Interstate Exodus

24 November 2011 | 11:00 - By Amanda Hoh

Video Journalist Amanda Hoh visited a Coober Pedy health clinic making a difference to Aboriginal health despite increasing population pressures.

My trip to Coober Pedy was my first ever visit to rural Australia. I’ve gone from Sydney to Perth, travelled overseas, but have always flown over the centre of Australia, not into it.

The nine hour drive from South Australia with my colleague, Nick Evershed, opened my eyes to how beautiful our country is.  

It also showed how remote communities like Coober Pedy are from neighbouring towns, which made the people living there so much more inspiring.

The Umoona Tjutagku Health Service provides a free service for the Aboriginal people in Coober Pedy and the transient population that travels from as far as Alice Springs.

The workers, a mixture of Indigenous and non-Indigenous workers, work tirelessly to provide health care and food for the community.

Every morning and afternoon, people like Glenys Dodd who you will see in the story, deliver food, water, and most importantly, medicine to the people of Coober Pedy.

The day after we visited the clinic, Glenys took a man to Port Augusta for an ear check, making the five hour drive to Port Augusta and back in one day.

The Aboriginal health workers are one of the most important aspects of the clinic’s relationship with the community.

Priscilla Larkins, the clinic’s CEO,  told us that the service wouldn’t survive without them, and we could see why when we hopped in the van with Glenys and driver Elaine.

Many of the Aboriginal people continue to live on the lands and spend their days sitting on the streets around town.

The health workers’ knowledge, cultural and social links with the Aboriginal community ensures a high standard level of health care.

We saw many people who were suffering from diabetes or high-blood pressure and need daily medicine, food and water delivered to them.

The mayor of Coober Pedy, Steve Baines, says alcohol abuse was still a major issue for Coober Pedy, particularly since the town’s population has more than doubled over the last few years following welfare restrictions imposed in the 2007 Northern Territory Intervention.

This has made the health service even more necessary.

The cook, Lorraine said that the visitors’ favourite breakfast is lamb stew and damper, “'Cause they are drinkers and they need something solid.”

The transient population went from around 3600 people in 2007, to almost 10,000 as of June this year.

We met people in the breakfast room who regularly travelled from Mimili, Indulkana and Fregon down to Coober Pedy.

The sudden jump in population over the last few years placed severe stress on local families and the health clinic, and neighbouring drug and alcohol centre, has acted as a counselling service to help support the community.

With no extra funding from the government to cope with the knock-on effect from the Intervention, the clinic’s employees have worked through the tough times to develop services that will continue to care for the community.

It was the nurses, the health carers, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous that affected us the most.

To live in Coober Pedy, 3-4 hours away from the next major town, have an extra 5000 people or so turn up on your doorstep and still stay committed to make a difference in the community, was truly inspiring.

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