After 157 days in John Hunter Hospital, Jacki Trapman has finally got her wish.
She has gone home to country to heal.
Jacki called Newcastle home for close to 30 years and has been a leader in the local Aboriginal community, working in children’s and community health services for decades.
A Ngemba woman from Brewarrina in the state’s north-west, Jacki feels strongly that that it is where she needs to be, at least for now.
“I want to go home to country,” she said before her pre-Christmas transfer.
“I believe I will heal a lot better back home.
“I told my doctor, I’m not going home to Bre to curl my toes up, I’m going to heal.”
She’ll also be there for the local screening of a documentary that follows Jacki as she returns to her hometown to celebrate her parent’s 60th wedding anniversary – a rare milestone for Aboriginal families.
Eight years or more in the making by Newcastle filmmakers Ian Hamilton and Dr Anna Kelly, Angels Gather Here, has already screened at the Melbourne Film Festival and at Newcastle’s Real Film Festival, which showcases films based on true stories.
The 50-minute film provides a unique insight into the lives of one Aboriginal family over five generations, told with honesty, humour and compassion.
At age six, Jacki’s mother Barbara and her older siblings were taken away by “the welfare people”, under the guise of an outing to the circus. Instead, she was taken to a girls’ home in Cootamundra and would not see her mother again for more than a decade.
In many ways the film personifies the gap in outcomes in life and health for Aboriginal people that many people talk of. Ultimately, it is the family’s inspiring story symbolising the strength, dignity and resilience of many Aboriginal people in the face of adversity.
They are qualities that Jacki Trapman has in spades.
A re-emergence of persistent health problems not long after the film’s completion saw Jacki in hospital and undergoing multiple operations to remove more of her bowel, first in Dubbo for three months, and then John Hunter Hospital for five months. Healing has proved difficult.
Where many might have given up, Jacki has taken it a day at a time.
It’s something she learned in her struggle to overcome alcoholism, and the grief and loss that followed the death of her two sons – one a baby, the other a teenager. “Angels gather here” is inscribed on the gate of the Brewarrina cemetery where her boys are buried.
Ultimately, Jacki began Newcastle’s first Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) group for Aboriginal people.
“I have my own experience (but) I wanted to help other people,” says Jacki. “I just wanted to give back a little of what was given to me. People, my family, were always there for me.
“I’ve drawn a lot of strength from (AA) and the program they have. I’ve had to keep everything in the now … not let myself get too far ahead.”
It has helped the deeply spiritual woman get through her health complications and these long, long months in hospital. Simple things have helped too, like the kookaburra’s that laugh and sing in the gum trees outside her hospital window. Or her favourite sunflowers that continue to follow the sun.
“Today I have a balance in my life. I have a god of my understanding in my life. If God brought me this far, I think he’s going to take me further.”
Jacki is proud of the film and to tell her story.
“She’s an amazing, inspiring woman,” said Ian, who worked as assistant director on the acclaimed film Rabbit Proof Fence and whose work often explores health themes.
“I actually met Jacki 10 years ago when she was volunteering her time on a film for Hunter New England Health to promote Aboriginal accommodation at John Hunter Hospital.
“Jacki wanted to make this film to encourage change and support people to make a difference.”
Read more articles in Health Matters
Photos courtesy of Limelight Creative Media.
The film is being released in January 2018 by Ronin Films.
It will be screened in towns around NSW and elsewhere.