I was already a bit of a rebel in East Germany when I was young, but I became a bigger rebel later after the wall came down, and I went to study in Berlin. That’s where I met my ex-husband, an Australian musician in a band. I didn’t speak much English in those days and he didn’t speak much German but we made do. In 1995, we visited his home town of Gulgong, near Mudgee, for 3 months. I looked like a punk rocker so it was a bit of a culture shock, for me as well as for the Gulgong folk!
Later, we went back there to live, and I worked as a barmaid. But I didn’t really like it – one customer called me the crankiest barmaid in the West! When I was 23, my husband and I separated, but I still stayed in Gulgong working there.
After a while, I left the pub and learned how to be a roustabout in the shearing sheds and I travelled quite a bit as I built up a good reputation for myself. Our team worked through Mudgee, Griffith, Young and Yass. Shed work was hard work, as contractors worked you to the bone, and I ended up losing about 15 kilos! But it was really good money and I met some really interesting people. There were a lot of Koori shearers and old shearers who used a lot of colloquialisms, things you don’t hear now. Of course, as a German in a shearing shed I had a target on my forehead. And I still looked quite exotic, as I had dreadlocks, a nose ring and tattoos. But although they picked on me, I gave back as good as I got it. It was rough humour. Nowadays you wouldn’t get away with any of the stuff we did to one another. I remember one day a bloke used his shearing hand piece and cut a piece out of the bum of my pants just because I was in his way. But I did some dreadful things to those men to retaliate, some of it involving sheep dags and morning tea! I really learned what Australia was about in those shearing sheds and I have great memories of those days.
5 years later, I moved to Katoomba, where I became an adventure guide, teaching people how to abseil, canyon, climb, canoe and mountain bike. I really liked working with kids and later worked for the local youth services doing adventure guiding and outdoor education. Later, I completed a Diploma in Community Services, and developed programs specifically for young women.
I met Paul, my husband, through work. I was his work experience ‘kid’ and we spent many years working together for the same company and had a lot of good times. I think fondly about the many people I’ve taught and how many discovered their love for adventure sports. Two years ago, we had a son, who also loves the bush, bushwalking and climbing!
In some ways, I feel like my experiences of Australia have made me more Aussie than some Aussies who were born here. Sometimes I even forget I’m not Australian. But as soon as I open my mouth, people always ask me where I’m from, which always makes me feel like I don’t belong. And I still have older people come up to me saying, ‘We won the war, you know’. That really upsets me because I don’t feel it has anything to do with me!
To me, Australia is home now. My child is half German and half Aussie, and I’ve spent more time in Australia now than I have in Germany. I see myself as a funky modern Euro-Aussie hybrid, the best of two worlds!
Photographer: Peter Damo www.peterdamo.com
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