Tricia Ong, Researcher

On leaving Loreto College in 1984, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life so I deferred my (primary school teaching) university place to take a “gap year”. I worked part-time at Myer and undertook voluntary work with several child welfare groups in Ballarat, which imbued an interest in child play therapy. At the year’s end, I became a Child Care Worker at the Ballarat Child Care Co-operative, and, soon after, enrolled in a Certificate of Applied Social Science (Child Care) at Gordon Technical College, Geelong. Continuing to work fulltime, I travelled to Geelong two nights a week to attend classes and, in 1989, I moved to Geelong to complete the course.  Soon after, I landed a role as Play Therapist on the Children’s Ward at the Dandenong Hospital, followed by Box Hill Hospital, before relocating – in 1991 – to Hobart, Tasmania, to begin married life.

In Tasmania, I worked as Program Coordinator for Kingston Outside School Hours Care, and, as State-wide Outside Schools Hour Care Support Worker for the Tasmanian Government. After 7 years in Hobart, my husband and I – and our daughter and son – moved back to Melbourne. With my interest in play therapy reignited, I discovered the “Master of Creative Arts Therapy” Program at RMIT University. Although I didn’t have an undergraduate degree, I was encouraged to apply. I submitted an entrance essay on the value of music in my work with children and – upon interview – was offered a place.

In my first year, 2002, I was diagnosed with a (chronic) women’s reproductive health condition. The challenge of studying and living with it led to an ‘epiphany’, in 2006, whilst (music) thesis-writing; “If I can get well, I’ll use my ‘masters’ to work with women with reproductive health issues”. In 2007, after major surgery, I recovered, and began work with women with Endometriosis, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, Ovarian Cancer and Women undergoing In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF). Then, in 2010, I was invited to work on an art therapy and women’s reproductive health project with women who’d been trafficked for sexual exploitation in Nepal. Returning to Nepal after 23 years – I trekked in the Himalayas in 1988 – I got ‘hooked’ on the women’s reproductive health issues.

Two trips to Nepal on, and after gaining a Graduate Certificate in Business Management (Project Management) from Swinburne University,  I embarked on my own international research project – a reproductive health study with young Nepalese women who’d been trafficked in the sex industry – via a “Doctor of Philosophy” Degree at Deakin University, Melbourne. Using art therapy tools, I designed a new research method. Being awarded an Australian Government “2015 Endeavour Research Fellowship” enabled me to live in Nepal for five months to ‘fulfill a dream’ of helping Nepal’s marginalized women and girls, and to reflect back on my life.

To share my professional skills, I’ve held roles on committees with Ballarat Child Care Cooperative, Australasian Association of Hospital Play Specialists Association, Outside School Hours Care Association of Tasmania, Australian Creative Arts Therapy Association, Kew Court House Community Arts Centre, and the Board of Governance of Women’s Health East. I’m currently an “Asia Literacy Ambassador” for the Asia Education Foundation, and a Member of the Australian Global Alumni Network.