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Late last year 2018, I had offered the Transport Accident Commission (TAC) a series of 7 (is actually now 9 ) paintings I had done about my road trauma experience and about my grieving process. About how painting for myself, group art therapy, creative writing and volunteer speaking played a major role in helping me improve my sense of wellbeing. How it gave me meaning and purpose to my life.
Earlier this year 2019, Stephanie Wood of TAC Geelong whom I have known since 2010 when I first exhibited some of my paintings at TAC’s ‘Picture This Exhibition – Melbourne’ – asked if I would like to do an Artist Talk. Stephanie also asked if I wouldn’t mind speaking about my volunteer speaking I had done for the first 5 years with Road Trauma Support Services Victoria (RTSSV) and about the paid work I now undertake with the organisation. I was pleased to agree and grateful for such an opportunity! The presentation also included a live broadcast to TAC staff at their Melbourne Office as well. Afterwards, I did a short podcast with Stephanie about the presentation on the day that could be viewed by staff members who were unable to attend and may be interested in viewing the PowerPoint Presentation and listen to the podcast at their leisure. NB: Please find said podcast here below.
There were approximately 35 plus TAC staff in attendance between the Geelong and Melbourne Offices. They were genuinely attentive and asked many questions at the end of the presentation, which was very pleasing for me personally. It was truly an honour to have had such an opportunity! Both Stephanie and my dear hubby Mark supported me before, during and afterwards which was greatly appreciated. NB: Please find towards the end of this blog the ‘Artist Talk – Road Trauma’ presentation slides and basic presentation wording I delivered on that day.
After the presentation, Stephanie took us to the area where all seven paintings were hung. Mark and I were blown away with the fact that Stephanie had all the paintings professionally hang with accompanying painting stories within the corporate part of TAC head office Geelong. They looked amazing – it was thrilling for us to see them on the walls of TAC! At last these paintings have found a good home where they will be viewed by many and hopefully help with conveying the importance of being a safe and responsible road user.
NB: Recently Mark and I delivered to Stephanie Wood at TAC Geelong the two last paintings that now form 9 paintings in the series (painting no. 58 ‘A State of Mind’ and painting no. 60 ‘For One’s Wellbeing!’).
‘ARTIST TALK – ROAD TRAUMA’ POWER-POINT PRESENTATION SLIDES
Here below are the Power-Point Presentation slides and the wording that I basically presented on the day. During the live presentation, I did add additional information as needed and/or as seemed appropriate for the audience.
Slide 1: Introduction
Today I have been asked to speak about my artwork and about RTSSV. I have to confess – that it had me really thinking before coming here today, about how best to put together a presentation that was inclusive of both subjects! I have chosen to use a timeline throughout this presentation which expands over a 10 year period. At times these endeavours of mine have been very challenging – but have definitely been most worthy undertakings. They have been a lifeline that has transformed my life, and thus influenced my relationships with others in a most positive and fruitful way. I came across a quote the other day on Facebook that stated this:
“One day you will tell your story, of how you’ve overcome, what you are going through now, and it will become part of someone’s survival guide.” I feel the work that RTSSV’s volunteers and paid staff do – does just that – for many within our community.
November 2008, my husband was diagnosed with Lymphoma, and I became his carer during the twelve-month period of his chemotherapy and recovery process. On the 5th November 2009, just twelve months on, our 25-year-old son Ben was killed in a single-vehicle car crash. I poured all my effects into painting as a way of being able to stay sane! When I look back over my paintings and re-read the accompanying stories, I realise now, that I was using painting to work through a torrid of emotions. This process of painting and writing the corresponding story for each painting – became a very powerful tool to express emotions and feelings that were too hard to say out loud.
NB: Here below I have included a short video that was produced by TAC about my art practices and about why I paint. I didn’t show it during my presentation but feel it appropriate to include within this blog.
