Every story starts somewhere, and parts of mine have been told by a lot of others so far. So this is me taking it back. This time, it’s just me and you here – no camera, no make-up, no screens. The real Brooke, barefoot and uncomplicated, with my whole truth to share.
It starts long before anyone knew my name, other than the mob and family who loved me and knew me from the day I was born.
Compared to others, my childhood was an unusual one. There are two stories that I could tell about it. One could be about all the things we didn’t have, like food in the fridge, clean beds to sleep in every night, stability and the routine of breakfast, school, homework and dinner that most kids take for granted.
But that wouldn’t be a true story, because that isn’t what has made me who I am. It isn’t what took me from a girl with very little to a woman with power, passion and skills to give to her community. The other story – the true story – about what has made me who I am is the one thing that I never went without. Love. Big love, which filled me up and made me feel like there was a future for me. The kind of love that’s unconditional, and that lasts across time, space and even death.
My family was poor, but we loved each other. My mum, Seanna, was an addict, but she loved us to the best of her ability. My nan, Charlotte, my mum’s mum, was stretched – her whole life was full of hardship, but she was fierce with her love. As were my three brothers and my sister – despite all the trauma they endured and the lifelong difficulties that came with that, they never once made me question their love.
Along the way, there has also been the love of my mob, especially my aunties, uncles and cousins, who showed up for me through the good times and bad, who understood who I was and where I came from. And the love of strangers, like my teacher and guardian Jo, who took me in and gave me a chance when there was nowhere for me to go as a teenager. The girls I played football with, who gave me a community and a safe space to figure myself out, to discover my sexual identity and my true self.
The people I met through The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, from both in front of and behind the camera, who have become lifelong friends, who gave me so much more from the experience of television than what viewers can ever see. The communities I’ve grown and become part of online and offline, the queer communities that have embraced me for who I am, with no filters.
And the men and women who I have loved, deeply, truly and with all of my heart and soul. Even when the relationship hasn’t lasted, the love has been real and will be part of my life forever.
This story is about love. But it’s an unconventional story, and I know there will be readers who’ll be confronted by what I share in this book. Poverty is messy and ugly, just like addiction and family violence and suicide and mental illness, and the intergenerational trauma that all mob have as a result of white colonisation, which has reverberated painfully through our people for more than 230 years.
So I know this isn’t an easy thing to understand, but I ask that you read my story with the openness and love that I am bringing to the telling of it.
I grew up in Western Australia. The country of my people, the Noongar, is one made of wide expanses: of sky, sand, sea, scrub. This is my grandmother’s country – Ballardong country. The other country I lay claim to is the land of the Yamatji people, which is my birthplace and where my mum grew up.
These landscapes are as much a part of me as my people are a part of them. You could say I was forged right out of the Yamatji waters – because I was, literally! When Mum was pregnant with me she would swim in the turquoise waters at the Bluff near Quobba Station, a dusty drive away from where we lived in Carnarvon, and on one very special afternoon, there were sea turtles popping up all around her. I like to think they came to welcome me, a child of the water, just like my mum. We’re connected to the sea and my totem is a sea turtle. I still feel the most calm, the most collected, when I’m in the ocean, connected to my country.
Most of my childhood was spent between Carnarvon, on the north coast of Western Australia, Perth, and Quairading, which is a couple of hours east of Perth – my nan’s country and her home. Maybe there were other places in between. It’s hard for me to know, because my memory of my early childhood is pretty sticky. I can catch glimpses of it out of the corner of my eye, but it’s hard to look at it straight on.
My mental health training knows that it’s trauma that does this to our memories; our body’s defence mechanism protecting us from the things it knows will hurt. But some memories have stuck, and I can remember specific moments so vividly that I could be right back there with that little girl, living each moment in the chaos of her surrounds. But even when things were messy around me, I always knew who I was. I can remember that about myself, even as a kid.
One of my earliest memories is of a school day morning. I am small, little even as a child and old enough for early primary school. I’m kneeling on the floor of our house in Neerabup, an outer suburb of Perth, and it’s early, the others not up just yet.
I have my school skirt with me. It’s the classic Aussie uniform skirt, the kind that all primary school girls wore in the early 2000s. It has a zip, and pleats, and it’s made from scratchy nylon, and designed to last a long time, not for comfort.
But even when things were messy around me, I always knew who I was. I can remember that about myself, even as a kid.
The skirt might not be completely clean, but I’m sitting on the floor with an iron plugged into the wall next to me, and I’m trying to iron the pleats straight in the skirt. I probably shouldn’t have been anywhere near a hot iron; it would have weighed almost as much as I did, I was so small. But no one else was going to iron my skirt and I wanted it to look like my fellow classmates’. This memory of myself as a tiny little girl with the innocent mind of a child, trying to fix just one thing about myself to fit in better at school, breaks my heart.
Even then, I knew that it mattered what impression I gave. The other kids all seemed as if they had warm and safe homes with parents who washed and ironed their school uniforms and packed their lunches, the same parents who kissed the tops of their heads when they dropped them at the school gates. Those kids were ‘normal’, and I knew that my life wasn’t. I knew how hard life could be when you were different like me.
It wasn’t just my crumpled uniform that stood out. My skin was darker than other kids’, my mum wasn’t like theirs, and my house definitely didn’t look like theirs. I tried to iron those pleats into my skirt to mask at least some of that difference, because as a kid I hadn’t learned yet that difference could be something to celebrate, instead of something to hide. And it would be a long while before that happened.
Love looked different in our house, too. All of us kids – Kyandra, Eden, me, Troy and Ronald Jerome – grew up fast, me especially. It made me self-sufficient, grounded in who I am and with a strong sense of resourcefulness. I’ve been hustling since I was a kid and the independence that came with that is something I’ll never shake.
Images and text from Big Love by Brooke Blurton. HarperCollins Australia RRP $34.99, available in bookstores across Australia.