By Michael Gartland

    I was taking photos at a recent Daughters of the West graduation ceremony.

    Graduates were called one-by-one. A name announced, applause. They approach, receive certificates, applause fades. They stand in front of me, flanked by the appropriate VIPs and dignitaries. I ensure the valued partners are framed perfectly in the backdrop. A click, all-encompassing blinding light, k-shk of the camera. A name called, applause.

    The surround flash has a metronomic effect. Time slows to the moments between each pulse of light, the flicks and twists of dials to ensure the next photo is the perfect one. The repetition is hypnotising, until a discrepancy breaks through.

    The graduate moves further away from me, in the direction of the corner of the room, until they leave my field of vision. I blink, blinding light, k-shk.

    Although this graduate returns to their chair immediately, the next one also moves off to the corner of the room. I reflexively follow the movement until my eyes snap back as the previous moment appears on the camera’s screen. I look up, blinding light, k-shk. 

    With each graduate that moves off towards the corner, I allow myself an extra moment’s glimpse to the corner of the hall, an extra chance to see what spectacular marvel is of such interest, an extra risk to the photo of the next graduate’s special moment. 

    Suddenly, the emcee is calling for one final round of applause, and I’m broken from my stupor. As I look over, I see a graduate who had just been my subject, taking a photo of herself and another; the marvel in the corner, bright green dress shrouded in the gloom of back-stage lighting, surrounded by the remnants of the ceremony’s various props.

    Curious, I make my way over and make introductions. This is Katie, the facilitator of this region’s Daughters of the West program. The one who arrived hours early each week to set up. The one who reassured the graduates of their capabilities during the exercise programs and supported their participation in the education sessions. The one who stayed late to get to know them– after all, how else can you meet someone’s health and well-being needs without knowing them?

    Katie explains to me that this graduation ceremony is actually made up of two different groups, and that all the graduates that moved off to the corner were from her group. Some had wanted one last selfie, others wanted one more hug. All wanted to say thank you.

    ‘All of them?’ I ask, blindly.

    ‘Yes,’ Katie as a grin washes over her face, as bright as anything I’ve seen so far. ‘Well, except for one but she couldn’t make it to tonight’s celebration. We’re catching up with her next week though so it’s okay. ‘

    There are a myriad of reasons that motivated the graduates to join Daughters of the West. Some recognized that famous bulldog, draped in red, white and blue. Word of mouth from the men in their lives had reached some, interest piqued by the rave reviews for the counterpart program Sons of the West. Others felt out of place, surrounded by a foreign culture they didn’t understand. A few were struggling to see the light side of life, clouded by mental health issues. There were those simply looking for something to do. All left with what they were looking for; the inspiration to forge deeper connections with themselves, with others and with their community. K-shk. 

    2024 will see the return of Daughters of the West and 10 year celebrations for Sons of the West. Connect in at

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