Teresa inks up return to vocation

A career change has this Whyalla mum studying alongside her daughter to become a nurse and help the local community.

Jul 08, 2024, updated Jul 08, 2024
Mother and daughter recently completed a TAFE SA Diploma of Nursing together.

Mother and daughter recently completed a TAFE SA Diploma of Nursing together.

When tattoo artist Teresa Low emigrated to Whyalla from South Africa with her family in 2010, little did she know she would also embark on the next chapter of her lifelong learning journey.

What she discovered was that whatever challenge is thrown her way, when she sets her mind to something, anything is possible.

A tattooist for 26 years, Teresa thought she had long left her early-career vocation of nursing behind.

However, when the restraints of the Covid pandemic forced her to close her tattoo business, the third-generation nurse sought to update her nursing training and gain Australian qualification, this time with her daughter Rachel, 25, at her side.

The pair recently completed a TAFE SA Diploma of Nursing in the Upper Spencer Gulf city, and Teresa is relishing a newfound passion for the career she left behind in her early twenties.

“When Covid came along I had to reassess how I was going to move forward because I had to close my tattoo shop and literally had no income,” Teresa said.

“It was my mum who said to me that I could always fall back on my nursing, which I just thought was silly initially, it had been such a long time.

“But I looked into it and when I told Rachel what I was doing, she had been working in aged care and decided she’d like to do nursing too.”

Teresa’s South African qualifications had lapsed and so she began her training all over again in Whyalla.

“It was actually a blessing to start again because everything has changed since I first started nursing,” she said.

The health system in Australia was also a far cry from her beginnings in South Africa.

“I started nursing at a training hospital straight out of school, I was very young,” Teresa said.

“We would learn how to do something then go up to the ward that afternoon and be practicing on real patients, not plastic dummies like they do here nowadays.

“My mum was a nurse and my grandmother was a nurse, and really at the time there wasn’t a lot else I could do in South Africa.

“When I first graduated, I was working on a children’s ward and I simply adored my job, but when I left that ward, I went into a higher risk area, and because HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis was rife over there, you were constantly putting yourself at risk.

“I always loved art though and gradually started a little side business tattooing, and when I started my family, I decided the risk of nursing was too high, I was exposed to too much danger and I ended up leaving nursing and taking on tattooing as my main job.”

The family – Teresa, her husband and two children – migrated to Whyalla 10 years ago, with Teresa’s husband working as an engineer in the steelworks and Teresa continuing her tattooing business.

“It is always difficult to leave your home, your family, and your friends behind,” Teresa said.

“We agonised over the possibility of migrating, but ultimately, we made the right choice for our family.

“South Africa was suffering from 37 per cent unemployment, and we just couldn’t see a bright future for our children.”

Despite the initial culture shock, Teresa said the family had fallen in love with their new life.

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“When we arrived here, everything was so different – the lingo, the landscape, the food,” Teresa said.

“I didn’t realise that Queensland had been in flood and pushed the price of bananas up to $23 a kilo, and I cried and said to my husband ‘we’ll never eat bananas again’.

“But after the initial shock, I was able to appreciate the beauty of the Upper Spencer Gulf and Whyalla’s tight-knit, wonderful community.”

“Don’t wait, go ahead and do it because life is just waiting for you,” Teresa says.

Teresa now works as a casual at Whyalla Hospital – working across the wards from rehabilitation to surgical and the newly-reopened maternity wing – and meanwhile, Rachel is on maternity leave.

Teresa says they could not have asked for a better place than Whyalla to complete their nursing diploma.

“The nurses here are very supportive of each other and helpful, which is absolutely wonderful,” Teresa said.

“As a student, when you’re on placement, everyone helps and you can ask as many questions as you want, it’s a really lovely culture.

“You come to work in the morning and somebody will always walk past and say ‘have a great shift’.

“I guess I have the advantage of having seen the horrible side of nursing early in my career, and then to now see the way things are in Australia, it’s the absolute flipside of that.”

Teresa admits that returning to study was not always easy, but having her daughter learning alongside her, graduating together was an amazing accomplishment.

And for anyone else thinking about changing careers or pursuing a dream, Teresa encouraged them to have a go.

“Don’t wait, go ahead and do it because life is just waiting for you,” she said.

“Don’t let anything hold you back from what you really want to do, as long as you have the drive, you can do it.

“When the going gets tough, break things down into smaller bits and instead of trying to conquer the mountain, just climb the small hills and you will be amazed that you can get somewhere really quickly.”

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