NOTE: The following is a transcript of the story of Kurrumin, the place that is central to the life of Jackson, a very special little boy. It is quite long, but if you take the time to read it, you will know it is a beautiful story.
Introduction The Dream Thanks The Move The Future Thoughts
The Story of Kurrumin - as told by Judie Stephens......
On Saturday 27 November 1996 events happened that changed the fabric of our family and threw us into total disarray. My daughter Amanda and her husband Jay were killed, leaving behind three pre-school aged children: Matthew, 5 years old, David, 3 years old, and Jackson, 3 months. Matthew and David went to live with their paternal grandparents who wanted to provide for them a life that was as close as possible to normal and with the opportunity of being with their cousins and in their own environment. Jackson, the baby, sustained a closed-head injury at the time of the accident. It was said that he may not survive. He lost mobility, he was deaf and blind. And so, there was a long time at the hospital until he was 6 months old, with daily visiting and overnight stays and the challenge of putting things together.
Possibly the last thing on my mind was where wed live. I lived alone in a comfortable suburban bungalow, 9 steps to go in, narrow doorways, lacking in lighting and in fact I was in the middle of major renovations. As a woman of 49, I built a spa in my kitchen and other things that would really suit my lifestyle.
On Friday 13 May 1994 Jackson came home to "Tree-Tops", thanks to the Sydney Children's Hospital who prescribed different pieces of furniture and seating solutions that would be of assistance. We lived there very happily for the first year or so. Then as Jackson was slowly and steadily improving it suddenly dawned upon me: it was dark - we needed more light; the doorways were narrow - Jackson had nowhere to walk in his walker. We put in a lift solution, but beside that there were steep and treacherous stairs that could cause an accident. There were many challenges.
Then I started to dream. Indeed, I started to dream.
If I wanted Jackson to truly recover, not only did we need a good rehabilitation plan, we needed more space than the kitchen and the side patio. So it was on Monday 27 May 1996 that I went to speak with my business associate, Lend Lease Chairman Stuart Hornery, and shared my dream with him. I told him that I had purchased a level block of land in a beautiful position on the Georges River in Sydney, and I wanted to do something with it. I went away after he said hed think about it, and very quickly, support started coming. Things started happening.
I was introduced to Doc Holliday from Lend Lease Property Services, and was soon to be introduced to John Barbacetto, Phil Riddell, Mark Sydney and Phillipa Sutton, architects and engineers. And together, combining all our best ideas, we looked at building a home that would allow Jackson to reach his potential best, a home that was markedly different, that suited the Australian environment, that provided wide doorways, the best positioning, lighting, functionality and also privacy. Jackson requires 24 hour care because of his medical condition so that needed to be a part of the plan.
We worked hard and tirelessly - almost a year on the design alone. In fact, the design was possibly the greatest part of ensuring that "Mission Possible" would succeed.
Then it came time to do the building. The building took many more months than anticipated and, as with many homes, today it still evolves. But the time that it is taking to finish is allowing me the opportunity to add even more improvements.
Kurrumin is Aboriginal for "Reflections", and to me it means being able to reflect upon what has happened in my life and also on the direction of our future. Kurrumin, now and tomorrow, will be shared with other differently-abled children. A place where children and carers can come and share our exterior, ramped, heated pool and our interior hydrotherapy pool. This, and our level sensory garden, have made an absolutely huge difference in making Kurrumin accessible and a great place to live and share.
Jackson has a walker that was designed by Kel Anderson. Kel has worked tirelessly with many differently-abled people to assist them with equipment. Not only has he assisted Jackson with his walker, but there are many things he has made for our home (both here and at our previous home).
My mentor and close friend, Marinela Mendes, took the journey with me from its inception, through to completion. Marinela works with Lend Lease in the area of child care, and she was absolutely committed to ensuring Kurrumin worked. And it does.
Close to completion we contemplated colour. Colour Response Technology was employed and with that we chose colours that are healing, colours that are restful. In Jacksons sleeping area we introduced colours that induce sleep and lower heartbeat. In his play area there are colours of stimulation. My brief was the colours under the sea. All the colours that are incorporated come together. For example, our tiles are sandy colours that flow down onto the beach. Our Australian hardwood floor downstairs is symbolic of driftwood. The carpet upstairs in the private area of our home is a Bremworth, and it looks like seaweed. All the door handles, where possible, are black, so that the visually impaired can see them. They are at 1 metre height. Powerpoints are at 300mm from the floor.
Our home doesnt advertise disability, in fact it enhances ability. Our window sills, at 600mm, enable someone in a wheelchair to enjoy the water and the views without having any of the pleasures of the Australian landscape denied. Our neighbours here at Kurrumin have all been of great assistance during the long time of building and are also kind and understanding of our integration into the community.
Our kitchen was designed and installed by Tony McNamara, of Kitchens by Karingal. Each cupboard has a different sensory touch, colour and aspect. Once again, it is in line with the theme of being under the sea. Tony teamed up with Abet Pty. Ltd. to look at the best products for the doors, and Abet looked at the best paneling for the wheelchair bathrooms to ensure that if they receive impact from wheelchairs they will not be damaged.
