with
her views on beauty.
Photo – Erica Nichols
Eighteen-year-old fashion model Madeline Stuart
has reached a career high. She’s just returned
from fashion shows in New York and LA to
her Brisbane home. Journalists are clamouring for
her time. Ellen DeGenres’ team has been in touch.
She’s signed up as the face of GlossiGirl. She has
her own handbag line. She’s been nominated for
Pride of Australia and Young Australian of the Year
awards. And the next few months are jammed with
red carpets, catwalks and photo shoots, including
the crème de la crème of fashion - New York Fashion
Week. But Madeleine is not like other models. For
Madeleine has Down Syndrome. She is winning the
hearts of an often-shallow industry with a pure beauty
that shines from within. And, in the process, she’s
turning the traditional notion of beauty on its head.
Madeline had only just been born when her mother
Rosanne learned she had Down Syndrome. “I asked
the doctor what that meant and all his responses
were very negative,” Rosanne says. “I cried for I think
about 12 hours and wouldn’t see anyone for the first
day and then decided it was going to be ok and we
went on from there.”
Not only did Madeline have Down Syndrome, but
she also had three holes in her heart and a leaky
valve. Rosanne was advised her baby had just an 11
percent chance of survival. But in a style for which
Rosanne is renowned, she did away with dramatics
and simply got on with the job of being a single
parent to the daughter she loved so much.
PASSION FOR FASHION
Fast forward 18 years and a bright and bubbly
Madeline joined her mum at a fashion show in their
home city of Brisbane, Australia. Gazing up at the
women on the catwalk Madeline announced she’d
like to join them. “I said ‘no you can’t’ and she wasn’t
happy with that,” Rosanne says.
Madeline was already working to overcome the
weight troubles that can plague people with Down
Syndrome to get fit for her dance performances. But
the sight of the catwalk renewed her enthusiasm for
fitness. Rosanne rewarded Madeline’s efforts with
a professional photo shoot and posted the photos
online. The images soon went viral and job modelling
offers poured in.
Was Rosanne surprised at the attention? “I always
thought she could do it,” she says. “I’ve got this
daughter that whatever she tries to do she succeeds.
She’s not scared of anything. She’ll jump into
anything. She wins hearts everywhere she goes. I
knew once society got to know her they’d fall in love
SOCIETY IS SMITTEN
And fall in love with her they did. Rosanne recites
their schedule for the next few months and it’s
jammed with modelling shoots, catwalk events and
red carpets in the US, Russia and Europe. But how
does Madeline cope with the schedule, the attention?
Ask Madeline and she says “It’s so much fun.” Her
favourite part? “The catwalk.”
“She loves it,” Rosanne says. “She’s the centre of
attention. She loves that everyone is smiling and
happy. When you do a photo shoot everyone is happy.
She’s never seen anything bad about it. And because
she’s so beautiful – she’s all high fives and hugs –
people go ‘oh my god it’s so amazing to work with a
model who’s so kind’. She’s just a really nice person.”
CONCEPT OF BEAUTY
Rosanne says she feels privileged to be in a position
to make a statement on disabilities, to show the
world the beauty behind conditions such as Down
Syndrome. She says the modelling industry has
been left agog at the beauty that shines through
“When I was young I didn’t realise what beauty
was,” Rosanne says. “I was young and insecure and
all that. Maddy isn’t like that. Now I know beauty is
about the way you act and the way you treat people
and usually people don’t realise that until they are
in their forties. Madeline never suffered from that.
She can’t differentiate between someone who is 200
kilograms overweight and someone with a so-called
perfect figure – Madeline doesn’t see that. People with
Down Syndrome don’t understand age, they don’t
understand height, they don’t understand weight,
all they understand is personality. I think that’s why
she’s doing so well – because people can see that.”
Asked what beauty means to her, Madeline replies,
“Loving each other and being kind.” No wonder she is
Despite Madeline’s love of modelling Rosanne
says they’ll be quick to drop it if Madeline’s attitude
changes. “I have a rule if it’s not fun, we don’t do it,”
Rosanne says. “I tell them to treat her like a niece
– lots of high fives, lots of smiles - because it’s not
about the modelling, it’s about getting the word out
about inclusion and disabilities. If Madeline doesn’t
want to do it, we just don’t do it.”
So what does the future hold for this Brisbane
model? “I have no idea,” her mum says. “And I don’t
care. It would be lovely for Madeline to keep modelling
and have this excitement but we were happy before
this started and we’re going to be happy after it’s
finished. I just want her to have a lovely life and that’s
what’s happening. So if she goes to New York Fashion
Week and hates it, it’s too much, we’ll just come
home. Even though it’s very important to us to get
the word out about disability and inclusion it’s not as
important as Madeline’s happiness.”
a little girl and came back a professional model,”
Rosanne says. “I never thought my daughter could
be a professional. She has an intellectual disability
and I didn’t think she’d ever have a real job. But when
she gets in front of that camera, I am so proud of her.
I’m amazed. I want to scream it from the rooftops –
my daughter actually understands about business,
she understands the fact it’s a job, it’s serious. Even
though she enjoys it she takes it seriously. Maddy has
always been the jokester, the cuddler, the giggler, but
she’s proven to me she really is a professional. I’m
sorry I’m going on but I’m so proud of her.”
