It was an incredible privilege to be welcomed into the Yolgnu communities in North East Arnhem Land, in a team of health workers from Laynhapuy Health.
The distances we travelled each day were similar to the distances I travel to service the Wheatbelt in WA, however the roads are not sealed and big sections are constantly in need of re grading. Hence, we had slower and very bumpy trips in the Land Cruiser. In the wet season they have to cancel clinics at times as the roads flood.
The SOS Foundation and previous volunteers had the podiatry kit well stocked and the only thing I would’ve liked to be able to provide more of was footwear, of any kind, or even some post op shoes to help with acute healing. Yolgnu footwear is mainly rubber thongs or bare foot. The rangers had good socks and boots and that would be my ideal footwear for all adults in this dry, hot land. (with a significant incidence of diabetes)
I have been able to handover some ideas, potential solutions and prescriptions to the permanent staff, who are an amazing team of people.
I learnt the essential Yolgnu Matha of Yes=Yoo, No= Yukka Good=Mungmuk, Finished= Billen, Medicine=medijin, Foot=Djalkiri (although some had a different word for foot, so I was really confused!) When there was a language barrier, it was hard to be sure if my advice was heard. Some of the Yolgnu spoke excellent English, which helped a lot.
I met a new grad paramedic from Newcastle, who is aboriginal, had some language- and was an absolute gem. My SOS Team mate Emma, the Tassie State cricketer and physio from Hobart was fantastic. Caroline the dentist from New Zealand took so much in her stride, with a smile and a chuckle. All of the nurses out here are beyond angels. So much respect. One of the GPs – Joy is comprehensively learning the language and the other GP, Bernadette was great and very thorough.
The aboriginal health workers helped bring the patients to the clinic and were also good hosts.
In the picture below, Michael is showing me the memorial his people made for the 1911 massacre in Gan Gan. Shona, pictured above, an aboriginal health worker and a sweetheart, took us for a walk and a yarn.
I would like to thank SOS Health for this once in a lifetime opportunity to witness and be a part of such an important health service. There is still more work to be done. Hopefully, I was able to make a small contribution to the cause of improving health outcomes. To have an impact on overall foot health, I would recommend that Laynhapuy Health employ a full time Podiatrist and initiate a footwear program. In my opinion, it would take a minimum of 5 years full time ongoing Podiatry care and management, to see improved outcomes in foot health, in these communities. I may be biased about the value of my profession. However, the dentist and several other permanent staff made a specific comment to me that they see immense value of regular Podiatry and felt it was essential for improving health outcomes.
Congratulations to SOS Health for all the volunteers they have sent to NE Arnhem Land and for giving me a professional and personal experience that I am truly grateful for and will cherish.
by Sally Sanderson, SOS Podiatry Volunteer from WA.
*post script: As Sally identifies, the people of NE Arnhem Land need and deserve permanent local access to Podiatry services. The good news is, the 6 years of SOS Health volunteers working with Laynhapuy Health has proven this need, and recently funding has been sourced to ensure local, regular services for people in the Homeland Communities. This means SOS Health will no longer send volunteer allied health professionals to NE Arnhem Land, but we take that as a need fulfilled and a job well done.