Preamble – I wrote this post back in August 2017 but didn’t published it. I was pregnant at the time and living at Littleton National Park (7 hours west of Cairns) where Brett had the opportunity to act as Range in Charge. I didn’t publish it because I thought it sounded a bit bitter. In retrospect, I was bitter. With a baby on the way I felt like my life goals would again take a back seat to other priorities. I’ll write about that later but for now I think this (somewhat amended) post should get an airing, if not for anyone else, for me.
So, do I actually work? It’s a question that’s popped up occasionally over the last few years, usually in response to a Facebook post in which I am evidently not working. Instead, I’m doing things like camping, drinking coffee or playing with the dogs. I am as guilty as the next person of only posting the best bits of my life on social media. Who wants to see pictures of me in my dressing gown and ugg boots trying to pluck up the motivation to do another draft of my paper?
Let me put this plainly – I want to work. I am a driven, intelligent woman with much to offer. I am also the wife of a husband who pursued his dream of becoming a Park Ranger. He has achieved that, and I have supported him to do so. In giving this support, it has been my choice to follow him to remote places where opportunities for my own career are next to nil.
Having said that, I have taken on some weird and wonderful jobs along the way. They include tour guiding at Kings Canyon, driving a bush ambulance, weather reporting for BOM, and administering a gold mine. Now I do my own communications consulting and have picked up some researching assisting work too. I also volunteer my time and skills to projects I think are worthwhile. It’s quite exhausting. I drive hours and hours to meetings and events in Cairns and all over the Gulf Savannah offering my services and getting exposure, hoping that more doors might open for me.
My good friend and colleague Dr Janice Terrill researches remote careers and lives. She conducted her PhD on women in the mining industry. In particular, she writes about ‘trailing spouses’ – women (and men) in mining who follow their partners to remote places in order to advance their partner’s career. More often than not, the man’s career is prioritised because of their higher earning potential and that the women has the children. Janice’s research found that, the more times a women physically relocates for her husband’s career, the less likely it is that she will achieve or get back to her desired job and salary.
My husband and I are in totally different industries, but the trailing spouse phenomenon is apparent in our lives. Brett is not the child-bearer or the one with greater earning potential. However, we have chosen to pursue work that is intrinsically fulfilling over other priorities such as higher pay and stability. He needs a few years to establish himself, then it will be my turn. In the meantime, I’ll do my best to stay in the game from afar.
I am reminded of a campaign that was run in my high school to encourage girls to expect the same things from life as boys do – jobs they want at equal pay and in any industry they choose. Purple stickers with ‘Girls can do anything!’ were plastered around classrooms and on the back of student diaries. It’s a good message and it’s true, and I like to think I’ve been a girl who has demonstrated she can do most things.
What I didn’t realise until recently is that girls (and boys) can’t do anything and have everything at the same time. Lives are not led independently; our career and life goals are necessarily intertwined with other people. If you want to share your life with someone else, you might choose (for a time) locations, homes and jobs that do not serve your own goals, but those of your loved one(s). In my experience, the consequences of these choices is exacerbated in remote conditions.
So, it’s back to working from the wilderness for me. No commute, no boss, no hint of a regular 9 to 5 job. Just me and Brett (and the dogs). Our partnership has been strained in recent years by competing individual agendas that take us in opposite geographic directions. But I may not have completed a PhD without Brett’s support, and he may not be a Park Ranger were that support not reciprocated. Living in partnership is a choice that requires compromise and a commitment to ensuring that, in the long run, we both get enough of what we want.