Mum, Volunteer, Charity event organiser, Mental Health professional, counsellor, friend… These are just some of the words that sum up beautiful local girl Ally Wilson. Ally has a heart of gold, giving back to the Coffs Coast community and sharing her bubbly personality in abundance.
Where are you originally from?
I have been living in Coffs Harbour for nearly 12 years; surely that makes me a local now? Ha ha. Prior to this, we moved from Sydney.
Tell us about your family …
Well, my mother is Serbian and my dad is Scottish. My maternal grandparents moved here from Serbia (former Yugoslavia) as displaced persons in the late 1940s. My grandfather and great grandfather were contracted to work on the Snowy Mountain Scheme. My grandfather served in the Royal Australian Air Force in Italy during the Second World War. When my great grandfather migrated here, he worked as a labourer and then retrained as a psychiatric nurse. He was to utilise his skills for three decades, working as nurse in charge at Callum Park, Sydney.
As you can see, my mum’s side of the family had a really hard life; lots of trauma occurred during and after the war. But the strange thing about it all is that they always had a positive outlook on life. Maybe it was their battling spirit which encouraged us and gave us a certain motivation. My sister, Emma, definitely has inherited the drive. She volunteered in an extremely remote Aboriginal Community early this year. Emma found this experience quite life changing, seeing 30+ people living in one house, a packet of Tim Tams costs $10… Emma has a real passion to make a change in the lives of Indigenous youth and will shortly be volunteering at a youth service. Then there is my youngest sister, Jasmin; she has a real passion and affinity for animals and animal rights. She is also a great artist and will likely live in a hippie commune in Nimbin one day ha ha. My son, Dante, is a soft natured soul and has just as much of a caring attitude towards animals. He is right into football at the moment, training for a great team, the Sawtell Panthers. My dad is his main support – never misses a game.
My dad grew up in Balmain, and of course barracks for the Tigers. His mother was one of ten brothers and sisters, whose family came out to Australia in the 1920s to start a new life from Greenock, Scotland. My great grandfather was in the Royal British Navy. Now Mum … well, what can I say about her. She just doesn’t stop. Always busy trying to help people, if it’s not at work, you’ll see her walking, talking and sitting with the homeless on the streets. My mum won the Premier’s Award for the homeless project in Coffs Harbour some years back. If she had the money she would open up a boarding house in Coffs Harbour for the homeless; she has always dreamed about that. She has had her fair share of problems over the years. She has even battled a brain tumour, but even after that, went back to work within a few weeks. She has overcome a lot in her life, and I think that is why she is so good with the disadvantaged and people with problems. She is a bit quirky, but we love her and her unique “Diana moments” ha ha.
My partner, James, has also become a strong part of our family. He is a country boy at heart, born in Katherine in the Northern Territory. He has a very kind, caring and mischievous personality, which I believe has been passed down from his famous country singing father, Scott Dawson. His mother, Samantha, is an “old nurse” with the bubbliest and most infectious personality I have ever met. His sister, Nicola, is a very talented young woman whom I believe will be a famous actress one day. Last but not least, his brother, Ben, living in Darwin, is a crack up – a great man whom like his family, has a heart of gold.
Tell us about your studies. What have you studied and why did you choose to study these particular courses/degrees?
My nursing and mental health background… Well, I think it all started when I was little. My great grandmother had suffered from severe Alzheimer’s Disease towards the end of her life. Poor thing – she was bed-ridden, unable to speak. On a good day she would open her eyes for a brief moment. The other grandchildren loved her, but I think they were a little frightened.
I used to go to see her at the nursing home every day and help feed her, brush her hair and sit by her side. I found it fascinating to syringe feed her all that mushy food. The nurses always gave out two plates of food, one for my great-grandmother and one for me. Although she looked like she had been in a food fight after I fed her, I think deep down it was our way of connecting – well, at least at that age I thought so! My grandmother used to say, “You are going to be a nurse one day, you know”… I would say, “No, I am not. I want to get fake nails, and nurses can’t wear them”. Oh, how I was wrong in both respects ha ha!
In 2008 I completed a Bachelor of Nursing degree. At that time I loved intensive care nursing and mental health nursing, but I always had a particular interest in those who suffered with mental illness. I guess I was driven by the reality of it, the fact that marginalisation and stigmatisation was still occurring in the 21st Century. I was also taken aback by the universal application of the bio-medical model dominance in health care, a lack of mental health integration in generalist health settings, and the lack of community awareness and services for those with mental illness.
I have also completed a Master of Clinical Science (Mental Health Nursing). I had a particular interest in evidenced based approaches to holistic and complementary therapies. I believe that for a modality like “meditation for mood disorders” to be applied and recognised by the medical field, evidence based research was needed. I have also completed a Master of Nursing (Advanced Practice) and recently completed a certificate in Meditation Training and Holistic Human Development, certificate in Holistic Counselling and a certificate in Meditation Teaching.
I am going to be completing more training soon in order to be a Mental Health First Aid Trainer to government and non-government organisations and the community in Coffs Harbour, which is exciting! My ambition is to improve mental health literacy, encourage help-seeking behaviours and reduce the impact of disability from mental illness in the Coffs Harbour area and surrounds.
