PRESENTER: Hi, I’m Nathan Ramsay and you’re listening to Newslines Radio, a weekly program produced by the Australian Government on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues.
Across Australia, Aboriginal community-controlled medical services are improving health standards to help close the gap.
Today, we’re taking a look at what makes them comfortable and supportive places for you to keep your health in check.
INGRAM: I’ve been very sick over the last few months and instead of going to Woden hospital, 99 per cent of things now to do with medical is all done with Winnunga.
PRESENTER: That’s Wiradjuri elder, Noel Ingram, who lives in Canberra. He has recently undergone heart surgery.
Now, instead of making constant visits to the city hospital, he frequents his local Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service to get check-ups and treatment, and attend programs on healthy eating and exercise.
More on Winnunga later.
Aboriginal medical centres are places where people can go to get treated by Indigenous professionals.
But support often also comes from their peers through groups and health programs run by the medical centres.
In Perth, Derbarl Yerrigan is a strong support for Noongar people who live in an urban environment, many of whom are stolen generation.
FORREST: All the people here, they’re of my generation. The beauty of coming here is that it’s a great leveller. It’s a healthy situation to come here where you greet each other and you have the knowledge of each other, of long standing. There’s no need to sort of wear a façade or put on any airs and graces.
PRESENTER: That’s 70 year old Wangai man, Vivian Forrest. He attends the Heart Health program at Derbarl Yerrigan every week.
Even though he’s there to learn about how to take care of his heart, Vivian finds support in catching up with other elders at the program too.
FORREST: We help each other, we talk to each other, we phone each other up. We get picked up every week by the Derbarl Yerrigan drivers and we get taken home. It’s a day that very few of us want to miss out on.
I have to say that here is, because of the friendship of long standing and the people that we can speak comfortably to, males and females, we’re able to discuss things. I’ve been coming here for almost a year and I reflect on the first time I came here, I was nervous, but as I look back now, I’ve done an incredible amount of healing inside myself.
And of course we get counselling for the stolen generations here as well. Combining that with heart health I feel as though, well coming here we all care for each other.
PRESENTER: 73 year old Edith Willoway is another Stolen Generation member who frequents the programs at Derbarl Yerrigan.
WILLOWAY: The program itself is different from when you go into the hospital. Here it’s more of a relaxed atmosphere.
And not only that, the people that run it are so committed and to me, that is an asset. To have these people that actually run this program, that they’re so committed themselves that it makes us want to keep coming back every week.
PRESENTER: Edith admits to being an information junkie when it comes to her health and finds that the program teaches everybody valuable skills to look after themselves.
WILLOWAY: The program itself, I never miss it. I come every week. I always maintain to have the education of anything is when you start to change and take that responsibility for your own health. And that’s what this program has given myself personally. Not only that, it’s just that I like coming and meeting everybody and enjoying everything that we do here.
PRESENTER: To the east side of Australia now, Campbelltown in south-west Sydney is home to Tharawal Aboriginal Corporation.
They’re leaders in the medical community. Dungadi man Darryl Write is the proud CEO. He says part of Tharawal’s success comes from its culture of positivity.
WRITE: That is the first thing you look at in building a team and it came from my upbringing. My grandparents and my grandmothers’ always told me to get up out of bed and smile, it breaks down a lot of barriers.
Because when you work in welfare, you run into barriers every hour of the day, so we built a very good atmosphere. I think that’s very important. Not just for the staff but the clients and our community and we’ve been able to turn the community around with those sort of philosophies.
Working together as a team we do a lot of engagement and functions with the community and the community know that this is theirs, it’s not owned by factions, it’s owned by the community.
Someone asked me the other day; what’s the difference between Tharawal in 2003 and now? Well the community walk around with their heads held up and they’re smiling and they feel that they own the place. So that’s wonderful.
PRESENTER: You’re listening to Newslines Radio. Today, we have the spotlight on Aboriginal Medical Services that are doing a great job in improving the health of Indigenous Australians.
Aboriginal health and medical services take a holistic approach with treating their clients.
That means tailoring personal support to patients to cover their physical andmental health needs, in a way that connects with them and is culturally appropriate. Tharawal is a great example.
Clay Laxton leads the Drug and Alcohol and Mental Health program there. He empowers his clients to make sure they know they can beat their addictions and go on to better health.
He spoke with Newslines’ Danika Nayna.
