Rising Above

By Jordan Bailey

Tracey’s story is a tale of resilience and compassion. Her life stands as a beacon for anyone facing difficult circumstances, using her personal pain to fuel her passion for community good. From navigating the critical aftermath of a near-fatal accident that befell her young son to facing her own life-threatening health challenges amidst the solitude imposed by a global pandemic, Tracey has emerged as not just a survivor, but as a champion for the vulnerable, becoming a pillar of her community who transforms her experiences into initiatives that uplift and support those who dearly need it. Her story is not just about surviving, but thriving against the odds and inspiring everyone who meets her.

Tracey’s was irrevocably altered when her twenty-two-month-old son was severely injured in a petrol explosion, leaving seventy percent of his body covered in third degree burns. The accident marked the beginning of a gruelling medical battle that included over fifty operations in the first four months, extending into over a decade of hospital visits. Amidst this already overwhelming crisis, Tracey was also facing the tragedy of her mother’s battle with breast cancer, which would ultimately take her life. The dire situation had Tracey travelling back and forth between the two hospitals to be with her injured son and ailing mother until her mother’s passing. Compounding her trials, her younger brother would take his own life shortly after their mother’s death, adding another layer of grief onto an already overladen time. Throughout these trials, Tracey remained steadfast, her philosophy one of resilience: “Stand up and face adversity, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, I’m a big believer in that”, a belief that has steered her though her life’s darkest moments and empowered her to keep moving forward.

More recently, Tracey faced a significant health crisis herself, undergoing a major surgery that coincided with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. During this challenging time she was hospitalised and isolated, enduring the stark terror of a code blue, an medical emergency in the form of cardiac arrest, while the hospital was almost shut down, requiring a full team of nurses and doctors throughout the night. She was denied even the comforting presence of her husband, who was barred from entry due to the strict hospital conditions enforced during the pandemic. Tracey recalls being terrified at his absence, and anxious that any goodbye they might say to each other would be through the phone. Despite these frightening circumstances, Tracey’s optimism remains unshaken, persevering through the fear and uncertainty of the situation, allowing her to continue facing life with unwavering determination.

Beyond her personal battles, Tracey has channelled her experiences into a force for communal good. As a function coordinator, she has raised nearly five hundred thousand dollars for charity, directing her efforts towards supporting children with disabilities and communities in need. Her commitment and impact has not gone unnoticed, earning her the title of Citizen of the Year in 2014 as well being nominated for it four other times, a nomination for International Woman of the Year, a Community Recognition Award from the parliament of New South Wales in 2023, among numerous other accolades over the past two decades.

One of Tracey’s most notable philanthropic achievements was her organisation of a Melbourne Cup event, her twentieth annual and final such function, which aimed to fund an all-inclusive roundabout in Lennox Head for people with disabilities. The event is particularly memorable for Tracey due to the participation of Rick Price, Australian singer-songwriter of ‘Heaven Knows’ and ‘Not A Day Goes By’ and INXS manager Chris Murphy, who sadly passed away from cancer shortly after the event.

Tracey also played a pivotal role in raising over seventeen thousand dollars to save the Lennox Bowling Club from closure through a successful black-tie event. This was one of the few events that she organised for a cause other than children with disabilities or communities in need, preserving a cherished local hub and underscoring her commitment to supporting local institutions that bring people together. Additionally, her efforts facilitated the purchase of two wheelchair-accessible school buses, further enhancing the mobility and opportunities for children with disabilities. Through her tireless dedication, Tracey has improved the lives of countless individuals, leaving a lasting legacy of compassion and action.

Her life outside of these efforts is filled with simpler joys and nostalgia. Tracey reminisces about childhood hobbies like crochet and playing hopscotch- activities she feels are vanishing in today’s world. She fondly recalls the days when milkshakes were served in metal containers and fish and chips were wrapped in newspaper, small pleasures that call back to summertime days. Professionally, Tracey has dedicated herself to supporting others as a disability support worker, a role she finds profoundly fulfilling and considers akin to a hobby. Her creative outlet shines though in music; she is a songwriter and singer with a Spotify album titles ‘Flying High’, featuring country songs penned for artists performing in Tamworth, where she has won three awards. She says that she intends to branch out into other genres that she enjoys, especially rock.

Tracey’s life, punctuated by personal losses and communal victories, exemplifies the power of the human spirit and the profound impact one can have by persevering through the darkest of times. Through her tireless efforts, she has reached out and been a driving force for good in her community and an inspiration for all around her. Tracey’s story is not just a tale of survival, but a reminder to everyone that even in the depths of personal and global crises, every person has the power to rise above and make a difference.


A Life in Motion

By Jordan Bailey

Shirley Wittleton’s story is a vivid tale of resilience and passion. A spirited grandmother living in Ballina, New South Wales, Shirley’s story is filled with vigorous sports, committed caregiving, and loving family adventures. As a young woman she excelled in sports and fitness, enjoying the thrill of the competition and the joy of shared experiences with her family. Later, she dedicated herself to a career in aged care, driven by a desire to help those unable to help themselves. Throughout her life, Shirley has needed to adapt to the passing of time- from the bustling social scenes and physical activity of her youth to serene swims and gentle walks in her golden years. Her journey is not just a personal story but a testament to her incredible adaptability and inner strength.

Shirley’s life has always been marked by vitality and vigour; a trait vividly displayed in her younger days before family responsibilities would shift her focus. She cherished her evenings at Lismore City Hall, where live bands would fill the venue with music that she and her friends could lose themselves in. They would often preface these evenings by going to local cafés, where Shirley would enjoy a nice milkshake. Alongside these lively social outings, Shirley revelled in bicycle rides across Ballina with her group of friends, exploring every corner of the town until dusk would signal her need to be home. She also had a lifelong love of the ocean and would frequently spend her days swimming at the beach.

