The Faces of NUAA project tells stories from NUAA family with portraits by acclaimed Sydney Photographer Chris Peken. The project aims to challenge the stereotypes to reduce the stigma people who use drugs often face, particularly from the media and in health care.
A friend of mine was volunteering at NUAA, this was about five years ago, and she said you should come in and do some volunteer work. From there, I started to get a passion for helping. Because I felt there was a safety net there — the lawyers, social workers or psychologists they all have helped me and I wanted to give back
Music was like religion to me. And that opened up my mind, like when I was playing punk rock and I was listening to bebop too, because bebop still freaks me out. What is it? What is bebop? What do they do? Where do they get that from? I was playing punk rock and I was listening to bebop…and they came together in the Laughing Clowns.
Working at NUAA is great – a huge challenge, hugely rewarding. I have mostly worked in jobs where I felt like I was doing something useful – if I don’t I quickly lose motivation. But the health and human rights of people who use drugs is very personal for me. Many of my relationships are within this community.
I thought law would be interesting and give me a chance to make a change. I wanted to be a rockstar or a lawyer. I can’t sing. I can’t play an instrument. So I’m a lawyer . The law seemed to be a functional way to do English. You like arguing, you like words, and it will be more likely to get you a job.
I thought that I was going to be swept up and taken away and everything would be cool and glamorous and I’d die young. Once I actually hitched a ride with Ivan Milat (I didn’t know who he was at the time). We got onto the topic of drugs…he asked me if i wanted to go and pick magic mushrooms… and I said no. Only because I was in a hurry to get to Melbourne.
What I believed, actually, was the only reason I was making paintings and other people weren’t, is that they were somehow how getting life right and I just had this spare time to make paintings. Somehow it was a sign of not getting life right. I had that belief that everyone else was doing things right and I was somehow struggling through it.
Well Adam [Cullen] met me and told me that my partner was good as an artist and that he doesn’t need to be happy in a relationship. He just ought to be miserable living in turrets. He can’t create great art with me around! It’s really funny because my partner says that in hindsight he thinks that he made the best art the year after he met me.
I like to think that mine is a story of resilience, a story of finding a path and a way though, a story about being okay with oneself. I’ve become a ‘collector’. Lately I’ve gotten into items that I like antique dolls, ventriloquist dolls. Sometimes we put them so they’re facing out at the neighbour to scare her, it looks like they’re following her around. They’re a bit creepy.
Skating was my salvation, it was so empowering and it was cathartic. It was just something which was magical and divine to me. That I had a feeling of “I’m gonna do this” and then actually feeling the process of it happening and then you let the board go and it twirls and then you feel it catch on to your feet and “Wooossshhh!” and as you land a sound, a click clack, a very specific sound that you hear when you get it right.