The newest member of the ICAN Team! Zack tells us about his experiences working in remote WA and the career path that eventually brought him back to Cairns.
Welcome to the ICAN Team, Zack!
Can you tell us a bit about where you’re from and how you ended up working in the Cairns office?
I’m from Adelaide originally and spent most of my life living there until recently. I’d lived in Cairns as a kid and loved the place ever since, so in 2017 when my wife and I got sick of living in the burbs, we quit our jobs and headed north.
We didn’t quite make it to Cairns but ended up in Airlie Beach in the Whitsundays. I was very fortunate to land a job as a Financial Capability worker as part of the Cyclone Debbie recovery funding. The agency I was working for helped me get my Financial Counselling Diploma. The plan was to move to Cairns once the funding ran out, but we got side-tracked and made a couple of detours, first to the Western Central Desert region of WA and then to Broome in the West Kimberley. Towards the end of 2020, the planets aligned and the role at ICAN popped up, so I jumped at the opportunity to get back.
You’ve had a varied career working for major corporates and in remote Indigenous communities. Can you tell us more about that?
Sure. Before becoming a financial counsellor, I worked for two very large corporations in the telecommunications and banking industries. That type of work just wasn’t for me, but the skills and knowledge that I gained from these jobs has been invaluable to my work as a financial counsellor.
After I left the corporate world and started working as a financial counsellor in North Queensland, I realised that I knew practically nothing about Indigenous culture and experiences. That did not sit well with me, so I found a job as a financial counsellor in a tiny community in Ngaanyatjarra Lands in WA and later moved to Broome.
Both these roles were challenging with lots of travel – up to 2500 kms per week visiting remote communities – but I feel incredibly privileged to have had the opportunity. What I learned from my time in WA is extremely valuable to me, both professionally and personally.
Not many of us have had the experience of living in a remote community. Can you tell us what that was like?
I really enjoyed living remote, but it’s not for everyone. You have little to no access to a lot of the modern luxuries we take for granted in cities, and the isolation can be challenging, especially if you are on your own. I’m very much an introvert and enjoy my own company, but even for me, living in the middle of a desert – or in Broome for that matter, which is far more isolated than it seems at first glance – could be tough at times.
That said, you do get the opportunity to see places and experience things that most people will never get the chance to do, and if you can get back to the big smoke now and again, the isolation is not so bad. Alice Springs feels like Las Vegas after 12 weeks in the bush!
What obstacles do people and financial counsellors face in remote communities?
I think the biggest and most common obstacle is access to consistent and quality services. Whether it’s because of geography, weather, lack of funding, or the inability to secure good people and good services long-term, remote communities miss out on many of the supports people living in urban, and even rural, environments take for granted.
From a financial counselling perspective, although many of the issues that present in remote communities might be the same as in urban and regional areas – for example, payday lending, scams, junk insurance, etc – they can inflict a lot more damage and be harder to remedy because adequate support and education are not always available or sufficient to meet the demand.
Do you have a favourite memory of living in the WA desert?
There are so many but listening to the stories from the Elders is something I will never forget. I’d often give people lifts if they needed a ride back home or if their car broke down between communities. On these drives, we would pass stretches of country I had driven through countless times before. Once I learned just to shut my mouth and listen, they would point out landmarks that I would never have otherwise noticed – like a rock hole, a specific tree, a shelter etc. Everything has a story. One woman I got to know quite well told me how back in the ’50s, her brother used to carry her on his shoulders when they walked from the Warburton mission to what is now Wanarn, about 200km away, camping at rock holes and shelters along the way.
Another great memory is fishing secret spots with my mate and her Aunty in Bidgyadanga and rocking up to work one day with my jeans wet up to my thighs because we decided to go fishing at Port Smith before work!
What do you like most about your job at ICAN?
Honestly, just being able to connect with clients in a genuine way. I’m consistently amazed by the resilience and persistence of people in the face of almost insurmountable adversity, and so I find it extremely grounding and rewarding that I can work with such strong people every day. It’s also a privilege to have such awesome colleagues to learn and share information with, there’s not a dull one in the bunch! I really enjoy being around such great people.
If you had to give people just one piece of advice, what would it be?
It’s clichéd, but I’d tell them that money isn’t everything. I know it definitely does not seem like that sometimes, and money problems can have some very serious consequences, but most money problems can be resolved relatively easily one way or another. What is far more important is having good supports like family and friends, good health, and good help. The debts can wait, because taking care of yourself should be the priority.
The weekend is coming up, where are we likely to find you?
I’ll either be on the couch watching movies or reading a book with my lovable jerk of a cat, Taco, or out exploring the mountains, beaches, and Tablelands around Cairns with my wife. It’s insane how much there is to see or do within 100kms of the city, so it’d probably be the latter, as I’m really enjoying reconnecting with my new home.