• NTAHC Drama Down Under Industry Launch (supplied)
Leading Aboriginal model and former NRL player, Casey Conway is the saucy star of a clever new campaign to encourage increased sexual health testing in the NT.
By
Laura Morelli

1 Dec 2016 - 4:23 PM  UPDATED 2 Dec 2016 - 1:31 PM

He’s gorgeous, gay and he’s getting involved.

After leading a life scoring tries and posing for the camera, one of Australia's most prominent Aboriginal models and former NRL star, Casey Conway, is now the face of a campaign that aims to educate and empower people to check their health.

The campaign is from the Northern Territory AIDS and Hepatitis Council (NTAHC) and the Victorian AIDS Council (VAC) in a response to rising rates of HIV and other STIs in the NT.

It comes after research proved that the territory had the highest STI rates in the country. A syphilis outbreak in the Top End has seen over 300 cases in the Northern Territory alone.

Adapted from VAC’s award-winning ‘Drama Downunder’ campaign, the new campaign aims to remove the stigma from sexual health by taking a light-hearted approach to testing.

Youth and family practitioner Casey Conway, an openly gay man and former rugby league player, appears in his underwear along with the message:

“Wet or dry—any season, sexy health is deadly! Get tested, get treated no drama!”

The Indigenous model says that something has to be done about STIs in the Northern Territory, and among Aboriginal people in particular.

“I really hope the campaign will get people testing every three-to-six months—once in the wet and once in the dry. As the campaign says, get tested, get treated, no drama,” Conway said.

After events kicked off in the NT on World AIDS Day, Conway was able to meet staff, doctors and campaign members in order to get a better understanding of the work that's happening in the NT and the community members involved.

"It’s been a really positive response," the hot hunk said.  

"to be honest It's been a bit overwhelming but I can't get over how many people are getting involved, it's got such a huge reach which is so fantastic and bound to make a difference."

Conway said it's clear the NT is going through a difficult time which is why strong, powerful messages are so important for the community. 

"Getting checked is everyone's responsibility - I’ve got to go get tested regularly and what scares me is the amount of young people I’ve had to drag to a sexual health clinic, otherwise they wouldn't take themselves, so people just need to get used to normalising making their health a priority," he said. 

Conway listed a few reasons why getting tested isn't on everyone's mind.

"For Indigenous people it’s a cultural thing, there’s shame and also not much trust with medical services," he said.

"Also a big issue, especially in remote communities is that young people aren’t educated properly, here we've got all these kids engaging in sexual activities but they'e not properly educated in how to go about it."

For Conway, he wants to see sexual health front and centre for every mob out there. 

"I just want people to add sexual health to their holistic health and wellbeing. All too often it’s put last and not many people are aware of the importance of getting tested, so let's see people put that at the front and centre.

NTAHC Executive Director Kim Gates says an increase in HIV infections and the high rates of STIs demonstrate a serious issue about equal access to health and education in the Northern Territory.

“Aboriginal people, particularly those living in remote communities, often have little or no understanding of the importance of maintaining their sexual health,” she said.

“Health clinics are under-resourced and over-burdened by conflicting and competing health needs, which often results in sexual health taking a back seat.”

Another issue is that the school health curriculum does not include education around STIs and blood-borne viruses, the only reference to using condoms is to prevent pregnancy."

Ms Gates says their campaign message is loud and clear.

“People need to get tested, there’s no shame in it - go to the clinic and know your status, because you could be putting others at risk, so get it done, no drama.”

NTAHC have major plans for the future, which would really benefit the community such as partnering with services that would enable them to go out and do mobile testing to give people alternative options and of course, continuing to work with the wonderful Casey Conway.   

The Queenslander agreed to lend his fabulous face, and buffed body, to a series of fun, colourful advertisements designed to encourage people in the Top End to take their sexual health seriously.

Conway said he lacked gay role models while growing up, and hoped his involvement in the campaign would also send a broader message to those struggling with their sexuality.

The sexy 30-year-old is no stranger to the spotlight.

He was a star player for the Sydney Roosters after being discovered at a young age playing rugby league in Yeppoon by former game great Arthur Beetson. However after enduring six operations in two years, including a major shoulder procedure, Casey was forced to retire prematurely due to injury.

Retired and rested was when he felt most comfortable to publically come out and share his true story.

His message is that it’s okay to be gay. You can still be yourself, it doesn't change who you are or that you belong in society.

The best thing he’s gotten out of coming out is that people have taken the time to hear his story and others can resonate with him, which makes him feel proud.

In 2015 VAC developed a ‘Seasons’ version of their long-running campaign, which encouraged people to use the changing seasons as a prompt to get a sexual health check.

The posters and advertisements featuring summer, autumn, winter and spring encourage the simple task of getting tested not once, but four times a year.

This new iteration adapts the seasonal message of the Drama Down Under Campaign to the NT, encouraging people to get tested every 3-6 months, in the Wet and Dry seasons.

VAC CEO Simon Ruth says looking after your health should be everyone's main priority. 

“There’s a good lesson here in the ways health promotion campaigns developed by the large HIV organisations down south don’t always take into account the specific needs of communities in the Top End."

World AIDS Day 2016 & NTAHC AIDS Awareness Week 

Confidential testing and treatment is available from Clinic 34, your GP, your Aboriginal Medical Service or community health clinic. For youth mental health support, you can contact headspace.

NITV recognises World AIDS Day with the documentary '6 Days in August' screening Thursday, 1st December at 7pm. Another documentary premiere 'Fire in the Blood' is available On Demand. 

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