Cairns nurse takes long road to help the mentally ill and homeless

by | Jul 21, 2019

“When you are moving toward an objective, it is very important to pay attention to the road. It is the road that teaches us the best way to get there, and the road enriches us as we walk its length.” – Paulo Coelho


Natalie Holden wondered if she was losing touch with the simple things in life; so she did something quite extraordinary.

Natalie, a 42-year-old Cairns mother, walked 820 kilometres across Spain for a mother she never really knew.

She was orphaned at just two years old when she lost her mother, Dawn, who was suffering with undiagnosed mental health issues and was homeless.

Natalie, is a nurse who has worked with mental health patients for 24 years, and the last two years with homeless people in Cairns.

“I lost my mother, Dawn, at the age of 2 so it was in her memory, it was my tribute to her,” Natalie said.

In April this year Natalie walked the Camino de Santiago trail, starting in the South of France in St John Pied De Port and walking to Santiago as pilgrims have done for more than a 1000 years.

“Mental health problems weren’t really diagnosed back then and my own experiences in life were traumatic and complex,” she said.

“I became resilient through those childhood experiences and wanted to help others.”

She said she was looking for a way to make some basic human connections in a busy life and was struck by Paulo Coelho’s own pilgrimage on the Camino after reading his book The Pilgrimage.

“I felt life was so busy, we forget about those human connections and why we meet people and why they come into our lives,” Natalie said.

“It was a spiritual book about insights into life; being poor and the basic human existence,” Natalie said.

“In his book he wrote: ‘I guess it is true that people always arrive at the right moment at the place where someone awaits them’ and I believe that too.”

Natalie, with the help of a Go Fund Me page and Facebook, raised more than $6000.

She intends to donate it to the Wheels of Wellness (WOW) outreach program run through the Stratford Medical Centre.

The WOW program delivers mobile clinics with the help of local doctors, nurses and social workers to the homeless, vulnerable and those suffering social disadvantage.

The mobile clinics are free to clients and deliver health care each week at various locations including on the street, in shelters and homeless camps.

Natalie says there are about 2000 people living on the streets in Cairns.

WOW works with community groups, government and many organisations including the North Queensland Primary Health Network, Anglicare, Mission Australia and YETI to provide co-ordinated care.

The WOW program was established four years ago by Stratford Medical Centre’s Dr Amanda Roberts who says she’d like to use the money to buy medication.

“People might have access to health care, but they are unlikely to use what money they do have to buy medication,” Natalie said.

“So at least this can help improve health outcomes for them.”

The Camino de Santiago offers spectacular scenery, rich cultural and culinary delights of Spain, friendly locals and pilgrims who share the Camino experience.

At the end of every Camino de Santiago lies Santiago de Compostela where legend says Jesus’ apostle St James was laid to rest.

The Camino trail has been a pilgrimage for more than a 1000 years and in medieval times, it was thought to be one of the most important pilgrimages for Christians traveling to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compestela to visit the remains.

The Camino is a long walk and was a necessity then as few could afford to travel on horseback.

Today, it’s an opportunity for walkers to enjoy the simplicity of daily routines and leaving behind the outside world.

It covers mountains, cities, towns, woodlands fields and farmland.

Natalie, who was originally from Cardiff in Wales, says she traveled the world and fell in love with Australia and Cairns in particular.

“I already want to go back,” she said.


“The boat is safer anchored at the port; but that’s not the aim of boats.” – Paulo Coelho