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Bye Molly. Bye Tony. Bye Honkey. Bye Canteen Creek.

Hello from my comforting friend Tennant Creek. It’s so lovely to be back here after my adventure in Canteen Creek.

Where to start? I know, the itchy bites on my legs are driving me crazy. I don’t know if it’s the flies or the mozzies but I can’t wait for them to disappear! Okay, got that out the way.

Canteen Creek was an experience and a massive culture shock for me. As I discussed in my last blog, I have changed. I have learnt so much in the two and a half weeks I was in Canteen Creek working alongside two highly experienced and great fun Remote Area Nurses (RAN’s). I have learnt to treat a person and look past their choices both to themselves and their loved ones. Be beneficent. It is human nature to judge and compare people’s life choices with your own. Compare the way they were raised and the skills they were taught against your own life skills and family culture.

But I, as a nurse, am trained and hold dear the belief of serving the community. I am trained to educate people and support them in the health and wellness. And I enjoyed doing just that in Canteen Creek.

As well as working alongside Cassie and Sini in the clinic, one of the highlights was providing influenza vaccinations to people in the community straight out of the ambulance on the sides of the roads and even at the front of the local store! We filled an esky with pre-filled fluvax syringes, swabs, sharps container, gloves, teeny bandaids and an anaphylactic kit and trawled the streets jabbing everyone who came within arm’s length of Sini and I (with their permission of course!!).

At one point, we had a group of women sitting with us outside the store who identified people coming past who hadn’t had their flu jab. When each person had their jab, we’d all chorus loudly “Woohoo! Next!”

Cassie gave me as many opportunities to practice skills and knowledge as possible, always with practical “have a look at this and tell me what you see”. Following that was an explanation about what the condition was, how it came about and how it can be treated. I also got to have a go at certain tasks (within my scope of practice as a student RN) like centrifuging blood tests (putting them in the whizzing machine), performing heaps of intramuscular injections, using the online computer data entry system and generally being a member of the health care team. Sini was very patient with me, often in her side of the clinic, fumbling about and asking questions I really should have known the answer to… “Do you draw back on every IM?”

I loved sitting in the staff-room listening to Cassie and Sini talk about their nursing experiences. Cassie with her sharp wit and acute observations (with a ‘she says what we all think’ technique) and Sini’s laid -back, tongue-in-cheek recounts of life in a busy ED and remote clinics. Laughter was welcomed in this place.

One evening I was pouring myself some iced-tea and thought to myself “gee this stuff looks like urine”. Then an idea for a prank came over me. I snuck a urine specimen container home and filled it halfway with the iced tea marking the container with the word ‘trick’ (to ensure I wouldn’t confuse it with a real urine specimen! – unless a patient’s name was Trick, then that would serve me right). I smuggled it into the clinic in my pocket and waited for an opportune time. Then it came. Cassie had just seen a patient who had provided a urine specimen. Cassie left it on the bench asking me to ‘test for leucs’ (dipstick testing for leucocytes amongst other things) then she turned back to her computer. I pulled the fake urine from my pocket, opened the lid and walked up to Cassie saying “This wee looks a bit weird…”. Cassie turned and looked just as I sniffed it and took a sip! Cassie’s face lost all colour and her expression went from disbelief to horror to disgust in the matter of seconds! Her hands reached out trying to pull my arm away from my mouth while she spurted out all the possible diseases I could catch by drinking someone else urine! It was amazing that even in such a bizarre and revolting few seconds, she was still able to list communicable diseases spread via urine! I stopped and through my laughter told her it was iced tea, I had brought it from home to prank her. Relief washed over her face and today, after recovering, she said the prank was ‘hilarious’ – phew!

The clinic was often busy but I never felt useless or out of my depth. Cassie was acutely aware of what I could and couldn’t do but also taught me so my knowledge would expand during my placement. This might sound like an obvious thing to happen but as other nurses and nursing students would know, some clinical placements are as boring as batshit because you don’t learn anything or everything is outside your scope so you can’t do much anyway. Or the worst, there is nothing new to learn.

