Mandy Lowe

Physio, Back In Motion, Mentone(Vic)

"There are no words to describe the experiences I had and the people I met there… after being lucky enough to have a small glimpse of life on Palm Island."

Returning to Melbourne from the Outreach Mission to Palm Island was unlike returning from any trip I have taken before. There are no words to describe the experiences I had and the people I met there. Life seems a little different now after being lucky enough to have a small glimpse at the life people live on Palm Island. The island is an incredible, beautiful place and the history of the island and its people is amazing.

Soon after our very small 10 seater (what seemed like) paper plane landed we were greeted by two of the local school teachers and driven to our new home at Ferdy’s Haven. It was here that we met the residents (recovering alcoholics) and the staff members of the centre for the first time. On our first night, as we sat around the backyard campfire; each member of the team bonded with particular residents. Those at Ferdy’s Haven were quite surprised that people from the mainland knew of their struggles and were willing to donate their time and efforts to help and support them. Some were shocked that we even knew they existed!

Within 24 hours of arriving at Ferdy’s, I personally felt a strong connection with Dudley, one of the most respected elders of the Bwgcolman people. Although Dudley was staying at Ferdy’s, he was not a recovering alcoholic, but was requested to stay there due to his status in the community and the support he could provide the residents. We spent the first night sitting by the campfire together whilst Dudley described his life on the Island, the history of the Island and his personal struggles. Dudley said that he was very glad that we had come to live with them for a short time, but that it also made him sad that we had to leave.

Our team also spent time working with the children at both the local schools. Nearida and I were asked to provide a short talk to the Grade 3 children on healthy lifestyle and healthy eating habits. After some preparation the night before we decided that nothing could inspire the children more than taking some fruit along to make the whole experience fun. One they would remember. On our way to school we made a quick stop at the local store and picked up bananas, mandarins and grapes. After spending the morning practicing high jump with the children, … we presented the children with our gifts and were amazed and delighted when the children were overwhelmed with excitement at the chance to eat a piece of fruit. It was like Christmas morning! Unfortunately on Palm Island most of the children are unable to obtain fruit and healthy foods; the only store on the Island sells fruit at a very high price.

I believe our team only scratched the surface of the lives of these amazing people. In such a short time there is no way to fully understand their struggles and how their island came to be the way it is today. The people are strong, truly kind and caring of others; they welcomed us into their island and their lives with open arms and a big smile. Their community and the dedication they have to each other is inspirational. They definitely proved the perceptions we have of all Aboriginal people, are wrong.

Everything has changed since returning from Palm Island. It is an island that will stay with me forever and the people will always remain in my heart. I can only hope that I have the opportunity to return one day.

To finish, a quote from a resident at Ferdy’s: “You people come here… and you smile so much… and when you smile, it makes us smile.”