“I’m also proud of the fact she’s so kind and she
always wants to help people pack up their makeup
and thank them at the end of the photoshoot. They
all say to me ‘we deal with other models and put
up with how rude they are to us’. But dealing with
Madeline they all say what an amazing experience it
was. We’ve made some really good friends. It’s just
Madeline is raising money for a dance group for people
with disabilities, for which she is ambassador.
You can contribute here: www.gofundme.com/danceensemble
Find out more ...
Follow Madeline’s success on her social media channels:
Above left Madeline’s
mum Rosanne is her
Above Modelling is all
about fun and smiles for
Having watched her daughter from the sidelines
Rosanne says even she is amazed at how far she’s
come. “She went over (to New York the first time)
MADELINE STUART 45
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Never let fear
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in the way of
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then act on that
notion and give
(08) 9920 8500
7 Chapman Road, Geraldton,
Western Australia, 6530
(08) 6168 1000
Suite 22/513 Hay Street, Subiaco,
Western Australia, 6008
Founder Boonderu Music Academy
John van Bockxmeer
Western Australia’s Young Australian of the Year for 2014
John van Bockxmeer has started three successful charities,
volunteered internationally and won an impressive list of awards.
Oh yes, and he manages to fit in a job as an emergency department
registrar too. But perhaps most impressive is the creation of his charity
Fair Game, which is improving the health of Aboriginal kids by donating
secondhand sports equipment and running health programs.
Young doctor John van Bockxmeer was in a
South Hedland hospital room caring for a
morbidly obese 18-year-old patient when the
idea struck. This patient was so overweight he could
barely move, his body so strained by the condition
that he struggled to stay awake. Sighing, John
glanced out the window. He spotted a rag-tag group
of kids kicking a tin can and a deflated football in the
red dirt. The image of these kids, with their flashing
white smiles and boundless energy, was a stark
difference to the near lifeless patient by John’s side. If
only he could do something to keep these kids active,
to prevent the illness that plagued the young man
Years before that day in the hospital John had
already formed the idea of recycling unwanted sports
equipment that lay abandoned, gathering dust and
spider webs in garages and sheds. And here before
him were the ideal recipients. Imagine if the kids
kicking a tin can around had access to real footballs,
basketballs, footy boots. Surely that would help stem
the tide of preventable illnesses troubling remote
And so John set about realising his vision. Fast
forward five years and the charity he started, Fair
Game, last year alone distributed 20,000 items of
sports equipment, made 25 road trips to remote
communities and reached 5000 participants.
Fair Game not only distributes the equipment but
also provides health education and encourages
participation in sports thanks to its team of volunteer
‘Fair Gamers’. Such is the model’s success that Fair
Game is now looking to expand into other Australian
states. But what drives a young, overworked doctor to
start a charity in his spare time? And how did he go
about turning his dreams into reality?
A PASSION UNEARTHED
As a student doctor keen on experiencing all facets
of medicine, John applied to volunteer internationally.
His first experience was working with Save the
Children in Honduras. Hooked on the high he got from
helping out, he soon volunteered with a governmenthospital
surgical team in Tajikistan, in a university
teaching hospital in Zambia and in government
hospitals in East Timor and Washington DC.
In the process, he discovered this feeling of doing
good was what stoked the fire of passion in his belly,
it was what he really lived for. “I get this real feeling
of reward,” he says. “I love enabling communities to
change – it provides a real sense of giving back and,
ultimately, that’s my motivation.”
This feeling was cemented when John helped a
friend start The Red Party campaign in 2007 to raise
awareness about HIV/AIDS. The Red Party also
conducts fundraising events for Oxfam Australia’s
Integrated HIV and AIDS Program in South Africa. So
far it has raised $200,000 for the cause.
Top Fair Game volunteers
Above left John working
in the Emergency
Above Donations of
soccer balls to Timor
Leste (East Timor).
Opposite page Fair Game
participants in a remote
Pilbara school undertaking
JOHN VAN BOCKXMEER 49
Who/what inspires me
My fellow young Australian
Throw your heart off the
blocks and the rest
Top Fair Game improves
the health of Aboriginal
Above Kids in remote
receiving sports equipment
thanks to Fair Game.
Opposite page John and
the founding Fair Gamers
on a road trip distributing
sporting equipment to
throughout the state.
Buoyed by The Red Party’s success, John and
some mates started Future Perth in response to the
negativity surrounding development at Elizabeth
Quay in Perth. “We were young, brash and naïve so we
just thought, why not?” John says. “We wrote a book
called 33 Ideas to Change Perth and launched it, we
also started Perth Hour, hosting monthly discussion
forums on urban issues for young people. And we’re
now seeing some of the ideas that stemmed from this
coming to fruition – ideas like small bar licences, local
governments amalgamating, and public art.” Future
Perth continues to act as a voice of progress for Perth
development, with John as vice chair.
Such experiences equipped John with the confidence
he could make a difference, with the skills to inspire
others to join a cause. And so, after the epiphany in
the South Hedland hospital room, he launched Fair
Game in 2010.
HITTING THE ROAD
John is the first to admit he started Fair Game with
little strategy. He simply gathered a group of friends
who shared his vision, hit up the community to
donate equipment, raised some cash and packed up
his friend’s boyfriend’s new Mazda 3 to the hilt.
The group of four then hit the road, en route to
Western Australia’s desert heart – the Murchison.
