A combination portrait and personal essay series.
Photography and prose editing by James Tran, words by those pictured.
"I stopped actively creating music approximately 5 or 6 years pre-diagnosis.
Songwriting to me as an art form was so much more about my being in a constant state of distress. Many things distressed me as an adolescent. Largely due to not understanding how my mind works or why things in my life were evolving the way they were. And it proved to be an important and necessary outlet. I never tried to write anything, the songs came freely, and I rarely lingered whilst refining. Most pieces I ever wrote or recorded were largely formed within a day. You can hear it in my voice and the words that I use, they captured what I intended at that time.
I had no solid grasp of my cognition nor the underlying drive behind my thoughts and actions until I began familiarizing myself with the colourful array of neurodivergent mannerisms I exhibit. There was something about projecting my voice as hard as I could and hitting the keys as hard as I could, just belting it. It’s incredibly cathartic. I never intended for my fingers to bleed and spray blood all over and inside the guitar, but it was a beautiful thing for me to experience because I’d only realize after I'd finished playing that my fingers were wet. I adore how this reflects how much I’m putting into that. How hard I’m playing it.
There were a myriad of things regarding the way I operate on a fundamental level that were seriously interfering with my quality of lived experience. My understanding of neurodivergence is relatively fresh and extremely useful. This recent and developing understanding allows me to communicate this more effectively with the people around me, and I also now know that it’s something I need to do. I can brief those around me about what to expect and not to expect from me, which successfully avoids many taxing misunderstandings. I am acutely aware of my own limitations and have found immense power in identifying these.
Often I am unable to recognise how my actions (or lack thereof) affect those around me. I just need to be told what those things are. I love being told what to do. Seriously, if it’s by the people that I love and it’s in their best interest, I absolutely want to know about that. Now I know what I need to tell and ask of people so that I can be the best version of myself.
Long story short I no longer need to belt things out as I used to and I’m extremely grateful to not need that. During a point in time it did afford some raw and honest art, but I think the struggle is real, and it’s real for most people most of the time. It was never intended to be this way, but I guess it was an attempt to communicate. I suppose that’s what art is at a fundamental level; trying to get people to understand. Trying to show people how strong and loud this thing I’m feeling is."
"I had a bit of an idea of what I was getting myself into, because I’d been there two years prior in 2019. Three years? I guess that was the driving factor of me wanting to get back up there, because from my previous experience, which had been about six weeks, it was pretty amazing. I think what drew me to it was the sense of community up there, living in a remote environment with twenty other people. It was a bit of a commune, which was a big draw, especially after covid and lockdowns and all that. I think that’s how we as human beings are supposed to be. Rather than living in an individualistic concrete jungle. There’s something quite valuable about looking after each other, cooking shared meals, living with a tight knit group. It was also nice to affirm that I’m a capable bushie despite being a city slicker from Clifton Hill.
The Kimberley is one of the only areas in Australia where there hasn’t been any mammal extinctions yet. It’s a largely intact landscape, aside from the unavoidable impact of cattle. There are still huge areas that remain pretty much undeveloped and you've still got quite a significant presence of traditional owners who are conducting traditional practices on country. The Kimberley Coast which we were surveying this year hasn’t ever been properly surveyed so we were getting a true snapshot of the biodiversity before the cane toad front arrived. A lot of species like northern quolls, goannas and crocs were in abundance. Despite a number of threats, the Kimberley’s an incredibly biodiverse area, there’s not many spots in Australia where you can catch 16 different species of mammal over an 8 week period. We could walk 10 minutes from the homestead and go watch the quolls come out at night, phascogales and savannah gliders climbing in the trees, and bandicoots scurrying around the place. For quolls this is one of their last remaining strongholds, so being able to have seen so many up close was especially awesome.
Before field season it’s a lot of office work, tinkering in the workshop and packing gear. During field season the sun rises around 4am, so you rise at the same time. The helicopter or the land cruiser gets you out to your trap and camera sites where you camp out for a few days, and then it’s a flight back to the office to analyse your data.
I was pretty burnt out by the end of my 9 months contract. During the inventory survey we basically did 8 weeks intensive, no weekends because your traps have to be checked twice a day, and the military land that we were working on meant we had strict timetables. Whilst on survey your only real indoor spaces are the kitchen and the office, you’re swagging it most of the time, constantly in the elements. You can’t really get any space to yourself, you’re just always around others, you’re stressed, you can’t get out of that work mode. Your mates are your colleagues so it’s even harder to switch off after you clock off. To the point that you look forward to 8 hour solo drives just because of the alone time. It takes a physical toll and a mental one too.
