A Place to Belong

We lived in Bali nearly four months. Four sunkissed, life-altering months. It felt like a small lifetime.

We were back in Indonesia but things were different this time. Me and M were travelling together, but only as friends and co-parents. It was strange in ways I can’t easily explain, but it was so sweet to be back in the place that has felt like a home to me since before I ever visited.

We spent our first days by a black sand beach. I was in the ocean, smiling into the bright sun and bursting through powerful waves to laugh on the other side. All I could see was the sky and the sea and I felt an immense appreciation swell inside me, as though I was experiencing the world for both the first and last time.

I said things aloud only the ocean could hear. Secrets and sorrows that had been weighing me down. On the shore I rubbed black sand over my skin until it was silk. We sat in cafes, me writing in my journal and Alba drawing in hers, with sand still on our feet. Nothing felt broken.

I got a bicycle even though I’ve been clumsy since before I can remember. When I was younger I’d ride my bike to school and crash into electricity poles, gutters and trees on the way. So I gave up and I’d just walk for over an hour in the heat instead. But still, my legs always wore bruises and grazes. My friends all found my clumsiness funny so I kind of embraced it. It became one of my many quirks.

But by this trip I was realising more and more that who I was was up to me. By telling myself I was clumsy I wasn’t giving myself the opportunity to not be, so I let those thoughts go.

I was riding through little Balinese villages on my bicycle, down narrow paths winding through bright green rice fields and flying down streets under a sun shower, waving at the children watching in wonder. I was riding the same chaotic roads I was so frightened of before. I had a few near stumbles, but I rode until my legs hurt and I knew I’d only get better. When we stopped for a juice M told me how proud he was of me and I smiled because I was proud of me too.

Then when I got to Ubud I rented a scooter. I can’t say how momentous this was for me. There was a moment when I was flying through town and I felt like I was going to burst with pride. I hardly recognised myself. I didn’t have to be hopeless, I didn’t have to be dependent on anyone else. I could do this. I could be enough.

I was living in a little villa with my best friend, Kelsey. It was homely and opened up completely to the fields and rice terraces beyond. Our backyard was a living postcard. I had Alba until lunchtime every day and we’d spend it dancing, painting and swimming. I’d buy boxes of organic produce grown on the mountains to cook us lunch. I’d talk to her about all kinds of things and she’d listen intently, blue eyes shining, taking it all in.

Her Papa would pick her up and I’d ride my scooter into town. My workspace was a kind of bamboo treehouse. There was a raw cafe there where I could feed my chocolate addiction. I was surrounded by other creative nomads and found flow from the moment I stepped in.

It felt so good to be there. I got more work done than ever before and the seeds of projects were planted and watered. I’d head to dinner with friends after. Ubud was health food heaven but I always prefered the smaller places run by local families who became my friends.

There is an indescribable sweetness to crawling into bed beside my sleeping girl, cradling her in my arms, still so small and soft. It brings tears to my eyes the same way it did when she was new. The soles of her feet are rough now, her hair has grown, her body is long, her knees wear grazes from falls. But she is still my baby.

One night Kelsey and I sat on the balcony of a bar, drinking and speaking for hours about how grateful we were. To have one another, to do what we love for a living, to be able to travel, to be young and healthy, to be alive, for all the love and joy we’ve ever felt, for the struggles that helped us grow and the potential of our future. For everything. It felt like one of the greatest nights of all, like the future had never burned so brightly before us.

Kate came to stay with us. She was a beautiful, fearless German girl. I’d let slip a worry I had about what other’s might think and she’d bluntly ask me, “Why does it matter Nirrimi?” And she’d be right, I was the only one making what other people thought matter. She was always asking, “Why not?” and she always had a point.

I made a lot of powerful connections this trip. I skinny dipped with Sarah Britton, caught a boat to an island with Elora Hardy and her father John Hardy and found a sister in Belle Gibson. World changers. It’s strange to be me sometimes. I feel so small but I count my idols among my friends.

We drove to Balangal Beach in Uluwatu, where a perfect sunset was playing out above the ocean. My view was crystal clear, crashing sea and bright blue sky turning fiery above an unbroken horizon. The shore was lined with shacks selling fresh coconuts and Indonesian food. The wind hugged me so softly.