Fired up about their adventure, chatting, laughing
and listening to music, they soon got a reality check
when they hit a kangaroo on a remote stretch of the
Brand Highway. No matter, they did the rest of the
trip in a car sporting an almighty dent.
“We were really excited and really looking forward
to meeting the kids in Mount Magnet,” John says.
“We had a boot-full of equipment and went to a kids’
training session and they were quite delighted when
we handed out the stuff – squabbling over what
colour shoes they wanted and that kind of thing. We
finished that trip with this real feeling of fulfilment
and reward from the reaction of the community but
we also realised a lot of stuff needed to happen to
really make this work.”
So make it happen they did, recruiting new Fair
Game volunteers (Fair Gamers), creating computing
systems to monitor donated stock, applying for
grants and piloting fitness and sports programs in the
communities they visited.
GEN Y IN A POSITIVE LIGHT
Such is Fair Game’s success that John has taken out
an obscenely impressive list of awards – including
Young Australian of the Year (WA) 2014, WA’s 100
Best and Brightest (2014), Junior Doctor of the Year
(2014), Youth Volunteer of the Year 2013, Australian
Primary Health Care Young Leader of the Year (2013),
and more. John also sits on various boards, including
Volunteering WA, Future Perth, the World Economic
Forum Global Shaper Hub and Fair Game. His
experiences have led him to view his generation in a
“You know, 30 percent of volunteers in Western
Australia are aged under 30,” John says. “Young
people can be really engaged if they are passionate
about something. Young people are really socially
aware. I think young people just have to dare to
dream. Young people have the energy and they are
creative, they are not tainted by others’ ideas. The
things they want to achieve might be possible and
they’ll never know if they don’t try.”
Despite the successes John’s charities have
experienced and the awards he has obtained, feelings
of doubt sometimes strike. “I worry ‘am I doing the
right thing, does the community actually want this,
are we experienced enough to be doing this’?” he
says. “But I just try to push through that. I’ve realised
that I have these doubts after one of two things –
setbacks or when I’m really tired. Most of the time it’s
when I’m tired so I make sure I take a step back.”
So how does John regroup? “I reward myself with
something I enjoy every day – it might be sport and
fitness, watching some television or eating something
really good,” John says. “Last night I was in the
emergency department until midnight so I just really
enjoyed sitting down with a paper and having a
John also recommends daily meditation and
making an effort to be in the present. “My problem
is that I’ve got this affliction where I love everything I
do – so I try to do all of it,” he says. “So I’ve got to be
really efficient with my time, and be totally present
in the moment. That’s probably something young
people are losing to this idea of instant gratification.
Everyone is eternally ‘on’ but, for me, working on
really being in the moment helps deal with that.”
Doubts and time constraints aside, John says it’s
often hindsight that reveals how much he’s achieved.
He looks back on a recent Fair Game road trip to an
Aboriginal community in the Pilbara as a highlight.
The trip happened to coincide with his 29th birthday.
He’d been visiting this community for five years and
developed a great relationship with them – a notion
that was cemented when the kids held an impromptu
birthday party for John on the local basketball court.
“That was such a happy moment,” John says. “I felt
a real sense of equilibrium – there was that feeling
of mutual respect, and the realisation that they
were teaching us just as much as we were teaching
them – we were learning about culture and identity
from the community whilst at the same time sharing
knowledge about health and fitness. I think that’s
what the Fair Gamers appreciate most – that this is a
real two-way relationship that we are also getting so
much out of. It’s pretty special to be part of that.”
Canoe the gorges Nature’s Window Z Bend
Wildflower Wilderness Group charters available
PH: (08) 9937 1677, 0427 371 677 (Davo), 0419 943 795 (Helen)
E: firstname.lastname@example.org, W: www.kalbarritours.com.au
FAIR GAME: You can get involved in
Fair Game in one of several ways – donating
unwanted sports equipment, hosting a party, offering
corporate sponsorship, conducting fundraising events
or becoming a ‘Fair Gamer’. Visit the website for details:
RED PARTY: The Red Party campaign consists of a series
of awareness and fundraising events every year with two
main goals: to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS in the wider
community and to generate funds which are donated to
Oxfam Australia’s Integrated HIV and AIDS Program,
South Africa. Visit the website www.redparty.org for details.
FUTURE PERTH runs regular meetings, discussion
forums and projects campaigning for quality urban
development in Perth. Find out more at
JOHN VAN BOCKXMEER
Surrogate mother for her sister
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Mary Hutton has transformed from a humble
mum in the suburbs to an international
powerhouse negotiating with Asian governments
in her ongoing bid to rescue Asian bears.
Mary Hutton gazed with horror at the
anesthetised bear on a veterinary
surgeon’s table in front of her. She winced at
the sight of pus oozing from the infected wound in
the bear’s nose. She gasped as she realised the rope
around the bear’s head had become embedded in
its flesh. Steeling herself, she and the veterinarian
beside her used every bit of their strength to
cut free the thick metal ring from the bear’s
nostril. Shaking her head in pity, she helped remove
the jingle-jangle ornaments imprisoning its face.
The pitiful creature before her was among the last
of India’s ‘dancing bears’ to be rescued. For years
Mary’s charity, the Free the Bears Fund, had striven
to end the barbaric practice of bears being dragged
along by a rope through their nose and forced to
dance for tourists.
