Welcome to our next ‘campfire’ story.
Campfire for the Heart is a collection of inspiring stories of
Although every story is unique, they all highlight our ability to adapt positively to bad experiences and showcase our indomitable human spirit.
If you have an inspiring resilience story to share, or know someone who does,
please contact Natalie through www.stockdalewellbeing.com.
“Don’t let anything stop you.”
I grew up in a sailing family when female crew was rare. My stepfather and brother would race most weekends from the Brighton Yacht Club and I’d be invited only when they needed extra weight. We lived comfortably in Melbourne in an apartment above my mother’s hair salon. My father moved to Queensland and began a new family. Had I not gone to visit my father to celebrate his baby’s first birthday, I may not be alive today.
In December 1989, my stepfather (Graham Baldwin), 16-year-old brother (Bryan) and crew set off for the Melbourne to Devonport sailing race on Graham’s yacht, Great Expectations. While I was in Queensland, my mother, some family friends and our miniature dachshund (Heidi) flew down after the race to celebrate with them. On January 4, 1990, they all set off together across Bass Strait to return to Melbourne. According to a witness, mill-pond seas in Bass Strait turned rough the day after they set sail. The entire vessel and crew of six were never seen again.
I can’t remember the moment I heard the news, but I remember seeing my father when he heard it. We were in a caravan park where he lived and the caretaker came with the phone and our friend Julie was on the other end with the news. He looked over to me and I saw him go white with fear and the rest was a blur.
My father, stepmother and baby brother packed up and drove non-stop for 21 hours down to Melbourne. I sat in the backseat pacifying my baby brother all way. I was only 14 at the time and didn’t have keys to Mum’s salon or apartment. I had to break into our empty home. I remember the phone ringing constantly from media, sympathetic clients, and family friends.
After the sea searches stopped, hurtful conspiracy theories emerged. My father decided to block me from media exposure. We closed my mother’s business and our money quickly dried up. My father took us back up to Queensland to begin a new life in a caravan park.
It was tough. My bedroom was an awning beside the caravan and the rudimentary hot water system was either too cold or burning hot! Nothing in between! Adjusting to my new school was hard. Known as a “caravan kid”, there was no way of overcoming that stigma. The permanence of my new situation struck me one day when I was buying shoes with Dad. Mum had always bought Adidas 3 stripes. All Dad could afford were runners from K-mart. I realised then that my mother, brother, stepfather, family pet, friends and life as I had known, were gone forever.
How did I cope? Being adaptable helped. Accepting what you cannot change and going with the flow. Caring for my baby brother also helped a lot. I’ve always loved kids, so nurturing and nourishing him helped me to nourish myself. I also dived into study and focussed on books. I grew up very quickly then and decided that, if I work hard, I can take charge of my life and be successful. Refusing to never feel sorry for myself, I decided to never define myself as a victim of this event.
On the contrary, I feel lucky. I’m lucky to be alive and lucky for all the good fortune that has come into my life. Regardless of your situation, there are always reasons to feel lucky and grateful.
I believe that if you do the right thing, good things come to you. They may not come straight away, but they always come. I’m now blessed with a loving husband who shares my values, and four wonderful children.
One of my sons lost $10 from his pocket recently. He was upset, but the next day he helped a neighbour remove a dead possum from her garden. Much to his delight, he was kindly rewarded with $10 from the neighbour. Kindness leads to kindness. I’ve always tried to do to others what you’d like done to you… and I don’t expect anything in return. I give because I want to give, not for any expectation from the receiver.
My mother taught me to not limit myself. Don’t let anything get in your way, she’d say. That determination served me well. I put myself through a Fine Arts degree in university by delivering pizzas at night.
I worked hard and built a successful career, enabling my father and ‘baby’ brother and their families to live nearby. Family is and always has been paramount to me. We’ve established new roots in a coastal area of Melbourne and a new, comfortable, secure family life.
Genuine connections with people are also important to me. I like to be honest and open with people and surround myself with like-minded, positive people. I dislike hearing people talk about their continual bad luck and prefer to think positively and move on from the past.
A rewarding part of my job is mentoring young people. I encourage people to not let the stigma of their past hold them back from their future. Live without boundaries and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Most people are kind and want to help. If a friend, family member or colleague expressed their vulnerability and asked you for help, you’d want to help them. It makes you feel good to help. It’s human nature. So, if you need help, you’re not a burden. People genuinely care about you. Ask for help.