Enduring friendships a rich legacy of community art project

Enduring friendships a rich legacy of community art project

Maya Fraser has coloured her life and that of many others, with art, and her accomplishments reflect this. Maya lives in Morwell, Latrobe Valley, with her husband and four children. An only child of Frans and Johanna Fikke, she began life far from Gippsland, in Western Australia, in 1967. Maya has a Bachelor of Arts in social sciences, an associate diploma in social welfare, a post graduate certificate in regional community development, plus a graduate diploma and Masters degree in art therapy. She has worked with all age groups in a variety of roles and is employed at Latrobe Community Health Service as a generalist counsellor. Maya also has a private practice, Imagerie Creations, as an art therapist.

By Maya Fraser

Being asked to contribute towards the reflection of the impact of the Women Who Mean Business (WWMB) projects fills me with gratitude. My involvement with this project has been profound and has directly attributed to the way my life is now. This may sound like a grandiose statement, so let me explain.

At the time, I was looking for something to participate that would allow me to use my newly learned skills and contribute to my local community, the Latrobe Valley. In early 2005 we came up with our idea of Tucker ‘n’ Tales, the book we published in 2006. We followed this with another book, 69 Days of fire, published in 2007, and after this, another book about autism. By this stage I had ceased involvement with the group that we had renamed as Women in Community, due to commitments with completing my Masters in art therapy. This was a difficult decision to make.

My involvement with WWMB began when I attended the original business skills workshops in Morwell in late 2004. I had recently completed my post graduate certificate in regional community development at Monash University’s Gippsland campus. This was challenging as my youngest daughter, Yolanda, was a toddler, and my three older children — Brandan, Celeste and Estelle (twins) — were in primary school. 

We lived in Morwell where we still live today, although the house is somewhat emptier with only my husband, Gerard, myself and Yolanda remaining at home. I have now lived in the Latrobe Valley for close to 30 years. I was born in Perth, although my first 10 years of life were largely spent outside Australia. My parents, migrants from Holland, had gotten homesick, and as they couldn’t afford the full passage in one trip, they went via South Africa where we lived for four-and-a-half years. Next, they returned to Holland for three-and-a-half years, upon which they discovered that they no longer fitted into life in their homeland. This resulted in our return to Western Australia in mid-1977.

I did not know the people who were present at the first skills workshop. One of the messages that has remained with me is the comment around the principle that all women require the use of a ’shit deflector’, which I have shared with many others. The follow up workshops began to identify potential projects and our ideas began to come together. During that period, I had the privilege of meeting Michelle Tisdale, Tricia Dennis, and Mary Randall and others who joined our group later. This gave birth to our project of creating a recipe and story book that would acknowledge and capture both people’s cultural heritage through both their stories and food, and community contributions. We succeeded in publishing, launching and selling all 500 copies of our book Tucker ‘n’ Tales.

Being involved in this project reignited my creativity and I began to find any opportunity to find snippets of time to draw and express myself through my images. This took the form of taking my watercolour pencils everywhere with me. This was a strategy I would later use during my cancer treatment. 

I have always enjoyed arts and crafts and the experimentation with different mediums. When did this begin? Well, I feel it is an intrinsic part of who I am. Memories of mixing paint and losing track of time while my mum painted. Mum taught me many skills and would teach me different things that she learned herself such as ceramics, such a precious gift. Another memory, when aged about eight, is of wanting to help someone who was in hospital and drawing pictures to give to them. Perhaps I always have been an art therapist in some form or another. I cannot say I am particularly great at any art form, but I love exploring different mediums. These mediums have included sculptures using, clay plaster, water colours, hobby ceramics, calligraphy, mosaic, acrylic paints, and origami. Often this means that I go through stages – I am currently working on a pom pom rug and crocheting bears.

Others soon joined our group including Jenny Richmond, Sue Kemsley and many others in a variety of capacities. Michelle Tisdale took on the role of project manager and did an incredible job, while I took on the more secretarial role, which I found challenging as I was also juggling my youngest daughter’s needs. She was very much a part of the meetings and used to play with Michelle’s dog, Tinker. Remaining roles were shared among each other. I particularly remember the road trips on our way to meetings, and oh how the ideas would bounce around and gain their own momentum! Each idea that came up would spark conversations that led to other myriad of possibilities.  The first time I met Sue Kemsley was when she joined us on a road trip to Inverloch and she played hide and seek with my daughter Yolanda. This was inspiring and had its own energy, and I have never quite experienced the same feeling again.

In 2008 I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  We had remained as a group and were now incorporated. This group formed my haven and gave me support in many ways.

Jenny sewed a variety of hats that I wore when I had no hair, while going to do ceramics with Michelle and Jenny. A particularly notable session was the one after my first chemotherapy dose, when my friends picked me up to go to ceramics in Rosedale and I could just not get warm. I recall sitting almost on top of the heater. Reiki sessions by Sue, Michelle and Jenny directly contributed to my wellbeing and ability to meet this cancer challenge. The multiple phone calls and loving kindness given by Tricia — I can’t begin to measure what this meant to me. The group’s acceptance of me filled a gap and gave me a safe place in which to belong. 

This would seem to be a big enough influence until I unpack this further and the realisation becomes clear that without this group, I may not have found employment. By engaging in the WWMB project, I was able to use some of those skills that I had acquired, as well as by gaining other referees. Participation in the group also helped me to build my confidence and, with the support and encouragement from our local group, I gained a position in home-based outreach in mental health at Bakers in Yarram. I have gained lifelong friends and will always carry the friendship gifts within me for prosperity and beyond. Through career opportunities, and reconnection with my creativity, I was able to nurture and follow my dreams. 

Post cancer treatment, the most intense component, I found my passion, my calling, whatever you would like to call this, and undertook Masters in art therapy at Latrobe University, Bundoora Campus. The decision to follow my passion for art therapy was triggered by my experience of the journey through breast cancer. I had captured the experience in images and created a short story in the hope of being able to give others some hope. On reflecting at the time and looking at my age, I felt that if I did not pursue this dream then potentially, I might not have an opportunity to use my new skills. I was in my early 40s when I commenced my Masters. Even my application into this course was supported through the people in the WWMB group. Tricia assisted me in choosing the images for my folio. The support I was given helped me to not only get through my cancer treatment, not just get a job, but to also find my calling. 

Fast forward to 2019.  I am 11 years clear of cancer, have my Masters degree in art therapy, and have started a small private practice called Imagerie Creations, based at the Gippsland Massage and Wellbeing Centre. (I became connected to this centre as a result of the WWMB projects). Additionally, I work four days a week as a counsellor with Latrobe Community Health Centre and use my art therapy within this context. I have the privilege of working with clients of all ages and genders. I hope that I assist those I work with to make small improvements in their quality of life.

These words seem rather superficial and are only a cursory attempt to capture the true depths of love, gratitude and privilege of having worked with these amazing women. It has been life changing, enriching and I am thankful for the learning opportunities. Overarching all this are the deep lifelong friendships that I have made through this experience.

2 Responses

  1. Christine Cobbe says:

    I am so proud of Maya, she knew ehat she wanted in life & just went & got it all. An inspirational woman. It is a privilege to know her & watch her in her life.

  2. Jill Gael says:

    Hi Maya
    I loved reading your story tonight and to know how much support you’ve had and art you have created. You should know my ‘shit deflector’ was invented right about the time we started the leadership workshops and i still use it often when I’m training!!
    Cheers
    Jill Gael

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