Sondra Lively with her daughter. Image courtesy of Sondra Lively.
Who: Sondra Lively
From: Yarrabah Aboriginal Community, Far North Queensland
Her story: Since 2008 proud Gunggandji woman Sondra Lively has worked as Finance and IT Officer for the Gindaja Treatment and Healing Centre in Yarrabah. Gindaja offers innovative and holistic drug and alcohol rehabilitation services to clients wishing to turn their lives around.
Sondra juggles the demands of that busy role with motherhood and part-time study towards her Bachelor of Accounting degree. She also volunteers her financial, marketing and fundraising skills to assist her local community’s Seahawks Football Club.
After securing a housing loan through IBA in 2011, Sondra bought a block of land in nearby Gordonvale and constructed a new home for herself and her young daughter, Lanaya.
A few weeks after moving into her new home Sondra shared with us her journey toward economic independence, the people and events that have influenced her, and her thoughts on living a life you love.
1. On blending her professional and personal passions: ‘It’s really powerful to see where they [the clients] come from, when they’ve been really down and out and are trying to make that change’.
When I took the job at Gindaja Treatment and Healing Centre, I wanted the challenge. We are one of the leading organisations in our sector and we are paving the way for others wanting to take on having a rehabilitation centre in their community.
Although I’m [working] behind the scenes in finance and IT, I sometimes assist residential clients with budgets for when they leave Gindaja. It’s really powerful to see where they come from, when they’ve been really down and out and are trying to make that change. I get satisfaction from assisting where I can as part of their treatment, and from knowing that clients feel they can approach me and have a yarn, even though I’m just one of the ‘office people’.
I really, really, really enjoy where I work. I love the innovative approach at Gindaja, the cultural fit, the whole lot… We have achieved so much and, with a new management team, we’re just excelling.
2. On balancing a career with study and nursery rhymes: ‘I am willing to sacrifice weekends and put in the late nights, but sometimes I don’t know how I do it!’
My Aunty [and Godmother] Ailsa Lively is Gindaja’s CEO and is a very inspiring and motivated woman. She really enhances my professional development in the workplace, by sharing her knowledge with me and encouraging me to take up study towards my degree in accounting.
I’m in my third year now and although I am willing to sacrifice weekends and put in the late nights, sometimes I don’t know how I do it! When my daughter [Lanaya] was born I had time off work but still continued doing one subject at a time… Because she was a newborn it was much easier then. She’d lie on the bed and I’d be reading the textbook definitions out loud to her like stories. I thought her first word would be a financial term!
3. On the people and events that have influenced her: ‘Having that good support from friends and family, I know I’m not going to fall…well, not straight away’.
My father passed away in 1989 from leukaemia. I was only five and now, being so much older, I understand but it took me a long time to talk about him. Even though I was so young, he really impacted my life so much in those early years that I couldn’t even say his name after he died. I was so proud of him and even now I get respect just because of who he was – it’s like, ‘Oh, you’re Brian’s daughter?’
Growing up, my mum was single for a good while and it took her many years to get over my dad…With minimal treatment back then, he was gone in two weeks. My mum was only 25 years old and I sometimes think what if that was me with two kids? I get so much of my drive from her; she is my backbone and inspires me to stand tall.
I have a great supportive family and after dad died they all stepped in and played a big part in my life, so my immediate family became ‘everybody’. I am so lucky to have such positive leaders in my life. Having that good support from friends and family, I know I’m not going to fall…well, not straight away!
I am passionate about my community and want to do all I can to help my people. My Aunty Ailsa is very active as a Traditional Owner and has extensive knowledge of our tribal connections. Having her pass on her knowledge academically and culturally to me is priceless, and I am so lucky to have her guidance – though I still have a lot to learn.
4. On achieving home ownership: ‘I always wanted to buy a home, because I wanted that stable environment for my family, and to be able to grow and live well’.
I was on the IBA waiting list for a home loan and, leading up to October 2011, I had started to drive around the area [Gordonvale] to have a look at blocks of land. I rang IBA and said I was curious about the waiting time for home loans, and then they rang a week later and asked, ‘Are you ready?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m ready!’
I always wanted to buy a home because I wanted that stable environment for my family, and to be able to grow and live well. The IBA staff in Cairns suggested that I consider buying a house, not building, as they thought it might be a little less work for me since I had a newborn baby. But all my instincts said no, I really want to build. So they put that duty of care across and gave me advice but when I told them my decision, bang, they were there for me 100 per cent – so thanks Rose and Janelle (IBA home lending staff).
I was really lucky with the whole building process, but I also made it easy on myself. The builder would be ringing up asking what sort of door handles, what sort of lights, what sort of taps do you want? I appreciate all the work that goes into building a home, but at the end of the day the minor finishes were not so important to me. To have a roof over my head for myself and my daughter, that’s what’s important, not what colour door or wall paint I have. I am grateful I got to experience that process, but even more grateful and proud to have accomplished my dream.
5. On the significance of a patch of lawn: ‘I’m so glad my grandmother got to come out here and see this [house]’.
I love sharing this house with my friends and family. It is just the best feeling and I feel more relaxed in life, and I’m sure my dad would be proud. We’ve all come from nothing, we all grew up in the community and my mum and dad didn’t have anything. We’re part of the Stolen Generation – I can only trace back to a great-grandmother and before that, we don’t know.
I’m so glad my grandmother got to come out here and see this [house]. When she passed away recently, I was in such shock… But she had given me money towards buying some lawn [for the backyard], so this is her lawn now…and she is always going to be a part of my home. It’s not something that is sitting on the shelf, it’s not an ornament. My daughter will be out playing on that lawn, and at least I hold that.
6. On working to live, and living to work: ‘I’m one of those people who will eventually never work a day in their life. You know that saying that it’s not work if you love it that much?’
Eventually I would like to do the bookkeeping or finance for the organisations inside the Yarrabah community… Because if people see me in the community they might think, ‘Oh, she grew up here and look what she’s doing’. Because I did grow up here…and nothing held me back. There was no reason why I couldn’t get a house if I wanted to, no reason I can’t now have a new car. I just have to work hard to get there, and it’s only me that puts limitations on myself.
I’m one of those people who will eventually never work a day in their life. You know that saying that it’s not work if you love it that much? If I can start my own business I can take things to that next level… I could have a tax office in Yarrabah. There are so many times I see people getting caught out when dealing with their finances. I have all this knowledge from study, reading, going to seminars and I would like to share that with my community so they too can be making their money work for them.
7. On living a life you love: ‘I just want to live life, and do what I can while I’m here. I love giving, without expecting anything in return…’
I am grateful to the people I had in my life growing up because [without them] I wouldn’t be who I am today; I wouldn’t have those values, I wouldn’t have those morals. But I am a young, happy, fun, easygoing person too, and I want others to see me like that.
I just want to live life, and do what I can while I’m here. I love giving, without expecting anything in return; I never think that someone owes me if I help them out.
I’ve been blessed with all these great opportunities but my baby girl, she’s my world, and at the end of the day I’m just her mum. All I want for her is to give and be given respect. I want her to be driven, and to appreciate things, but to understand that she will have to work hard for them. I’m sure she’ll learn that from me though and become a strong and proud Indigenous woman. Because I am.
Find out more about IBA’s Indigenous Home Ownership Program.