Dad had a dental practice in Glebe for over fifty years. He ran Australia’s first 24-hour dental surgery. Our residence was in dad’s practice right on the corner of St John’s Road, so our lives began in Glebe. I worked on the reception desk of dad’s practice.
I later returned to Glebe to go to Sydney University and then ran a restaurant in Glebe on the very site where we had lived.
There were four kids, I was the oldest. I was just one of those kids who really had no idea what I wanted to do. I just got a bit distracted by everything else going on.
I still did well, I was in the top 15% of the state so I decided to do art. I did French, Italian, anthropology and philosophy. Interesting kind of mixture. I had reasonable talent for language. I did French in high school and I did very well with that and dad really wanted me to do philosophy (and I was very influenced by what my dad wanted) and I was interested in anthropology. And when I completed those degrees, I headed overseas and fell in love with France and Italy, and food and wine.
I’ve been to Europe probably three or four times, but the first time was when I was 21. I was overseas for 12 months. I lived in Greece for a month, I lived in America for a month, I traveled across Europe for four months all that kind of stuff. I was doing that all on my own and I liked that independence.
But coming back I ended up wanting to open a restaurant because of the food and wine stuff and somehow it all kind of rolled into place. Dad was renovating the house I was born in, so we turned it into a restaurant for the family to run called Darling Mills. My younger sister was the chef for a while, but found it really hard so she joined my other sister in running the financial side. My brother Steven ran Darling Farm, which still exists today.
We got awards — all sorts of accolades.
I has gotten married in 1989. He was kind of a naughty boy in terms of drugs. He’d drink alcohol, but he never tried anything white or any substance that you’d inject, never had anything like that.
But he had a mate, with a garage in Bronte… The story I heard was they found this big truck that belonged to bikies and found a chest, and he and his mate put it in his mate’s car because they were a bit drunk … I never found out if it was heroin or cocaine…
Anyway in less than 24 hours the phone call came and they said to him you better get your arse out of town because you’re incriminated in this. I know it sounds ridiculous, but that actually happened. So he left. Walked out the door, got on a plane and went to Florida.
At the time, I was attending the symposium on Australian gastronomy at University of Sydney at St Johns College. We had this most amazing conference, the theme was food and power and we utilised clever well known chefs round Sydney and all the great venues. People like Chris Manfield, Shaun Moran… there was an American who was all about social commentary — things like ‘the hot dog is the great equaliser’…
So I was doing that and my husband was at the restaurant bar having a VB and he got a phone call. He took the phone call, hung up the phone, left the VB on the bar and walked straight out of the restaurant and apparently caught a cab to the airport and took a plane to Queensland and then America and he’s been in Florida ever since… and so that kind of fucked me up basically.
It was four days later when I found out what happened. His brother came and told me at the restaurant and I knew he would never disappear without saying anything. I was concerned because I didn’t have any idea where he was. His brother got news of it and he came and told me. At that point I was stunned and I had to disengage…I had to get on with my life for the moment. He wasn’t a good communicator, and a long distance relationship doesn’t work.
But in order to survive, I lost a bit of focus. The restaurant became harder to run because there was so much competition, and despite the fact that we were offering the best food and had the best service it was much more difficult to make money.
We closed in 2002 after 14 years … I had one women cry, I had another women who said her life would never be the same again. From 1989 to 2002 we ran this business successfully, but after a while it just becomes too difficult. There was so much competition. We made a business decision as a family, and I always felt a bit guilty about that … because I kind of went over the rails a little bit.
I had a really major assault in 2008 where I was basically tied up and battered. He was a man I’d known for a short while.
At the time I was working I was in hospitality. I was the catering manager at Parliament House in Canberra and I ran a number of other places here in Sydney. So I was working nights at the time. I was generous with the money, he wasn’t working much.
I just wasn’t expecting it … I’d come from a loving family and wasn’t prepared for the negative side of life, the side that overuse or non-managing drugs could bring to relationships and individuals. He moved in and we both used drugs. He was using so much he wasn’t sleeping.
He beat me with a baseball bat 12 times, but he didn’t wanted to kill me because he didn’t hit my head or my abdomen. He was hopping in and out of a psychotic episode — aggression and then remorse and then anger again. He left, but he came back in again to see whether I was getting up to move — I thought that might have been the case so I stayed still. I tried to escape because he was suggesting that he was going to be harder on me when he returned.
He decided to tie a zip on my ankles. I tried to get out of that by moving a couple of times but I couldn’t. I tried to get to a knife in my bag. I saw a glass underneath the lounge and luckily I’ve got long arms. I smashed it against the wall and cut off one of the zip ties and I was free. I just grabbed a raincoat, I was covered in blood and I hopped down the stairs and went into a coffee shop.
I thought he was coming back … it was a bit scary. I saw my reflection in the coffee shop mirror and it was pretty bad. I was in the back corner of the café, the owner cut my zip ties, someone went to get me clothes. In the end I was taken to a hospital by a friend.
I eventually decided to make a statement because if I didn’t do something, then he could do something worse to someone else. It wasn’t about me, it was about the person in the future. He was caught and it was a three day trial. He got 11 years – 8 plus three. Someone said he’s out now. I’m not afraid of seeing him again or anything like that.
I couldn’t work at all, physically or mentally, for a number of years. I had broken limbs and all sorts of stuff. It changes you. It changes you forever, but in a good way because the life I have now is the result. The beautiful way that life works is that I really didn’t feel that I wanted to get back.
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
I’d never injected anything when I was young. I started sort of late, really, compared to most people. I’m 60 now. I would have been close to 44 before I ever injected anything. One of the results of my use was my sister-in-law said “stay away from my children”. That really affected me big time. So I banished myself.
But that’s when I started thinking about giving back to society and making people understand my point of view. We’re all the same basically. There are ways to let the world know there should be more acceptance. It’s not about punishment, it’s about support.
I’m not marginalised because I’m already way luckier than most people. But the experience I had in the assault has made me feel that I can connect to the millions of people in the world that have suffered worse than I did.