When she became pregnant at 42-years-old, she returned to New Zealand, where she was faced with the daunting task of both motherhood and driving on open roads.
Annette’s 8-year-old son Lucien is autistic. He was delivered by caesarean four weeks early because he’d lost weight due to his is umbilical cord strangling him, restricting his food intake. She says Lucien was a “late baby”, and admits if she hadn’t had him, she’d probably still be working in isolated places where you don’t need a licence.
“When I had him, I was really out of kilter because I wasn’t used to being domestic or living in these kind of environments. It just threw me. I’d lived on a small island, and before that I was an outdoor pursuits instructor in a small place, and on fishing boats. I’d always stuck to those kinds of places and never went to big towns. I lived quite basically.”
However, Annette has led an adventurous life that most people could only imagine. The small island she lived on, Lindeman Island, was populated by a couple of hundred Club Med workers. They were fed, their bills were paid, and transported to work daily by boat. It was a good lifestyle, and everyone knew each other’s antics.
“When I had my independent life, I wasn’t chasing men – I was chasing adventure and life. I understood how valuable it was. I’ve climbed the Himalayas, I’ve down-hilled 5,500 metres on a mountain bike – I rode uphill all day to get to that – rafted The Bula for months on end. I climbed in Thailand, I lived for months in Australia at a rockface – climbing it. I was right into my outdoor stuff.
“So, while it was frustrating when I had a child, I made sure to isolate us so people wouldn’t make me feel like he wasn’t important, and so I could wrap my head around it as well. I did miss my old life, but now I’m entering a new period of my life, and that’s what’s so important about getting my licence.”
Annette sat her learner licence several years ago before she left the country, and at the prompting of Whānau Ora Paeārahi, Lorraine Hall, sat her restricted licence.
“I’m working on getting my full licence, but it was just getting over that hurdle of my restricted first. I was never confident driving because I look at things through an outdoor pursuits’ lens – when you’re climbing cliffs you notice all the minute details – so when driving down the road, you should see what I’m seeing! So, I’m pleased Lorraine gave me a push to do the course.
“Now that I have my restricted licence, I don’t have that little piece of nervousness inside me when you know you’ll lose your licence if you get caught driving. The consequence would mean my kid couldn’t get to school. We live out Rotoiti, but he goes to Owhata Primary because he has autism. Not many schools will take in autistic kids so we’re lucky.”
Annette is currently trying to set-up her own business selling natural soap, balms and massage oils which she makes herself. She goes to the stream and into the bush to get her rongoa.
“Being a solo mother, I had to come up with something. I can't get a fulltime job because Lucien finishes school at 12pm – and he’s peaking by then. We aren’t going to push the buck until we think he’s ready. So, I’m trying to take-off my business and it really helps having my licence – even the restricted, because I feel more confident when I get behind the wheel. Now I drive everywhere to drop off soaps.
“It’s a big seed to get your independence again. While my son’s at school I’m networking with people and making new friends through my soap-making – beauticians, social workers, nurses. That’s my socialising instead of going to the pub and wasting money doing that. I need something valid.”