For Mary, ending this practice was a time of sheer
elation and relief – one of many milestones for this
suburban mum who launched Free the Bears from
her family home in Western Australia’s capital city of
Perth. After witnessing bears’ suffering on television,
Mary transformed her humble family home into a
bear rescue headquarters, gave up babysitting for
negotiating with Asian governments, and formed a
charity that today employs 120 in-country staff and
cares for around 500 bears in sanctuaries across
Asia. Not bad for someone who had never travelled,
didn’t own a computer and had only recently heard
of a fax.
HORROR SPARKS ACTION
It was 1993 and Mary Hutton was watching the
news when images of bears struck the television
screen. The bears were cramped into coffin-sized
cages in China, a catheter feeding into their gall
bladder to milk bile direct from their bodies while
they stood there in pain, eyes dull. Some of the
bears are captured as cubs, forced into cages and
spend their whole lives there, eventually dying
agonising deaths from starvation, dehydration,
tumours or disease. Some spend years imprisoned
in this hellish practice to satisfy demand for the bile’s
use as an alleged health tonic.
Horrified at the images marring the television
screen, Mary got up and walked out. She couldn’t
stand to watch such cruelty. But her son Simon
called her back. “Mum, you’ve got to watch this,” he
said. Hesitant, she returned. The image of the bears’
suffering imprinted on her brain. Traumatised, this
animal-loving mum couldn’t sleep for weeks.
Below Mary with a
sun bear cub Hope.
Bottom Moon bear
Sandie lost her arm to a
poacher’s snare trap.
Previous page The Free
the Bears Fund helps
Finally unable to stand it any longer, Mary
contacted her local member of parliament who
suggested she collect signatures for a petition calling
for an end to this barbaric act. “I thought ‘God who
else am I going to get to sign this’,” Mary recalls. “At
the time I didn’t think anyone else cared.”
A SMALL STEP
Pushing aside her fears, Mary whipped up a handdrawn
petition and stood outside the local shopping
centre. “The hardest part was getting up out of my
chair and going,” she says. “I kept making all these
excuses to myself but once I was up I was out the
door.” Standing there alone she felt a fool. “I felt such
a lemon. I really did,” she says. “But one lady came
up and I told her what it was about and asked if she’d
like to sign and she said ‘too bloody right I would’ and
I thought at least I’ve got one signature.”
Within several years Mary and a growing group
of supporters had gathered 300,000 signatures
calling for an end to bile farming. While the Chinese
government was flooded with calls to end the
practice, nothing changed. Mary realised they’d need
to do more than get signatures to make a difference.
SAVED SUN BEARS
During this time a friend of a friend said they knew
of a businessman in Cambodia, John Stephens, who
had rescued three sun bears from the restaurant
trade and wanted to bring them back to Australia.
Could Mary help? Mary had no idea if she could. Her
experience as a mum and babysitter for her friend’s
kids hadn’t exactly provided the skills for bear rescue.
But once she heard of the fate from which these bears
had been saved she knew she had to try. “They’d
been rescued from the restaurant trade where they
chop off their paws for bear paw soup while they’re
still alive and then dump their carcasses into boiling
hot water,” she says.
So Mary got on the phone. She called Taronga Zoo
in Sydney, Wellington Zoo in New Zealand and Perth
Zoo in her home city, every zoo she could think of.
Nothing. Finally she thought to hell with it – she’d
write directly to the Cambodian prime minister asking
if he’d be interested in relocating the sun bears to
Australia to help raise awareness of the country’s
conservation efforts. Five weeks later the secondhand
fax machine her daughter Claire had bought her
sounded from the kitchen. Somewhat in awe of the
fandangled new contraption, Mary rushed to the
fax to read the flimsy paper spilling out. The prime
minister would be delighted to export them, it said.
But Mary still needed someone to take the bears.
Finally Taronga Zoo agreed. However, there were
legalities to be thrashed out, quarantine restrictions
to overcome, costs to cover. “When I look back I think I
was crazy,” Mary says of her efforts.
The three bears finally arrived at Taronga on a fine
summer day amid a fury of media attention. Mary
saved her every penny and journeyed to Taronga
to see the bears for the first time. Such was the
international media attention at saving the bears
from the cooking pots that funds began rolling in to
Free the Bears which, by this time, was a registered
charity. Soon Mary had $35,000. Her lounge room
was overflowing with papers to record the donations,
her time filled with hand writing receipts. But what to
do with the cash?
The man in Cambodia who’d initially saved the
three sun bears, John Stephens, had an idea. Why
not build a sanctuary for other rescued sun bears?
With little idea how to do this in a developing country
where she knew no-one, Mary simply picked up the
phone. “I just said ‘where are we going to build a
sanctuary, how are we going to build a sanctuary?’.”
It turned out John knew a chap who had experience
building enclosures for gibbons – but he said he could
be anywhere and to ring Perth Zoo to see if they’d
heard of him.
So Mary picked up the phone again. It just so
happened the zoo staff had heard of the fellow –
Dave Ware who ran an animal management service –
and he happened to be in Perth. Mary made another
phone call. “Can you go to Cambodia and build a
sanctuary for sun bears?” she asked. “Go where and
do what?” came his response. But it wasn’t long
before the seven-hectare Cambodian Bear Sanctuary
at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre was
opened. Later, the centre came to boast a world-class
veterinary hospital and an awareness and education
centre that has educated hundreds of thousands of
Cambodians about the threats facing their dwindling
It wasn’t long before Mary received another phone
call. There was a bear in Thailand that had been
thrown outside a zoo with its leg missing. Could she
help? As was the case in Cambodia, the bear was just
one of dozens that needed help, either rescued from
the restaurant trade or confiscated from poachers.
