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I’ve got my daughter, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy since birth and my boy, who is 13 years old. He just returned from the boarding school because he was too homesick. He was selected to go Brisbane Boys’ College, but he said “Mum don’t leave me here.” I gotta go back home, so if someone there to take care of my girl for me. I would have stayed behind for my son to get a better education and to understand what it is like outside of here. There’s a big world out there. Maree Kalkeeyorta. Apeleche clan, Wik lands

Photography by Belinda Mason.

Maree Kalkeeyorta lives in the remote community of Aurukun in Cape York Peninsula, Far North Queensland. She has a son and three daughters, the eldest of whom, Lynette, was born with cerebral palsy. I had the very good fortune of being welcomed into Maree’s family in Aurukun in the 1980s. She has strong – Wik woman – blood pulsing through her veins: her mother and her older sister were song-women and ‘keepers and teachers’ of culture. Maree learnt well from them and is renowned in her community for practising her culture and passing on the stories and skills. Her journey through life has not been easy – she lost her mother and sister soon after the birth of her disabled baby and she was then, herself, still a young teenager. Maree has given her life to caring for Lynette, in a remote community where few conveniences exist. Lynnie has never been to school, nor has she had access to regular physiotherapy sessions, which would have improved her outcomes and her quality of life. Maree has little respite to enable her to focus on the needs of her younger children. Her life’s experiences have forced her to call on that strong Wik woman bloodline. Etched in my mind is the sight of Maree, pushing Lynnie (who is now a fully grown adult) in a wheelchair, in the heavy red, gravelly dirt – in 35 degree heat. Strength, culture and the love of a mother prevail, even in the face of such adversity.

Elizabeth Cowie

Transition Support Teacher, Department of Education, Training and Employment