I’m still here. I’m going strong. I’m absolutely compliant and enjoy my job. I work full-time as an alcohol and drug and gambling counsellor. I always look forward to engaging with NTAHC events and staff, and I just want to make it totally, totally, totally welcoming.

    My name’s Paul and I’ve been involved with Northern Territory AIDS and Hepatitis Council (NTAHC) and the Nothern Territory AIDS Council (NTAC) over many years, since about 1995 when I came back to Darwin. As an HIV+ person, I was involved with the support group, Friends NT.

    Friends NT was a support group for people trying to understand what was going on. At that time, people really didn’t understand what to expect. Trying to get support because you felt so isolated with the community, being able to talk about that part of yourself. I was very conscious of that because of the stigma, the possible discrimination that I had faced over the years prior to that, so it was a relief having a group.

    With NTAC relocating from Carey Street to Manton Street, I got involved as a volunteer with NTAC and doing various jobs and positive speaking. I was asked whether I would like to be the Co-ordinator of the Friends NT group and I thought, "Well, I can do that." I was at NTAC usually five days out of five. It was a good experience. It gave me a lot of insight into the complexities of what was going on for a range of different people. Because I only saw the world from through my eyes, it allowed me to see so much more. Working through that group was on a fortnightly basis between people getting their Centrelink payment, so it was in their off week when they were probably not able to afford much, and so we used to put on a few beers. We were very conscious of the type of foods. NTAC provided us with money to put on those events, and we even bought a barbecue so that we could have more variety.

    That happened for quite a while at the downstairs area at NTAC in Manton Street. On a nice evening, we’d even have the barbecue under the big tree at the back, and it was just lovely. But it progressed to the point where we realised having it at the same place every time, that we needed to generate some other interest. So over time, there were quite a few community people who put up their own homes as a venue so that we could sit down and have a really lovely dinner and engage different guest speakers on topics that the group recognised they wanted a bit of help with. It just flourished from there.

    Apart from that, I was also HIV+ rep on the Board for quite a number of years. One of the benefits of volunteering was that I actually ended up with a full-time job at Danila Dilba because of the volunteer work that I was doing – not only with NTAC but with Family Planning and Danila Dilba at that time. And I remained on the Board as an ordinary member for quite a time.

    There were discussions around the drugs. I was on AZT for quite a while, even earlier than coming back to the Territory, but there was D4T, DDI, 3TCs. They created wasting. It’s something you live with and go on from. I used to do lots of education with high schools and assist Jan Holt as a public speaker. I must have talked to thousands of high school students over the years, which was rewarding.

    Compliance has always been a big thing for me. Understanding some of the lifestyle changes that I needed to do and quitting smoking was a very big thing. I just went cold turkey with that. Alcohol and recreational drugs, well, that dwindled to the point where it just doesn’t happen for the last twenty years. I know that I need to do a certain amount of exercise. I need to eat proper food, so changing the diet was very, very important.

    Eat, Indulge, Connect1 was a very good thing to come up from NTAHC. The way that the girls used to engage with us was just beautiful, because it wasn’t just showing us the foods but it was why those foods, and where they fit within a person’s diet, and boosting energy levels and helping the immune system. Ollie the chef was very engaging and wanted to make sure that we really understood the information. It was such a friendly atmosphere for us and some of the staff from NTAHC in how we got together. It was something we really looked forward to, and I do miss it as it was.

    The other person who I really liked to engage with was Jenny McDonald. My connection with Jenny goes way back to Fairfield Hospital in Victoria where I used to talk to her around the various topics in understanding HIV and nutrition. When NTAHC engaged her to come to Darwin and I realised who it was, I just jumped at that opportunity, and many times after then too, to engage with her because she was a very knowledgeable person around HIV and nutrition. We used to go to Clinic 34 mainly to engage with her but she did do some workshops and forums.

    I remember it was a particular NAPWHA forum that came to Darwin and I was asked to facilitate that. I felt quite honoured because Jo Watson from NAPWHA and Jenny McDonald were there. I’ve been to so much. I’ve sat on ASHM forums with GPs as a HIV+ person to do a case study. I’ve represented NTAC and NTAHC at AFAO meetings – and one of the key things was when they were looking at formalising the national strategies, of which there’s five now.

