How Alone Australia winner Gina Chick danced with grief and found her happy ending
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How Alone Australia winner Gina Chick danced with grief and found her happy ending

Aug 20, 2023

It was my 67th day in winter wilderness and I'd long left behind all comprehension of myself as a modern human.

I couldn't imagine any life but this: surviving solo on palawa (Tasmanian Aboriginal) country as a participant on the SBS survival series Alone Australia. I passed my latest medical check and answered questions from producers to assess my mental state.

I was thriving, completely in love with my wild home, but who else was still out there? I would only find out I was the last one standing if a loved one walked out of the wilderness and said, "You've won".

And then it happened. My body knew he was there before I did. I turned.

Here, like some bizarre jack-in-the-box, was a tall shape as familiar as my own hand. He was wearing a bright blue parka.

That's the bit I remember, a breathless shock of vivid colour wrapped around Lee, father to my fallen daughter, my one-time husband and current collaborator on so many aspects of my existence.

He was a piece of my faded modern life, cut out and pasted onto the muddy hyper-reality of this primal one.

The shock of him, and the meaning of that moment, brought with it so much new information, it almost split my skin.

I'd won. But winning had become such an ethereal concept I couldn't marry all the separate strands of possibility whipping around in that moment.

I screamed. I swore. My eyeballs tried to jump out of my face. He was here. I'd almost forgotten there was a point to this show: to be the last one standing, and then it would be over. And now I was the last one standing. It was over.

I gingerly tapped Lee's chest, almost expecting my hand to go through it. Like he was a hologram. He was so proud of me he was trembling.

"Would you like a hug?" he said, eyes full of tears.

"Yes," I said, though I could barely hug him back. My knees buckled. He held me up.

"You're real," I said. "You're here."

"Yes, Gi. You did it. You've won."

There's a moment in the footage I will treasure forever, where our foreheads press together and we're both crying and laughing. Our whole life journey together is right there in that one image.

The cameras didn't exist for us, nothing existed.

Lee and I have been to the underworld together, we've carved out our hearts and held them up as the abyss swirled in with raven pecks and howling claws to shred them to bloody rags, and returned to talk about it, stronger.

He is woven into the fabric of my being. I can't imagine life without him.

"It had to be you," I said. After everything we've been through, it had to be him to catch me for this transition, my first human touch in 67 days. I was to be torn from my simple nest and flung back into the neon madness of modern life.

He understands the wild in me better than anyone. So much of why I was there, and how I won, came from our time together.

Lee and I met at Tom Brown Junior's Tracker School 15 years ago. I'd been blown there on the winds of instinct and a yearning to understand more deeply the truths of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Lee was living in a tipi for a year in the caretaker program.

At the time it felt like we made the choice to be together but, in retrospect, our connection seems choiceless and fated.

Without him, our daughter Blaise would not have come to be. Having and losing Blaise has given me the resilience to dance with life in ways I never would have imagined.

Dancing with grief over the past decade has taught me how to be with what is, rather than what I wish could be. Or should be.

It's taught me to turn a challenge inside out to find the blessing in the lesson. It's shown me there is nothing that cannot be felt, and that emotions are like summer storms. They blow through if we let them, and on the other side is peace.

Looking at the world through the eyes of a child means I find joy in every moment, even the shitty ones. Without those tools I may never have lasted a day in lutruwita (Tasmania).

It's funny how lives make sense when you look at them backwards.

I'm not surprised I was bullied as a kid. Humans are hardwired to fear what is different and I was out on the lonely edges of the bell curve.

You don't see many kids at school chewing up seed and spitting it into a baby bird's mouth at recess. Kids don't react well to that kind of strangeness, as a rule.

Home was a chaotic explosion of life and animals and camping trips and picnics and books and music and love. Primary and early high school was a grey interminable hell being pecked by savage birds with cruel beaks. If I thought about the other kids as eagles on carrion it made sense. Except I was the carrion, which didn't.

Nature was always my refuge and solace when humans baffled me, which was mostly.

My feet were leathered, able to run across rocks, my back broad and strong as a boy's. My sisters and I ran wild from beach to beach, nut brown, freckled, jumping from high trees into azure water, ignoring oyster cuts from the rocky scramble back for the next jump.

We didn't think about nature as a thing, it was just life.

Home was the place we ranged from and returned to, but all the best adventures happened outside. Mum calls it our free-range childhood.

I didn't have to learn to be wild. Instead, I had to learn how to fit into boxes, and the lessons never really took. Now I'm old and ornery enough not to try.

We're hardwired for nature connection. I see it every day in kids running around, building shelters, playing with sticks, making dams. It's innate.

When that connection is fostered and mentored, humans have access to a level of wisdom and resilience our hunter-gatherer ancestors relied on to survive for hundreds of thousands of years.

Wild creatures don't outsource their authority. They follow their needs, in deep relationship with the landscape. This is how we evolved, but in the past 10,000 years, we've gradually forgotten. The amazing thing I see is how quickly we remember when conditions are right.