Slide 2: Road Trauma Story
My family’s road trauma story began on Friday the 5th of November 2009. Early that morning, a knock at the front door, revealed a young police officer who asked me, was I Karen Robinson, Ben’s mum and I said yes. With words that stumbled around, he said they were not sure, they had the right address. He then stated that Ben, my son had been killed in a single-car crash. Ben was 25, travelling at 140 kilometres per hour on a straight stretch of country road, in the early hours of the morning, with a BAC level of .08, hit a kangaroo, lost control of his vehicle, hit two trees and was killed instantly – the coroner’s report stated. I want to say here, that he was not a bad person, he was well-loved and liked by many, but he did engage in risky driver behaviour for many years, and on the night of his death, made some choices that tragically cost him his life. Ben is greatly missed and especially by me – his mum, his dad and sister. My family’s grieving process was different, for the each of us, but for myself, I wanted to see if I could connect with like-minded people – to give purpose and meaning to my life that had been completely shattered, by the sudden and tragic loss of our son Ben. Connecting with RTSSV proved to be, one of many steps I undertook during this decade journey of mine. RTSSV’s Volunteer speaker training back in 2011, lead me to spend 5 years as a volunteer speaker, sharing my life experience with road trauma, at Road Trauma Awareness seminars to repeat road traffic offenders – people just like my son. Someone asked me one day “you must feel great after sharing your story” and I thought at the time that, that was not the case. After thinking about it for some time, I thought it was the worthiest of tasks I do in my life and still is! What has enhanced this journey of mine has been also through the paid work that I now do with RTSSV. My volunteering has led to opportunities given to me by the organisation, to undertake the role of Regional Coordinator and RTAS Facilitator. The RC role entails connecting me with other facilitators and other volunteer speakers. My job is to help them stay connected regionally and with head office, help with training and give support where needed. My role as an RTAS Facilitator is to facilitator sessions about road safety and road trauma, for traffic offender participants, in the hope they will become, safer and more responsible road users in the future. It also gives me the opportunity to present at Schools, local businesses, and at Community Road Safety Forums.
Slide 3: Using painting and storytelling about grief, loss and despair – the beginning…
PAINTING 45A – Title “The Life of Our Son Ben” Acrylic on Canvas Jan 10/June 10 91cms Length x 91cms Wide x 3cms Deep
Painting Story: Our only son Ben was born on the 16/11/83 and died in a car crash 5/11/09 at the age of just 25, just before his 26th birthday. I had to do a painting to celebrate his life. To know that the time Ben was here with us was a treasure shared with so many. Ben was loved and cherished and will be missed so much by all but mostly by us his mum being me, his dad and sister. In memory of Ben and his life with us – we love you, Ben. Each band of colour represents a year of Ben’s life from a baby, toddlerhood, small child, older child, teenager through to becoming a fully grown young man. Each colour represents the different emotions, feelings, experiences, growth Ben achieved in his 26 years with us. The spheres represent the worlds of people he had in his life from his own family of us (mum, dad and sister and his sister’s partner and now husband), extended family of nana, pa, aunties, uncles and cousins, work colleagues, first love, last love, other girlfriends and the best of mates. In loving memory of our Ben…
PAINTING 45B – Title “The Death of Our Son Ben” Acrylic on Canvas Jan /Jun 2010 91cms Length x 91cms Wide x 3cms Deep
Painting Story: Our son Ben was killed on the 5/11/09 in a car accident. Ben had just finished a 7-day shift at the Fosterville Gold Mines in Bendigo and was out with his Crew 3 work colleagues at their local drinking haunt. At approximately 1.30am Thursday morning they headed off from the bar to home. Ben was able to get a cab but his boss was not able to get one. His boss said for Ben to take the taxi and he would start walking home. Ben reached home safely but was concerned about his boss walking home alone. It was then that Ben decided to get into his car and go and pick up his boss and drive him home. This was a fatal decision Ben made. After picking up his boss, Ben headed back home via the road back to his work. This road was out through bush and farmland and Kangaroo area. At approximately 1.30am Ben travelling at approximately 140 kilometres and over .08 hit a kangaroo. Ben lost control of his car and at high speed collided into trees set on the side of the road. Ben was killed instantly. It was not until approximately 5am that Ben was discovered by one of Fosterville Gold Mine People. Ben made a terrible decision to get into his car that night but for a good reason to ensure his boss got home safely. When we went up to see where Ben had his crash it was incredibly emotional, distressing and heartbreaking. The decision to do a painting of Ben’s crash was all about trying to communicate to all young people about drinking and driving and how in just one split second, a life can be taken. That a young life taken is such a tragedy and that so many other people’s lives are deeply affected and changed forever as well for this loss. This painting shows the split-second of our son Ben’s death. The impact of his car of silver and crimson into the trees, the shattering of his car and his life. The road through what is very beautiful county Victoria, a strange contrast to the tragedy we were all facing! The blue in the crash is our boy’s soul, the gold is our treasured son and the blue triangles are his sole reaching for the night heavens. There is the road stretching into the distance and the gums in the bush fields.
