‘I spent 3½ years photo-documenting enslaved prostitutes in Cambodia – Vietnamese women who were trafficked across the border.
‘These women were being raped repeatedly. One of the women’s wrists was covered in suicide marks and she was one of the women who knew what she was going in to. The state of mind, the cultural beliefs that are engrained in to these women or young girls, I can’t grasp it. It was a big hurdle for me to get over and I realised I can’t; it’s not a hurdle for me to jump.
‘I was back in Sydney and got an email from the NGO I’d been working with over there saying the raid had been performed and the women had been rescued as a result of my work. Up until that point, I had very little faith in what was happening from the NGO point of view. I got the impression that they were only investigating the shacks (brothels) while I was over there. Unfortunately it took a 9 year old child’s presence in that brothel to perform the rescue. Human trafficking is illegal and the police knew there were women in there that had been trafficked. I asked them what it took to perform a raid and the Cambodian police said to me they had a thousand other brothels like this one, why should they choose this one?
‘This whole experience has definitely challenged me. I had to see two psychiatrists while I was away. It centred me a lot as a person but it’s made me sad. I’ll never forget those women – especially the first girl I photographed – she was crying and curled up in a foetal position.
‘I feel proud now about what I’ve done – knowing that the 9 year old girl is now being educated and the NGO will give her a job when she finishes school as they will with the other women that were rescued in the raid. It’s a breaking of the chain. When the girl grows up, her children will then know they can get an education and get a job.
‘One of my favourite quotes is, “Every waterfall starts with a drop of water”. If I can help someone or inspire someone to do what I did or help in some way, I know I’ve succeeded.’
‘It was very late in life when I finally worked out what I wanted to do. I started at the age of 47. I think sometimes things are meant to happen at ages that you don’t expect things to happen.
‘I don’t wish it had happened earlier. I think my life has panned out just nicely. There were other things I wanted to do. I was convinced I wanted to be a beauty therapist and an actress. I did both of those things and then realised they’re not for me. My passion just naturally changed and I think there is a strong message in that for everyone looking at what they want to do with their life. It’s not too late to change your passion. It was very hard to let go of the acting because I studied for 3 years, did my degree and then wondered how I could possibly stop but I finally gave myself permission to finally let go. This is my new passion and I love what I do.
‘From about 14 I was drawn to vintage clothing. I went through a number of years working in retail, studying acting and always in creative fields. One day I was unhappy with where my life was going. I walked in to an antique shop. I was looking at a shop counter and the guy asked where my shop was. I said that I didn’t have a shop but just loved the counter. He asked me if I did have a shop what would I have and it just came out. I said to him that it would be a vintage clothing shop. I had an epiphany at the moment, walked out and rang my husband and my mum straight away and said to them I know this sounds crazy as I have no stock but I just want to have my own vintage clothing shop. I didn’t buy the counter. Someone else bought the counter and I kick myself to this day that I didn’t but it was the catalyst. It really was like a bolt of lightning. I literally walked on air out of that antique centre because I knew what it was that I finally wanted to do with my life.’
‘This year has been both good and bad. I had two close friends pass away so that was pretty shit. One died from suicide – hanging herself – and the other one passed away from a motorcycle accident so that was pretty sucky.
‘I’ve met some amazing friends through this year and the support I’ve got from all my friends when I thought I didn’t have many close friends was great. I thought I had friends that were more acquaintances and I didn’t expect them to be as supportive. Maybe I’m just paranoid but it was nice to feel like they actually truly cared and actively wanted to be a part of my life. It’s definitely made me feel better as a person as well.’
‘My mum just got out of becoming really sick. She had a bit of a drug habit in other words. My father died early this year so I’ve had to deal with a lot of grief and that kind of stuff. We’re all strong people and everyone has a story. It makes you who you are and if you can get through that pain, it makes you stronger.
‘The hardest part is trying to get my mum to be stable. She’s been in this drug habit for as long as I can remember. The fact that she’s still alive is surprising. She won’t contact us and then she will. It’s really stressful because we don’t know what to do. I’ve got little siblings that live with my grandparents and are really worried about her. I want to do more to help but unfortunately I can’t stop her from being in this habit. There is nothing I can do except for just support my family. So that’s what I’m trying to do at the moment.
‘When you’re dealing with chaos all your life, you just want stability. When I say to people, I just want to get a job, they ask me why and tell me that working sucks. But I’ve never had a job and I want to do something. I want to contribute to society. I want to have an income, have a place to live, pay rent, have a stable life where I can work, see my friends, have a routine and not have to live in chaos.
‘Stability to me means having a home, having a place to go to and knowing who the people in your life are that support you. When you’re in too much of a chaotic environment, your head gets chaotic, you don’t know who you are and you lose sense of everything. Your sense of reality is warped and that’s what I’m trying to heal from now. I’m just hoping that eventually I won’t have to deal with that anymore.’