I’m going far away. Nine hours from Alice Springs and four and a half from Tennant Creek. The most isolated nursing station in Australia and I’m going to be there for just over two weeks. No internet. No phone reception. No housemates. Just me, Canteen Creek Community and learning, learning, learning. And I am EXCITED!!!
Canteen Creek is a 4.5 hour drive south east from Tennant Creek along red dirt roads. When not graded, it can be extremely riveted and has actually caused some people back problems. During the rains, the road has sections that are impassable by vehicle and require boats to carry essentials. The communities become ‘flooded in’ and simply have to wait for the water to subside. In emergency situations, people are air-lifted out.
On the way we saw beautiful scenery and stopped at a waterhole that was whispering to us ‘Come in for a swim!’. We had a little splash and told ourselves we would stop for a swim on the way back into TC.
Clear waterhole we stopped at on the way
Waterhole looking left
Waterhole looking right
Jenny (Aboriginal Health Promotion Officer and all-round beautiful soul), myself and another health promotion officer turned up to the Canteen Creek health clinic on Monday afternoon and got chatting to the health clinic manager / RAN / Nurse Practitioner Cassie. When Cassie learnt I was aiming to be a Remote Area Nurse, she said I had come to the right place. Cassie is super keen to have students and teach them as much about being a RAN as possible. Canteen Creek usually has a population of around 150 people but it is Easter this weekend and the community was expecting an influx of family and friends to celebrate the occasion. This also means an influx into the health clinic. So I cancelled my RFDS placement and got permission to stay on in Canteen Creek to be personally mentored and taught by a Nurse Practitioner with so many post-grad quals that she would need them made into wallpaper should she wish to display them. I grabbed this opportunity with both grubby (from patting the dog) hands!
Molly – new nurse!
The set-up in this clinic and quite a few remote area health clinics is very similar to that of a GP office, except there are no GP’s. There are RAN’s and they mean business. People come in with a variety of ailments, accidents, complaints and needs and are seen either one after the other or ‘triaged’ (AKA who’s got the most serious life-threatening complaint in the waiting room, NOT necessarily who can scream the loudest – though that might work on a Friday afternoon when the RAN is in serious need of a G&T…). RAN’s are highly educated and experienced and are required to not only assess and treat but also diagnose and prescribe medications / treatment. They are the doctor. But possibly quicker.
I’m going to be a different person after these two weeks but for the better. Cassie has discussed some plans she is working on (which I can’t divulge) but will be great news to people interested in working in remote areas.
So to sign off, I will be fairly sans internet for a couple of weeks although I can use the clinic’s internet so I will endeavour to update if possible.
Off to a place called Canteen Creek (it has a new health centre, this site is really old) on Monday with an Aboriginal Health Promotion Officer called Jenny and a new staff member who is doing her orientation. I’m not nervous (wow! Rachel, is that you?) but I’m excited and looking forward to whatever I will do there. I saw Jenny at the Saturday markets and she said if the health clinic is too quiet, she will get me out and about like I did in Ali Curung. Awesome!!!
I don’t think it will take 10 hours to get there.
The sunsets in the desert are supposed to be magical so I went sunset seeking a few nights in a row. The problem is, I kept leaving it too late and by the time I got to wherever I could get a decent view, the sun had already said goodnight to the town and had pulled the horizon over its head. So here are some grasps at what few sunbeams remained…
Yesterday (Saturday 24th March) I called into the markets and bought a book about Australia’s worst crimes; just a bit of light reading on a warm desert day. I bought an iced coffee from Cafe Buzzbean (say hello to owner Kristen when you’re there, she is really friendly) and bumped into my AOD RN buddy who invited me to join her and her friend who had just started a new job as a parole officer. After chatting for a while (and with me now wanting to be a parole officer…It just sounds cool… “gotta report to my parole officer or I’ll be back in the clink”) I meandered off and read my new book at Lake Mary Ann.