We sat on the shore drinking coconuts. There was a big rock jutting out from the edge of the water where a girl was standing. She was listening to music and dancing as the waves crashed all around her, as though nothing else in the world existed.

I had a skype call the next day with my agent in LA. Disney wanted me to write and direct a short film for them. I ended the call in disbelief. Right away I began to write. I wrote until my hand cramped. Ideas spilling over several pages, refined over several days by the sea. Then I had it. The outline of my film. A little piece of my soul. But a while later the job fell through as they do sometimes and I never got to share it.

I was a little heartbroken but grateful I had gotten to feel that passion again, to know it could still have so much power over me. I knew before long I would be creating again.

Then my passport went missing and I spent long days in lines at the immigration office and the embassy, often with Alba. I didn’t get an emergency passport back in time to extend my visa. More lines, more authorities and more confusion. No one really knew what to do with me. I carried my stress and anxiety alone through those weeks.

There are times I feel desperate to be rescued, like some princess at the top of a tall tower, but I know that I need to save myself. Being alone, as frightening and confronting as it sometimes is, is exactly what I need. The most challenging times in life hold the potential for the most growth and if I can fight those fire-breathing dragons on my own I will be stronger for it.

On the last visit I was pulled into a room and told angrily that I was here illegally and I had to leave the country now. I was forced to book tickets but the payment wasn’t going through. I was shaking. I signed papers saying I would leave the next day and they reluctantly let me go. I hugged my friend in tears, grateful I was not as alone as I felt.

My last night in Bali was spent with M in a cosy place on the side of a hill, where you could see the ocean from the balcony. We let any bad feelings between us just fall away and life was sweet. We played with Alba as she squealed in delight. As I watched her sleeping I said to M “Thank you for Alba.” And he thanked me back.

Later I was in the passport office in Perth with Claire as we made up stories to pass the time. In our stories we went to Hogwarts and there were these two very handsome, talented wizards who liked us. We ran away with them on our broomsticks to a magical treehouse in the Amazonian forest where they cooked us foraged breakfasts and confessed their love for us. I noticed a businessman watching and realised how strange it must seem, two grown ups giggling and playing pretend, but what did it matter?

As a surprise I came home a day earlier. I wanted to take M and Alba out to breakfast, but when I saw him he told me he was busy. Something wasn’t right. A wall had been built in my absence. I had a weird feeling, but I kept pushing it away.

A few days later I’d put Alba to sleep in the villa I shared with friends and I walked a few steps away, to the villa where other friends were staying. I wanted to talk to M but when I knocked on his bedroom door he wasn’t in, so I thought I’d ask my friend Jess if she knew where he was.

All of my memories past this point feel as though they caught flames. When I entered Jess’ bedroom they were laying in bed together. Suddenly things began to make sense. Although I had no desire to be with M (our break up was for the best) and I’d wanted him to find love, a feeling swelled up in me that was made of fire. I lost my self-control and smashed a lamp against the wall. I was yelling. I’d never felt so out of control.

Memories of us raced through my mind. Being fourteen and telling my Mother I’d found my soulmate. Meeting him in person for the first time at sixteen and being higher than high on love. Our first tiny apartment in the city. Travelling the world shooting big campaigns. Our cabin in the Blue Mountains. Him speaking softly to our child growing in my belly. Holding Alba in our arms, both of us raw with love.

Every selfless thing he did for me, every poem he wrote me, the way our bodies had fit, the way we had thought our love was invincible, the times we had said with such conviction we could never love another. Seven years in love, five years as one. All of it suddenly felt meaningless.

I lay under the outdoor shower sobbing while cold water rushed over me. I was wearing a long sleeved white lace dress and my hair was braided into a crown. For a moment something ridiculous flickered through the haze of suffering and I thought that this would be a great scene in a film. I almost laughed at myself.

