Soon after my parents separation when I was 16, Dad was living in Peru living and working as artist in residence at eco-lodges in the Amazon Rainforest.

After spending a year at Kalang near Bellingen, NSW, James and I went to join him. Dad had bought an old farm on the banks of the Tambopata River in south-east Peru, and we arrived at our new camp at the end of the wet season to begin the muddy work of setting up a butterfly house and studio where we sold paintings and hand-painted t-shirts to visiting tourists.

James was only 12 at the time, and after about 6 months the isolation was too much for him. He loved the jungle and was fascinated by the wildlife, but he was lonely and needed to be around kids his own age. Dad and James decided to return to Big Bush, where James stayed with Dad until he completed high school.

I had no reason to return to Australia and even though I wasn't yet 18, I was determined to stay in Peru by myself. I continued living there alone on our block of land, hand-painting t-shirts and selling them to tourists who visited Tambopata Jungle Lodge. My bank account was a a biscuit tin full of mouldy 10 and 20 American Dollar notes. I got rides into town for supplies with tourist boats which left before dawn for a 2-3 hour boat journey down river to Puerto Maldonado.

It was a rugged, precarious lifestyle, very much at the mercy of the seasons, but the sheer excitement and beauty of the place made it worth all the hardships. I sold everything I painted and for a time I was relatively financially comfortable.

I met Nando just before my 18th birthday at Tambopata Jungle Lodge where he was a member of staff. We fell in love and were married a year later when I was 19. I got Peruvian residency, and a job as the assistant manager of Tambopata Jungle Lodge, now Tambopata Ecolodge.

A couple of months later I was put in charge of the lodge when the resident manager abandoned her position. Just before my 20th birthday I became resident manager of the lodge and found myself in charge of nearly 20 people and a busy lodge in the middle of the tourist high season.

I held this position for two and a half years until Nando and I had saved enough money to start making plans to move on. We felt we weren't learning anything new and decided it was time to go to Australia. We applied for an Australian residency visa for Nando, and while we waited for the visa to be approved I took a temporary resident manager position at another lodge on Ese'eja Indian community land at the Sonene Community on the Heath River, which forms a border with Peru and Bolivia.

Within 6 months Nando's visa was approved. We were young, full of ambition, all packed up and ready to try our luck in Australia.