Written by Jo Milne


Jo Milne: A diary of firsts and lasts

Since the world watched her hear for the first time, Jo Milne has been on a journey into sound, all the while knowing her world is getting darker by the day. We haven’t heard from her for a bit. She’s been busy on the other side of the world.

Jo on the Sydney Harbour bridge

On top of the world: Jo on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

“The world is your oyster” has greater truth for me than ever before.

I get that lovely flutter, deep in my tummy, as I arrive at Newcastle Airport with my lifelong friend, Richard. Huge plasma screens welcome us as orange alpha codes flash with worldwide destinations; our wide eyes feast on the board and there’s ours – Sydney, Australia.

People are lined up at the check-in desk as we place our bulging suitcases on the conveyor belt. Like excited children, we’re giggling and there’s a spring in our step. Safe in the knowledge that everything will just trundle along back at the place we know as home, and secretly glad, as we pack up, passport in hand and jet off to the other side of the world.

I hear soft classical music as we approach the departure lounge. There’s a curious mixture of bored and excited people as I spot a sea of faces moving like a current, flowing like a wide river down the aisles. It’s not long till we’re aboard, the aircraft lined up on the runway – all orderly strung, like pearls on a necklace, suspended in a graceful line.

Then at full throttle: the roar of the deep engines startles me as we prepare for take-off.

It’s true lots of us start living our lives after hitting the 40-something mark. I mean truly, especially in my case as a deafblind person.

It didn’t stop me climbing the magnificent arches of the Harbour Bridge, a beacon of Sydney, and one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. I captured, like a photographic memory, the expansive skyline and the soaring white sail-shaped shells of the Opera House. I felt literally, on top of the world.

The chance to broaden my horizons, and my mind, has never felt so prominent before. I find myself glancing up and admiring filigree Victorian and European Georgian architecture, particularly in the inner suburbs, rows of terraced homes featuring ornate wooden balconies, something I never appreciated in my 20s.

And I listen to – really listen – to the fascinating history of the ground where I stand, feeling a rapport with our ancestors.

I have to applaud the Australians as my trip felt like a non-stop festival; an overflowing bowl of popcorn with grinning and dancing people spilling from every corner of town, all replete with quaint boutiques and vibrant cafes.

“As this earth still spins, and I’m breathing… I will continue to appreciate what’s out there. The beauty is that the world always gives back.”

I stand with hundreds and thousands of people flocking to Sydney to celebrate its annual Mardi Gras. Bursts of technicolour from drag artists in sequins sporting extravagant headwear; handmade banners blowing from rainbow coloured double decker buses. One in particular caught my eye: ‘Equal people. Equal love. Equal rights’.

I experienced rooftop dining high up on skyscrapers in Melbourne; visited makeshift gardens on huge balconies to admire the city lights in awe. I sipped coffee in urban cafes with floor to ceiling street art, hidden gems in alleyways with always, always, the pleasing vibrato of a bass player never more than a block away.

Bush kangaroos fed from my palms and the memory of being up close with a koala bear will stay with me for the rest of my life. The whiff of menthol as I notice green-stained fur around its mouth from eating eucalyptus leaves and its nose resembling a large black glistening mussel shell.

Jo with a koalaThe time and energy that is freed up when you are not preoccupied with what others think of you is astounding. I am not going to lie and say I never worry about what people think of me anymore, and I admit I occasionally get treated appallingly due to lack of awareness of Usher Syndrome. But these are now secondary thoughts in my mind.

My primary thoughts are concerned with what I can achieve in this life including raising awareness and being damn happy.

I stand by the famous 12 Apostles, magnificent rock stacks that rise up majestically on Victoria’s dramatic coastline, among the foamy azure blue waves – truly untouched, rugged beauty whether standing in sunshine or thunderstorms.

As this earth still spins, and I’m breathing… I will continue to appreciate what’s out there. The beauty is that the world always gives back. It gives back beauty. It gives back grace. It gives back strength. Whatever we give in our individual uniqueness, we will receive back in some form.

Jo Milne’s book, Breaking the Silence is out now. Her Facebook page can be found here.

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Written by Jo Milne

Gateshead-born author of Breaking the Silence, ambassador and campaigner. Jo has Usher Syndrome, a rare genetic condition causing deafness then the onset of a retinal disease leading to gradual loss of vision. Those who know Jo describe her to be inspiring as she continues to wring the joy out of life. @jomilne10