Cairns southern suburbs was where Jenny and I saw ourselves spending the rest of our lives. We purchased a block of land for our last home just north of Bentley Park. At the time the name of the suburb we had bought in was White Rock. However the developer referred to the area as Forest Gardens (for marketing purposes). This identity crisis was resolved when the suburb was officially named Mount Sheridan.
This name for our south Cairns suburb was taken from the mountain of the same name, located to the west of us, in Lamb Range. Moving to Mount Sheridan would be my final move. More importantly it would be the birthplace of our only child, Katherine Pyne (Kate). Her arrival and her early years were the highlight of my life. Kate continues to be my pride and joy. As an unknown author once observed, “A daughter may outgrow your lap, but she will never outgrow your heart.”
Our New Home
There was only one problem with living at Kewarra Beach. You can not wake up in the morning and see the Pyramid. While we did enjoy our time on the northern beaches, moving into our new home in Mount Sheridan felt great. It was fantastic to once again be on the south side of Cairns. It was where my parents and my extended family were and where my heart was. Forest Gardens contained many gardens and intertwining pathways.
We designed and planned this house so that it would be perfect for someone with a spinal cord injury. We chose a site in Mount Sheridan that was well out of the storm surge area and not subject to any sea level rises associated with climate change.
I had never been interested in personal wealth or accumulating material assets. I was happy for Jenny to have any assets such as the house. It was the least I could do in return for all the love and support she had given me over decades. In any event I was quite confident I would die before Jenny and as they say, you can’t take it with you.
The RDLO position was re-advertised as we were planning to move to Mount Sheridan. Again I was granted an interview, and this time while I was not as brilliant in the interview, I was successful. There was some irony that I was appointed to a permanent part-time position based at James Cook University at the same time as our move back to the southside of Cairns. My new position was to assist people with disabilities in transitioning from school into the higher education sector.
The RDLO position was established by the Australian Government. It was one mechanism to address the appallingly low transition rate of students with disabilities from school to higher education and vocational education and training.
I took on the challenge with great enthusiasm by dealing with students both one on one and in groups. Working to encourage them to consider the opportunities available at university.
Once each semester I would hold an ‘options’ event, which involved selecting a number of students with disabilities from local high schools and hosting them at the University. During the two-day event, students got to attend a lecture, have lunch in the refectory, learn about library services and get personally informed of the support services available.
‘Options’ helped address the idea that university was ‘out of reach’. It exposed students to the university so they could see it as just a normal place that they could attend, despite their disability.
What I loved about the job was that I had discretion to focus my efforts into areas that I thought appropriate. I spent a great amount of time on breaking down barriers and educating people regarding disability and disability issues. One part of my job that I really enjoyed was visiting primary schools and talking to children about disability.
On one such occasion, Jenny and I drove to Karumba, stopping at every primary school on the way to talk to students. Primary school kids are easy to talk to, and interaction with them provides a great opportunity to address diversity and the acceptance of students with disabilities before problems emerge.
At JCU I collaborated with Ros Calder (Disability Resource Officer) and Sue Muloin (Equity Officer). My office was based in the library, so while on campus I developed great friendships with library staff including manager Kate Elder and her secretary Jodi Fisch.
Over the years those who help me with personal support have been a tremendous help to me. While I have not often had many hours, I have had some pretty special human beings helping me.
Caroline Brault was a young woman from Canada. A French-Canadian, she had a truly loving soul and was an amazing person. She loved nature, the environment, music and was a proud French Canadian. When Jenny was in hospital giving birth to Kate, Caroline came in to care for me. As a result she was able to share this very special moment in our lives.
Caroline had a passion for caring for others and for the environment. She was one of nature’s soft and lovely people. On the 2nd of January 1999, Caroline traveled to Maleny to attend the Maleny Folk Festival. It was something she was looking forward to. When returning from Maleny, the vehicle in which she was travelling left the road and went down a gully. Caroline died on impact.