Coming out of IGA today, I nearly collided with a you-beaut electric scooter carrying a bloke called Walter Boulter who likes to be known as Tony (pity, cos I think having a rhyming name is awesome). Tony and his lovely wife Joy, an ex-school teacher, have lived in Tennant creek for almost 50 years – 49 to be exact. Tony told me he used to be a Ginger Beer (engineer) who helped build a lot of the roads in Tennant Creek. When he arrived, they were all dirt. Tony told me the population of TC at the height of gold fever was 50 thousand! The last gold mine shut down only 8 years ago and the population plummeted. I had to lean in to hear Tony at some stages as he lowered his voice to tell me about the more sensitive issues about TC and his thoughts on them. I respected his opinions and appreciated his honesty from his point of view and experience living in a town for half a century. Getting on my way, we shook hands. We shook hands again, then it turned into a homie handshake then a fist bump. Not kidding you. Tony and I have a secret handshake (I suppose it’s not secret anymore). An 80 year old on a gopher and a 34 year old in thongs doing a secret handshake outside IGA Tennant Creek; beat that Dr Dre.
Walter (Tony) Boulter
So I am now sitting in the dining room with one of my flatmate’s sitting at the same table sniffling snot every few minutes. I told him he doesn’t have a cold and it must be symptoms of rheumatic heart disease, syphilis or scabies – 3 common illnesses in Tennant. The common cold doesn’t exist here, it has to be something far worse. He is not impressed and does not find me funny.
There’s another scribbling nurse. And it comes up at the very top of a google search. Dang it. He is not me and I am not him. Good luck to him though; as both scribbling nurses, we might one day meet and play scrabble. And scribble. And hopefully not battle for the title of THE Scribbling Nurse but I’ll sharpen my thermometer just in case…
Last Friday I spent the morning with one of the Child Health Promotion Nurses who was happy for me to go with her to the local primary school and talk to the kids about the importance of washing their hands. We attended the ‘transition’ class which is in-between kindergarten and pre-school (?). I walked in and 3 little kids ran up and wrapped their arms around me, welcoming me into their classroom! They watched a DVD about germs then all had a goo put on their hands which they could only see under a blue light (the germ seeker!). They then had to wash their hands and come back to check under the germ seeker if they had left any of the goo on. It was a great way to not only tell them but show them how germs work and why keeping little busy hands clean was very important.
Last Sunday I went for a walk along Lake Mary-Ann. Crossing the bridge, I looked up to see enormous spider webs. Sitting proudly in the centre were enormous makers of the spider webs casting 8 protective eyes over their enormous spider eggs.
I dare you to tickle this fluff ball!
Since my last post it’s been a week and a week it has been. I have spent all week (including tomorrow) in the Alcohol and Other Drug sector with one of the coolest mental health / AOD nurses I’ve ever met. There’s no drug she hasn’t seen smoked, ingested, injected or inhaled. And no liquor that hasn’t seeped deep into a person’s cells and soul that even facing the loss of everything dear to them hasn’t stopped them from wetting their lips and feeling the burn.
Tennant Creek has a multitude of services dedicated to the provision of support, treatment and care for people facing an addiction of some sort. Ranging from frontline grass roots support such as the service I have spent time in including the ‘sober up shelters’ to the people behind the scenes researching and creating programs that are person-focussed and culturally sensitive. The need for experienced and dedicated staff, like many services around the nation, is chronic. However, the people who are here are present in body, mind and spirit and sticking around – for as long as they can – to support the community in their fight against substances which are breaking down family units and adding to the health burden of Australia.
Check out this list of all the Volatile Substances that people can use to get high. AOD and VSA (Volatile Substance Abuse) workers have tried to be one step ahead yet are often just one step behind because sadly, where there’s a will there’s a way.
This week I was shown around a facility called the Julalikari Youth Accommodation Centre. The Julalikari Youth Accommodation Centre provides individual accommodation on the property for Indigenous young people who have employment and need somewhere safe to live. This will open in the next 6-8 weeks.
I also had the enjoyment of meeting a guy called Fraser Tahau who is a musician and involved in Uncle Jimmy’s Thumbs Up program. Fraser is an amazing guitarist and singer and assisted many communities to write and create songs to educate young and old people about the importance of good health, good hygiene and good diet. The below video is one of my favourites. Trachoma is a bacterial eye infection that can lead to blindness. It can be easily prevented by good hygiene and not infecting eyes with grubby hands.
