My name is Sheneise Hall, I am an Indigenous woman of the Kariyarra, Banyjima people, from Port Hedland in the Pilbara region of North Western Australia. I’m an Occupational Therapist currently living in Canberra and completing a Master’s in Public Policy at the Australian National University.
I have always been passionate about working with Indigenous communities and towards reducing the inequality Indigenous people experience – specifically to mental health – so when the opportunity arose to visit Palm Island, I was keen to get involved.
Palm Island was a gorgeous place to visit, with beautiful sandy beaches and such friendly, helpful people. However, I was saddened to witness the immense number of issues impacting negatively on the community; from both other health professionals and community members alike, and to see the overwhelming need for health services that weren’t being met.
That said, this also gave me the opportunity to learn about local, community led efforts to help reduce the disadvantage experienced by the people of Palm Island; this varied from other allied health professionals, to local staff at the PCYC working with the youth to teachers.
The main reason for my heading up to Palm Island, was to speak to the kids at the two local primary schools about my journey as an Indigenous woman, to becoming an Allied Health Professional, moving to Canberra and into the Policy space. During my time talking to the kids, I was excited to hear stories of them aspiring to make changes for themselves and their community, which was so like my own story. I found the whole experience just as inspiring for me, hearing about the many ambitions and dreams of some of these young kids; one even wanting to become a Chemical Engineer.
From an Occupational Therapy perspective, my visit to Palm Island involved providing a variety of interventions to both kids at the local primary school and to the older members of the community. This involved working on visual perception and fine motor skills and provided equipment recommendation.
Some of the barriers I faced was the remoteness and therefore limitations to what was available and what you were able to do in the time provided. Community engagement and access to services also proved a challenge at times, although, I feel this is understandable with continued frustration felt by the community for a variety of reasons.
I would like to end on a positive note, though. For me, the most beautiful part of my experience of Palm Island was learning about the meaning behind the name for its Indigenous people – the Bwgcolman people.
While the Palm Island Group is home to the traditional owners – the Manbarra people – Bwgcolman, meaning many tribes, one people, is used as a collective for all Indigenous peoples of Palm Island, this being due to historical practices and many tribes being displaced to Palm Island. I found this acknowledgement of the Islands history from its community and evident choice to come together as one very encouraging and impressive.
In all, I had an incredible experience and feel participating in such an opportunity with SOS Health has developed my skills further as a clinician as well as personally. It hits home how important addressing the issues around Indigenous disadvantage and of the need for effective community services all around Australia. I am incredibly grateful to SOS Health for providing me with this opportunity and strongly recommend other Allied Health Professionals, if they are given the opportunity with SOS Health, to take part.