The following is taken from a speech I gave at a gathering to celebrate my time with the WA AIDS Council that I thought that I would share:
When I started to reflect on my journey with the AIDS Council, which has now been going on for over 30 years, I had to really stop and think about it as it has been more than half of my life that I have been involved with WAAC.
I never imagined that I would be here 20 years after I began working with the council as the HIV Positive Peer Educator and talking with you about the journey that I have been on over that time…and reflecting back on it!
There have been a host of different challenges and obstacles that have sometimes been put in my way over that time but if I am honest I am feeling blessed and honoured.
When putting my thoughts and feelings into words I was trying not to make it sound too much like a retirement speech but there are people to thank, who have made an impact on my life, reflections to reflect on and so I suppose it does sound a little like a retirement speech but I am not ‘yet’ retiring, I am still waiting for that one powerball!
It is all about a history of the HIV epidemic here in Perth for me and how over the past 20 years it has changed so much. Early on we were consumed with getting innovative health promotion messages into the community whilst at the same time caring for our friends and loved ones who were dying and trying to keep focussed whilst grieving at the same time. This was sometimes not an easy thing to do. Recently when I was running a group with my friend Ben I was reminded of one of the very first groups that I ran for men with HIV over 25 years ago. I was running a 10 week group with Bruce Maguire that focussed on all aspects of the HIV experience as we knew it in those days…it was all about dealing with your doctor, living with opportunistic infections, planning for your funeral and also trying to stay positive about all of that and so much more.
That very first group had 18 men with HIV in it and just 6 months after that group was run I was the only HIV positive person still alive. That was what those early days was all about and how things have changed since then!
Recently I have been putting together a history on STYLEAID for our newly launched AIDS Council website http://www.waaids.com and I was looking back at the program from the very first event in 1998 and two pieces of writing in the magazine made me stop and pause for a few minutes.
The first was the introduction to the event by our then Chairperson Trish Langdon who summed up perfectly and put into perspective that time here in Perth with:
“The very human impact of HIV/AIDS has powerfully shaped many lives and the attitude of the community. Who can forget the images and the stories of people living with HIV/AIDS – the flickering light illuminating the faces of families and friends at Candlelight vigils, the powerful and colourful display of remembrance quilts and the image of a Princess hugging a person with HIV/AIDS. It is with this remembrance, and our history that we continue the vital work of the WA AIDS Council.”
Then there was some writing by a HIV positive man named Mark Reid.
In that piece I wrote:
I am a person who has been living with HIV for over 10 years. The journey has not always been an easy one. But I have learnt that life can be rich and rewarding and I am constantly thankful that I have been able to get such strong support and direction from the WA AIDS Council.
Celebrating with some fabulous people!
And now here in 2015 I am still thankful to have been able to continue to have a rich and rewarding life as a member of the WA AIDS Council family.
Those early days were really all about resilience; they were about meeting the challenges of an ever changing epidemic head on and trying to stay one step ahead of all of the twists and turns. It was all about adapting to change and evolving as the epidemic in Perth evolved! It meant having lots of vigorous discussions, some with very raised voices about differences of opinion on how to move forward whilst always staying focussed on trying to work with our affected communities in a way that would stop the steady increase of new HIV infections. The challenges were many but the dedication and the hard work and commitment from everyone involved ensured we rose to the challenge and made a difference in the Western Australian community.
Before I go on any further I have to acknowledge the impact that STYLEAID has had on my life and work with the council. Over the course of the past 18 years that it has been in existence I have had the great fortune to have some fantastic relationships with people on the committee. Each of them is dedicated to both the event itself but also to what the Council stands for. Two of those people are Aly May and Annette Hasluck who have been involved since the very beginning and who I count as two very close friends. Over the past 18 years we have been through some incredible highs and some devastating lows but we have always come through the other side and I am really grateful for their love and support.
An early pic of the STYLEAID committee featuring the gorgeous Aly and Annette!
Over the past 20 years I have had the honour of working with some of the most amazing people and also the most wonderful clients who have had a powerful impact on my life. Firstly there are those who are no longer with us, who we have lost along the way. Each of those people have left a mark on my heart and I feel so very lucky to have had each one of them in my life and for the very important lessons that they taught me about resilience, living well and rising above adversity to make the best of what life has to offer.
Then there are the people that I have had the privilege to work with over the past 20 years who have moved on from the council. Strangely enough over that time there have been quite a few staff and to name them all would take too long, because there really has been lots of them…but there are some who I want to specifically single out because each of them have been mentors, supporters, peers, friends and the most amazingly dedicated people that I have known.
Matt Tilley, Suzanne Calver, Cipri Martinez, Grace Carrol, Suzanne Paust, Mark Goggin, Kevin Shanks, Clyde Dubois, Gary Sattel, Glen Sanders, Joe Bontempo, Tony Murdoch, Mark Bebbington, Bruce Maguire, Michelle Kosky and the very gorgeous Gemma Crawford.
Then there are some very special people who I have had the great privilege to work with and who I am honoured to know because each of them has made a huge difference to my time at the Council.
I have already mentioned her, but Trish Langdon has always been an incredible mentor to me and she was the most amazing Executive Director for the council and is someone who has always given 110% of herself to her work.
Sally Rowell was not just a work colleague but is a member of my family and from a work perspective she was a shining light for me and someone who I always looked up to, admired and am so proud to have in my life.
Steve Fragomeni was also another star for me at work. He was always there for me and in the time that he was at the Council we shared so many fabulous things together, from building PRIDE floats and Fairday stalls to selling Crisco at Harness events.
Then there are the people who have left and then come back…Simon Yam and Lisa Tomney who today still inspire me with their hard work and dedication and who I am grateful to see every day when I get into the office (well when they get into the office, I am usually there before them after all!) They are 2 very special people and I am so glad that they came back into my work orbit!
Part of the amazing team I work with!
I have had the privilege to work with Ben Bradstreet, Reena D’Souza and Tania McGuinness now for quite a few years and each of them in their own way has bought something very special to my life. They are simply the best.
I am lucky to work in the most amazing team at WAAC….my team is filled with some of the most passionate, hard working people and I am so thankful to be part of a team that all work together to keep focussed on all of the things that are important.
All of the people that I come into contact with each day at the Council are all very special to me and they make coming to work such a pleasure – well most of the time anyway!
I would not be here today without one very special person…my partner Trevor. His never ending love and support always keeps me grounded and focussed on exactly what is important in life. He is my real shinning light, my soul mate and I really am so thankful for having him in my life for the past 33 years.
And of course there are my beautiful children who both every day remind me just how lucky I am and now to also be blessed with 4 grandsons and finally to have a granddaughter on the way to play Barbies with, brings me so much joy and happiness.
Finally, I would like to thank our CEO Andrew Burry for his support and also his kind words, presented through interpretive dance by Simon Yam.
I am truly humbled by all of you who have shared this milestone in my journey with the WA AIDS Council. Thank you for sharing and thank you for having had an impact on my life and being part of the story of my life with the Council.