Over the past three months, I was fortunate enough to travel on the Remote Venture with Orange Sky. Throughout this time, we connected with 25 remote communities across central and northern Australia to learn about laundry access and community priorities. It was here that I learned of the subjective and special essence of ‘home’.

I was in Northern Territory’s central desert, driving our truck ‘Rosco’, to a new shift at a Town Camp in Alice Springs. Though I was a long way from home, the hills surrounding Alice brought me a sense of peace. Since I was a small child, exploring hills and mountains has been my happy place. Maybe it’s because I’m short, so I’m forever trying to climb things to feel free or get a better perspective of the world around me. I revelled in warmth at the sense of home I felt within this familiar landscape.

We were visiting this particular community where many washing machines had broken in homes due to over use. As there was no one locally able to fix them, the community were left without laundry options. With this in mind, we were eager to wash as much as we could. Arriving at a new location, we know that a successful shift relies heavily on trust. It just takes one person to trust us enough to sit on an orange chair or put their belongings in the machine to build community faith in us.

As we set up, a lady approached me with her crying baby in arms.

“Do you mob have any ice cream? My little girl saw your truck and would like one”, she asked me.

I giggled slightly and told her that our truck actually had washing machines and dryers onboard. I sympathised that I sincerely wished I was driving an ice cream truck too and offered whether she had any laundry for us instead. Her eyes lit up.

“No way! You have washing machines in here? How much for a wash?”, she asked.

“The washing is free… but it might cost you a yarn”, I responded.

“I’ll be back”.

When Cassandra returned, she brought a car filled with blankets and clothes, put them in the washers and sat with me on an orange chair. Cassandra was about the same age as me – in her mid-twenties, and was staying in Alice with an extended family member. She missed her Country, which was a few hours west, but she spoke of how grateful she was to have a place to live where she and her child felt welcomed.

I realised that both Cassandra and I were away from home. And while this was neither of our hometowns, we each felt the peace and comfort of home here. For Cassandra, the love and support of kinship brought her consistent joy here. For me, the familiarity of sun-soaked hills made me feel at home. And as Cassandra’s little girl grinned at me with a popsicle in her mouth, home appeared to be the place where her mum and the ice cream were.

‘Homelessness’ in remote communities takes different forms than metropolitan areas. Rather than rough sleeping or living in vehicles, in the remote landscape, staying with relatives is common. Limited housing options along with generational displacement and trauma can result in overcrowding. However, cultural and kinship ties can also be a driving factor in large families living under the same roof. There is a lot that can be learned from the beauty of this kinship and sense of duty to one another among communities. Much like Cassandra’s story, it was clear that family do not leave one another behind. Despite this, there can be health and wellness implications of overcrowding. It was evident that access to laundry facilities is extraordinarily difficult. The cost of purchasing a machine in remote areas is significantly higher, along with limited service support for machine faults. After visiting 25 communities, I am more passionate than ever to support Orange Sky services in remote communities.

That’s why this year I am dedicating my Sudsy Challenge to friends like Cassandra in remote communities. These moments with hundreds of incredible people I met, reiterated the need for laundry services and the power of a conversation. My advice to anyone thinking of embarking on the Sudsy Challenge is to never underestimate how much connection, learning, and growth can occur while we share with one another. Even if you disappoint people by not being an ice cream truck driver.

Join Jess as she takes on The Sudsy Challenge this September! 

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