The man from Lightning Ridge

Jean Claude 7.jpgABOVE: Jean Claude has a serious sensory disability, but this doesn’t hold him back! PHOTO BY GRANT J EVERETT

By Jean Claude

I started attending the Buckingham House day centre in Surry Hills back in 2008. Janet Meagher AM (Flourish Australia’s former General Manager Inclusion) connected me up with Buck House. This wasn’t the first time Janet helped me, though. In fact, I wouldn’t even be in this country if it wasn’t for her!

I first met Janet in 2004 through the Advocacy France organisation. I was living in Northern Ireland at the time, and volunteering with the Northern Ireland Association for Mental Health (NIAMH) and Beacon Centre for the Blind. I was also part of a group called Live Better. When I told Janet how serious I was about wanting to emigrate, she offered her help. She said, “it’s difficult, but it’s not impossible, so we can try.” Even with Janet’s considerable help, I don’t think I could have moved to Australia without the assistance of my wife. I met her in Lightning Ridge during one of my crazy holidays in 2008, and by 2010 we were married. She has provided me with all the day-to-day support and practical care I need, and does all the caring and housekeeping. I really appreciate her. 

We lived at Lightning Ridge for the next eight years, and I quickly learned that it’s one of the hottest places in Australia. In Summer you can get up to around 50 degrees, so if your house is a tin shack with no air conditioning (like ours was), you’d probably be on the next train out…except there is no train! Leaving Lightning Ridge means a really bumpy four-and-a-half-hour bus ride, followed by catching the XPT to Dubbo. The bus is really rough the whole way, and when I caught it after coming back from Europe I vomited every ten minutes for the whole trip.

“Flourish Australia is supporting me to manage my anxiety and depression with different activities.” 

The population of Lightning Ridge is a question mark in Summer because the locals know to escape from the heat, but in Winter you’ve got the tourists. While Lightning Ridge is a unique experience, once you’ve visited everything it becomes pretty boring. The most popular destinations are the bowling club, the pub, and the mines. You can prospect if you like, and if you find an opal there are local shops that can clean it and make it into a very nice souvenir. I actually made one for my friend in America. While some say that Coober Pedy has the best opals in the world, I’d say that Lightning Ridge opals, especially their amazing black opals, are the greatest. 

My wife and I have travelled a fair bit over the years. We had a few cruises and went to Europe a couple of times. My wife has also taken me to some of the best places Australia has to offer, and I’ve developed warm feelings for this country. I like the food, the people, the culture…and I think Australians have their heads screwed on right. They have a good grasp on reality, and I need that. 

In 2018 my anxiety and depression got worse, so my wife and I decided to move to Sydney. It took 7 months to get housing commission, which isn’t too bad, and it wasn’t long before I was involved with several Flourish Australia day centres: I regularly attended Buck House at Surry Hills, Flowerdale Cottage in Liverpool and New Outlook in Wollongong. Accessing Flourish Australia’s day centres has allowed me to get into the world and be a part of things. 

New Outlook has given me a chance to live life and really helped in my recovery. Not only did they help me recover from my mental health problems, but it’s also a good train trip from Sydney to Wollongong. This gives me a break from the stress of The City. I like commuting, but it can be difficult if the train or bus gets delayed, or if it’s too crowded. 

One highlight that happened in January whilst attending New Outlook was when everyone went to the rainforest at Jamberoo. I was very nervous when I came in that day as I was due to have a medical procedure later on, but relaxing in the car in the air conditioning helped with my anxiety. It was so hot in the forest that we could really hear the cicadas, but I loved the sound of the cascade, and hearing it made me feel like plunging into the cool water. It was so refreshing.

I have a passion for radio, and I studied for 20 weeks at Community Media Training Organisation to earn an industry-recognised Certificate III in Media. Now I’m looking for a chance to get picked up by a community radio station as a presenter. I worked with a community radio station in the UK for 5 years, so I have experience. 

As told to Grant J Everett

Flourish Australia’s New Outlook, 3 Station Street WOLLONGONG, NSW 2500

1300 779 270

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