Another sanctuary was in order. Apparently the
Thai military owned some land outside Lop Buri Zoo
that would be perfect for such a sanctuary.
In a style for which Mary was becoming increasingly
renowned, she simply picked up the phone and got to
work. After much negotiation with the Thai military,
another sanctuary was ready for opening. Mary had
transformed from someone who babysat her friend’s
children to a powerhouse negotiating with the military
and government officials from her lounge room-cumbear-rescue
headquarters. She was invited to attend
the sanctuary opening. “I was so excited,” she says.
“Other than the trip to Taronga [Zoo], I had never
been anywhere but the tip and the shops.”
With her son Simon by her side, and hundreds of
onlookers, Mary watched the sanctuary’s first bears
arrive. The bear duo had been kept in an old cage,
with no sunlight, no fresh air, no way to move. The
cage was lowered into the new sanctuary and the
door opened. One of the bears stepped out, raised her
face to the sun, breathed the fresh air in deep, rolled
on her back and, as if in heaven, dozed off into a
“I said to Simon ‘my gosh if we don’t do anything
else but what we’ve done for that bear, that’s enough
for me’,” Mary says of the moment. “It was the first
time I really saw what we were doing for these bears.”
But there was no time to revel in the glory. John
called from Cambodia again. There were another
three sun bears he had saved from the restaurant
trade. Would Perth Zoo like them? Aware of the
publicity Taronga had enjoyed for its new sun bears,
Perth Zoo was quick to take up the offer. The three
bears arrived in 1998 amid media attention worthy
of a Hollywood celebrity. Awareness of the bears’
plight skyrocketed and again funds poured in. Mary
was in huge demand as a speaker. Her life became
a whirlwind of giving talks, running fundraising cake
stalls and film nights, managing funds and, still
lacking a computer, issuing handwritten receipts.
Around this time she also started looking after her
granddaughter while her daughter went back to work
full-time. She’d care for her granddaughter all day
and spend her nights attending to Free the Bears. But
one day when a friend came to visit and asked
how Mary was, she burst into tears. Although
she had a team of volunteer friends around
her, it was all too much. Wiping away
her tears, Mary, her friend and Mary’s
bus-driver husband Ron came up with
a solution. Employ some help. Free
the Bears’ first paid staff member
was employed in 2002 to work in
a spare room which was turned
into an office. Today three paid
staff in Perth manage Free the
Bears’ merchandising, membership,
“I said ... if we
don’t do anything else
but what we’ve done
for that bear, that’s
Far left India’s dancing
bears had holes burnt
through their noses to
enable rope to be fed
through their nostrils to
force them to dance as
Left A bear rescued in
Laos begins its 12-hour
journey to its new home,
Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue
Centre in Laos.
MARY HUTTON 57
Below Mary and a bear
handler before this sloth
bear’s release from the
dancing bear practice.
Bottom A sun bear
enjoys her hammock,
made by volunteers at the
Bottom right Cub carer
Kem Sunheng provides
a one-week-old cub with
Opposite page A moon
LAOS BEAR RESCUE
Another phone call sounded. This time from Laos,
where a dilapidated sanctuary was in sad need of
repair. So Mary asked Dave Ware, who’d built their
first enclosure, to visit. He found three moon bears
in dismal cages. Mary had to act. From her family
home, now adorned in photos of rescued bears and
cute cats, she made contact with the Lao government
who agreed to sign a memorandum of understanding
with Free the Bears. The fund immediately set to
work designing and building new enclosures and the
Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre was opened soon
after. The sanctuary is now home to 31 moon bears.
Set amid rainforest, by a thundering waterfall and
tranquil pools, the sanctuary has become so popular
with visitors that it is nearly self-sustaining.
DANCING BEARS SAVED
Mary felt as though she’d barely had time to
breathe out when the phone sounded once more. This
time the call was about India’s dancing bear trade.
“It’s what?” came Mary’s response. It wasn’t long
before Mary learnt of the practice, which had begun
hundreds of years before when nomadic gypsy
tribesmen called Kalandars would force sloth bears to
perform for crowds gathered outside Mughal palaces.
They would seize bear cubs after slaughtering their
mothers, burn a hole through the top of their nose
and thread rope through the hole and out of a nostril.
They then trained the cubs to ‘dance’ by walking
them over hot coals or beating their legs while pulling
up on the rope and playing music. The cubs learned
to associate the pulling of the rope with searing pain
on their feet, and so would stand on their hind feet,
shuffling from one to another as soon as they heard
While the practice had been officially outlawed in
the 1970s, when Mary heard of it there were still about
800 dancing bears plying Indian streets. Mary agreed
to work with India’s Wildlife SOS and the UK-based
International Animal Rescue to end the practice and
create a sanctuary for the freed bears.
While horrified at the bears’ treatment, Mary knew
they provided a livelihood to their owners. She knew
she too would resort to whatever it took to feed her
kids. So, together with Wildlife SOS, Free the Bears
started the Kalander Rehabilitation Program under
which Free the Bears would provide $2000 for each
bear to act as ‘seed’ money for bear owners to start a
new business after handing over their bears.
