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Mother, nurse, student and artist

Nikala Bourke came back to University to pursue her passion for art.

Having children and a busy job doesn’t mean you can’t pursue your study dreams.

Just ask Nikala Bourke.

After being awarded her Nursing degree in the mid 90s, Nikala came back to University to pursue her passion for photography.

“I’m a single mum with three kids. And I’m a nurse, so I’ve worked throughout uni to pay the rent and schooling.

“Art school was calling me for a long time. I felt I needed to express myself and pursue options, especially photography.”

Studying, working and running a household mean Nikala is a busy woman

It was really hard at times, but my family understands, and I’m pretty good at prioritising time- you just have to be organised. There are a lot of late nights at home. I just found a way to make it work.

Nikala’s beautiful, moody photograms featured in the 2015 graduate exhibition at the University’s School of Creative Arts.

“I immersed the photographic paper in Brown’s River at Kingston, in the dark. Then I exposed them with some flash, rolled them back up and put them into a pipe, took them to the dark room and developed them.

“The moment of being in the dark room, then putting the lights on, was beautiful. It was hard work, it took a lot of time experimenting through a lot of dark hours and cold nights… but when I finally put the finished pieces up, I felt stoked.

“I felt really proud. Putting them up at the graduate show was a bit of an emotional experience actually. It’s been a real privilege and an honour to do it.

The lecturers here are beautiful people. We see them every week, we’re like family. You spend time with them, they look at your work, give critiques, it’s their job to push you, and you grow from that.

“Just getting amongst Hobart, which is thriving at the moment, has been great. I’ve been going to openings, talks at the museum, and festivals.”

While Nikala says she can’t quite explain exactly how she juggles everything, she says life is chaotic but good.

“I’ve been working as a nurse for 20 years. I’m a driven person- if I want to do something, I just do it. 

“Being on the other side of life and having a job and children, the pressure is off for finding a job in the arts, so I can relax in that respect. 

For me, this place is therapy. It’s delicious. If you’re an artist, you want to practice it every day. That was driving me.

And if money is tight, Nikala just remembers her grandmother’s wise words.

“Nan used to say, ‘we didn’t have a lot growing up but we had a roof over our heads and a full pantry, and a lot of love.’ And that’s how I raise my kids."

I’m hoping that I can show my children that whatever you want to do, whatever you put your mind to, you can do it. I’m being a role model to them through a lot of ways; as a mum, as a nurse and an artist as well.

Find out more about studying Fine Arts at the University of Tasmania.