Caroline’s friends organised a moving service at Crystal Cascades. At the service, Caroline was remembered with great fondness. I can still recall a huge eagle flying overhead as Caroline was being remembered by one of her close friends. I am not saying her spirit was on the wings of that eagle, but I’m not saying it wasn’t either. I know she would have loved the thought of her spirit having been released and soaring on the wings of an eagle.
My sister Joann had left Cairns in her late teens and work had kept her in Brisbane. She had worked in a number of roles for the Australian Government. However, in 1996 she returned to Cairns in a management role with TAFE. She was later appointed as the Director of TAFE Far North.
With my disability and a child on the way, having Jo in Cairns provided a stronger family network and she wanted to be here for my parents as they aged as well.
Much time had passed since Jo was a four year old sitting on a horse outside 88 Mt Peter Road with Hillary Barnard. Edmonton and Cairns had changed as much as she had, but Far North Queensland remained her home.
Katherine Louise Pyne
Jenny was heavily pregnant as we moved back to south Cairns at the end of 1997. Local builder Peter Langtree built what was our third new house. Financially, selling our house and building a new one had not been a great idea, but we had ironed out every little access impediment, so this house was perfect for me. I did not have to put up with any of those little annoying barriers that are so often a bane in the lives of so many people with disabilities.
The world’s first IVF child was born in 1978 and on 24 January 1998, almost 20 years later to the day, Jenny gave birth to our daughter Katherine.
While Katherine (Kate) was not the first IVF child to be born in Cairns, she did join a select group. As usual, we had taken the path less travelled and we could not have been prouder parents.
I remember when Jenny first bought Kate home from hospital, feeling some sadness that I would not be able to throw a ball to her or play some of the games able bodied fathers could.
It hurt me to see other people picking her up, knowing I could not pick her up, for fear of dropping her. Nevertheless, it was not long before I was making her laugh and enjoying the pleasures of being a father.
In the early 2000’s Forest Gardens in Mount Sheridan was absolutely beautiful (as the developer was still investing in the gardens and infrastructure to sell more houses). It was a joy to travel around on the footpath with Katie on my lap. I think as a father you will never ever relive the joy of having a daughter who is three and four years old.
During those years I travelled in my motorised wheelchair all around Forest Gardens. Little Kate would often sit on my lap, holding onto my shirt with her small hand, so that she wouldn’t fall off the wheelchair if I stopped suddenly. It was just an adorable experience.
Dad had retired from his position as Mayor of Cairns in 2000 and it was great to have time to spend with him and mum in that period (2000 to 2007) before I was elected to Council and then Parliament. Dad simply adored Kate. He and mum were doting grandparents.
Jenny’s parents Andy and Dianne had divorced in the 90s. Andy married his second wife Samantha. Samantha had given birth to their only child, a daughter, Casey.
It was an unusual situation for Andy when he arrived at hospital with Casey. Unusual in that he had his one-year-old girl daughter in one arm, and his newly born granddaughter Kate in the other.
My sister Joann and Jenny’s brother Tony had never had children, so Kate attracted more attention and affection than most.
Forest Gardens – Mount Sheridan
During that time there was a real community feel about living in Forest Gardens. This community environment was supported encouraged by the developer (who obviously was keen to sell real estate).
In addition to the gardens and pathways the sales office was a beautiful large timber building designed for the tropics. There was a café in the building that overlooked the two lakes that had been made to compliment the development. Regularly we would enjoy coffee and cake with family while Kate would feed the ducks.
Luck had it that one of our neighbours on Forest Gardens was our friend Lyn Coyle. Lyn’s young daughter Sarah spent a lot of time with Kate.
It was good for Kate to see that while her dad as not normal, there were other people like him and they were parents and had families as well. This is the essence of ‘inclusion’.
Also enjoyable were movie nights community events and it was good to meet many of the people in the area. I was also a regular attendee at neighbourhood watch meetings and other community events. It was great to get to know people. Being involved with community events also led to an interest in local Council politics.
My old friend Simon re-joined me as my support worker. I knew we would make a great team. My first goal was to campaign for election to Cairns Regional Council at the 2008 local government elections.
Other Reference Material and Pictures