Relationship wise it’s pretty isolating. I think over the 9 months I was working I spent maybe 4 weeks in town total, so meeting new people can be tricky. Being in my mid twenties there’s this perception that this is the time of my life to be going out, meeting new people and building relationships. That said, Morno was always a pretty social place, and though you miss out on a few things from the outside world, you can adapt.
When your only communication tool back home is a voice through a little box, and when you’re the only one reaching out to others, you start to wonder if you even exist. Caught myself scrolling a lot, hoping that my friends would post something on Instagram. You just miss those people, it’s nice to see what they’re up to. Reminisce, I suppose, about trips from the past and that sort of thing. I try not to go too far down that rabbit hole, try to find alternatives to that in music, games, hanging out with whoever’s close by.
The other thing that weighs on your brain is the data. We’re expecting a lot of the species we’ve been monitoring to decline all over northern Australia in the next decade, and the Kimberley is no exception. I’ve seen some of the climate projections for the region and it’s gonna get a lot hotter and a lot wetter up there. There’s flooding all over that area right now. We’re doing some really amazing work through monitoring and fire management, aiming to preserve pockets of endangered species, but there’s still so many external factors out of our control.
Of all the people I was hanging out with up there, I was pretty susceptible to getting overwhelmed and spiralling. You push yourself to the limit just to monitor the decline of something precious. Constantly having conversations with people that go “In 70 years all this is going to be completely different” and I question to myself whether anything I’m doing has any impact, whether I’m making a difference. I can say that I tried, but I flip flop on whether it feels like that is enough.
At the end of the day you just gotta do what you can and make sure you're having fun and doing what you love along the way. Learn to let go of the things you can’t control. It feels selfish, but I am so lucky that I live in a time and have had the opportunity to see these ecosystems and species myself when things were still flourishing. WA’s a pretty special place, especially the Kimberley. I spent 8 optimistic weeks in the Grampians surveying mammals and only caught 2 bandicoots. 8 weeks in the Kimberley and I lost count of how many we caught.
And hey, reflecting on my time up there and the fact that such a beautiful place exists, the good work we’re doing, the amazing people I’ve gotten to meet, and the fact I got to spend so much time flying around in a helicopter to trap critters, I do think things aren’t all that bad.
Well, things are bad, but y’know. Find the good."
"The first time I tried it two years ago I couldn't even get myself into the hoop. I remember my teacher made a little staircase out of mats underneath so I could step into it and do tricks from there. That was a really lovely thing that she did, and it meant it was more achievable for me to do the tricks and feel excited. The fact she did that and the fact that it was so hard to start off with meant that every little trick that I did I was so excited. I still am.
I was still using my walker to get around when I started, not as often but it was right at the start of 2021. It's hard to use on rough terrain and I do a lot of adventuring, so I'd have to limit myself to short walks without it. I tripped over a lot. Copped a lot of injuries from walking around, and I still do.
I was in physio all growing up. I was so used to them week in week out and being spoken to the same way they speak to their usual clients who are young kids and the elderly. Becoming an adult I just dropped it because it’s all about doing these exercises just to chop food, just to put on clothes, just to exist. I was so frustrated by that. There’s no motivation to do those things if you don’t acknowledge that there’s more to life than busywork. Hoop was a way of making the physio exciting, giving it a purpose.
Hoop was't an intentional decision to work on my body and strength, it just looked really fun. It inspired me to go back to those guys and ask them what more I could be doing. How can I do this? It's all about those little wins that make you feel powerful, and the funny thing about accomplishing one thing that used to feel impossible is you start to look at everything else with this twinkle in your eye. Could I do that too?
Cerebral palsy is brain damage at birth. Within the first 1-2 years of life, if not right out of the womb. But I was diagnosed when I was 9, which is so strange. The older I got the more distance there was between my mind and my body. I always wanted to do THINGS, but also had a really keen awareness of people’s expectations of me. This is what your life will be, you and your walker and sometimes a wheelchair. Stuck at home living with mum and dad for the rest of your life. Won't be able to live independently.
I actually can't believe that these were things I was told directly, because now I live by myself, I do so much aerial stuff, I can leave my walker at home, I can go to so many festivals. I'm a single mother of a cat and I'd never tell him what he can't do.
My sunniness comes from being grateful for what I do have and what I can do. Being able to find a studio space that helps me fixate on what I can do, where I’m only being compared to people I want to be compared to. There's a lot of value in finding those spaces, and they don't need to be disability specific spaces. It's more about where you're valued.
At the same time, I find it really sad that I had to find out about hoop by chance at the circus instead of recognizing it as a pathway from the beginning. And it’s not a magic bullet to gaining self confidence, it’s easy to beat yourself up when you can’t do a trick that you nailed last week and feel like you’re going backwards.
It is a bit of a process to be kind to yourself. You have to learn it. And it helps to have a hoop group who have you laughing out the door after every single session."