I felt like my friends couldn’t understand my pain. After all, I’d had feelings for other boys and I had even said that Jess would be a good match for M. It seemed so hypocritical for me to be upset. I tried to explain how intense we had been when we were together. How immense our love and lives together were and how it all felt like nothing now. How it felt like a betrayal. But it was all just words. Still, my friends gave me all the love they could, I could cry just remembering how they much they cared about me.

Deep down I knew it was a good thing. I could see why they’d fallen in love. My emotion had overwhelmed my logic that night, but I was happy for M, and thankful it was Jess. I loved both of them.That didn’t mean it was easy, but at least my logic was prevailing.

Our tickets were booked at different times because of our visas and a shoot I had yet to do. So I hugged my girl and kissed her all over, telling her I’d see her in a few days. I hugged M too.

A bunch of people from my workspace invited me on a trip to Amed on the other side of the island. I went on the back of my friend Sevi’s motorcycle. Sevi was from Spain and I named him the King of Metaphors. He always came up with the most brilliant metaphors for things that were difficult to explain, in spite of his language barrier, or perhaps because of it.

It was an unbelievably beautiful ride. I listened to music as we passed some of the most spectacular landscapes I’d ever seen. I watched in quiet awe, thoughts throbbing with appreciation, knowing I could never truly take in how much beauty was before me. Amed was sweet. Little rooms by the beach, days snorkelling and nights on the sand staring at the stars.

When we got back I was housesitting my friend’s villa in Canggu. I took Rose with me. It was the most wonderful place we’d stayed so far. We were both shouting to each other in glee, “Isn’t this wonderful? Can you believe this place? We’re so lucky!” I put on music and we stripped off and swam in the pool until the sun went down and the lights of the villa shone on our bare skins.

The last days of any trip always carry a poignancy with them. I could smell every scent in the air, hear every little sound and see the things I’d normally overlook. My last sunset was the most breathtaking of them all. I was on Echo Beach and the sky was dripping with colour. I looked at my friends. They were strangers a few months ago and now I will never forget them, even if it’s decades before our paths cross again.

That’s the beautiful thing about connecting with other people, you’re opening doors that will likely stay open no matter how much time has passed. In this way I kind of see every stranger as a door waiting to be opened. Stories and perspectives just waiting to be unlocked, laughter and love waiting to be shared.

I came back to Australia the same way I always do, changed. My daughter was back in my arms and the unknown of the future loomed before me like some great scary monster. So I looked it in the eyes and I said “I can do this.”

The Storm that Chased the Sun Away

I took some portraits with Ajier yesterday. One minute the sun was bright and the sky was blue, and the next lightning was piercing the sky and puddles were forming at our feet. I had no umbrella but I shot through the rain for as long as I could before huddling inside a little cave. It was Ajier, Jo (who was assisting) and me, and with nothing manmade in sight I imagined we were living in ancient times. We watched the rain beat on the cliffs and the grey sky light up. I felt like I could have stayed in that little cave watching the storm for hours.

Edited with Dust.

Fairylight Nights

I stay with all kinds of people when I travel. This trip in Sydney I am staying a few nights with a fellow lilac-haired photographer named Rachela, she invited me along to watch her friend’s play at the Oxford Art Factory and then everyone came back to her fairylit home. I stayed up until sunrise editing.

I often find myself being just the quiet girl with the camera and last night I didn’t mind a bit.

Fighting Hate with Love

It has taken me a long time to write about this. I thought that if I talked about it here I would be fuelling the negativity. Now I realise that by talking about it I have the power to turn it into something positive. Words can hurt but they can also heal. I know this will be rambling, but please hear me out.

I may be known for my photography and my blog but at my core I am still just a 22 year old girl from a small town, no better than anyone else. No amount of exposure has made me any less sensitive or any less capable of making mistakes. I’ll never be good enough but that is what growing as a person is all about.

I was a teenager when I started my blog. It felt like a digital home that I could fill with all that I loved. The things I saw and felt that set sparks off inside me. Back then I didn’t know the ways in which it would shape me, the ways it would change my life. In so many extraordinary ways but in a few darker ways too.