We don't need to go solo in winter wilderness. Simply kicking off our shoes, leaning against a tree and listening to birdsong is enough to start the process.

Nature is a battery, ready for us to plug in. When we do, we recharge our souls.

It's impossible for us to be separate from nature. We're grown from it. I could quote studies about Nature Deficit Disorder and rewilding — connecting with ancestral living skills and living in harmony with nature — but, for me, it's a much simpler equation.

In the mirror of nature, we see ourselves reflected, and what's important comes into focus. Our brain waves change, our sense of self merges with the interconnected web of life spanning a planet.

We're part of something greater than us. We marvel at the mystery of life and our place in it. We come home.

Kids know this intuitively. Adults are imprisoned by a thin veneer of civilisation telling us to control nature, to shape and mould and tame it, but inside, down where the wild things are, our instinctive voice whispers differently.

When the moon tugs at the water in our bodies, when morning sun traces gold around every leaf, when oceans shimmer with quivering light and the horizon falls away in an infinite edge to remind us we are no more important than any bird or stone or tree, we begin to understand that home is bigger than our nice house. It's the whole world and it's our birthright to dance in harmony with it.

Lee was the first other person I'd met who knew this utterly. Together we found delight exploring our living planet.

We dived into a life practising ancestral rewilding skills. The house was full of sticks and smelled of fire-smoke. We built shelters in the bush. Slept next to fires. Drank chai in the city. Danced between a modern and primitive way of life.

It sounds very romantic. It often wasn't. When there were storms, great typhoons that roared in from the south, we shared one trait that saved us: to turn up in the conflict until we found resolution, both taking responsibility for our part. To do it until it was done.

It was lucky we carved out these processes of deep relating. We would need them.

Lee and I ended up walking a path I would wish on no parent, ever, after our only daughter Blaise died of cancer, aged three.

To grieve your child seems to break some law of nature, though of course that's just a story. Children die. There's no magic to say who is immune. Death rolled the dice with a skeletal hand and a rattle of bones.

Our one perfect cub flew away.

We re-started our Rewild Your Child family camps not long after Blaise died and discovered that not only could we still be around kids, it helped in our grief. I've gone from having one child to hundreds. That village is now a thriving community, based on nature connection.

Lee and I discovered a new shape together. Instead of parenting a child, we parented a village, planted seeds of connection, which we tended and grew into a living forest that's now so much bigger than us.

And for a while, it was enough.

We wanted another child. It was not to be. I had five miscarriages in 12 months. I learned then that my body was done and I accepted that.

For me, when someone deeply knows the business they are on this planet to do, that is a wonderful thing. I'll never get in the way of that.

Lee always, his whole life, wanted to be a father to many children. It shaped him, that yearning. To me, one of the fundamental gifts of togetherness is supporting another on their life's journey; whether it's a friend, a lover, a parent or a child.

I couldn't have any more kids. Lee and I parted ways so he could. It made sense for him to do the thing he desperately wanted to do.

When we got married, our vows weren't to be together forever, 'til death do us part. Our vows were to support each other in our soul journeys, whatever and wherever that was.

If that meant that we were together, great. If it meant that we were on other sides of the world, great. We still do support each other. It's just not in that conventional married sense.

When Lee and Hannah, his new partner, found each other, I celebrated.

Truth be told, I helped nudge Lee towards her, elbowing him in the ribs when she walked away after he'd totally missed her flirting with him. "Are you going to let that arse walk out of your life?" He chased after her and snagged her number.

The rest is history. I love both their daughters and feel so honoured to be their godmother. They are Blaise's sisters. Hannah's amazing and a dear friend. There aren't many wives who would be okay with the ex being around, especially when the ex takes up as much room as I do.

Life has taught me, over and over, to die into every moment. Which means letting go. There is such freedom in that.

It means I meet each moment with wonder, excited to see what's in store. I'm not thinking about tomorrow, or yesterday, or what might have been. To me that's pointless.

People ask me all the time how I can be happy for Lee. I find the question confusing. How can I not? Two little girls have the best dad imaginable and my best friend has found love and nourishment. How can I not celebrate that?

We are all changed by everyone we meet, by everyone we share our lives with. If I hadn't met Lee, if we hadn't loved and lost our daughter, I would not have been on Alone Australia, and now have a platform to initiate a conversation about nature connection with people all over the country.

I am so grateful this conversation is so alive in public consciousness, and that our dream of sharing this wisdom is coming true in ways we never could have imagined.

All around the country, the whisper of wildness is becoming a song, one we can all sing together, and hopefully in the echoes of that melody re-imagine our relationship with this planet, our only home.

Sometimes not ending in happily ever after is the best love story of all.

Watch Gina Chick (@gigiamazonia on Instagram) on Australian Story anytime on ABC iview.

Watch Gina Chick (@gigiamazonia on Instagram) on Australian Story anytime on ABC iview.