Slide 4: TAC Picture This Exhibition opportunity to show paintings…
November 2010, I participated in the TAC exhibition called “Picture This” along with other artists who had somehow been affected by road trauma. It was located at Atrium Fed Square – Melbourne, Australia. The exhibition provided people who had been affected by road trauma to use the artistic expression, whether it was drawing, painting, printmaking, ceramics, photography or textiles, to share their experiences. The exhibitions showcased artwork by people who have either taken up art since being involved in a transport accident or who were artists before their accident (TAC 2019). Making the decision to be part of TAC’s “Picture This” 2010 was both difficult and important for myself and for my family. When I painted these paintings, it was very much for me. I was painting my way through my grief. It was a way of being able to express my thoughts and emotions which I found very difficult to say out loud. Our family were deeply sad during this period of time in our lives; and at times, just talking to each other was at times almost too hard to do. So for me, painting became a form of therapy, I way to tell my story about grief, loss and heartache.
Slide 5: Trying to accept our son’s death…
PAINTING 45C – Title “The Loss of Our Son Ben” Acrylic on Canvas Jan/June 2010 91cms Length x 91cms Wide x 3cms Deep
Painting Story: This painting was all about the loss of our son. The deep grief of this loss and the terrible emptiness felt by us. How we felt that without Ben we were left with nothing of his future. No hope, no marriage, no children of his and no Heritage of our son forthcoming. As parents the loss of our only son is unrecoverable. There is only the past we have of him which we will cherish forever but no present and no future. I was only hoping by painting this that young people could understand more fully about the issues of ‘drink driving’. Our son was just like any other young man who was trying to make a life for himself. But tragically Ben was not able to continue on with his. Hopefully, we may be able to save a young person’s life by sharing our son’s tragedy.
PAINTING 45D – Title “Rest in Peace Ben” Acrylic on Canvas Jan11 /June 2011 91cms Length x 91cms Wide x 3cms Deep
Painting Story: It was not until earlier in 2010, that we were able to place Ben’s ashes and plaque at Fawkner Memorial Park. At the time, the roses were not in bloom, the grounds were dry and colourless and the day was cloudy and grey. It was a very sad, solemn day for us as parents and for Ben’s sister and her partner. Later that same year, we returned on the 5th November 2010, the first anniversary of Ben’s death. On this day of sad memories of Ben and our hearts full of grief, we found ourselves visiting a strangely beautiful place. The sky was bright blue; the colourful roses were in full bloom! The old elms trees were still bare but just starting to bud again. And all the shrubbery and grass was green again after the winter rains. We placed fresh flowers, in the small vase, set on his plaque and sat on the small seat overlooking the beautiful garden. We were one year on….it made it no easier to bare, the loss of our son, but we gained a small comfort, that he was at peace in a beautiful place, that we had done everything possible to pay respect to his memory. Ben would be in our hearts and minds forever. In this painting, I have tried to capture this spirit of our day, Ben’s first anniversary. I needed to remember Ben, at peace in a beautiful place….for my sake … as his mum…..I couldn’t paint another painting full of pain, I wanted to be able to look at this painting and think of the beautiful day, we spent remembering him, remembering our son and the 26 years, Ben was in our lives. Ben was killed in a motor vehicle crash, just outside of Bendigo 5th November 2009, at the age of 25 just before his 26th Birthday – In memory of Ben…
Slide 6: Another form of therapy – volunteer speaking…
At the beginning of 2011, I undertook the volunteer training process. It also became a form of therapy and an important part of my life and still is. Volunteers play a significant role within RTSSV with many having personal experiences of road trauma and the impact it has on people’s lives. For a 5 year period, I shared my family’s road trauma life experience at RTAS sessions. RTAS participants can be one-time road traffic offenders but most often are repeat road traffic offenders directed by (1) the Magistrates Courts to attend; (2) Solicitors pre-court attendance; (3) Community Corrections; (4) and some self-referred. The volunteer’s story has proven to have the greatest impact on the participants in getting them to rethink about their risky driver behaviour, and in turn, this will hopefully save lives, reduce serious injury and reduce the ripple effect caused by road trauma.
