When Tamara speaks about her children, her voice involuntarily breaks. This will be her third Christmas without her 7-year-old daughter, and even longer without her 12-year-old son.
“It just takes that one event to turn your whole life upside down,” says Tamara.
It’s a line we hear so often at St Bart’s, and one that can only truly be understood when given the opportunity to take time in a safe space to reflect.
Growing up with a dad in the army, Tamara’s formative years were spent jumping from one army base to another. With a distant mother, she says that her and her younger sister often had to fend for themselves.
At 13, she was sent to live with her uncle for a year; a wonderful role model who encouraged her to keep busy by chipping in and even doing up her very first car. It wasn’t long before Tamara was doing well at school again, and her mother took her back home.
In Year 11 of high school, Tamara entered a skills-based vocational program and achieved her first qualification – Certificate I in Metal Engineering – followed by a Certificate II in Metal Fabrication.
“I wanted to pursue being a boilermaker, but straight out of school I got a fly-in fly-out job on the mines and I absolutely loved it,” she said. “I was a trade assistant on site doing shutdowns from the age of 18, and also working the railway lines. I’ve always been into hard-yakka work, and even played A-grade women’s soccer on the side.”
At 21, Tamara had a baby boy. Motivated to keep working, she continued in her fly-in fly-out role and had no choice but to leave her son with her mother in Geraldton. She later went on to have a daughter.
That life-changing event Tamara speaks of only took place three years ago, just before she turned 30, when she and her daughter travelled from Geraldton to Perth and moved in with her former partner.
“I wasn’t even there a week before he put me in hospital,” she said. “That relationship and the domestic violence I was put through changed everything for me.”
Thrown out of the house once she got out of hospital, Tamara and her 3-year-old daughter were staying at a women’s refuge when they were pulled over one evening by the police. Not knowing that her former partner had forged her signature and signed the car out of her name and into his, she and her daughter were searched and the car taken away.
It took three months to get a restraining order against her former partner, but once she got it Tamara and her daughter were allowed to move back into the house. With this, however, came a $12,000 debt in unpaid rent.
“I tried my hardest to keep myself afloat, but when the Department for Child Protection got involved I got more and more stressed,” Tamara says through tears. “I started using harder drugs and I went downhill fast. I lost my house and I lost myself.”
Initially thinking St Bart’s only provided accommodation for men, Tamara went ahead and applied anyway. It was only through the application process that she learnt about the Women’s Service, and was successful in obtaining a room.
“I admit that the reasons for why my daughter was taken away from me were fair, and since then she has been thriving with a wonderful family,” says Tamara. “I’ve been able to see her every week for a 2-hour supervised visit and I never missed an appointment, even when I was homeless.
“Since I’ve been here I’ve been doing a lot better. Things are slowly starting to fall into place and I’ve been completely clean for 12 weeks now.”
With her children growing up apart, Tamara’s goal is to have the stability she needs to get both of them home with her. She has applied for a unit within St Bart’s Community Housing, with the hope of creating that space.
“I’d love to be able to have my children come over, to cook up a storm and be somewhere they can see where I have my own space. As much as I like seeing my daughter moving forward, she needs to see me moving forward as well.”
The operation of St Bart’s Women’s Service is only possible through the generosity of donors and our philanthropic partners. A donation today will help us continue to provide accommodation and support for people just like Tamara, who can now hope for a brighter future with their families.