Last night, myself, my RN AOD buddy and Fraser went to watch Hillbilly Horror, a play with no props and an outstanding cast of actors and musicians. I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time. The Barkly Regional Arts Coordinator and other artists and facilitators gave the audience a run-down of future artistic plans for the Barkley region and I felt a swell of pride amongst the attending locals. Despite what has been happening in Tennant Creek and surrounding regions which has been broadcasted in the media, in the wise words of Chumbawamba, they get knocked down but they get up again, ain’t nothin’ gonna keep them down.
Hillbilly Horror cast
My RN buddy, Fraser Tahau and moi
The band was awesome!
This was also in full show at a meeting I attended with my RN AOD buddy this morning. A room full of community minded people of police, council representatives, Territory families staff, AOD, Aboriginal health workers and more all brain stormed ways to make Tennant Creek a safer place for everyone. I provided some information on a program that used to be run in Albany where youth workers and peer workers would be on the streets talking to the youth, playing music with them and reaching out to people who may not reach out first. It was taken on board by the attendees and meeting facilitator. A lot of kids and adolescents are very anti-authority, not helped by American music and movies that make it seem cool to hate the police or aim for an anarchist society. Peer to peer support ie. someone who has walked the walk can be a positive mentor to other kids currently facing difficulties at home, school and with their friends and can have a huge impact on whether habits are developed or not. Or if habits are continued or recovered from.
Anyway, there is so much to learn and so many people to learn it from. For me, they haven’t just been my clinical instructors but people in the community, patients, clients and acquaintances. There are more people reading this blog which I’m thrilled about but I’ll always keep the content as real as I can because I am an observer and writer. And this world is my muse. Goodnight Tennant Creek, you are loved. And so are you.
This is gonna be a long post. I hope you’re interested and have made a cuppa. I have had one of the best showers of my life, a good feed and a talk to my Mum, brother Cliff and good old Tim Bill.
NB. All photos taken with both permission from facilitator and/or person featuring in images.
I was buddied with a gorgeous RN/RM (Registered Nurse / Registered Midwife) called Yvonne and scheduled to travel to a remote Aboriginal community called Ali Curung on Monday. We arrived at Ali Curung in the afternoon and had a meet’n’greet with the other nurses at the Health Clinic.
One house. That car is getting nowhere fast.
Police Station (back view)
A bigger house
section of road
Women’s safe house
We picked up our car and went up to Wycliffe Well where we were staying. I’ve decided this accommodation needs to change it’s name to Wycliffe will make you really unWell because it was absolutely putrid. Yvonne had to change her room three times because each one was filthier than the last. I couldn’t shower in mine because the shower recess was so filthy it looked like someone had taken a dump and it was simply hosed down the drain! Argghhh!!
The night was interesting though, with a green whip snake slithering along near the BBQ only a few metres from where Yvonne and I were eating our tea in the courtyard. The owner was alerted and although the snake had slithered into the BBQ, the owner thought it was a great idea to get his employees to pour petrol onto the BBQ and set the whole thing alight to either drive out or destroy our poor little fanged friend.
green whip snake
where is it?
spot the jerry can?
burn motherf****! poor whip snake!
On the Tuesday I spent the day at the Health Clinic with Yvonne but it was a heck of a lot of administration work which I couldn’t do, so I spent a lot of time reading. ‘Bugger this’ I thought, and so did Yvonne, who suggested I spend some time the next day at the local childcare centre. This way I could learn and observe how little kids function and the parenting styles of some of the community. The Manager / worker Michelle was so welcoming and friendly and I spent the day playing with little tackers and learning a lot about Aboriginal parenting and the challenges faced by childcare providers in educating and supporting parents to provide adequately for their children. Unfortunately alcohol and drugs is still fairly rampant in Ali Curung, getting snuck in and feeding already out of control substance addictions. However, the time I spent with the kids watching them play freely and without a worry in the world was really good. Michelle and child care worker Charmayne (and her baby Alina) were so welcoming and fun to be around.
Me and little Mason
Me, Michelle, Charmayne & her baby Alina
Michelle gave me a tour of the community, calling into the one and only shop to meet owners Scott and Henne.