    NTAC gave me the opportunity while I was the Friends NT co-ordinator to visit interstate organisations, including PLWHA and other AIDS Councils. It was quite an insight to what was going on, and I got to talk as a guest speaker, too. I remember vividly my first positive speaking engagement when I went down to the the PLWHA. Phillip Metcalfe – lovely gentleman – gave me the opportunity to work with an Aboriginal man, Colin Ross. And he said, "We’ll go off and do public speaking." We went to Redfern High School and I thought, "I’m an observer here", and sat down and listened to Colin. Then he said, "And we’ve got Paul from Darwin and he’s going to now talk to you," and I just got up and did it. I felt like the duck on a pond – all smooth on the top but my feet were going like crazy underneath. And that was my introduction to positive speaking. I was an Acredited Speaking Member (ASM) with the National Speakers’ Association of Australia to help me upskill speaking as well.

    In the early days, on radio 104.1 FM there was a Wednesday night program "Sexuality Reality". We used to go on there as a panel with NTAC ED Barry Horwood and a few other people from the community. We used to talk as a group – people used to call in and ask questions – and we’d comment and talk about it from our own perspectives.

    I also had the opportunity to work with David McMicken, one of the artistic directors of Tracks Dance Company.He put together some plays and events. The one that is more memorable is the candlelight vigil.2 There was an effigy that we towed across Lake Alexander and it was
    set on fire. It was just really great.  

    Another time where there was a play at the Entertainment Centre around what it was like to be dealing with HIV.3 My role was sitting on the ground and I had this bell that I had to ding, and every ding I had to take a handful of tablets, which was just lollies anyway but the point was there. For the audience, it was an insight into what it was like to be living as a HIV+ person, and each individual person that was on the stage was interacting a different story.

    I’d been living with HIV since the late ’80s and there was a thing that goes around with people, that ten years, twelve years, and then "That’s it, you’re probably going to die of AIDS". I psychologically was ready to die until Bill McMahon said to me, "Hey, this is not who you are. Remember that." And he said, "I’ve accessed this training that you can do, too, being a Certificate IV Workplace Training and Assessor." So I thought, "You know, I’ve been doing training for so much of my life, especially when I used to teach Kung Fu for many years in Adelaide, and that’s exactly what I want to do." And from doing that, and then getting a full-time job from the volunteer work, and making sense of who I was and making changes in my life – I realised that I had some goals and one of those goals was to go to uni and do a degree, which I have completed. I’ve done various other diplomas and certificates. So it was like, "Life goes on. Don’t wait to die." So that was the turning point for me and it was a credit to NTAHC and the the team they had within the organisation that uplifted me and gave me purpose back.

    One of the most significant times – if I’ve got to pick something out – was standing side by side with Crystal Johnson and facilitating a session within the Sistergirl retreat and putting our arms around each other. It was such a lovely time. And then the other time where we facilitated together the transgender workshop 101, because that went for a good length of time. It was about being with her and listening to her story, it was just so lovely.

    Another special moment for me was in 2001 at a World AIDS Day dinner, I was presented with two awards by the NT Minister of Health, the Honourable Jane Agaard. The first award was for ‘HIV/AIDS Community Education’, and the second was for ‘Services to Indigenous Communities’. It was an absolute pleasure to receive those awards and the comments that came from community members on the night were very uplifting.

    I remember going to Nhulunbuy working with Chiquita Peel and, as a volunteer of NTAC, I was invited to talk to a strong women’s group. As a guy, I had to be very wary on what I was talking about but the ladies gave their permission to talk about whatever I wanted to talk about. Nothing was taboo. I must have spoken for easily two hours on all sorts of things, and with Chiquita alongside me, I felt so comfortable and it was a really good session. I remember one lady just bursting out in tears. It was like, "Wow, I didn’t realise it was such an impact on anybody." Afterwards, as a group, they performed a healing with me and that sits in my heart even today, that they would do all of that.

    In fact, in all the years that I’ve had the absolute pleasure to work with Aboriginal people within remote communities, I have been blessed by many types of engagements and from that I learnt to value my friendship towards my own mother. It taught me that much and that’s how much I value that.

    As a positive ending note, I’m still here. I’m going strong. I’m absolutely compliant and enjoy my job. I work full-time as an alcohol and drug and gambling counsellor. I always look forward to engaging with NTAHC events and staff, and I just want to make it totally, totally, totally welcoming.


    1 Eat, Indulge, Connect is a support program dealing with nutrition and cooking, and run for HIV-positive people from 2010–current. Concieved by Alex Galeazzi and co-produced by Alex, Lana (Pocock) Richardson and Panos Couros.

    2 Walking on Water, Lake Alexander, 1999, Tracks Dance Company. 

    3 Love vs Gravity, Darwin Entertainment Centre, 2000, Tracks Dance Company.