But where to find $2000 for each and every bear
on the streets? Free the Bears offered supporters
the chance to name a bear for a $2000 donation,
which would save a dancing bear. The money started
coming in. It wasn’t long before they’d found 25
Kalander people willing to hand over their bears. While
nervous about changing their livelihood, many of
these people were relieved that they no longer had to
resort to such a practice to earn a living. They relished
the chance for a new future.
The first 25 bears come into the Agra Bear Rescue
Facility on Christmas Day in 2002. By 2009, the last
of the 800 bears was off the street. The chains had
been removed from infected faces, health problems
treated, and they were homed in four different
sanctuaries managed by Wildlife SOS and part
funded by Free the Bears.
For Mary, watching the last of the bears shuffle
down the road to rescue was a profound moment. “I
just thought ‘oh my gosh, we’ve done this. It was
a feeling of elation’,” she says. “Over $1,000,000
was raised by Free the Bears in seven years, which
saved all the bears from the roads of India. Today the
practice of ‘dancing bears’ is no more, a 300-yearold
tradition was broken.”
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Making women’s hearts beautiful.
My son Simon inspired
me to help the bears.
I would never have
considered taking it
further than a petition
but he said to me so
many times, “Mum,
what will happen to
those bears if no-one
helps them? How will
you feel then?”.
If the cause is right and
the passion is within,
just do it. Who knows
where it will take you.
Today Free the Bears also dedicates much of its
funding towards trying to save bears in their
ever-shrinking natural environment. It funds
anti-poacher patrols, wildlife monitoring projects,
awareness-raising campaigns and conservation
projects, while continuing to run the sanctuaries,
including a new one in Vietnam. It also continues
to facilitate rescued bears’ admission to quality
zoos. The charity employs some 120 in-country
staff and tends to about 500 bears.
It raises money through the sales of merchandise,
donations and memberships. Find out how you
can help at www.freethebears.org.
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When Demelza Potiuch opened her hairdressing salon Hot Locs aged just 17
she already knew it was going to be about so much more than hair.
From that day 20 years ago Demelza has striven to create a place for magic – somewhere
women can take the time out they need, where they can feel valued, where they can relax
and allow their inner beauty to shine through.
“For me it’s always been about helping people feel special,” Demelza says.
“Whether that’s about giving them a haircut that makes them feel fabulous, or offering
them a cleansing tea or cappuccino and homemade snack, or a luxurious beauty treatment,
or just chatting about how they are and encouraging them to live their dreams.”
With this emphasis in mind Demelza ensures her clients only have access to uplifting,
inspiring reading material – yes you can find Inspired here. She decorates with attention to
warmth and luscious style, creating a haven for her clients and her team of 12, who love
their workplace and feel happy and nurtured – a feeling they pass on to clients.
“Women are so busy these days – it’s so important they make time for themselves for a
change,” she says. “So that’s what we’re about – providing a place for them to feel special.
When women feel this way they are in just the right place to be the best version of
themselves. And when they are the best versions of themselves, they are ready to release all
kinds of magic on the world.”
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HOT LOCS HAIR BODY AND SOUL 23 Burges St, Beachlands WA 6530 (08) 9921 8089
As the mother of a 17-year-old son with autism,
Clara Harris has embarked on a mission to help others
living with disabilities and depression by sharing her own
often raw, painful and life-enriching experiences. In doing
so she is capturing the hearts of those she meets with her
warmth, love and honesty.
It was a warm winter’s day as Clara Harris sat on
the beach watching her six-year-old son frolic in the
waves at the tiny fishing town of Port Gregory in
Western Australia. The sun danced across the ocean
in a million pinpricks of light and the waves met the
shore in a rhythmic hum as he splashed with delight
before her. Warmed by the sun on her skin, Clara
found herself drifting into a daydream – a daydream
in which her beloved son would be eaten by a shark.
BEAUTY IN PAIN
“I was just so worried about how difficult the future
would be for him,” Clara says. “I thought, he’s such
hard work, he’s not going to have a normal life, it’s
going to be difficult so let’s put him out of his misery.”
Clara’s son Sam has autism. And it has taken
years for Clara to accept that ‘not normal’ is ok, that
different doesn’t mean misery. The journey since
Sam’s diagnosis 14 years ago has taken Clara and
her husband Damian to depths from which they
feared they’d never return. It sent Clara spiralling into
a depression which stole her of the will to live.
But sitting in their beautiful seaside home today,
country-style furnishings adorning the rooms, a warm
and engaging Clara says their journey with autism
has also filled their life with the gift of acceptance
and the richness of close and loving relationships.
It has opened their eyes to the beauty that
often emerges on the other side of pain.
Sam was 18 months old when Clara
and Damian first noticed he wasn’t
developing like his peers. He was
loving and smiley and melted their
hearts with his blue eyes and giggles
but his development seemed to have
stalled. Friends told her not to worry.
He’ll talk when he’s ready, they advised.
Unconvinced, Clara eventually took Sam to
a speech pathologist who referred him to a
By now Clara already suspected Sam may
have autism. He had an obsession with circles. He
Clara says their
journey with autism
has also filled their
life with the gift of
CLARA HARRIS 63
“You have these
dreams for your kid
that you don’t even
realise you have ...
and all of a sudden
you think they’re not
going to happen.”