Scott, a tattooed goateed guy with more gold on his fingers than what’s left in the entire goldfields, asked if I was ‘qualified’. I erred… and said I have another 6 weeks to go then yeah, I’ll be qualified (I didn’t say I was already an EN). Scott hurriedly replied “great, I need you to have a look at my leg, it’s killing me”. I thought he was joking, so asked “Are you serious?” Scott looked confused and said “Yes I’m serious! Quick, come out here, I’m really busy”. Following him into the back room, he dropped his dacks and pointed to a red patch on his lower leg with a scab in the centre. Looking keenly at me, he gushed “I think it’s a whitetail [spider], what do you think? I squeezed it last night but nothin’ came out but fark it’s killing me!” I asked him a few questions to ascertain if he was going to die or be seriously maimed and with the obvious first question “have you been to the [health] clinic?”. Apparently deadly spider bites aren’t as important as stocking shelves, so I drew a circle around the erythema (redness caused by swelling, infection or inflammation) and dated it, giving him orders to present to the clinic if the redness goes outside the circle or the pain gets worse. Other than that, I ordered, don’t pick it!
Michelle and I then moved onto the Arlpwe Art Gallery meeting curators Ian and Judy Grieve. Ian sadly explained the riots that occurred in Ali Curung last year and how the art gallery was broken into with artefacts of boomerangs, woomeras and shields stolen to use as weapons. Judy elaborated about the causes behind the riots and the fear they caused in the community. Fire bombs were thrown, police cars were destroyed and the Tactical Response Group had to be sent down from Darwin. Still simmering, Judy said quietly, is the feud. Still simmering.
On a brighter note, I met a local artist called Martha Poulson and was given my very own tour. Martha spent time with me explaining the content of some of her paintings. It was extraordinary listening to her stories and seeing them depicted in her art, I felt so honoured and lucky. Watch the slide show below!
This morning, Thursday 15th March, I was dropped off at Mirnirri Store and was on check-out duties with another worker called Cynthia. She patiently explained to me how to put not only groceries through but pre-paid gas, power, phone recharges and purchase orders. Electricity and gas are prepaid in the community and sometimes not re-charged meaning fridges, freezers and stoves don’t work. This has a negative impact on the ability to cook nutritious meals especially for growing kids. Scott and Henne provide hot and cold lunches to both Ali Curung and Murray Downs school kids under the School Nutrition Program (SNP) to ensure all school kids are provided with good meals while at school.
If you’re wondering why I did some work at the local store when I’m on nursing placement, don’t worry, I haven’t lost my mind…yet….
I wanted to work at the shop to observe what food families were buying to contribute to the high rate of diabetes, anaemia, low vitamin D levels etc. Two minute noodles were one of the best sellers, second to Coca Cola. It was sorry business in the community, so heaps of 12kg bags of flour were going out the door to make damper. Although it was busy at the store, everyone was patient, both customers and staff.
Me and Cynthia
My view from one of 2 checkouts
Fruit and Veg fridge
Later on, Scott called me over to take me out to Murray Downs Station to drop off lunch and meals to the kids at the school. On the way, he relayed stories about their time as proprietors of the local store and where they had come from. By the end of the trip, I knew more about the realities of running a business in a community and even more about the cost of each one of his hefty gold rings adorning each finger.
Scott and Henne are passionate about providing good nutritious food to the Ali Curung community, with Scott showing me the fresh produce he orders in and how he lays his store out to promote hygiene, healthy eating and drinking more water.
Territorians have something about them, something real and honest. The red dirt is inhaled and starts running through your bloodstream in a very short amount of time. It’s addictive, it’s comforting and it’s friendly. It might be the sun, the earth, the spirituality you can feel around you. Whatever it is, I love it and am looking forward to the rest of my time here!
Me and Cynthia
Me, Michelle, Charmayne & her baby Alina
Me and little Mason
Martha Poulson telling me the story of her painting
I love NT
Oh! and I bought a painting! Check this out! It’s by a young local Ali Curung artist Alvina Beasley who I served at the store only a couple of hours earlier! It’s so beautiful and will be a reminder of the amazing time I had at Ali Curung.
Certificate with the story and a photo of the artist
I like Tennant Creek. I really like it. It’s not fancy, ha! We all knew that! It’s not sexy, suave or metro, – heck, it’s an outback country town. But I WOULD write home about it. And I have, in the form of 2 postcards that are sitting on the passenger seat of my loaned car waiting to be posted to my Mum. Sorry Mum, they’ll get there.
