2017 marks Lisa’s fifth year at Brisbane Common Ground. “I was in rehab for alcohol abuse and I was very fortunate that there was a nurse there that was quite proactive in helping people find places. She helped me to apply”, says Lisa. “I was working part-time at the Rehab as a cook. They were putting pressure on me to leave, as I’d been there about 6 months, but I had nowhere to go. So I virtually would have been homeless”.
Lisa says she was really impressed with the quality of the building and her unit when she came for her first inspection. “It was brand new, with a great view of the river. It looked nice and modern and finished and I moved in a few days after that”, she reflects.
Lisa is now in her final year of a Bachelor of Marine Science and Management degree. “When I moved in here, I continued working as a cook at the Rehab. I started doing runs and things like that; like Mother’s Day Classics and I’m doing my first half marathon this August. I think exercise was a good outlet for my thoughts and to get rid of some pent up energy. It was really strange…in 2013 the year after I moved in I looked into some dive courses. I had a taste of diving up in Cairns once. They had a payment plan, so I just paid it off as I went along. I fell in love with the underwater world. I’ve always had a love for the ocean. I met a girl on a trip who was studying and she said ‘You should do it’. So I did! I applied two weeks before the applications closed. I had a bit of help and I got in and here I am nearly finished”, says Lisa proudly.
“Actually, the diving taught me to breathe”, says Lisa. “People kept saying to me ‘Just do breathing. Breathe in. Breathe out. I couldn’t do it. But when you get down there and you’re fumbling and things aren’t working you just breathe in, breathe out really slowly and everything calms and off you go and you’re all relaxed”.
Lisa shares that she’s learnt a lot in her course about how things are connected. “The land, the sea, the microscopic world, the mangroves and their importance, the wetlands”, she lists. “It makes you more aware of when people are building stuff. You think oh my God, they’re destroying more things that we’ll need”.
Lisa’s studies have also given her direct exposure to the global impacts of marine pollution and the consequences it has on a range of species, including those that make up our food chain. Lisa has participated in research projects at North Stradbroke Island, Coffs Harbour National Marine Science Centre and Heron Island. Earlier this year she jumped at the life-changing opportunity to work alongside locals in Bali to support the implementation of a sustainable coral reef management project. “I applied for a scholarship to develop a training program for a marine debris survey. I was over there for 3 weeks. We did the baseline for the very first sub-tidal marine debris survey using 25 metre long transects”, informs Lisa. “The villagers used to do cyanide fishing and then someone showed them a different way because the coral was dying and a lot of fish died before they could be exported. They now use nets. They’ve also developed a program for coral cultivation; growing coral from nubs”, she adds.
Lisa is particularly fascinated by the life cycles of coral reefs and is keen to learn more about these fragile ecosystems. “We were fortunate enough to see coral spawn in the research tanks on Heron Island. It’s very exciting”, says Lisa enthusiastically. “It’s like an orange colour, it’s very oily because they’re released in their egg and sperm sacks. Around about the seventh day they’re ready to settle on the substrate and start growing if they don’t die when they’re washed away by the currents”. Lisa is excited about returning to Heron Island in the near future to continue to assist with the coral research project.
Lisa says Brisbane Common Ground has given her a place to find her feet. “It’s given me an independence, a solid ground to stand on, a place to come home to. No one can bother me here. I can do my own thing. I don’t have to share a bathroom or anything with anybody else. There’s a lot to be said for independent living and the freedom to do your own thing and not to be harassed by anybody else. It’s safe” says Lisa with a catch in her throat.
Lisa observes that the Brisbane Common Ground community has stablised over the years. “I think that people have this feeling of independence and it boosts self-esteem. You walk into this lovely building that’s right by the river. Southbank is your backyard. I mean, the location is absolutely amazing. I think there’s a quality of lifestyle that actually helps settle people down”, she says. “Home is really important”.
“Signing your guests in can be a little bit hard, but you understand why and any good friend will understand too. If they don’t want to come here because they don’t want to be signed in, then they’re not worthy of being your friend as far as I’m concerned”, jokes Lisa.
Lisa feels that having a stable foundation and a sense of security has helped her to step into her life and build on her successes. “It’s a major security”, says Lisa. “I’ve taken small steps and if I’ve taken a step too far and I get a bit overwhelmed, then I’ll step back a bit. But I cannot and I won’t go backwards; not anymore”, she adds determinedly. “My life is way too good…too good. My family life. My two girls, they look up to me. I’m in a good place”.
With her course nearing completion, Lisa has started to think about her next steps. “I graduate in December. I’d like to go on and do an Honours and maybe get my PHD. It’s just given me so much experience. Even though I still doubt myself and get scared to take the next step somehow I find myself doing it and landing on my feet and getting opportunities and grabbing hold of them and just doing it”, says Lisa. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. I just have to trust that I’m good within myself and I’m happy and that if I’m doing what I’m loving, then everything’s going to work out fine. If I could tell anybody anything, I’d say just keep doing things and stumble across what you like and just keep doing it, because then you find your happiness and you find who you are. That’s how it works for me”.