Previous page Sam as a
kid frolicking in
the waves, and today as
a 17 year old.
Above The local
rallied behind the Harris
family to help start
‘Sam’s School’ on the
Above right Sam as
couldn’t stand being around other
kids. He seemed not to hear his own
name, yet the sound of a particular
television show would make him
come running. He was frightened of
babies. Haircuts made him scream
with terror. He couldn’t say mum
or dad, but he’d say Deborah – the
name of the ABC newsreader.
Clara and Damian journeyed from
their remote family farm in Binnu
to the capital city of Perth to visit
the paediatrician. The day before the
appointment they took Sam to the
park to feed the ducks and swans. Clara
had visions of a beautiful family day
out. But Sam descended into a screaming
fit, crying and fighting as he struggled to
immerse himself in some black mud. “All of us
were crying, all these people were staring at us and
I just remember saying to Dame, I’m so frightened of
what we’re going to find out tomorrow,” Clara says.
The next day Clara and Damian approached
the disability services building, shuddering at the
institution-like feel of the premises. Rusty cyclone
fencing surrounded run-down buildings which, they
later discovered, had once housed a mental asylum.
The paediatrician examined Sam but was reluctant
to give a diagnosis until a psychologist and speech
pathologist had also examined him. But Clara was
not leaving without an answer. She asked directly
if he thought Sam had autism. Choosing his words
carefully, the doctor admitted autism seemed
likely. With the announcement, he handed Clara
and Damian three or four sheets of photocopied
information about autism and bade them goodbye.
Arriving home to Clara’s sister’s house in Perth, the
couple collapsed in tears.
“You have these dreams for your kid that you don’t
even realise you have – dreams like going to the zoo
and having wonderful holidays together,” Clara says.
“And all of a sudden you think they’re not going to
happen, let alone that you’ll see your child getting
married or living a fulfilling life.”
Over the next couple of months, follow-up
appointments with a psychologist and speech
pathologist confirmed the paediatrician’s diagnosis.
A disability services officer visited their farm to discuss
their options. She handed Clara a list of four service
providers – three of which were six hours’ drive away
in Perth. But they could access two, half-hour therapy
sessions in the Northampton hospital – a process
which involved 200 kilometres of driving for an hour
of therapy. Clara broke down in tears at the kitchen
table. “Oh, it will be ok,” came the woman’s awkward
While the isolation of their family farm made
it difficult to access official services, it held one
outstanding benefit – a tightknit community who’d
do anything to help their friends. After the diagnosis,
Clara and Damian had been inundated with offers
of help. While it pained them to actually accept such
support, Clara and Damian eventually put a notice
into the local rag advertising for two people to be
trained to teach Sam. They warned it wouldn’t be
easy, but they hoped it would prove rewarding. The
phone didn’t stop ringing in response.
Two women from nearby farms became Sam’s
teachers and they, and a whole group of others,
attended workshops to learn how to work with Sam,
what to teach him, how to handle his outbursts. Clara
and Damian knew they wanted to pay the teachers
and envisaged borrowing money from the farm
business. But again their friends galvanised. “You
know how some people sponsor kids in Africa?” they
said. “Well we want to sponsor Sam.” Clara’s dad’s
employer donated a donga that they set up with
school equipment. And they started Sam, by now
aged three, at what became known as ‘Sam’s School’
on their family farm.
On the first day of school Clara sat in the house
crying as Sam’s screams exploded from the
school room. On the second day a friend drove a
130-kilometre round trip to deliver Tim Tam biscuits
and distract Clara by taking her on a walk. But she
too heard Sam’s screams and they sat down and
cried together over the Tim Tams, the sound of his
wailing ringing in their ears. But, by the third day
the screaming had eased to crying. And by the seventh
day, Sam was smiling and racing to his classroom.
In the meantime Clara and Damian’s friends had
formed the Mid West Autism Awareness Group
(MWAAG) to fundraise for this loving couple and the
boy who’d captured their hearts. The funds paid for
therapists, travel to Perth for seminars, educational
equipment and awareness-raising efforts.
So successful was Sam’s School that, after 18
months, Clara felt Sam would be ok to attend kindy
with other kids his age.
“I had read that early intervention can make an
autistic child ‘indistinguishable from their peers’,”
she says. “I just wanted him to be like any other
kid. I know now that was never going to happen. In
those early times you’re searching for that cure. And
because I had this ‘indistinguishable from his peers’
thing, I put him in kindy.”
Sam progressed through his early school years with
a handful of other kids in their tiny bush school. True
country kids, Sam’s peers took him in their stride.
Sam was Sam. Differences didn’t matter.
Clara and Damian’s friends continued to support
them through MWAAG, joining Clara to hold
information nights and stalls. Clara hoped that by
informing people about autism they’d help reduce
the stigma attached to it. She hoped by sharing their
story they could ease the journey for people dealing
with autistic people like Sam.
During this time Clara and Damian agonised over
whether to have more children. A geneticist told
them they had a 50:50 chance of having another
autistic child. “We ended up saying ‘well if it happens
at least we know what we’re in for’,” Clara says. And
so, when Sam was seven years old, Sophie was
Sam had always been scared of babies. He’d clutch
his ears at the sound of their crying as though he
were in physical pain. Yet he loved his little sister at
first sight. But as he grew older he became more
frustrated at his inability to communicate what he
felt. The frustration turned violent. He’d punch, bite
and hit Clara, and himself. But when he started
harming his little sister, Clara knew something had
“He learnt he could hurt Sophie so he’d just go over
and flatten her,” she says. “It was horrific. I’d call
Dame on the two-way and say ‘you’ve got to come
home’ and Sam figured out that he’d get to spend
time with his dad if he behaved in this way.”