I was invited to stay on at Canteen Creek for the remainder of my time in the NT however, after discussion with the Centre for Remote Health placement coordinator Jessie, it was decided I should experience as much as I can in the NT so will go on to Ntaria clinic in another Aboriginal community called Hermannsburg about an hour outside Alice Springs. I am looking forward to that and my day trip to Uluru.

After my first night at Canteen Creek, I was moved to another house which was really lovely with brand new recliners and was generally more comfy. I was visited one afternoon by a donkey who stood at my front glass sliding door staring straight inside. I poked a carrot through the crack wondering if he might then leave. No such luck. Honkey (as I named him) stood and waited. I was unsure if he may nip me should I try to get past him so I rang my colleague to walk to my place and shoo him away. Honkey visited a few more times, pushing my gate open with his nose and waltzing on in. I no longer felt nervous around him so often stood next to him feeding him carrots and feeling sorry for his weepy fly-blown eyes and small open wounds. He looked sad but I don’t think he was; when we left Canteen Creek today, he trotted gleefully past my house with a pretty dark haired female donkey (known as a jenny, or jennet) in hot pursuit!

Molly visited often and so did Tony. Tony is the little black dog with the stumpy tail but since one of Sini’s dogs was also called Stumpy, I renamed the little black community dog Tony.

Tony is an odd little character. He showed no affection and engaged in very little interaction yet liked to quietly be around us. He always came along when we went for a walk and seemed to enjoy being a part of our odd ‘family’. He did have a bad habit of picking fights with the other community dogs, often relying on Molly to step-in and put out the fire. One morning Tony got cocky and picked a fight when Molly was nowhere to be seen. He had his back foot hurt slightly, some hair pulled out of his head and his left ear bitten. Unfortunately his left ear became infected, and combined with the red dirt and ticks plaguing the little guy, he was in a sorry state. There are no vets in Canteen Creek so I played vet as much as I could, picking off the revolting ticks and gently bathing Tony’s ear with all I had; wet-wipes and warm water.

Tony seemed to know he was getting helped and sat quietly while I carefully wiped away pus and red mud. I am buying flea and tick treatment tomorrow and sending it back with Sini to give to Tony and Molly. She will also bathe his ear and apply iodine if possible. He will always be a community dog but he is our community dog and I know the other nurses who come to Canteen Creek will care for him and Molly because they have in the past. As Sini and I drove back into Tennant Creek today, I told Sini I wished Tony and Molly were in the back coming as well and not being left there. I left two large bags of dog biscuits at the nurses house for them which Sini will ask the other nurse coming on to continue to feed them. Typing this, I have tears in my eyes but I know that Sini and the other nurses who visit Canteen Creek will care for the both of them just as well as they care for humans.

Sometimes it’s not the nursing or study that is hard, it can be other factors of life in remote communities. The home-sickness. The yearning to hug your own pets back home and tell them they will never ever be neglected or unfed. The flies. The lack of activities we are often accustomed to in bigger towns/cities.

But what this placement, in particular, has taught me is appreciation for what I have, how I was raised and the skills I have and am learning. The skills I can use to help others and hopefully teach a whole new generation. And those people passing it onto the next generation. And the one after.

This blog was going to be a ‘this is what I did and these are the photos I took’ but right now, I feel humbled…fortunate. I look around at the house I am staying in, the house the Centre for Remote Health have generously let me stay in again because I arrived in Tennant Creek early. The genuine support I have received from the CRH, Tennant Creek Hospital staff, CDU and the amazing remote health clinic staff. I think back to the precious faces of the little kids and babies I cuddled and helped treat in Canteen Creek and I hope they will grow up strong and fortunate. I hope they do.

Take care and thank you for reading my blog.

Rachel 🙂

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Ali Curung

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.

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.

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.

Michelle gave me a tour of the community, calling into the one and only shop to meet owners Scott and Henne.

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Scott & Henne at Mirrnirri Store

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!

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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.

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.

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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!

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.

Catch ya round like a rissole! – Rachel 🙂