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Trauma, healing and triumph: the journey of a moorditj yorga

02/09/21. By Bree Smolinski. 5 min read.

Image sourced from Shutterstock.

‘Moorditj yorga’ means ‘strong woman’ in the Nyungar language. It is an apt description of Jill*, a Ballardong woman, a grandmother, a domestic violence survivor, and now a student on her way to successfully completing a degree.

While Jill is many things, today, she most often thinks of herself as busy.

“I’m juggling working full-time with studying a degree in Indigenous Professional Practice, all while sharing the care of my granddaughter,” she says.

Despite being a lot to juggle, Jill feels in control of her life. But this hasn’t always been the case.

“I was born in Merredin, during a time when racial policies and segregation were practised. My mother, a strong Aboriginal woman, had to argue with midwives to have the right to give birth to her child inside the hospital instead of outside. When I was young, we moved through Ballardong and Wongi country to wherever my father could find work. He had a troubled childhood, which is why I think he became an alcoholic. He abused my mother until she passed away from breast cancer at 47. Being the rock of our family, her death was a devastating blow.”

Grieving the loss of her mother, Jill soon found herself on a path that was all too familiar.

“I ended up in a relationship with a man just like my dad – abusive and an alcoholic. And like my mother, I too succumbed to domestic violence.”

Her partner’s alcohol addiction turned to heroin and he was incarcerated multiple times over the following years, leaving Jill and their children struggling without any support.

“Life was not easy. Looking back, I believe I had undiagnosed post-natal depression and I became a drug addict myself.”

As difficult as Jill’s life was then, the next seven years went on to be even worse.

“The father to my children died in custody and my unresolved grief was ignited all over again, having a catastrophic effect on my mental health. But it was my children who were impacted the most. They had lost their father, and due to my increasing drug use, they were losing their mother as well.”

After years of heartache and grief, the inevitable happened and Jill reached her breaking point.

“My children were living with my brothers and I was living on the streets. I hated the world and myself. I was angry, hurt and so very lost. I wound up overdosing.”

A decision to prevail

Jill was admitted to hospital, giving her mind and body a moment of reprieve.

“The time I spent in hospital was the first time I had been free from drugs in a very long while. During those lonely weeks, I thought about how much I missed my children and discovered I’d become a grandmother within the month.”

Driven by her desire to be with her family, Jill’s strength prevailed over her addiction.

“With all my courage and might, I made the decision to get myself clean. I spoke to a nurse I had made a close connection with, who recommended I go to a rehabilitation residential therapeutic community. I rang up, went to a few sessions and ended up spending four months there. The rest is history.”

From strength to strength

Jill has been in recovery now for seven years and over this time she has contributed to her community in a way she never thought possible.

“My life has been a journey of struggle, loss and grief, but also triumph. After working in Aboriginal mental health care for five years, I’ve just been promoted to a more senior role and I’m excited to make a difference in the lives of Aboriginal people.”

Keen to make the most of her second chance at life, Jill decided to undertake university study to further her career in Aboriginal mental health. She applied and was thrilled to be awarded a scholarship through Curtin’s Moorditj Yorga program.

Image sourced from Shutterstock.

“The scholarship has helped me pay for my course. Being the sole income earner in my family, I was unsure if I’d be able to study and still pay my mortgage!”

The Moorditj Yorga program aims to support mature-aged Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women to enter and succeed at university, which is exactly what Jill is doing.

“I am focused on my studies and I’ve been graded with distinctions so far. My time management and dedication will help me complete this course.”

With just over a year left of her degree, Jill plans to use her experience and learning to instil strength in others.

“I want to collaborate to create a culturally appropriate rehabilitation residence for Aboriginal people. I have the lived experience and knowledge of what is required to make a difference.”

*Names have been changed for confidentiality.

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Moorditj Yorga Scholarship

Moorditj Yorga Scholarship

Support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, like Jill, to enter and succeed at Curtin University so they can return to their communities as strong, qualified leaders and role models.

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