What is your current profession?
Good question – jack of all trades, master of none! I am currently working in a few different roles. I am working as a Mental Health Professional conducting triage and assessment for mental health and private counselling. I am also working as an accredited Private Counsellor, Holistic Counsellor and Credentialed Mental Health Nurse. Further to this, I also do some work as a Pharmacy Clinic Nurse for a pharmaceutical company. A few times a year, I help deliver mental health tutorials at a local university here for our inspiring Bachelor of Nursing students. I am also the director of Mindfulness Counselling and Psychological Services Pty Ltd (www.mindfulnesscounselling.com.au). I think that’s about it – for the moment, anyway!
Tell us what drives you and what your passions are.
My biggest passion is, of course, mental health awareness, equity and access to treatment. I hate seeing people suffer, especially internally. Mental illness is a hidden disease, and there is such a stigma surrounding it. Many people are embarrassed to even admit that they have a problem, and that it is impacting on their lives and their loved ones. It is so prevalent. For instance, one in three Australians will experience depression or anxiety at some point in their lives. These people are also more likely to have co-morbid substance abuse issues and physical health issues. Research suggests that in another 15 years depression will be the leading burden of disease; this is actually predicted to exceed heart disease!
I really believe that there is a way forward, even when the world looks bleak. People need to be educated and know that there are treatments out there that will make their lives better. The saddest thing is seeing people who are in so much solitude that they cannot see a way forward. I have worked with a lot of troubled people, and the main problem is lack of education and access to support from family and health services.
There are many barriers to accessing health care that exist with many at-risk populations. Like my sister, I have a strong passion for improving outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It is a sad statistic that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are twice as likely to commit suicide that non-Indigenous Australians. We need to work on targeted strategies that aim to close the gap. We need to work on building more culturally appropriate and sensitive services that improve mental health outcomes, whilst preserving the unique culture. Other minority groups include but are certainly not limited to, Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex and other sexuality, sex and gender diverse (LGBTI) people, culturally and linguistically diverse, and the homeless.
I believe that the burden of mental illness and disability can be positively impacted at a community level. I also believe that as one person you can make a difference. Sometimes all it takes is one person to reach out. It may be as simple as sharing your story, your battle, or merely listening.
You are very heavily involved in the community, helping make Coffs Harbour a better place for everyone. What are some of the fundraising events you have ran or participated in, and what were the outcomes?
There are many more people in Coffs Harbour making it a better place who deserve a mention here! These people are our silent soldiers. They work day in and day out and dedicate their entire lives to helping others at a local level. They are the ladies and men you see at our hospital, volunteering at local organisations, aged care facilities, emergency services, refugee services, soup kitchens, churches, youth, men and women’s refuges, and many other amazing organisations. I take this time to thank you. You are the fabric of our lives here in Coffs Harbour.
Personally, I have supported a few charity events here. I ran the Smith Family Winter Appeal last year, my partner and I ran the Mental Health & Homelessness Walk to raise awareness for mental health issues and co-morbid homelessness and raise funds for the soup kitchen, I regularly set up donation points for non-perishables, clothing and blankets for donation to numerous non-profit organisations, I have raised funds for Autism awareness runs and participated, have raised funds for Ryder Cheshire Foundation during the Colour Run, I am a frequent dryer (Dry July) supporter, Oxfam supporter, provide ongoing support for the Fred Hollows Foundation and we are in the process of organising our first overseas volunteer work.
How do you keep yourself organised and motivated?
Well, I don’t really think that I am that organised … I guess you could call it organised chaos ha ha. Most days I find that I am always fighting against time. I live a fairly simple life outside of work. I love the outdoors and believe that a balanced life is important. Clean food, exercise, yoga, meditation, and a deep spiritual belief. My beautiful family and friends and my partner’s amazing family make my life complete.
I have never met someone with a heart as big as yours. What message are your trying to send to people?
We all makes mistakes; our past does not define us. Just do your best. If you give freely, you’ll always receive blessings.
Tell us what fundraising events and charities you are supporting in the near future.
I have a few events coming up, but there is one I am particularly excited about. My partner and I are heading to Pokhara, Nepal, to volunteer at an orphanage this year. We aim to go for 2-4 weeks with an organisation called Global Vision International. We will be living with a local family. The programme is approximately $1,600 – $3,000, which doesn’t include flights or any other expenses.
How do you plan on raising funds to volunteer in Nepal?
We have been lucky enough to have the very generous Samantha Mountstephen from The Sugar Kitchen donating one of her amazing boutique cakes to our cause. Ssshh … there have been some whispers that she will be making a very cool gravity defying M&M cake!
We will be selling raffle tickets, which will be drawn the end of August 2015. People can enter to win the cake and support us by donating online to http://www.gofundme.com/allyandjimmynepal – just remember to add your contact details, and you have to be able to pick up the cake from Coffs Harbour too.
What do you love about living on the Coffs Coast?
The way the ocean meets the mountains. It’s really amazing. Living in Sydney never gave me the opportunity to live in such a beautiful environment. I love Coffs because it is a scholastic town with lots of opportunities. It is a great place to raise children. We are truly blessed.