We are in D Town. I somehow managed to get my three little guys bundled up, onto a 4 hour flight to the northernmost city in Australia, Darwin. We survived the flight fairly well which in itself, is a minor miracle. I was a bit concerned about the levels of anxiety and noisemaking my little 6yo asd boy would experience – but he was brilliant!
I was prepared for apologies to the rows of people in front, behind, beside etc. but instead, I was warmly reassured by several passengers that the boys were doing incredibly well and so was I! Numerous people offered their assistance, especially when it came to disembarking. It’s so reassuring to experience that level of kindness and support from strangers.
Being in Darwin always stirs something in me. Each and every member of my immediate family have lived here on and off since 1980. Two of my brothers and their families continue to live here and I have lived here for several years at a time as well. So there is a deep sense of family history, many memories and some wonderful friendships that continue to this day. My little boys are really enjoying connecting with my family up here.
We are here on the tail end of the wet season. It is still very rainy and humid and overcast. Swampy. This is a frontier town, far away from the rest of Australia and more connect in someways to places like Timor, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia who are physically closer. It is the final destination for lots of people who don’t fit in to the mainstream. More than a few criminals on the run make their way up here, plus there are always a few missionaries on the job too. Plenty of work up here for them!
I took the boys on a little scenic tour on our first day here. It turned out to be a tour of the diggers and heavy machinery (N was extremely pleased) and mosquito infested playgrounds, with lots of jumping in muddy puddles and entire changes of clothes required for each child. But as we drove through the inner suburb of Larrakia a few old memories were triggered.
The very first time I came to Darwin was in 1981 when a friend and I hitched across from the east coast on an epic three day road trip. No real plans, broke, no job or anything connecting me to anywhere, I arrived on my parents newly acquired doorstep.
I got a job pretty quickly and became involved in setting up the first group home for children with complex disabilities in Darwin, Bunyip House. Part of my job was to go around to the various facilities to collect these little kids, whose ages ranged from 3-15 and bring them to their new home.
These kids were all Indigenous and unable to be cared for by their families in their home communities (small townships with extremely limited facilities). So they ended up in Darwin in hospital beds and old age homes. Moving into this home was a huge step forward for them, but you couldn’t help but feel bad for the set of circumstances that had transpired for them to be in these horrible places.
For these kids, who are now in their 30’s and 40’s, life took a dramatic turn for the better. Not only were they participating within their communities: going on family visits, picnics, walks, playgroups etc. but they also had better access to medical and educational supports. And yes, it does seem crazy that a child would have better access to medical support out of a hospital than in, but this is where advocacy and some genuine loving care makes a massive difference.
I worked there for about a year and during this time was able to help families re-connect with their kids in this far more child-focused environment. I was able to take some of the kids home for short trips and got to go to some amazing places including Melville, Goulburn and Croker Islands. Families were also able to come and spend time with their kids when they were in town.
It was while I was in this job that I had my first experience with autism. As well as being the permanent home for 6 children, we also provided respite care – virtually unheard of back then! On a couple of occasions we cared for a girl who was about 12, non-verbal and with many challenging & aggressive behaviors. For her parents, it was scary and hard to leave her with us, they feared for her safety (she was a runner) and for that of the other kids. Looking back now, I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for them. It must have also been such a relief to have those days of rest.
Although those who know me may see it differently, I could never have predicted that I would be here, so many years later with a little spectrummy guy of my own. Life can certainly be circular at times.