Slide 7: Using painting as a way of expressing feelings and thoughts…
PAINTING 45E – Title “Reaching out to Sons” Acrylic on Canvas Jan 11 /Jun 2011 91cms Length x 91cms Wide x 3cms Deep
Painting Story: This painting has been inspired by “Road Trauma Awareness Seminars” and the people who attend them. There are 15 black circles, each being a driver and within the circle of colours. The black circles (participants) sit around a set of tables, all looking towards the presenters. The SES presenter is in the high left-hand side of this painting, with the RTSSV Educator, down at the front next to SES presenter. And there is me, Ben’s mum, telling my family’s Road Trauma Story. I painted myself in grey because it is very hard to tell my story. I have my arms in pearl white and reaching out to these sons, sons just like my son Ben. The circle of colour placed up on the top right corner of the painting is part of my presentation and is the ripple effect of Ben’s death. Ben being the centre with the ripples coming out, like when you drop a pebble into a pond and the water ripples out! Within this ripple effect are Ben’s Dad, Mum (me), his Sister and her Partner, his Girlfriend, Grandparents, Aunties, Uncles, Cousins, Best of Mates, his Work Mates, Previous Work Mates, Old School Friends and people I have come to understand have also been affected by road trauma; the workmate whom found Ben dead at the scene of the crash; the police officer who came to our home’s front door in Melbourne and told us Ben had been killed, the police officer who attended Ben’s crash, the SES people who removed Ben out of his car, the ambulance driver who took Ben to the Coroners, the Coroner and many others within our communities. The colours in the painting are about how these drivers (mainly men), how they come into the room full of life and hope. We share a solemn message about the outcomes of road trauma – death and serious injury. But the team of “Road Trauma Awareness” are reaching out, to try and get these drivers to change their driver behaviour in the hope that they don’t end up like Ben – my son.
PAINTING 45F – Title “A Fractured Life” Acrylic on Canvas Feb /Oct 2012 91cms Length x 91cms Wide x 3cms Deep
Painting Story: The black square in the centre of the right top corner is the grief I hold in my life for my son’s loss. The shapes coming out from his grief is my life as it was then, fractured! It no longer fit the way it did before. My life would never be the same. To say I needed to build a new life…doesn’t fit either. The loss of my son had left a gaping hole in my heart.
Slide 8: Work or study?
2011 – 2013 “Advanced Diploma of Justice” – Equips the student with skills for employment in supervisory or management positions within the justice industry
2 years of full-time study 2011-2013 – thankfully achieved with High Distinction
Slide 9: Volunteer speaking and study leading into paid work opportunities…
2014 “Regional Coordinator Training” – The role consists of training, supervising, supporting
volunteer speakers and RTAS facilitators, also making connections with regional road safety stakeholders (RTSSV 2014) – completed and still in the role today 2019.
2015 “Group Facilitator Training” – Areas concluded: The impact of road trauma the RTAS program, supporting volunteers, dealing with challenging behaviours and delivery of the program (RTSSV 2015) – completed and still in the role today 2019.
From 2014 I have facilitated approximately 150 RTAS sessions consisting of approximately 1,500 participants!