To heat our pool, we looked at the Raypak product, a very quick heating system, based on gas. In Australia we have natural gas, so it is great to be able to use our own products.
The Lend Lease and Civil and Civic teams worked closely and looked at all aspects of the environment. Windows were placed to catch optimum light and warmth. We can be in any section of the house and there is privacy. Jackson is turned and assisted during the night but this does not disturb others in the home. Clever design provides areas for Jackson to pursue his daily activities, like any little 5 year old boy. We assist with his play, listen to what he wants, attend to his mealtimes, toilet timing, bathing, hydrotherapy. Each section of the house is specifically designed for the right activity. When Jackson is in his hydrotherapy pool, we can observe from the kitchen how he is going with his program - the same applies to his play areas, so Jackson can also have privacy and time to reflect and contemplate.
Those who helped us and deserve a great vote of thanks include Mrs. Helen Lunn of the Royal Blind Society here in Sydney. She and her team worked on systems that would assist the visually impaired at Kurrumin. Then there is Greg Cooper of Coopers Pools who has spent many months with me on the design and functionality of our pools. He assists with the maintenance and the ongoing challenges that occur with two pools which are shared by people and which must be kept absolutely sanitized and always available for use.
Security and observation cameras for Jackson and his rehabilitation systems were looked at by ADT and great solutions were reached. Hunter Douglas looked very closely at our blinds and our needs, and they too came up with some great ideas to ensure privacy without sacrificing the light. Of course there was Jean Rosewall, the Environmental Manager from Kogarah Municipal Council, who gave her valued expert advice, ensuring that we considered the environmental aspects.
Our homes acoustics are brilliant. Music is a very important part of our lives, and Jacksons preference has turned to classical, especially Mozart, and he loves the 3 Tenors and children's songs and stories.
We (Jackson and I, along with our "extended family": Jacksons budgie Prettyboy (given to him by his girlfriend Emma), our dog Samantha, and Davids cat Simba) moved to our new home on Saturday, 27 June 1998, and was that a challenge! The painting wasnt completed, the carpet wasnt down, there were no window furnishings. I felt it was time. We had an absolutely wonderful gas heater called Ambience: natural gas, flueless. It was a revolutionary new gas fire that kept us warm through that cold winter and cleaned the air as it burnt. So here we were - then we started. Carpet, painting, window furnishings, and things slowly and systematically fell into place.
With all this happening around us, you might wonder about maintenance. Large houses do require more maintenance. The people that have been the main players here have been Kel Anderson, who designed the walker - he has designed furnishings and assisted us with the maintenance of these things over the years - and Peter Stephens, Jacksons Grandfather, who comes weekly to play with him and to assist us with what needs to be done.
It is extremely important that people who have disabilities have equipment and housing that works because if a wheelchair or a door or a tap fail, that can cause chaos and confusion, much more than it does for we able bodied people. So once again we are blessed.
What are we doing now? As I said earlier, we are sharing Kurrumin with those that are differently-abled - in particular, children. This is a place where we can all rest and enjoy and recharge our energies for what is ahead.
My world seems now to be involved in Law Reform and, of course most of all, being a part of a family, and my absolute focus is on Jackson and his brothers Matthew and David.
I see Jackson healed completely, lacking in nothing. I know that we have provided for Jackson a very special place on this planet where his disability becomes less and what he can do becomes more. Our focus is on what he can do and for any children that come here to share our home, the same applies. So we will continue sharing Kurrumins space with those who will benefit.
Most of us are supposed to be mythical, and Mr. or Ms. Average. One of the most unsettling things about some architecture is that it is built for a nonexistent population. Buildings and open spaces often only cater for the physically fit 30 year olds, who are of typical age, height and weight. In fact, there is not many of us who are in that position for very long. Stairs, protruding thresholds, revolving doors and narrow entrances, can turn buildings into frustrating obstacle events.
The aged, parents with prams, wheelchair users, pregnant women, and people with disabilities are challenged daily. Individuals, Governments and architects should all look at making the environment work. Every building that is built in the future should have wheelchair accessibility. We are going to live longer and become older. Over the past centuries, many architects have taken advantage of the ability of human beings to tolerate discomfort, inconvenience and sometimes even danger. Well now is the time to change that. We need now to look at all the individuals who will be using a house, from womb to the tomb, with disability or without, that they can move easily around their homes and public buildings. We do not want barriers between those who can move easily and those who cannot. If we make our homes and public buildings more accessible life will be so much easier.
Transportation and seating are of paramount importance whether it is moving into a vehicle, or a wheelchair. Access should be level and ramped.
Let us globally consider the challenge of disability and ageing. We all need to recognise our responsibilities to the needs of all citizens and I applaud Lend Lease and the work that they are doing in design, to break down the barriers of a user unfriendly environment. I would like to thank all the people who have been a part of Kurrumins design, planning and building, and those who make this such a special place by sharing Kurrumin with us.
More information on some of the organisations mentioned in the Story of Kurrumin can be found below:
Lend Lease - http://www.lendlease.com.au
The Royal Blind Society - http://www.rbs.org.au