By BRONTE HEWETT
Accepting a Flinders NT offer for a remote placement in the Top End as a nursing student for two weeks was easy.
As far as horizons go, Arnhem Land has some pretty spectacular ones.
With the sun setting over the Arafura sea on the last night I felt calmed by the mild dry season breeze as I reflected on the people I’d met, the land I’d seen, the stories I’d heard and the realities I’d faced.
Splitting my time between Yirrkala, Gunyangara and Nhulunbuy, I got a well-rounded experience of different nursing roles at Miwatj Health Aboriginal Corporation and the rewards and challenges associated with each.
The role of acute-care nurse in Yirrkala clinic is a constant flow of patients with anything between a football injury, a common cold and a heart attack.
I arrived the week after the football grand final, so the community was still excited and the odd injury did pop up.
There was also a chronic disease nurse, child health nurse, midwife, men’s health nurse and dialysis nurse based at the clinic.
I enjoyed learning a bit about midwifery and dialysis while I was there, as well as gaining practical assessment skills. The Central Australian Rural Practitioners Association (CARPA) manual was a great resource I became accustomed to, also known as the remote nursing bible.
I accompanied the mental health nurse for a day, which opened my eyes to the complexities of mental illness in Indigenous communities. Two suicides occurred while I was there, and suddenly the statistics became a reality.
I think remote area nurses are some of the most resilient individuals in this area of health care and I enjoyed the stories of the hardship and benefits of nursing remotely.
Learning about the Yolngu culture and saltwater people was enriching, having come from the desert. There are both stark differences and similarities.
They both continue to face social, political and cultural injustices, and resilience is important. As health professionals, we can do our best with the resources we have.
However, I get an overwhelming sense the remote health system itself is a hasty approach that covers up the symptoms but does little to fix the underlying problems.
The Indigenous health gap never ceases to be a source of shock and disbelief.
It was great to learn a few words in Yolngu language and locals were more than willing to correct my pronunciations and tell me to roll my ‘r’s more. With the most welcoming vibes, it was never hard to get a wave and a smile as we drove around the communities seeking patients on our list.
Outside of placement, the other students and Flinders University staff were friendly and helpful.
One highlight was assisting the Dhimurru Rangers clean up Cape Arnhem – one of the most stunning and remote coastlines I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, currents wash a lot of rubbish up from across the ocean – a sad reality of our suffering planet.
We spent the day picking up litter, an activity the rangers try to keep on top of with the help of Sea Shepherd. What an unforgettable view. Sadly, some turtle shells were also found amongst the debris.
Another highlight was cooking up a freshly caught fish on the campfire by the banks of the Giddy river.
I appreciated having this opportunity and thank CRANA plus and sponsor Zeitz Enterprises for their support. I very much enjoyed my placement.
[This story appeared in the autumn 2020 edition of the CRANAplus Magazine.]