It took only half a year to forever change the way 20-year-old Molly Coulson-Bomm sees the world.
words sally o’neill photos molly coulson-bomm
Growing up in Yanakie, South Gippsland, Molly Coulson-Bomm never really felt that she fitted in. Of course she loved the freedom of her childhood home – the endless days playing at the beach with her brothers, building cubbies and coming inside as darkness fell. But it was the taunts that began at kindergarten and continued through her school years that shaped her opinion.
Luckily the bold redhead bounces through life, relishing the chance to tackle adversity head-on using art as her medium. “My mother was my inspiration. We were always drawing and painting together,” says Molly. “Once I went away for a few days, and I came home to find that my mother had painted and stencilled a floral design across my bedroom floor
– I was in awe.”
Molly’s father, who died when she was 11, also had a large influence on her creativity. “We only had a short time together, but he was always there encouraging me to be creative and to be myself no matter how different I was. Having both my parents being so accepting of who I am truly helped me become the confident, outgoing person I am today, and I’m incredibly thankful for that.”
Molly, who describes herself as “quirky”, chose to complete her final years of high school at Swinburne in Melbourne – alone. “I’d never really felt that I fitted in at Yanakie, and Melbourne just seemed a better fit for me,” she explains. “I was mature for my age and luckily I was allowed to spend those years living in university student accommodation.”
Along with the dramatic transition from living at home in the country to being alone in a major city, Molly chose a difficult subject portfolio. “I was warned against tackling three folio subjects, but I felt capable of doing it.”
The fuel for her creative fire came from personal experience. “Growing up I was always teased, and I wanted to turn that situation around.” She achieved her aim by choosing to put others in the vulnerable position that she had found herself in. “I took a series of nude shots that showed people’s real vulnerability, no matter how popular or beautiful they were. When I was being bullied and not quite fitting in, I felt naked and vulnerable, but once you get past the shell, everyone is the same – I loved exploring that.”
This somewhat confrontational approach resonated, and her hard work and talent were rewarded with outstanding results. Her VCE photography portfolio was also nominated for exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria.
After Year 12, Molly chose to take a gap year. She contacted Latitude Global Volunteering and departed for a six-month mission in Vanuatu. Molly and her group arrived in Port Vila for a week-long induction before she and her volunteer partner set off for their adventure in the remote village of Aligu. The village would act as their base: they would stay with the local teachers and their family and teach English at the school.
Her first impressions were dramatic. “We arrived in the middle of the night and were taken on the back of a ute up the steepest mountain I had ever encountered, or probably ever will,” Molly explains. “On the way up, the truck tray fell out! There were only two trucks on the island and they were both in the same state of disrepair. We carried on and were dropped off on the mountaintop with all our bags and no light.” They managed to traverse down to the village, and fell into bed exhausted and disorientated.
“The next morning I woke up in the most beautiful place I had ever seen!” recalls Molly. “I thought I was in paradise. We washed in a clear freshwater stream that ran into the ocean only metres from where we lived. It was heaven.”
Molly felt no sense of culture shock in her new home and was instantly immersed in her routine of teaching English to children ranging from prep to grade five. “We attracted a lot of attention because I’m a redhead and my volunteer partner’s hair is very blonde. We were some of the first white people the islanders had seen – it was strange seeing little children crying at the sight of our white skin.”
The simplicity of her new life captivated her. “One of my favourite moments was when my friend and I were just hanging out listening to our iPods. We started singing and dancing and the village kids gathered around and joined in. Everyone was having a great time so I grabbed my camera
to capture some images of these people who are always
The real culture shock for Molly was coming home to Australia. “I was in shock just seeing people complaining about trivial things, when the villagers I had been living with had hardly any possessions, but were so happy.” Her six-month experience had changed her outlook. “I became more tolerant of others and also myself.”
Molly also became determined to forge a career in photography so that she can share issues close to her heart, such as the suffering of both animals and humans. “I have a tattoo of a camera on my arm now, so I am committed!” she laughs. “I would love to go to the Photographic Imaging College in Preston and learn film photography – there is nothing more amazing than seeing an image that you’ve taken appearing before your very eyes as you develop your own photos.”
Going back to Vanuatu is on Molly’s list of future plans, along with more travel and becoming a professional photographer. “I want to keep learning about photography so that I can share the way I see the world with others.” And the world would surely be a better place if more people could see through Molly’s eyes…
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