I just had 2 days in the dialysis unit with a very experienced RN called Jimmy. He was softly spoken, patient and keen to share his knowledge, even though he knew I was only there for 2 days. This particular unit is seperate from the Tennant Creek Hospital and is specifically for chronic end stage renal disease (ESRD). ESRD is where the kidney function has decreased to the point the person needs kidney replacement therapy (KRT). KRT is either in the form of dialysis or transplant. Kidney dialysis uses a machine to filter out the toxins in the blood, a job normal kidneys perform. 99% of the patient’s were Aboriginal, the youngest patient I nursed with ESRD was 30 years old. 30 years old.
Tennant Creek Hospital
Tennant Creek Renal Unit
Today is Saturday 10th March 2018. I have been in the Northern Territory for 7 days, 5 days in Tennant Creek. I had my first sleep in for over a week (oh poor me!) then began a day of leisurely sightseeing. First off the rank was Battery Hill Mining Centre which has 3 different exhibits. I saw two of them because I arrived late. The first exhibition showed the life and times of Albert Berolla, a WW1 & WW2 soldier who volunteered to join the army. From Tennant Creek, he walked, rode a horse and hitch-hiked to Darwin so he could enlist. He won a prestigious Victoria’s Cross for his efforts in WW1.
The next exhibition was about gold mining and how they set up camps and lived. Apparently the Tennant Creek miner’s were renowned for being very muscly due to their extreme efforts to slug through hard earth with picks and shovels with water more scarce than the gold itself.
Helen, the customer service lady at Battery Hill Mining Centre is really friendly and so helpful. Say hello to her when you go in.
Battery Hill Mining
Battery Hill Mining
Freedom, Fortitude and Flies!
Inside the gift shop
No-one around the take my pic here!
Briefly called up to ‘One Tank Hill’ which is an obscure name for a hill with one tank on it – dang locals. Beautiful views of the township to the left and some remote camps to the right. The pinkish wall isn’t snake shaped, it’s just the panorama shot. It’s actually a circle.
Onwards to Lake Mary Ann AKA Tingkkarli, a man-made lake about 2km east of Tennant Creek township. The green trees and grass, with peacocks, geese, peahens and even roosters wandering the grassy areas made the whole scene look like an oasis compared to the red earth and stark bushes surrounding it! I wandered around until a car pulled up and little Aboriginal kids leapt out, running to the water and splashing about. They told me a peacock was in the tree and has ‘feathers that stand up near it’s bum’. A family were sitting at a picnic table, a dark eyed baby eyeing me off as I walked past. When I went past again, I stopped and said hello. They were about to have a BBQ and had 3 Kangaroo tails, wrapped in plastic with an IGA price sticker on each. The man briefly explained how he was going to cook the roo tail (singe the hair off, place it under coals and BBQ it) and was happy to show me the tail out of the wrapper.
Kids having fun at Lake Mary Ann
Cool breeze off the water
Kids waving madly at me! “Hi! Look at me! Hi!”
1 of 3 roo tails for a BBQ
Mottled bark, just beautiful.
After having a quick chat to my Mum on the phone, I pulled into the old Telegraph station. It was a self-guided tour with the whole area very well maintained. I think I was the first person to have been there in a while because I was ‘hugged’ by spider webs criss-crossing some of the areas! After a good walk around with the sun on my face and the clouds on my back, I drove back into Tennant Creek for a quick shop and an afternoon at home.
Tennant Creek Telegraph Station
Cellar on the R and house on the L
I have a feeling I’m being watched…
Cooling cellar, it is deep to keep cool.
Smoking meat area
Me as a termite hill, see the resemblance?
A long walk!
Graves of Archibald Cameron & Tom Nugent
Beautiful mosaic slates
Blacksmiths area. How hot would this have gotten!?
Hm..someone slithered through here!
Looking forward to next week with the Remote Outreach Midwife Yvonne, who I met on Friday morning. Will keep you posted. Thanks for reading my blog, I hope you enjoy the pictures and what I’ve been up to 🙂 – Rachel
I arrived at Tennant Creek yesterday (6th March 2018) after a fun drive. Visited Wycliffe Well which is apparently Australia’s #1 hotspot for UFO sightings! Onwards to Devil’s Marbles (AKA Karlu Karlu) then to Tennant Creek. My housemates / fellow RN students had arrived and were unpacking. I checked my email and was extremely pleasantly surprised to see I was allocated the master bedroom with ensuite bathroom and walk in robe! Flashes of envy crossed the faces of both flatmates but I was too happy to really care! Besides, as I explained to them, if they were to be the only male with 2 female flatmates, they would probably be allocated the Master bedroom…??
