What an incredible experience it was to spend a short period of time in some of the more remote areas of our great country. My name is Emma and I’m a physiotherapist, currently residing in Hobart. I’ve always been interested in volunteer work and helping those less fortunate, so when an opportunity to volunteer my time and skills in some of the Yolgnu communities in North East Arnhem Land presented itself I jumped at it!
It was a week rich in culture, warm weather, beautiful landscapes and sunsets, but also incredibly kind and generous people in the form of the Laynhapuy health workers and the local Yolgnu people. It was certainly eye opening to see how far the Laynhapuy health workers must travel throughout their week, most averaging around 5 hours per day in the Troopies, navigating very bumpy unsealed roads.
From a Physiotherapy perspective, some of the injuries came from hunting the land and too much heavy-footed ceremonial dancing (not unlike city folk dancing a little too hard on a Friday night). However, most of the complaints didn’t differ too much from those I encounter daily in Hobart – neck, back, and shoulder aches and pains from everyday cleaning and household chores, looking after children or poor posture and understanding of the way people use their bodies.
The Yolgnu people have their own language – Yolgnu Matha, however this also differs slightly between communities. The Rangers and Aboriginal Health Workers in each community mostly have reasonable English skills and were very helpful in translating questions and assisting to get my messages across. This language barrier is still an obvious challenge for those coming in to provide health services, and although many who work on a more permanent basis in the area are learning the language, it still takes time to develop these skills.
The most obvious barrier though to health care in these communities are their remote locations. This geographical challenge is one of both time and money, with only two options to access services in the closest town of Gove – drive yourself or take a Bush Taxi. Both of which are limited within Yolgnu communities and expensive to access. There is however emergency access via light planes, which was utilised on my first day out in the community of Yilpara. A mother was waiting for our arrival that day with her young daughter who had been unwell for a few days. The fantastic nurses from Laynhapuy Health completed their assessment, in conjunction with the local doctor at Gove hospital via mobile phone and decided she needed further assessment in hospital. So within about half an hour a plane landed on the dirt airstrip to transport mother and daughter for further medical help. It was a great demonstration of how Laynhapuy Health is working collaboratively to help close the gap.
I thoroughly recommend any opportunity to volunteer with SOS Health Foundation. I had a fantastic experience challenging myself both professionally and personally, meeting some great people along the way. It was a great way of starting to gain further insight into the challenges of some of our Aboriginal communities and why working towards closing the gap in Indigenous health needs to continue to be a high priority. Thanks for the opportunity!