Humans of the Wheatbelt

Humans of the Wheatbelt is a disability project that celebrates inclusion within the community.

There is always someone in each story that has a disability whether it is the human, interviewer, photographer or writer.

My father was a prison officer so my family moved all around WA when I was young. I have two sisters and a half-brother who is much older, who lived with his mum. I was born in Mount Barker but we lived on Pardelup Prison Farm for the first year of my life. We moved to Roebourne and lived there for about eight years before moving to Mount Helena when Dad transferred to Bandyup Prison. I loved living in Roebourne although I suppose I have rose-tinted glasses. My younger sister has been back but I haven’t. I remember lots of red dirt and throwing boondies at my friends. We were there for Cyclone Chloe in 1985 and that was pretty crazy. As one of the only white kids in the class, it helped me to be a lot more open-minded and to see past the colour of a person’s skin. I’ve had a lot of disagreements with bigoted and racist people over the years, though I’ve had little luck changing their per-ceptions unfortunately. Our grandparents lived in Mount Helena so we’d been there for holi-days but living there was very different from Roebourne. I went to Mount Helena PS and then Eastern Hills SHS and they were huge schools compared with what I was used to.

I was sexually abused when I was five and it has had a huge impact on my life. I’ve always been really open about the consequences of that. My abuser was in his teens and the son of a family friend. I don’t need to remember the details because the effects on my self-esteem and self-worth have been evident. I’ve found that, when I talk about it, so many people have had similar experiences and it really opens up conversations. A lot of people feel guilt and shame but it’s something you have no control over as a child. It has had an effect on me throughout my entire life. I started dating my husband Christian when we were in Year 12 and it has really impacted our relationship, but we worked hard on my issues and now we’ve been together for over 25 years.

I’ve always been a bit of a nerd and a geek. I probably pushed myself a bit too hard at school. I did really well in Year 10 except in Maths, and then in Year 11 I blanked in my In-tro Calc exam and just failed it completely. I told the school that if they didn’t let me drop maths that I was dropping out altogether, but that ended up preventing me from gaining en-try into a university course. I’d been planning on studying a sociology degree, so instead I went to TAFE and did a Cert III/Cert IV and Diploma in Human Services. I graduated top of my class when I was about nineteen, and only then I realised I had absolutely no life experi-ence. It seemed a little hypocritical to go into that field with only academics to back me.

I had been working for KFC Mundaring since it first opened and I was one of the original staff members there. They had been nagging me to become a manager so I decided to go in-to management. Just after we got married in 2003 I’d had enough and moved on to a man-agement position with Crazy Clarks and a few years later got into banking. Just after we married, my dad moved to Canada so he put his house in Lockridge on the market. We’d gotten caught up in the housing boom and couldn’t afford where we’d wanted to buy and so we bought the house off Dad and had nine horrible years there. There was so little room be-tween us and our neighbours and you could just hear everything.

I eventually got back to my roots and started working for Silver Chain as a home help and I had my regular clients and I loved it. After a while, I moved into admin and then became a Resource Coordinator in Maddington, which meant working with a team of nurses schedul-ing their clients and doing rosters. Then I made the mistake of applying for a Team Lead po-sition in Kingsley. I’m a terrible manager because I can’t delegate, I help out too much, and I’m not good with confrontation. We’d been thinking of moving out of the suburbs for a while at this point and we were finally financially stable enough to seriously look into it. I would have been happy with the Perth Hills but Christian wanted a bit of acreage. About six years ago we found our dream home in Lower Chittering and made our move to the Wheat-belt (just!). That’s nowhere near long enough to be considered a local but I’m hoping in about twenty years we’ll earn that title!

Being in management again started to take its toll and I was struggling so I started thinking of a career change. I was also commuting to Kingsley each day and it was a long drive. My main motivation for wanting to change careers though was that I wasn’t enjoying my work and I already suffered from anxiety and depression. I couldn’t do it anymore and eventually I just quit, even though I didn’t have another job to go to.

Funnily enough, I’d applied for a job in Tech Services at the Shire of Chittering and I didn’t even get an interview. I was really pissed off about that because I had plenty of relevant ex-perience. The Library Officer role at Bindoon came up and I thought it was an assistant role as it was only part time. I came in and had the interview and killed it, and then they rang me and said ‘can you start tomorrow?’ I turned up and they were like, “This is your library, do with it what you will!”. Rural libraries don’t employ fully-fledged librarians, just Library Officers. I’m technically the only staff member here (our lovely Records Officer covers me when I’m off) so I do all the budgeting, the stock, early literacy—everything. A few months later, the same role I’d applied for first became available again and the manager asked if I’d apply. I told him no, he’d had his chance to have me and he missed it! I wasn’t giving up the library for anything.

When I left Silver Chain and thought about applying for jobs, I dyed my hair plain and dressed more conservatively since I figured I had to be a ‘proper grown up’. On my first day on the job, I had to give my boss my driver’s licence and she noticed I had really long hair in the photo. I showed her another photo of how my hair would normally be dyed four different colours and she told me straight away that the more colour, the better and I’ve been the brightest and most colourful employee since. I’ve never considered myself a super girly-girl and I never wear makeup, but I dress quite girly. It’s almost a defense mechanism because if people are looking at my clothes and my hair then they’re not looking at me. That’s those pesky self worth issues poking their head up again. Over time it has increased my self confindence though so fake it till you make it, I guess. I feel like I’ve been adopted by the community here and if I dye my hair a plain colour or dress in jeans I get told that they miss my rainbow. They’ve embraced me for who I am and it’s amazing.