Anyway, as I unpacked I glanced in the bathroom mirror to my insanely bleached dead, greasy, yellow roots hair scrunched up in a clip and looking wild. How did I let it get that bad?? So I rang a hairdresser in Tennant Creek who very kindly offered to get me in that afternoon. When I arrived, she advised me she is the only hairdresser in the entire town! So how lucky was I getting in the night before I was due to start! I left looking a lot more kempt. And confident. Thank you Just U Hair!
Tennant Creek hospital is located just 2 streets behind the ‘main drag’ and about a 3 minute drive from where I am staying. This morning at 8am I, and the two other students, met the nurse educator and had a tour of the hospital.
I was allocated Primary Health for the entire 4 weeks. Primary Health meant I would be doing outreach and community nursing in Aboriginal communities and around Tennant Creek. I was getting more and more excited as we made our way closer to the PH section of the hospital. Shuffling in behind the Nurse Educator to meet the PH Manager, the worst thing I could hear was said immediately “We unfortunately can’t take students, we didn’t know Rachel was coming until last Saturday”. A big ‘BUH-BONG’ resonated between my ears and I felt my face scrunch up ever so slightly. I glanced at one of the other students and he glanced back sympathetically.
My own voice shrieked in my head “THIS WAS THE ENTIRE REASON I CAME TO TENNANT CREEK!” The nurse educator remained calm and quickly gushed “It’s okay, it’s okay, I have a plan B. Always have a plan B”. As we were ushered out and began walking to another section, the nurse educator bent to swipe the door unlocked and sighed “I don’t have a Plan B but I wasn’t going to say that, but we’ll sort something out for you”. I felt both appreciative and ever so slightly resentful at the same time – directed to no-one but everyone at the same time. Why me!?
Carrying on the tour of the hospital, the nurse educator was doing his best to find places for me at least for a couple of weeks until he could either convince or coerce the PH team into doing something with me. I met the dialysis team and was welcomed to join them for a couple of days, next the darling midwives who were happy to have me the week after. Pictures of chubby babies with wide dark eyes and proud yet exhausted Mum’s were plastered near the entrance, and although I’m not a real kid person, who can resist a chubby dribbly squishy baby!
Returning to one of the main wards to hang out before I attended a meeting, a friendly (they are ALL friendly, but this one even more) nurse gave me a slice of caramel slice, asked where I was being placed and confidently said “I’ll have you with me in AOD (Alcohol and Other Drugs) for a week, I’ll tell [nurse educator]”. So that was that.
Throughout the day, I met more nurses and allied health staff and was looking forward to wherever I would be allocated.
However, after some hard work by all involved at the hospital, I am back in Primary Health and start next week! On Monday I am off to an Aboriginal community called Ali Curung Ali Curung – Barkly Regional Council for 3 nights with a Registered Midwife. Then hopefully the last week I may be off to another Aboriginal community, finger’s crossed!
Overall, the staff at Tennant Creek hospital are some of the most friendly people I’ve ever met. I can’t wait to spend more time with them.
Arriving home this afternoon, my housemates were home but the house was quiet. They emerged after a little while having needed an afternoon snooze after their very first day! Poor guys, I wonder how they will be after their six weeks is up! zombies!
My last night in Alice Springs before heading to Tennant Creek for 4 weeks. The nerves have settled – for now.
Full day at Cultural Training and Awareness; the information was pertinent to our practice and I gained a lot of useful knowledge and advice. A bonus was being given a car to use the ENTIRE time of my placement in the NT! With fuel paid for! The Centre for Remote Health go out of their way to look after students.
Leaving Alice Springs tomorrow at 8.30am to cruise up to Tennant Creek visiting some tourist spots along the way. Will post photos tomorrow afternoon! I have two male flatmates who seem really nice. They are sharing a car because they are staying in Tennant for 6 weeks and I’m only staying for 4.
A map I got given by the CRH staff with some of the tourist spots on the way.
Another side of the McDonald ranges, the ‘smooth’ side, whereas the other side is edgy and angled.