Clara’s emotional state crashed. “I had it all
figured out,” she says, shaking her head at the
memory. “I was going to kill Sam. But if I was going
to kill Sam I’d have to kill Sophie because she
couldn’t live without her mother – obviously I was
going to kill myself too. It was all so rational in my
Above left The decision
to leave the family farm
at Binnu was a heartwrenching
Photo - Carrie Young
Above Sam’s School was
kitted out in a donga on
the family farm.
Left Sam fell in love with
his little sister Sophie.
CLARA HARRIS 65
Who/what inspires me
Depression has been a part
of his life. Many people
say ‘what has he got to be
depressed about’ but I see a
man (the hottest man in the
world by the way!) who is
very honest with himself
and his struggles.
Many, many people had told
me over the years to ‘put
yourself first’. I couldn’t do
that and I didn’t understand
– surely that was being
selfish? It’s taken a long
time but I now know you
NEED to put yourself first.
Your mental and physical
health are vital to your whole
family. If you crash, the
whole family may crash.
Be kind to yourself.
Top Clara celebrating
Above A tender moment
between mother and son.
Right Sam enjoying a swim.
Top far right A family
portrait at home on the farm.
Above far right Sam belts
out a karaoke song at his
A DIVIDED FAMILY
Eventually Clara unwittingly sounded alarm bells
to her parents by making a light-hearted comment
about having imagined Sam being eaten by a shark.
Shocked, her parents realised just how low Clara had
become. “They were so devastated that I hadn’t
asked for help,” she says. “It made me realise where
I was at and what was I thinking about not letting
While friends were quick to put up their hands
to offer respite, Clara knew she couldn’t go on like
this. She knew she’d need to move the family to the
closest city of Geraldton where she could send Sam to
a specialised school and receive formal respite while
Sophie received everyday schooling.
But Damian, who’d grown up on the farm himself,
was having none of it. “He was very, very angry,”
Clara says. “It was his family farm. He was born there.
We had a really tough time. He said ‘I married you
to be here on the farm with me ’. And I said ‘yes, and
I’d dreamed of taking the kids to the zoo and reading
them Winnie Pooh but it’s not what we’ve got’. The
zoo was a sensory nightmare for Sam and stories
and books were never meaningful.”
Eventually they decided the family would split
their time between houses. They’d buy a house in
Geraldton, Damian would work on the farm during
the week and they’d spend weekends together as a
SPREADING THE WORD
That was five years ago. Sam is now 17 and in his
second last year at Holland Street School for kids with
a disability. Sophie is nine and is making a name for
herself as a fundraiser and fierce advocate for people
with disabilities. Damian runs the farm and travels
back and forth to be with his family. Clara is sharing
more of her journey with others, hoping to ease the
pain for other families by providing raw, honest and
emotional accounts of her own experiences.
Recently she conducted an information night that
enticed more than 90 people – those dealing with
autism, but also people suffering depression or mental
illness. Clara is also now fulfilling a dream of launching
a home and wedding styling service with her sister.
And, most importantly, Clara believes Sam is
happy, that he has the fulfilling life she’d never
dreamed possible. He thrives on music. He loves
people. He’s demonstrative with his affection. “Sam’s
a nice young man,” Clara says. “Everyone who meets
him is positively affected by it. He does care about
people and he puts a smile on people’s faces.”
And yet it’s not easy. Sam now has the build and
strength of a man and knows how to intimidate
his mother. “He will stand over me and almost puff
himself up to be bigger again,” Clara says. “It’s scary.
He’s six foot and he doesn’t know his own strength.
But the hardest part is that he does it because he’s
frustrated and as a mum I just think I should be able
to figure out what’s wrong.”
FUTURE HOPES AND FEARS
While learning to accept Sam’s differences has
become easier, there are still moments that test Clara.
Recently Clara fell apart at the sight of a Facebook
photo of Sam posing with an old school buddy.
Sam’s lifelong friend was dressed for his school ball
and grinning with Sam, who was dressed in casual
attire and sporting white cotton gloves, with which
he’d developed an obsession. “I saw the photo
and just cried and cried for days,” Clara says. Sam
wouldn’t be attending the school ball with his old
friends, she sobbed. She lamented the thought that
he’d probably never marry or have a family.
But in her more positive moments Clara believes
Sam has a bright future. He did, after all, attend
the Holland Street school ball and had such a blast
he took over the microphone to sing karaoke style.
Clara hopes Sam may one day live safely with some
friends, indulge his love and talent for music, and work
a part-time job in which he’s cared for and valued.
“Sam needs to be independent from us because
of his behaviour – he’s least independent when I’m
around. But his vulnerability is quite paralysing to
me and the paranoid mother in me screams that he’s
such a target – he can’t tell me what he did at school
today let alone if someone had grabbed him and put
him in the back of a van. But, in order for Sam to have
an awesome life, I’ve got to let go of him. The future
for Sam is exciting – as daunting as it is for me, it’s
exciting for him. It’s got to be Sam’s journey now.”
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