In the five years I’ve worked at the Bindoon Library, we’ve done two refurbishments. When I first came in, you had to walk down a dingy hallway to get into the library and there was a lot less space. The walls weren’t used and the stock was crammed onto the shelves. At first, I had no budget for events and there was no Rhyme Time or anything. One of the first things I did was make a Halloween display of all my scary books and movies. It was my first ever theme shelf. When the carpet was being replaced, I redesigned the space to make it more efficient. We started doing small events, some of which got so big that we had to stop doing them. Before Covid hit, I had 150 people show up for a Halloween party. I’ve had Palliative Care Australia come out and do a seminar, Beyond Blue run a Zoom seminar, and local gar-dening businesses have done talks. A couple of times a year I’ll throw on pizza and snacks for a Read In. Half the time we just sit there reading our books and the other half we eat and talk about what we’re reading.

In 2020, I won the Western Australian Regional Achievement and Community Award for Making a Difference for my work at the library. I got to go to an extremely fancy ceremony in Perth with my boss as well as the CEO. I didn’t think I would win because I was up against a couple of huge local governments, so I was shocked when it was announced that I was the winner but it was a fantastic affirmation of my work. I’ve also been recognised with a Commendation in the Library Board of WA Innovation and Collaboration Awards for my ‘Little Free Libraries’ around the Shire. I have one in Wannamal, another outside the school in Lower Chittering, one in Muchea, one at the Julimar rest stop, and one at the rest stop on the highway at Carty Reserve.

I also write regular articles for the local newspaper, the Northern Valleys News, such as a recent piece on the use and misuse of apostrophes. Another pet hate of mine is people who don’t know how to use the Oxford comma! Recently I had a lady all the way from Miling who told me she reads my column every month and loves it so it’s nice to be having an impact on people so far away from me.

I’m a crazy chicken lady and I also have guinea fowl and alpacas. My husband and I are child-free by choice and so our feathered and fleeced babies are very important to us. We got our alpacas from a rescue farm where they were being given away. Funnily enough, when we bought our house it came with guinea fowl. As much as my husband didn’t want to keep them, he grew to love them because they have such amazing personalities. Our ‘Barnyard Chickens’ all have superhero names and my Facebook feed is full of chicken photos.

I’m a massive reader but I really have to curate my selection at the Library to accommodate what people want which isn’t what I tend to read. Crime and rural romance are very popular but personally I was always more of a sci-fi and fantasy geek. In the past couple of years, I’ve devoured gay romance novels and there’s a whole online community around it. I’m a huge fan-fiction nerd and I’ve written Marvel, Criminal Minds, and 9-1-1 fan-fiction myself. The great thing about fan-fiction is that you don’t have to spend time building up the world and you get immediate feedback from readers. I have self-published a young adult novel, Sandfire, which I started writing during Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month). The self-publishing process was hard and I think I went through about four different proof versions before I had one that actually worked. There’s a picture of my niece on the cover and a friend did the design. I enjoyed the process but I don’t think I’ll ever do it again.

I’m pansexual—pan and proud. That means I’m attracted to people regardless of gender. People think that I’m straight because I’m married to a man but I’m actually very queer and very open about it. In June it’s Audiobook and Pride Month, of which I’m a big supporter. I’ve tried to increase my selection of queer fiction in the library, especially in the young adult section as I am a big believer that representation matters. I’m a mentor with a local group called the Chittering Youth Krew and it’s been amazing to see how progressive young people are in their views when it comes to sexuality, gender, and ethnicity. It’s a great feel-ing to have a conversation with them and to see that the future is in great hands but to also be there to support them along the way. Small towns can sometimes be small minded but with open and honest dialogue, things are changing and I find that very exciting.

Human – Annie Hudson
Interviewer, photographer, and Writer - Guy Salvidge

Humans of the Wheatbelt is supported by the State Government through the Wheatbelt Development Commission and managed by Wheatbelt Health Network.

#inclusion #community #wheatbelt #WA #northam #humans #westernaustralia #freelibrary #wannamal #chittering #toodyay

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25 Holtfreter Avenue, Northam
Phone: 08 9621 4444
Open: 8am-6pm Mon – Fri

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65 Wellington Street, Northam
Phone: 08 9690 2824
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After hours medical assistance: In an emergency call 000 or present to your nearest Regional Hospital emergency department. If you have a non- emergency and would like to consult with a GP then call Telstra Health on 1800 225 523. The service is free to access for Australian residents who reside in the wheatbelt or who are temporarily residing in the Wheatbelt. This service can be accessed before 8am and after 6pm Monday-Friday, before 8am and after 12pm Saturday and all day Sunday and any Public Holidays. Thank you to Western Australia Primary Health Alliance (WAPHA) for funding this service.

  • 25 Holtfreter Avenue, Northam

  • 81 Stirling Tce, Toodyay

  • 65 Wellington Street, Northam

  • Williams Road, Narrogin

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