My South Side Story: Nicki Millen

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I was born in England and emigrated here in 1954. We lived and worked in the bush on a sheep station out back of Parkes, NSW. My family worked hard to improve their lot, and we ended up moving to Victoria during my high school years. I worked and raised my Anglo-Indian children in the Dandenong Ranges above Melbourne.

I came to Cairns in 2004 and lived in several suburbs before moving to the township of Gordonvale in 2006. It felt like coming home. I’m a country girl who always had herbs, a vegetable garden, orchard and animals. I worked in nurseries, then schools as my boys grew. I think the skills that I gained as a mother and Educational Integration Aide (as well as my Diploma of Community Development) helped me learn how to coordinate and run projects and events.

I offered to finish a mural on a fence for one of my partner’s workmates, and suddenly was in full demand as a mural artist! I ran kids art and craft groups and volunteered at the library as an art and crafts person. I believe children are our nations’ future treasure and our greatest resource.

By default I became well-known in Gordonvale. Lots of people used to stop and chat while I painted the town, telling me their dreams and worries. I joined the Chamber of Commerce to try and make a better deal for our little country town, and ran events or the townspeople.

In 2014 I set up a community Art Gallery ” Creative Space” for Gordonvale artists to come together and display their works. We had about 60 artists registered with us, and became known as the most successful new art gallery in the Cairns region for that year. I learned lots of new skills, amongst which were how to run a small business, curating skills, exhibition and groupwork skills.

In 2015 I joined the Gordonvale Chamber of Commerce to assist with the Carols’ Committee. I had become very concerned at the lack of volunteers for community support organisations which is often the slow death of small townships. Over the next two years I gained grant-writing and event management skills and set up Animal Education Day, a celebration of all the animal medical, feed supply, local government, police and service dogs, animal rescue and volunteer organisations in the Cairns regional area. We ended up attracting entrants from surrounding council regions as well, and became a loved tourist attraction for Gordonvale. I ran it for four years by myself but sadly had to close it because no volunteers would run it. Again I learned how to think “on the run” and now have no fear of public speaking to crowds of 2000 or more. I heartily recommend volunteering to gain confidence, life skills and experience….free knowledge without a HECS debt!

In 2018 I was pleasantly surprised to be presented with a “Community Service Award” by the Honourable Curtis Pitt MP, our State Member for Mulgrave. I wished that I could present an award right back to Curtis, as he steps in to support his community unstintingly, and had been the Patron for Animal Education Day.

The community mural, adjacent to the Edmonton Library, is a dream come true for me. I was very proud to be asked to use my variety of skills to coordinate this project! It was a chance to “heal country” by showing how human we all are with our different cultures fitting within the DNA strand, and how multiculturalism has made us one strong country and community.