It was some time after she collected her sixth traditional mask that Melva Crouch knew it was time to leave Africa.
The handicrafts were beautiful, but the continent - at least the parts visited by United Nations officials like Crouch - would exact a toll on those who stayed too long.
The poverty was horrendous. It was everywhere; and Crouch had made herself numb to it. She knew it was the only way.
"You either get so wrapped up in the poverty that you're constantly almost taking personal responsibility - and that can be quite detrimental to your health - or you go the other way and you stop noticing it," said Crouch. "It's not because you're cold-hearted or you're just mean. It's because it's easier to not notice it than to be tormented by it.
"We used to have a joke in the UN that you knew it was time to leave when you have more than three masks."
In Liberia, Crouch worried about malaria.
As chief of the UN's Integrated Support Service, she oversaw a $US300 million budget and 920 staff who provided logistics and other essential support to 19,000 multinational troops, 25 aircraft, and a ship - everything from transport, communications, IT and air operations. It was Crouch who figured out how to get ballot boxes into remote locations for high-stakes, post-war elections, and sent in the body bags when someone died.
A mind like hers knew how to mitigate against physical dangers. Knew to travel only during the safest hours, always take two cars, be alert to what was happening in the surrounds. But there was little that could be done to guard against the health dangers.
She contracted malaria twice "that I know of". Friends died of it and others had very close calls.
The African troops, perhaps not having the same level of base health as the Australians, tended to be hit particularly hard.
Crouch suffered sleepless nights in Liberia. On one, she received a call from a military commander needing medical aid in a remote part of the jungle. It was malaria. Crouch had to tell him no.
"That was probably one of the hardest things for me as a logistics manager, particularly in Liberia, was racing to medical emergencies when your helicopters couldn't necessarily operate at night," said Crouch, who spent almost four years in the troubled west African nation following the conclusion of its second civil war in 2003.
"Cerebral malaria can kill you in 48 hours. To actually tell a military commander you'll be there in eight hours ... You kind of spend the night hoping he's still alive the next day."
Crouch remembers Liberia from a bright, upstairs room in a building on the University of Wollongong campus, where the halls are peppered with important-looking paintings and all the executives have assistants outside their office doors.
It is morning, sunny on the neat grounds outside, but the office airconditioning is not giving even the suggestion of mugginess a look in.
This is where Adelaide-born Crouch - one-time Australian Army colonel, glass ceiling-smasher, peacekeeper, adventurer, collector of African masks and Mali doors and long-time friend to a suite of old army mates, has come to settle.
Her appointment as UOW's chief administration officer comes after 23 years in the Australian military and 10 years serving in UN peacekeeping missions to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Western Sahara and Liberia.
Her career until now - distinguished, heart-stopping at times, often all-consuming - brought her within touching distance of unthinkable cruelty and hardship, but also made her witness to some of the most sincere delights to be found on seven continents.
She was there for Cambodia's first free and fair elections in May 1993, as the country took its first tentative steps out from under the brutal cloud of the Pol Pot regime.
Armed, in a flak jacket and helmet - worn even on a visit up the steep stairs of Angkor Wat - Crouch slept behind barbed wire and sand bags, knowing the Khmer Rouge had put a price on the head of the Australian soldiers as part of its efforts to disrupt the new democracy.
Sometimes there were shots just outside the gate of the compound where the Australians slept, and Crouch and some of the other soldiers would move their mattresses onto the floor, or get up and put on their basic uniform in wait.
The soldiers' nervousness mounted on the first day of polling.
But the Cambodians were brave. The initial voting was peaceful. Over three days of successful polling, Crouch felt fear dissipate.
Villages would send their old people to the voting stations, to return dutifully home to give the all-clear to younger generations.
The election resulted in 90 per cent voter turnout, and remains one of the UN's success stories.
"There were some very touching stories," said Crouch. "The Cambodian people were just so grateful to have some stability in their country. I know that Cambodia's not fixed - I know it's not Malaysia or Singapore or a progressive South-east Asian country, but the UN and the Australian commitment to the UN actually gave them that chance, which I think is a very precious thing.
"You actually saw it had done something quite remarkable for a people that had really had no options beforehand."
Crouch is a people-person; warm, but also tough. She would be more than capable of delivering a good army-style browbeating, but would make an equally good drinking buddy, one suspects.
She grew tough as a kid, following her diesel mechanic father - who had itchy feet - from job to job, town to town.
Not all of her five siblings coped well with the upheaval and some of the kids' grades suffered. But Crouch remembers enjoying the change and - although she stopped bothering to make close friends after a while - thriving on it.
There wasn't the money to send her to university after high school, so she joined the army in 1981, when the accepted "life expectancy" of female recruits was two years, after which they usually got out and got married.
The army was more tolerant then of those who made life difficult for female recruits, and Crouch learnt quickly she had to be especially professional and careful with her personal life so as to stay above reproach.
She made a point of always carrying her own pack, and keeping up with the pace of hours-long route marches.
She admits her male peers made disparaging comments in those early years, but won't repeat them because "I don't want to go into it because it was just stupid at the time".
"I would say 95 per cent of them - if you did your job, and you didn't ask for concessions ... if you were professional in the way you conducted yourself then you were fine. The other five per cent - you get idiots everywhere."
The disparaging comments grew rarer as Crouch climbed the ranks.
In 1998 she reached the heights of commanding officer - then very rare for a woman - on a barracks of 8000 at Townsville.
"I found once I hit Major, after that your right to be there was never questioned."
Crouch was working for the UN in New York when she accepted the job at UOW.
She made an offer on a house in Towradgi - three bedrooms, close to the beach.
When she moved in she had only enough belongings to fill one of the bedrooms, but soon began the process of having her impressive collection of exotic souvenirs - including a two-metre decorative Mali door - delivered.
Some of Crouch's things have been in storage in Adelaide for many years and she is excited - "It will be like Christmas!" - at the thought of bringing it all together.
It is a modest thrill for someone who has felt the weight of a Khmer Rouge bounty on their head, traversed the metre-wide peaks of German alps and parachuted out the back of an aircraft into Jervis Bay, but this is Crouch's latest chapter and it's just as she likes it.
"I'm still single after all these years. But some of my friends have been married three times and they're no happier than me. I don't think my [career] has cost me anything. When I look back, I can't imagine what my life would have been like otherwise."
The little house in Towradgi will hold one lady, many stories and at least six traditional African masks.