My first taste of the dark side of blogging was a phone call late one night. It was a woman on the other end and she told me my boyfriend would leave me, people only liked my pictures because I was young, I was ugly and I deserved to die. I couldn’t sleep that night, I could only cry. I couldn’t hate anyone, not the men who’d abused me or the girls who’d teased me cruelly at school. Yet here was a total stranger whose voice dripped with hatred for me, and I was caught wondering if I deserved it.

The more I blogged the worse it became. I received hate-mail thousands of words long. Then websites filled with anonymous haters. In those first years I took it all to heart, labelling people’s issues with me as my ‘flaws’. I thought if I was good enough no one would hate me and so I needed to fix myself. I even felt guilty that who I was had caused people to feel so negatively. So I wasn’t quite as cheery or loving, I toned down my writing and confidence and I didn’t share as openly. It didn’t matter if I had good intentions or genuinely wanted to make the world a better place. Every time I shared anything my head filled with countless judgemental voices, picking it all apart.

I knew reading all the hatred was making me depressed but it was so littered with lies and assumptions I was afraid if I didn’t clear them up people would believe them. Words have influence, even when they aren’t true. When I became a young Mother the judgement grew uglier. People said I should have Alba away taken from me. Girls became my friends to try to get ‘gossip’ out of me and it became harder to trust people. When they contacted my friends and my family with rumours it was bleeding into real life and that frightened me.

I was embarrassed that I let it get to me, I am embarrassed even sharing this. It feels like I am looking for pity but I am not. I always felt like I was being weak. After all, didn’t I know deep down that all I had was the present and it only had to affect me as much as I let it? Didn’t I know that every single person could be torn to pieces, that not one of us is perfect? Didn’t I feel how much support and love surrounded me? It is a sad thing that if we don’t fight it, darkness can be heavier than light even when the light is so much greater.

I decided to stop reading the hate. I thought, let the lies and the gossip be. The people I want in my life will be able to see through it, and will give me a chance. I am not my past and I embrace my failures, they have taught me even more than my successes. If I am secure in who I am and the decisions I make, it shouldn’t matter what anyone else says or thinks. I do my best and be my best and that is as much as I can do. Have trust in me.

One day I was staying with my friend Zelda in LA. Her Father is Robin Williams and all her life she has had to deal with negative attention and gossip. She said to me “You don’t need to post about your life Nirrimi. You’re a photographer. You have a choice to not make it personal.” She was right and her words have stuck with me for years. It made me think about why I did blog the way I do. Why I choose vulnerability.

When I stopped posting solely about my photography and started sharing my thoughts an interesting thing happened. The emails I received were no longer short messages from people saying they loved my work and asking what camera I used. I began getting intense, deep letters from people who told me my honesty and perspective have had a lasting impact on their lives. That my words had gifted them courage to follow their dreams or that I had showed them the beauty in the world they had overlooked. My life lessons became theirs too. They are my reason.

I don’t feel angry at anyone who has set out to bring me pain. I know it sounds very ‘hippie’ but I feel like I do love everyone, because I know we’re all the same. We’re all making decisions based on the experiences we’ve had, all wanting to be loved and understood. I like to think that the people who do and say cruel things anonymously online aren’t fully realising the hurt they are causing the people they attack. As though they think we’re not as real as they are. There are many ways to justify hate but at the end of the day it is still hate. I feel that if you wouldn’t say it in the real world, don’t say it online.

Strangely sometimes I am grateful for it. It toughened my skin and helped me to let go of a lot of my ego. I remember reading the hate one day and thinking “if I didn’t know myself, I might not like myself after this” and that realisation made me question the way I felt about everyone. It made me think twice before I spoke badly about another person.

Though I have almost quit a few times, I have kept on. I don’t know what the future holds but I know I will always want to use the skills and time I have to do good for other people. I may not be solving world hunger or climate change, but it is something. I can give more and I will. This world (both real and online) is filled with too much darkness and it needs more light.

I have written this post as a call to action. Whenever you see unnecessary negativity or hate online or in real life, speak up against the hate with loving intention. Let’s make the world a kinder place.

Thank you for reading. I’m grateful that I get the chance to share my side. Here is a silly little video I recorded, filled with ‘ums’ and not at all eloquent (seriously, I can barely watch this without hiding behind my hands). But, hey it is me!