This spirit of adventure would carry into her later years when Shirley passionately engaged in sports of all kinds, but particularly squash. She thrived on the competition, especially enjoying mixed gender events, where she could beat male opponents, finding great satisfaction in her victories. Her children, frequently by her side at the courts, absorbed her enthusiasm for physical activity. They too would adopt active lifestyles, involving swimming, cycling and various sports. She would also share her love of the ocean with them, with many afternoons and weekends spent in the cool water of the nearby beaches. Together, they relished beach outings and hikes, exploring nature and enjoying the physical engagement. Family outings were an essential part of Shirley’s life. These adventures, done on a budget, were rich in experiences. The family would often take trips to Sydney, exploring new beaches and the lively city, fostering a sense of closeness that Shirley cherished.

As a young girl, Shirley Wittleton dreamed of being a nurse. Caring for her chronically ill mother as well as her younger brother for much of her teenage years planted a desire in her to help others. Unfortunately, these dreams needed to be set aside, initially to take care of her childhood home and then later due to her marriage and having children at a young age. With her oldest being born at nineteen, she would have three children by the age of twenty-three. However, fortune would smile on her. In her thirties, with her children now at school, Shirley heard about a job available to work with aged care dementia patients. She didn’t know much about much about dementia. She didn’t have much in the way of qualifications or experience. What she did have was a passion for helping others and confidence. So, she walked in, told the boss that she could do it, and walked out with the job. Shirley would continue to work with aged care and dementia patients for the rest of her professional career, pursuing her pushed aside education and earning her qualifications while on the job. Her time there would coincide with one of the first ever government grants to give people with dementia an alternative to a nursing home, allowing for their more specialised needs to be met. Looking back, Shirley recalls how difficult it was working with these patients and seeing the toll that their condition could take on them and the people who loved them, but she also remembers how rewarding it was helping them. Working with them is among the things she is most proud of in her life.

Recently, Shirley was forced to say goodbye to her younger brother, Ray. Having struggled with Huntington’s Disease, a rare brain disorder that causes cognitive and physical decline, for years, he made the choice to end his life with dignity. At Hornsby Hospital earlier this year, he underwent Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) after saying goodbye to all the most important people in his life. Shirley says that she found it amazing he was allowed to choose, as he was the first person at Hornsby that had undergone the process.

Now at the age of seventy-four, Shirley’s life has slowed down considerably. Diagnosed with osteoarthritis at forty, her physical activities transitioned from competitive sports and hikes to gentle walks, though her love of the water and swimming persists, with morning often finding her either walking along the beach or swimming in the pool. While the scale may have changed, she remains a very physically active person, especially after two joint replacements that she says, while painful, greatly increased her quality of life. Professionally, Shirley retired after more than thirty years working within hostels and nursing homes. Even after retiring, she would continue to volunteer in hostels, assisting the Diversional Therapists by taking residents out for walks and reading to them. As she looks to the future, Shirley has plans- perhaps quieter than the adventures of her youth but no less filled with anticipation. She plans to travel across Australia soon with a close friend, exploring new places and seeking new experiences. She takes her caring spirit and pours it into watching over her grandchildren, helping them to learn and grow.


Story of Mr. Yan

By Amy Saeki-Zhai

A Lincoln is driving up the avenue alongside the Metasequoia trees.

The gate is open now.

After two minutes, the car arrived at the front door of the mansion

Gardeners are carefully trimming the bushes.

A chauffeur opened the car door, and a man came out.

Height around 160cm, thin, dresses always very neat.

The humidity in Bangladesh is 70 percent today.

But he never forgets to wear a tie and suit.

“It’s so hot today, something to drink,” he ordered.

While his wife hung his jacket, a maid brought iced tea.

After sipping the tea, he said, “Coke, please.”

“Coke is the best fit for me!”

He sat on a couch and started preparing envelopes.

“Patel, this is for you this month”

Patel kneels and opens the envelope.

“Are you sure? Am I good enough?”

“Sure, you work hard for us, so take it.”

“Thank you so much, Master. I can’t wait to show it to my wife.”

“I can have a great New Year holiday with my children.”

Patel politely bowed to the master.

“I feel great to be nice, you know,” he said to his wife.

He had a boasting habit of exaggerating things a little bit.

But other than that, all maids would agree that he was a kind and generous master.

They could never imagine how their master would live in the States.

Everything was upside down.

A fairy tale is over.

You are no longer the Cinderella.

It’s nothing special, he murmured to himself. 

he just went back to the everyday routine that he used to be.

Yep, I’m taking a bus to go to work.

Next is “Tuscaloosa,” the bus driver shouted.

“I am getting off,” a tiny man with a tie shouted.

The driver pointed to the bus’s rear door when Mr. Yan tried to walk to the front.

Frowning his face, Mr. Yan reluctantly got off the bus from the rear door.

“Jesus!”

“I used to get off from the front door with whites.”

“Didn’t I? How come?”

Mr. Yan forgot about his sun tan in Bangladesh.

I wrote this short story based on my interview with Mr. Yan and his wife.

They lived in Alabama, in the U.S., during the height of racial segregation. He is originally from Taiwan and studied in Illinois to earn a Ph.D. in agriculture. He got a job in a fertilizer company in Alabama. So, he moved by bus from the North to the Deep South by crossing the Mason-Dixie Line, an imaginary border line dividing the North and South of the United States.

Before the Civil Rights Movement, the Jim Crow laws in the Southern states enforced strict racial segregation in public transportation, restaurants, schools, etc. Mr. Yan shared his experience of taking a bus. He also told me about his ‘golden memories’ in Bangladesh after his company transferred him there. I combined all his scattered memories into one short story here for remembrance.   


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