Words and Pictures

with Elizabeth Walton

The search for meaning

Caroline Jones
Search for Meaning takes Jones to the Blue Mountains

A picture is painted of a weatherboard cottage on a main road in the Australian country-side. The father is away fighting the army’s world of wars – but life in this little town goes on regardless. It’s a poor, yet happy memory which Caroline Jones depicts to the crowd gathered around at the Lawson Neighbourhood Centre. Her tale of a simple and love-filled childhood comes to an unhappy chapter as she finds herself standing on the stairs of a boarding school, suitcase in hand, and watches her parents disappearing up the road without her. “At that point, I asked myself, ‘If even the people who love you most can’t help you, what does it all mean?’ It was my moment of realising that I am actually alone.”

The deep sense of abandonment and family tragedy she experienced as a child remained well concealed behind the adult image of Caroline Jones, successful journalist. At the peak of her career, her image embraced the cover of glossy magazines, and her mind embraced the no-nonsense style of 4Corners current affairs.

Yet the wounds which carved their niche earlier on in life left an indelible mark on her private world. “It was exhausting. There was such a split between the inside and the outside of me that it felt like I was running on empty. I realised I needed help, and I went to see a counsellor.”

“It changed my life in a big way. I felt happier, more relaxed, and less driven – and much more available to other people.” The counsellor didn’t make judgements or tell her what to do – she simply listened. And Caroline Jones learnt to listen too. The counselling not only helped in her personal search for meaning, but also had a major impact on her interviewing style, as well as the work she would pursue in her career from that moment on.

“It was a very fulfilling experience. People really do need reassurance in their daily lives – regardless of their circumstances. But not everyone is able to access counselling. Katoomba Neighbourhood Centre is staffed by volunteers who offer services to those who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it.”

Fran Charlton established Katoomba’s Neighbourhood Counselling Service nine years ago, and has given her time freely to the service ever since. For the last three years, Barbara Brooks has also been a volunteer counsellor – but she has recently left the service to pursue paid-employment.

Manager of Katoomba Neighbourhood Centre, Dianne Jacobus, says, “People of all ages use the service – from teenagers right through to the elderly. It’s mainly people who can’t afford to see private practitioners. They come for all sorts of reasons – relationship problems, addictions, people who are just out of prison or recently unemployed, or even grief and loss. We don’t specialise – our counsellors refer people on to other services when necessary. But we will now need to reevaluate the service to see if the counsellor who resigned can be replaced.”

Ideally, the Neighbourhood Counselling Service needs to generate enough funding to pay the counsellors. But even if that takes nine more years, the service is still in immediate need of a part-time coordinator. “The Coordinator’s role is equally as important because you really need someone to bring it all together, and liaise with outside agencies. At the moment, the counsellors are doing the coordinating as well as their other duties.” Ms Jacobus says this is why the centre is so grateful to Caroline Jones for helping raise awareness of the need to fund a service which is so vital to the community.

“I knew what it was like to be lonely inside,” says Caroline Jones. “It takes real courage to speak out about it. We all need to learn how to build up our inner resources so there’s plenty of company in there – then we can truly discover the rapture of being alive! ”

Caroline Jones’ book, The Search for Meaning, is available from bookstores.

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