After completing a seven-week community placement with Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (NPY) Women’s Council as part of the Master of Dietetics at Deakin University, Sophie Jamieson shares some of the exciting, challenging, confronting and rewarding experiences she’s had in Central Australia.
It is not every day that those of us who live in urban cities get to visit some of the most remote communities of Australia and develop a deeper understanding of aboriginal culture. This was the reason I jumped at the chance to complete my community placement with the Child Nutrition Program team at NPY Women’s Council.
Working as a remote dietitian with the Child Nutrition Program team based in Alice Springs has given me an incredible opportunity. I’m using what I’ve learnt from my degree to develop scientific measures for the determinants of growth faltering in children under five years in remote aboriginal communities. As the Child Nutrition Program relies heavily on government funding, having measures to give evidence for the continued need for the Child Nutrition Program is essential. The measures being developed will make a real impact providing that evidence.
As part of the work here, I’ve also travelled to some of the most remote communities in Australia. While in the remote South Australian community of Indulkana, I worked with my supervisor to educate the community on making healthy food and drink choices. This included talking about the sugar content of soft drinks and delivering a dental hygiene workshop at a local childcare centre. Out bush I have also enjoyed learning about traditional aboriginal foods and medicine, trying many varieties of ‘bush tucker’ including kangaroo tail, bush figs and even honey ants.
The remote aboriginal communities I have visited face many important challenges and suffer from extreme disadvantage. I have learnt a lot about the challenges aboriginal people have faced, and continue to face on a daily basis post the arrival of non-aboriginal people. Families experience poverty with low employment rates and low levels of education. Overcrowding often co-exists with domestic violence, substance abuse and child neglect. The burden of disease is disproportionate to the general population of Australia and access to specialist services within remote communities is low.
'Out bush I have also enjoyed learning about traditional aboriginal foods and medicine, trying many varieties of ‘bush tucker’ including kangaroo tail, bush figs and even honey ants.'
Master of Dietetics, Deakin University
What has become real for me is the human face behind the disadvantage. At times the challenges can seem overwhelming; but with the right long-term commitment from governments and people like those at NPY Women’s Council who live and work within these communities, positive changes do happen.
NPY Women’s Council is an inspiring organisation. It was founded by Aboriginal women from Western Australia, the Northern Territory and South Australia in 1980 and is still run by a board of female aboriginal directors today. This allows the council to be connected to the people it serves and build a better future for communities throughout Central Australia. Two of NPY Women’s Council’s achievements to date include being responsible for the co-ordination of 330 Aboriginal women to perform in the Sydney 2000 Olympics Opening Ceremony and successfully lobbying to introduce subsidised Opal ‘unsniffable’ fuel into the Central Australian region.
I feel privileged to have worked alongside the Child Nutrition Program team and learn about traditional aboriginal culture, the history of our nation and the challenges faced by remote aboriginal communities.
When you seize an opportunity to live and work in a place where nothing is familiar, you can’t help but reflect on who you are. One of the most rewarding things I will take away from this experience is what I have learnt about myself. This experience has not only taught me how to be a better health professional but also taught me how to be a more humble, respectful and accepting person.
Learn more about Deakin University’s Master of Dietetics. Photos with thanks to NPY-Women’s Council.
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