Going up to Queensland, for me, over the decades, has always meant a lightening of the spirit. I was usually the stereotypical Mexican heading north to escape a southern states’ winter, whether it be that life-defining cruise up its eastern seaboard or the frequent trips I’ve made to the Gold/Sunshine Coasts. Our most recent excursion also included Brisbane to that pair of destinations. I’ve grown to like the capital city over the years, watching it transform from an over-sized country-fied hicksville to a modern, diverse metropolis. But even now, after many visits, I still don’t feel I really know it. It doesn’t grab at you and demand attention in the manner of big brassy Sydney. Nor does it seep into your system with a more subdued attractiveness like the country’s most liveable major city – but nonetheless Brissy is a fine place to visit.
One of my favourite areas to wander around in is Southbank with its twin art galleries, museum and library. A few trips ago I’d discovered the latter’s excellent bookshop and cafe. I loved partaking of a coffee and a treat there; sitting, with my newspaper or book, at the al fresco tables, reading, slurping, nibbling and watching the passing parade. And I certainly did that this time. But the State Library of Queensland also had a couple of exhibitions on that caught my eye, so I took the elevator up to one of the higher floors to view them. One showing was on a number of the state’s offshore islands, looking at their chequered history. The other, though, was the more engrossing. Entitled ‘Lifestyle: a Sunshine State of Mind’, it kept me occupied for quite a while.
As is often the case with me, it was a photograph of a woman that attracted my attention and intrigued. It seems the organisers of the displays who put together this showing had some need for notables to act as ambassadors to promote it to the punters in the wider community. Their images were worthily on display at the entrance, accompanied by their potted biographies. But one, to me, seemed to be out of kilter with the rest. I was drawn to find out more about the young lady pictured:-
‘The depths of my pain became the force of my liberation.’
Part of the thinking behind ‘Lifestyle’ was, not only a desire to bring to the attention of the viewers as to ‘…what Queensland is all about…’, but to be a showcase that ‘… acknowledges…(its) diversity and (be one) that challenged stereotypes.’ Nicole Gibson’s story certainly did that.
With her cap on backwards she grinned down at me cheekily, like a happy bogan. Delve a bit deeper and that happiness has been hard won. You see, this youthfully talented performer and artist is a survivor of the ravages on mind and body of that most insidious of conditions, anorexia nervosa.
Today she’s our youngest ever National Mental Health Commissioner. Also, on her CV, are a Young Australian of the Year nomination and a listing as one of our country’s 100 most influential women. She is, outwardly okay and successful, but she had a teenagerhood that no one should have had to endure.
After she left secondary school to enter training in the dramatic arts field, she found herself in such a competitive environment she couldn’t cope. Her new world struck her that it was one where image supplanted talent. As a result she caved in to the degree that she became the victim of ‘… focusing on losing weight (which) was a good avenue for me to at least focus my energies on something…’ Focus became obsession. Her frame of mind became more and more negative as she attempted to starve herself to perfection. Then, what she describes as a ‘…divine energy flow.’ was extracted her from the depths – and in 2011 she formed the Rogue and Rouge Foundation, aimed at breaking down the mental health stigma for young people. Through seminars and in schools she is spreading the word about how to move from the darkness out into the light. She figures if she can do it, others can too. Her not for profit organisation is there ‘…for the individual to decide the way in which they feel (their) recovery should look.’
I have the utmost admiration for young people who can, through force of will or ‘divine energy’ or any which way, bring themselves, with or without assistance, from the clutches of the black dog back to something resembling normality. Maybe I should have, but I had never heard of the remarkable force of nature that is Gibson. Her photograph radiates lustre and light, but it made me realise that, even if the Mangoland sunshine makes me feel all blissful and positive, for many Queenslanders, many Australians, it’s just not that simple.
Her Foundation = http://www.rogueandrouge.org.au