Slide 10: Getting to the other side of loss and looking for better days…
PAINTING 58 – Title “A State of Mind” Acrylic on Canvas Dec 2014 100cms Length x 100cms Wide x 3cms Deep
Painting Story: This painting was inspired by a sketch I did during an art therapy session in August 2014. During the session, our art therapy facilitator asked us to sketch within 5mins about ‘how we feel right now’. My life, my state of mind right at that moment was best described as being more ‘cup half full’ as opposed to being half empty during earlier years. The bright yellow is representative of sunny feelings; the blue and green colours representing cooler feelings and emotions; the orange and red being representative of rage and/or being upset; and lastly the black is representative of the loss of my son and the sorrowful feelings I have which will never go away. During my art therapy session, I explained that my sketch and now in this painting, once turned upside-down, is representative of some days where it is not all sunny, they can be dark and looming such as the early years after the loss of my son. But these kind of days were few and far between now, as it had been nearly five years on since the loss of my son Ben in 2009 (it was August 2014 at the time the sketch was done). Within the painting itself, I created scaffolding type lines in black which signify how my daily life, months, and years can be complicated by depression and anxiety. But I am in a much better place now than I have been My wellbeing has improved greatly with the use of art and creative writing therapy.
PAINTING 60 – Title “Brick Wall” Acrylic on Canvas May 2015 100cms Length x 100cms Wide x 3cms Deep
Painting Story: We get a life to build and each brick in that wall of life represents our struggles and our successes – our human endeavours. In my wall, the black represents grief, despair and sadness, the yellow represents sunny joyous happy days, the orange/red represents anger and frustration, the pink represents passion and love, the green represents steadiness and security, the brown represents the ‘done-and-dusted’ and the forgotten, the grey represents dullness and boredom, the purple represents adventure and secrets I have shared, and the pale blue represents ‘the sky’s the limit’!
Slide 11: Being thankful to those who helped me through my journey
PAINTING 64 – Title: “For One’s Wellbeing” Acrylic on Canvas Feb 2016 90cms Length x 90cms Wide x 3cms Deep
Painting Story: This painting titled “For One’s Well-being” has been inspired by the groups of people I have brought into my life through activities such as Art Therapy and Creative Writing provided by Mind Australia; and also my volunteering and paid work that I do with Road Trauma Support Services Victoria. For the sake of my own well-being, I have found over a course of time, that being part of community groups such as these organisations, has truly helped me gain a better sense of well-being. Within the comfort and security of such organisations, I have witnessed how people have been empowered to voice their feelings, share, reveal, support, encourage each other during times of great difficulty alongside professional support systems. I have also witnessed how when participants choose to come and join such organisations they grow strong and more able to deal with day to day difficulties and I am one of those people. My painting reflects an image of myself in the foreground, with my support networks in the background. They come from all walks of life, they are family such as my dear husband and my darling daughter, friends, workmates and community group members who have been an integral part of my life over recent years and all have contributed to my ability to reach a healthy mindset. It also includes TAC! Hence varying colours of difference and colours with commonality. I couldn’t have got to this place where I am now without their support and this painting is a tribute to them all.
Slide 12: About Road Trauma Support Services Victoria
Road Trauma Support Services Victoria is a not-for-profit organisation contributing to the safety and wellbeing of road users (RTSSV 2019).
Counselling: Our counsellors are specially trained to help people manage the thoughts, feelings and behaviours associated with road trauma. Our counselling sessions are – free of charge – confidential – unlimited in number. You do not need a referral to access our services. Sessions may be conducted face-to-face or by telephone. Our clients include bereaved families, friends and colleagues; injured people and carers; drivers and passengers; and people who were first on the scene – witnesses, citizens who offered assistance, and emergency service workers. This service is fully funded by TAC (RTSSV 2019).
Education: We deliver a range of educational services that reach more than a thousand people each year. For traffic offenders – Road Trauma Awareness Seminars are delivered in conjunction with the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria – as part of traffic offenders sentencing options. These seminars now 10 years on are delivered at over 30 locations across Victoria each month. We also present varying other programs at schools, community and corporate organisations and sporting clubs (RTSSV 2019).
