I am one of the lucky ones.

I was brought up in a beautiful home. One of four. My parents worked hard to ensure we had a Jewish education at one of Melbourne’s top schools. I had four loving grandparents who were the centrepiece of every chag, Shabbat and Simcha.

I played basketball with Maccabi and lived and breathed Habonim Dror.

I went on Shnat, then completed my Arts degree at Monash University. I couldn’t have done it without the help of my parents.

Throughout my life I was taught to appreciate what I had, to give to charity, to adopt a social conscience and to constantly think about Tikkun Olam and how to create change for the better.

I am one of the lucky ones.

After I finished my Masters of Social Work at 24 years old, I felt invincible. I arranged to complete my final placement in Alice Springs in the Northern Territory.

I knew it would be hard. I did not know anyone and I was entering a different world. I was well and truly leaving the bubble.

I arrived in Alice on a Sunday, moved into my new share house, grew accustomed to the 40 degree temperature and eagerly awaited work the next day.

On Monday morning I rode my bike to the Department of Children and Families. I was told I would be in the investigations team in Child Protection. ‘This is it,’ I thought to myself – everything that I have learnt through textbooks and role-plays. I would be a child protection practitioner and help children and their families in the deserts of the Territory.

On my second day after having a full day of online training and reading up as much as I could about Aboriginal culture and how to be culturally sensitive, my team leader asked if I thought I was ready to go out on an investigation as they were short staffed. They told me I was going out with a senior practitioner. Eagerly, I accepted.

That Tuesday was only 34 degrees. I was wearing appropriate clothing, ensured I was culturally sensitive, professional (but not too professional) and not boiling hot. I was told we were going to an Aboriginal community to investigate the safety of a newborn baby after a family violence incident the night before between the baby’s fifteen-year-old parents. I was briefed that the father is incredibly violent, having physically assaulted both the mother and the five-week-old infant by throwing a shoe at the baby’s face. I was told the father was on the run and the police were yet to catch him so, ‘be careful’, as he is likely to be in the community.

 I am one of the lucky ones.

 I was too busy remembering what I had learnt in University: ‘no judgment, strengths based, the women are the author of their own story,’ that I didn’t even take in the incredibly scenery, the beauty that surrounds you when you live in the Territory.

Driving the car was the senior practitioner, becoming increasingly flustered as awareness grew that we might be lost. I asked her how long she had been in the position. She told me she had arrived from South Africa two weeks earlier. At that point my heart sunk. It was time to let go.

We arrived to a desolate place. We found the ‘safe house’ at the community: a locked house with mattresses (some soiled), covering the floor. There I saw a scared, 15 year old girl watching her 5 week old baby scream on the mattress next to her. I introduced myself and quickly asked her how I could help in this exact moment. She pointed to her baby. I swiftly picked it up and settled it.

The mother was exhausted. She was not from this community. This was the father’s community. She had no support and desperately wanted to go home. The police escorted her to pick up her belongings.

The senior practitioner asked her a few questions. She was too tired to engage in any meaningful conversation. We strapped the baby in the car. It then became apparent that our car battery was dead. Eventually, the police escorted the four of us back to Alice Springs.

We took the mother and baby to her mother’s house (the baby’s grandmother) and tried to engage them in a discussion about safe planning. The mother was still in shock and did not want to hold her baby. I continued to soothe it for hours. After six hours with this young family, we deemed it safe and asked if she had any more questions. She asked if she needed to treat her baby who was infected with scabies.

It was time to let go.

That night I realised I had to let go. I had well and truly left the bubble. The only way I would be able to continue working in the role was if I fully immersed myself. That meant letting go of my assumptions, my stigmas, my judgments and comparisons. I had to think deeply about what I grew up with, what I have learnt, to hold onto my values and let go of some of my privileges. I could talk for days about how the government is ruining our beautiful population in the Territory however I want to focus on what happened when I allowed myself to let go.

When I let go, when I truly left the bubble, I saw a beautiful old culture. I saw wise people, wiser than I will ever be.

I saw a family who respected their elders more than the average family in the western world.

I learnt so much about Aboriginal culture from language to painting, to the lizard that if you turn it upside down is used as an actual hairbrush (its really quite fascinating).

I am one of the lucky ones.

Once I let go, I allowed myself to learn more. I realised I was not invincible. I realised no one is.

(This is an edited version of a piece delivered at the She’ela festival in October.)

Article by Author/s
Ellie Braitberg
Ellie is a Gen Y, closer to 30 than mid 20s. Social Worker in the Western Suburbs. Jewish Education and Youth Movement were not only part of her life but also in her blood.

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