I am writing this in the Pacific International Hotel in Cairns. Coming back here reminded me of the story I recount. It happened perhaps fifteen years ago, but it still makes me smile and reflect on the key person in the story with admiration for her calmness when I later discovered what was happening in her world.
Simpson Norris International, as my company was called back in 2000, had been asked to do a review of a program established to use Aboriginal Health Workers (AHWs) in ear health. Previously, they had been known as AHWs and but had not had any responsibility for the diagnosis and prevention of ear diseases, even in the most minor ways, so this program had promise.
Our task was to visit some thirty Aboriginal Medical and Health Services across Australia, from Thursday Island to Arnhem Land to the Central Desert to Victoria, South Australia and up and down Western Australia. We were asked to do two things:
- interview Ear Health Workers (EHWs) in the program, as well as doctors, sisters and nurses and get their impressions of the level of effectiveness of the program, particularly in communicating with families about ear health, what to do and how to do it
- we were also asked to get records if they’d been kept about numbers of people coming to the Services and whether there was an increase because of the program
So one of my tasks was to visit the Services in Far North Queensland and the Northern Territory.
This story revolves around me trying to make arrangements to visit Chillagoe, a small town east of Cairns within the Shire of Mareeba. It had been a mining town and still produced limestone from local quarries. It reminded me of Fitzroy Crossing in Western Australia in terms of the environment and general scenery.
The site to be visited was the Chillagoe Hospital which doubled as a medical service for Aboriginal people.
I rang from Perth one morning.
A definitely Aboriginal female voice said in a very calm, matter-of-fact tone , “Ullo.”
“Oh hello,” I responded. “My name is Dave and I’d like to speak with Sister Anne, please.”
“She busy.” The tone didn’t change.
“Oh, okay. Will you take a message for me, please?”
“No, I been busy too.”
“Do you think I should ring again later”
“Yo, that been good idea.”
The phone went dead in my ear.
Sister Anne explained to me when we finally spoke that she and the Aboriginal woman, an AHW, had been flat out working with four people, two of whom had been seriously injured in a car accident and were being prepared for evacuation with the Royal Flying Doctor Service. I found the wisdom of the woman in the decision she made in a very busy moment in her world, without frustration or angst, was admirable.