LAXTON: We’re fairly flexible here so we can tailor make things to suit the needs of the people that come to see us. So that’s a really great thing.
The holistic thing … I don’t take a one size fits all approach. I’ll help each client as much or as little as they need and maybe after the first month some people will still need a lot of support and others they can back off a bit.
NAYNA: What does it mean for the Aboriginal community in south west Sydney to have an Aboriginal place to come to when they have these drug and alcohol and mental health problems?
LAXTON: Sydney district, we live in a city of five million people and so it’s really tough to be able to get in to places where people can really help you.
So they feel more comfortable when they come over here to Tharawal and of course we’ll co-ordinate the outside support services that they need from here.
PRESENTER: Clay often refers patients after treatment to support groups, like Tharawal’s men’s group where they can start to heal through open communication and learning about culture.
Allan Max Carriage, one of the men’s group facilitators, teaches local men to be leaders in their families. They meet weekly to communicate their issues and learn from one-another.
CARRIAGE: I do it for free, I do it for the love of my people and look, for my children. I want my children to … I don’t want my children to go through what I went through. I grew up and had no direction or no leaders, my mother died when I was 4 years old. The male role models, I had none.
I wouldn’t want my children to go through what I went through. I just want them to believe in themselves and have their self-esteem high and things like that.
This is what we set in place for these young fellas now, their self-esteem is so low. They know nothing about our culture and they can’t go back to our culture but at the end of the day you can build your own culture and how you act as a person and how you are in the community and how you hold yourself in society and you’re building a culture not only for yourself but for your children to follow.
PRESENTER: Tharawal offers support programs to women and children too. As with the men’s group, the goal is to keep families together.
At Tharawal’s Brighter Futures program, a team of Aboriginal women are teaching mothers positive parenting, which is making families stronger and has started a positive cycle where the kids will grow up knowing what a happy family is.
They’ve had a huge effect on Indigenous families in the Campbelltown area.
Semone Attard is the manager there.
ATTARD: These people are coming to the program and they’re putting their hands up and saying ‘yes, I need some extra support.’
What I love most is seeing the change in the children. We get some children that are very angry, that are very, very sad. Some children don’t show emotion at all because they don’t know how to, because the domestic violence and the drug abuse is so bad at home, they don’t know what – no-one knows what normal is – but they don’t have a functional life.
So to see a family present in pieces and then you see all that family come together, that’s the most rewarding part of it. That we’ve broken that cycle and then that child will then grow to be a parent and show those better and different parenting skills rather than just learned behaviour.
PRESENTER: Aboriginal health services offer education that clients can take home with them to continue good health practices.
Winnunga Nimmityjah in Canberra has been running a successful healthy cooking class for the local Aboriginal community for 15 months.
Kamiliroi man and healthy lifestyle worker Ian Bateman works with a nutritionist to lead the class.
BATEMAN: You’ve gotta be able to diet properly and everything else and that cuts down the chance of getting diabetes and other chronic diseases. That’s the whole point of this.
As you know, we die 17 years earlier than non-Indigenous people so part of my role is to try and educate people. Small steps, you know? Everything’s about leading up to the future. If we can educate a few now, that leads to… it can be a giant step forward say in 10 years time.
PRESENTER: The relaxed class meets every week to prepare a healthy meal.
BATEMAN: We let the people organise what they want to do. They know what to do when they come here. They get their little chopping boards and they like their little jobs. Everyone’s got their little job to do so they like that. It’s the social inclusion too; everyone comes here and has a bit of a yarn, a bit of a chat and a bit of a laugh and just enjoy their company.
I see a lot of them come back and they say we’ve tried the such and such out of the book and the kids loved it. I think that’s a success. The kids are trying something different. I think when they’re trying something different that means you’re trying to achieve … you’re trying to move forward. If you can do that for your family I think that’s a pretty big step forward.
PRESENTER: Aboriginal health and medical services are really leading the way in improving the health and lives of Indigenous Australians. The organisations covered in this program, as well as many others around the country, receive Australian Government funding.
Visit our website indigenous.gov.au to find out more about what Aboriginal medical services can offer you and to read our Indigenous Newslines magazine.
You can also follow Closing the Gap on Twitter, and friend Indigenous Newslines on Facebook.
I’m Nathan Ramsay, thanks for listening to Newslines Radio. Stay deadly.