Australia

This Aboriginal elder was separated from her family due to a lack of health services

Aboriginal Elder Mildred Numamurdirdi. Source: AAP

Mildred Numamurdirdi is the only Aboriginal person who is giving direct evidence at the aged care Royal Commission's five-day hearings in Darwin.

An Indigenous Australian woman has told the Royal Commission into Aged Care that older people should be able to access health services nearby instead of being removed from families.

Mildred Numamurdirdi, an Aboriginal Elder from Numbulwar in the Northern Territory, was flown 800km to Royal Darwin hospital with health problems in March last year and has not returned home since.

The closest services were in Darwin or Katherine - a six-hour drive away.

Aboriginal Elder Mildred Numamurdirdi, from Numbulwar, (left) and Danila Dilba Health Service doctor GP Meredith Hanson-Knarhol.
Aboriginal Elder Mildred Numamurdirdi, from Numbulwar, (left) and Danila Dilba Health Service doctor GP Meredith Hanson-Knarhol.
AAP

"I make them sad and I am myself sad far away from my family, my heart is crying," Mrs Numamurdirdi told the Royal Commission.

"If I pass away here, it is far for me to get to my spirit, my culture, my ceremony."

The roles of funerals, known as "sorry business", are major Aboriginal cultural events that shut down communities.

Mrs Numamurdirdi said she spoke on the behalf of older Aboriginal Australians around the nation who had been separated from family, which also has historical sensitivities associated with the Stolen Generations.

Almost one in five people who might need aged care services in the NT are Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander people.

"We can hardly stand to be away from our children and grandchildren ... they have not had a woman like me before speak on their rights," she said.

Mrs Numamurdirdi said she wanted to return to Numbulwar but could not do so until adequate aged care services were provided.

The current situation was untenable, the commission heard, with Aboriginal people experiencing worsening health problems and related depression when separated from kin and culture and placed in care.

But the consequences of returning home would be the increased likelihood of death, NPY Women's Council team manager Kim McCrae said.

Mrs Numamurdirdi's doctor, Meredith Hanson-Knarhol, rejected the view it was too expensive to provide such care to remote communities, where kidney failure and diabetes are the biggest problems.

Poverty also contributed to a lack of food security in NT communities, with Centrelink payments cut off for alleged obligation breaches.

"We are still providing care here in town ... for the same level of care, there would be cost savings and cost effective measures," Dr Hanson-Knarhol said outside the commission.

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2019 NAIDOC Award winners announced
2019 NAIDOC Award winners announced

"The level of care people like Mildred require is quite high but I don't see why there can't be an aged care facility, even a renovated course with carers that also speak their language.

"There is huge employment potential for remote communities employing local people to work as care workers, nursing home services."

NT health providers gave evidence to the commission on Monday that they want to employ more Indigenous people, but there were not enough Aboriginal health professionals and other workers.

The Central Australian Aboriginal Congress workforce CEO Donna Ah Chee said she aimed to have about 60 per cent of its staff Indigenous but the current number was nearly 42 per cent.

"Of course we would love it to be 100 per cent," she said.

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