Spirited Away: NE Arnhem Land’s Raw Beauty

I jumped at the opportunity to volunteer my physiotherapy services in the remote communities of NE Arnhem Land as the need was great.

Lexi getting ready to board

Like tangelo jam spread fiercely and generously across a smiling face, a red sky morning welcomed my journey. A comfortable warmth enveloped me as I touched down on the red dirt land. It was a blissful change in contrast to Hobart’s rudely crisp frost filled mornings at this time of year. Sun showers kept the heat at bay. Umbrellas not needed nor wanted – childhood memories brought back of aqua play in mud puddles.

I jumped at the opportunity to volunteer my physiotherapy services to the remote communities of NE Arnhem Land as the need was great. SOS Health partner, Laynhapuy Health facilitated and hosted my stay. Their team were fun and inclusive. They offered many cultural opportunities that heightened my experience. I was upgraded from a Donga to one of the staff’s multi bedroom home. This welcomed a new friend to keep company and a family of chickens who provided ample eggs for filling breakfasts.

New friends - croppedI was surprised in learning that without the collective of SOS Health Foundation volunteers bimonthly visits, a regular physio service would be almost non existent. During my time at the various Homelands the value the people had in the service was emphasised. Lines built up passed numerous trees or ‘out the door’ so to speak prior to setting up. My days were jam packed and there was a strong sense of gratitude within each community.

Mum young boy in Clinic NE Arnhem - croppedA marked highlight was seeing the vast land as a frequent highflier in transit, looking below to what seamed like cardboard cutout matchstick sized trees, still raw from the last cyclone that hit the area. The very real obstruction of ducks was pointed out on one occasion when our aircraft was forced to circle a second time before landing. We were fortunate in that it enabled us a second take with time and safe distance a lone water buffalo bathing in the mud by the air strip.

Alex In the air - croppedA trip to a neighbouring island, followed by an early mark to indulge in Yirrkala’s Art Centre, met for a well practice ‘Happy Friday’. I soaked up the serenity and natural beauty at the secluded beach on the island. My colleague and I joined in on the giddiness of the local kids’ crab hunting skills. The exposure was eye-opening. The newly met free spirited children stuck to us like glue. With a special interest in paediatrics and childhood development I was astounded by the advanced degree of their strength, agility and balance – knowing no fear despite the height of the task at hand. Endless outdoor play no doubt the key contributor.

Kids play NE Arnhem Beach - MG BIM #1 - croppedProviding physio services in ‘the clinics’ was all about thinking outside 4 walls and putting creative problem solving into practice. Consideration to the attitudes, values and beliefs of the people was necessary in order to be effective. It became obvious early on that ‘time’ was not an objective measure. The concept was little used and age was defined by categories such as baby, child, not with child, mother/father or old. I was in my element with never a dull moment.

Yarning NE Arnhem - Lexi - croppedI would highly recommend this experience to anyone who is up for a challenge, readily adaptive and would like to gain insight into working within remote indigenous communities.

Lexi kids & snake NE Arnhem - croppedLexi Brough, Physiotherapist, Hobart



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