Physiotherapist Kate Tuohy-Main spent 2 weeks in NE Arnhem Land Volunteering with SOS Health Foundation earlier this year. She reflects on that experience:
At my farewell lunch at the Layanha Health Office I was asked what was the high light of my two weeks working in the Homelands, running physio clinics together with doctors and nurses.
At the time I said hunting at Yilpara with ladies I had seen at the clinic. This was very special and involved me being witness to looking for and catching crabs, sitting in the dunes round the fire as the crabs cooked, while the sun set as we sampled the delicious warm crab meat. At twilight we collected wood for their families to have their meal, as the full moon rose over the sea.
On reflection there are so many highlights.
Cyclonic weather, causing flooding and only 5 hours of client contact in the Homelands in April, meant I had plenty of time to get to know Layanha staff. I was made very welcome again this visit and really felt part of the Health Care team. Friendships have developed and I have been thoroughly spoiled having good company to have sunset drinks/ meals at the Boat, Golf and Surf Clubs, picnic at Rainbow Cliffs, walk along Shady beach, Latram river with and without doggie companions and dance the night away at the Walkabout Tavern!
Traveling out to the Homelands has also been a real treat, traveling in land cruisers on red dirt roads for up to 5 hours a day through varied vegetation and landscapes seeing sea eagles, Bhraminy kites, bower birds, wallabys, roos, buffalo, dingoes, manta rays, stingrays and crabs. No crocks though, but sadly heard stories of family members being taken by crocodiles.
Also flying in light aircraft to Gan Gan looking down on escarpments and treed vastness, interlaced with deep, narrow gorges filled with water, red dirt vehicle tracks and narrow, white, winding walking tracks. Also a flying visit, seven minutes in all apparently, to Gutjangang Island, escorted by Shaz, who organises client transport, with stunning views of the island and coast line with remote airstrip and small Homeland community close by.
But the real high light was working with the Yongul people where they live. I was priviliged to see thirty five clients in my 8 days in the Homelands, both young and old. Some were famous for their contribution to weaving, painting and dancing and others had different skills to contribute to their community as rangers, hunters, gardeners, and everyone seems to contribute to keeping their environment clean and tidy with mowing, raking, picking up rubbish and sweeping and mopping in the houses. Hunting, carrying what they have caught as well as shopping, and firewood for cooking, are important tasks. Creating beautiful woven and painted artworks, while sitting on the ground, also occupies a lot of time for the artists. Their ceremonies, including funerals and marriages are very important in their lives and can involve hours and days of singing, dancing and grieving. Ceremony or Sorry Business is practiced as a sign of grief for the loss of a family member and can result in unintended injuries. All of these different activities were reported to me by different clients to be causes of cervical, thoracic and low back pain as well as knee and shoulder pains.
During my last visit I realized the importance of diagrams to explain what could be contributing to pain and what solutions were available to help clients relieve their own pain, so I went armed with diagrams that helped to get my messages across and could be taken home as an exercise program if the client found them beneficial.
Although I do not speak Yongul mata, and am very new to their amazing culture, I felt very well received by every client, even if they were exhausted after returning from Ceremony. It was very uplifting to see the change in their energy levels when together we discovered strategies that relieved their pain and they understood they had control over how to manage their pain in the future.
Their posture had improved noticeably, they said they felt, and looked very well, and they were still doing their exercises!
My aim is to keep broadening my physio expertise through professional development, study the Yongul culture and language and volunteer with SOS Health again.