As the 2015 NRL trophy tours Palm Island…

As the 2015 NRL trophy (won by the Townsville Cowboys) proudly toured schools, I had the privilege of volunteering on Palm Island.

I’m a physiotherapist from Adelaide with interests in Chronic Disease Management and Sports Physiotherapy. Volunteering for one week on Palm was not long enough! It’s a tropical island with a torrid history and a group of people trying to make the best of what they’ve got. While only 90 mins by ferry from mainland Australia, at times it feels like another world.

The rate for hospitalisation for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) on Palm is 34 times the rate for non-indigenous Queenslanders and seven times the rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who live on the mainland in Townsville. This was one of many surprising facts I found while preparing to give a talk about Lung Health at Ferdy’s (Rehab for Substance Abuse) to indigenous Palm Island residents. We talked about Lung Health. I was able to assist a couple of the locals with chest clearance during the week.

Obesity and Diabetes and other Chronic Health Conditions are highly prevalent on Palm. I was impressed to meet a small group of local women at the SOS Health clinic who were getting more active and even more importantly encouraging their friends and family to do the same. We gave them advice on ways to stay motivated and how to ‘move more, sit less’ during the day. Hopefully they can reach their goals which included weight loss and taking part in a Fun Run/Walk on the mainland.

My volunteering week coincided with a White Ribbon Day event to raise awareness about Family Violence, a huge issue on Palm island. During the preparations for the event, I was privileged to hear positive discussion among the women as we painted signs for the parade. It was empowering and also confronting to hear the stories at White Ribbon Day from both victims and perpetrators

It was an eventful week and I would recommend this experience to others.

Tamara Matulick
Physiotherapist, Adelaide
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