Postcards from #InternationalExperienceCanada
My wife and I were living in remote Northern Territory of Australia, working with First Nations people. It was such an incredible experience, and one that brought home the realities of colonisation and what ‘culture’ actually means, that we wanted to get a different perspective from a different country with a similar history of British colonisation.
We wrote to a number of different countries, and Health Canada in Alberta, Treaty 8, said we should apply. My wife, Prue, is a nurse, and we were still young at 23 years, so we applied for the International Experience Canada Working Holiday open work permit to get us over there and work whilst we waited for Prue’s nursing equivalency. We found work easily, and spent 4 months at Big White, then went to Calgary and worked for a small Landscaping outfit for the spring and summer of 2005. Our winter on the snow was magnificent. The summer in Calgary, working hard during the week and heading into the Rockies to climb a mountain on the weekends, was a tremendous experience and a wonderful time of our lives.
Finally, Prue’s nursing equivalency and employer-specific work permit, along with my open work permit came through and we promptly went north to Fox Lake Little Red River Cree Nation. Fox Lake is 200km from High Level, which is 750km from Edmonton. It is remote, and quite a different type of remote to the Cattle Station in the Northern Territory of Australia.
We lived in Fox Lake, AB, for a couple of years and then moved across Wood Buffalo National Park to Fort Chipewyan, north of Fort McMurray, also in Alberta.
Prue’s work was nursing, and mine was doing anything that came along – nursing station security, patient transport, maintenance of buildings, that sort of thing.
We became close friends with First Nations peoples and heard their stories of the residential schools travesty, the pillaging of land for resources, and the discrimination and inequality, and was able to talk and debate, and laugh and cry with them. We of course have a similar history in Australia. However, I believe because we were not Canadian, we were not perceived differently. There was almost a novelty factor about us, and a more open platform was available to discuss history. I have seen the same here in Australia – examples where non-Indigenous non-white Australians engage in conversations that white Australians would not be privy to with Australian First Nations people.
We loved the challenges of living in a remote area. The challenge of planning our food for months at a time, as the stores were hideously expensive. The challenge of driving on snow and ice, and being prepared for any breakdowns in unforgiving climates. The challenge of maintaining sanity and health and fitness. The challenge of the bugs in summer –mosquitoes you could put saddles on, and the horse flies that took pieces of meat out of you. We loved the rugged natural environment in Canada.
We fell in love with the outdoor spirit of Canadians – in all weather! We embraced the snow lifestyle and now cheer for both Australia and Canada in the winter Olympics.
When I think back to our time in Canada, I think of the open, generous and humble people, with a similar sense of humour and fun as Australians. We learned what it means to be a generous human in Canada. Whilst we were working as landscaping labourers and waiting for Prue’s visa, we met with the Treaty 8 nurse recruitment person who promptly offered us her house to housesit whilst they went on holiday. We ended up living in their house for 6 months while we waited. They showed enormous generosity and humanity in our uncertain times waiting for our visas to be processed, and are now some of our closest friends.
Today, I am a General Manager in an Australian national non-profit organisation that partners with Indigenous communities in place-based capacity building to empower Indigenous-led change and foster meaningful connections between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. There is no doubt that my time in Canada contributed to my career choice and working with First Nations peoples has opened my eyes, ears and heart.
Contributor: Nick Eakin
Hometown: Melbourne, Australia
Working Holiday in Canada: 2005
International Experience Canada (IEC) began in 1951 as a reconciliatory cultural exchange between Canada and Germany following World War II. Today, IEC supports Canada’s interests by administering Youth Mobility Agreements (including Working Holiday) with 30+ countries and territories. The agreement between Canada and Australia started in 1975 and is currently reciprocal in the number of inbound and outbound participants.