From living in mud huts in Africa to high-rise apartments in China, developing a passion for native birds and pandas, becoming fluent in five languages, earning a Masters science degree and art diploma and being a skilled artist and singer, Jaye Allan has woven a rich tapestry of life. And to further prove her eclectic tastes, she’s hooked on Phantom comics, too. Jaye has journeyed from the small Wheatbelt town of Merredin to Chengdu, China’s sixth largest city, and has ended up in Geraldton. Visiting her Tarcoola Beach home is to witness her diverse museum of life. The old camper home parked out the front with Merredin number plates signals her place of childhood, the camper her home going back some years when she was broke, for the third time. Jaye points out the music room as we pass down the hallway but a unique instrument catches my eye. She lifts and starts to play a Chinese gourd flute, the music sheets not in usual notation but a numbered system. The flute was found while on a holiday break from her job in big city China, in a bazaar in a remote, western Chinese town. Kashgar is an ancient town of long dynasties, strategically located on the famed Silk Road, near to one of the world’s highest lakes, surrounded spectacularly in snow-topped mountains. As Jaye plays, hearing the flute’s lilting notes, transports you to that far off land. Further down the hallway, we pass bookcases filled with language books. Jaye had just shown a prized possession, her father’s baggy green cap from when he played Test cricket for Australia in 1956. A talented sportsman and science teacher, it was from Jaye’s mother, a language teacher, she inherited her aptitude for foreign languages. In Merredin, she was fortunate to be taught French and German at school in the 1960s, with Italian following later. However, it was Mandarin that took her travelling and later living and working abroad. Surprisingly, it was a small, handsewn toy her grandmother created, that was the catalyst for Jaye’s interest in China. The toy was a panda, which also coincided at the time with visits to the Perth Zoo and Jaye feeling disturbed at the sight of caged animals. Henceforth, a lifelong passion began. The hallway leads into another room, and we’re met with an explosion of black and white cuteness, for we’ve arrived in the panda room. Soft toy and model pandas of all sizes adorn the shelves, there’s paintings and photos and even slippers. Now let’s be clear here, Jaye’s is not an infantile hobby, but rather a devotion to international panda research, conservation and recognition that has spanned decades. Although Jaye will admit, it all started as a hobby “but collecting shoes, shirts and books wasn’t actually helping pandas”. In 1991, Jaye began a Mandarin course at TAFE which included a trip to China. She began a small job translating travel brochures for Australian tourists which later grew into living in Xian city in China, where she taught at a foreign language institute while honing her Mandarin skills. A busy and crowded city was a far cry from country Western Australia, but the experience of a new culture (learning calligraphy, painting, music lessons) and having historical sites like the Terracotta Soldiers nearby had Jaye and her husband hooked. But utmost, it was living in the land of pandas that had her enamoured. Saddened by the plight of the panda breeding program Jaye witnessed, which was test tube based followed by a life of caged living, with no experience of the wild, Jaye began her long quest for improving management of pandas. It began with adopting a panda, and Jaye dedicated any spare savings she had to this cause. “Chaeng Chaeng” as he was affectionately named had only known life in a one by two metre square cage, with just enough room for pacing, turning and sleeping. Still living in China in 1997, Jaye began attending international conservation conferences as a translator of Mandarin, to English speaking audiences, and also completed a Masters in Captive Vertebrate Management, topping the Charles Sturt University course. Her great achievement was writing a survey to study panda management in all international zoos, about 40 across the globe. From the data, and with another masters degree completed in Mandarin, she was able to translate the results and recommendations for all Chinese zoos, as well as being published in an international journal for management of nature reserves for pandas. She was regularly interviewed by the media. Change is slow, Jaye acknowledged, but she was delighted to visit her Chaeng Chaeng and other pandas some years later in large enclosures with plants and structures mimicking close to their natural habitat. By then, being a skilled interpreter, Jaye’s next adventure was to Africa for more than four years where she was employed initially at a Global Greens Congress using her French skills. Following that she lived and worked as a bilingual secretary for the French and German governments, and in Benin, Niger and Uganda, volunteering and then working in teacher training. Jaye recalls as a child, telling her mum she wanted help the starving African children she saw on television. During their time in Africa, Jaye and her husband thrived on living simply in a mud hut, which was a 45-minute walk to the nearest market, while also being able to support local children and programs. “Hearing the hippos at night in the river below our hut was a fond memory,” Jaye recalls. Although, life there wasn’t all trouble free, as on arrival, Niger was in the midst of a military coup, so seeing tanks and armed soldiers was alarming. In another situation, Jaye had not been paid as arranged and when querying it, she was threatened, had to seek embassy assistance and eventually flee. When eventually, she arrived back on Australian soil, Jaye was penniless once again. Her father bought her the camper home because she recalls he said “all you’ll need is a home and wheels.” And with that she made her way to a job in Geraldton, teaching high school English. Why Geraldton? “The hot temperatures are not too unlike Niger, so we knew we could survive here.” Jaye laughs at mentioning her “marking tent” — the van was too small for all the English paper assessments, so she purchased a tent and worked from a camp table. And now, she is retired from school teaching but as busy as ever. In recent years, Jaye’s completed an arts diploma, which leads me to her living room tour. There are paintings, mainly of local native birds, pottery and textiles. Beyond, her garden reflects her interest in coastal revegetation. Jaye also helped establish the local multicultural choir and is proud of the 36 different language groups it represents, including Wajarri. During a typical week she privately tutors across all five languages and at some time she actually sleeps. Every bit quiet, humble and incredibly generous, with an infectious laugh, our community is all the richer for people like Jaye.