Slide 13: Voices of those who have been somehow impacted by road trauma…
Slide 14: Time for Remembering Event…
The 3rd Sunday of November is the World Day of Remembrance for people who have life experiences with road trauma! It allows attendees to commemorate the lives of loved ones lost on our roads, celebrates their lives and gives thanks for those who survived. It is also an opportunity to pay tribute to those agencies and individuals who work tirelessly to reduce the road toll and the associated trauma and grief (RTSSV 2019).
Slide 15: Get involved – Shine a Light on Road Safety Event…
RTSSV is the driving force behind the ‘Shine a Light on Road Safety’ yearly national campaign – alongside the United Nations Global Road Safety Week. It’s a way for the organisation to highlight the importance of the work that we do, and the part we play in road safety. Please come and join us in our campaign to raise awareness, to stop deaths and injuries on our roads, and to raise funds to support those impacted by road trauma. You can support road safety by during Shine a Light week – landmarks across Australian are illuminated in yellow for road safety; Illuminations: Monday 6th May to Sunday 12 May 2019 – perhaps you could look at having landmarks illuminated in your area? On Friday 10 May 2019 turn on your headlights to demonstrate a commitment to road safety; and join the community walk and BBQ from 11am to 1pm on Sunday 5 May 2019 at Albert Park Lake, Melbourne (RTSSV 2019). SUPPORTER – TAC
Side 16: Conclusion and question time – and there were many – just so good!
My volunteering experience with this organisation RTSSV has been lifesaving for sure! It has improved my sense of self-worth after our family’s tragic event. It helped me rebuild and re-energized my life to give it meaning and purpose. It has given me opportunities to connect and develop meaningful relationships with likeminded people, and opportunities to take up training to enhance existing skills, and learn new ones.
As a mother, a wife, a grandmother, a friend, a work colleague and community member – I am truly appreciative of this and thank you…
In conclusion to this blog and now some 9 years on since the death of my son Ben, I have with the support of so many people been able to achieve much that has been important to me and my family. My dear husband who has been clear of cancer now for these years is enjoying good health for his age. My darling sweet daughter married a good man and they now have a beautiful little girl who we care for two days a week while my daughter works. Our little granddaughter brings us much joy into our daily lives. Life is good and we are very grateful for what we have in our lives. The loss of our son and his memory is never too far away in my thoughts, but I know he would be pleased to see we are all doing the best we can. Love and miss you my dearest son – wish you were here to enjoy this life…sincerely your mum…
In memory of our beautiful son Ben – © Karen Robinson – Sept 2019
Please click here to visit my ‘Photography – About’ page where you will be able to find blog links and photographs about photographic adventures…
POST-TRAUMATIC GROWTH: Improving one’s sense of wellbeing using art, creative writing, photography, blogging and motivational speaking – my journey written by ©Karen Robinson. Please click here for my latest blog news!
I found this post so moving. Your journey of healing, your candor in explaining your feelings and how they emerged in your paintings, and the gradual evolution to acceptance really struck me. I am impressed by your work with the organization and it sounds healing and rewarding for you and very useful for others. And as always I think your paintings are beautiful. I am glad they have found this home.
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Hi Claudia, Thank you for reading, sharing your thoughts and helping me understand that I had achieved what I set out to do. By sharing I hope that others can gain some insight into how posttraumatic stress can lead to positive outcomes. Not just for oneself but for others in their lives. Appreciate very much you have taken time out of your day to read this particular blog…sincerely Karen
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Although I have been following your blog for some time, and I was aware of your story, this current posting has really affected me and made me cry. I am in awe of the way that you have found a way forward and are helping others to do the same.
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Hi Winderjssc, hoping you are OK? Thank you for your support in following and for taking the time to especially read this particular blog – even though it was hard to do. Its been nearly 10 years now for me this journey and much credit has to be given to many people in my life who have supported me in ways they probably don’t even realise made such a difference. Like your words…sincerely Karen Robinson