Don’t miss out on reading the latest edition of Frontier News which is released today. The theme for this edition is Partnerships. Read all about the relationships that Frontier Services depends on to make our work in remote Australia possible.
Here is a preview from the magazine of a story about how Frontier Services works alongside the Docker River community, located 13-hours drive from Alice Springs, to provide flexible aged care support to the people who live there. It is a wonderful example of how Frontier Services is there to ensure all people can access the care they need, no matter how isolated they are.
How Docker River is anything but ordinary
It’s 11pm and it has been raining steadily for 24 hours. Not just light rain, but a heavy deluge which makes the dirt around Tjilpi Pampaku Ngura Aged Care (Docker River) turn into swampy puddles. A cook, two night staff and Doreen Coughran, the Coordinator at Docker River, are waiting for a truck which is bringing the fortnightly supply of food and other goods to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) Flexible Service. They are hoping that the truck manages to safely navigate the wet roads on its 13-hour drive from Alice Springs to Docker. It does, even though it takes an hour for the truck to travel the last 40km as the tracks have all but disappeared beneath the rain. When morning breaks, Doreen – on duty again after three hours sleep – is relieved that thetruck has managed to get out of Docker.
Life is like this at Docker River. There are different challenges every day and staff are constantly dealing with the unexpected. Situated 673km from Alice Springs, the word remote is an understatement for the reality of this place.
The town has 74 houses and the population varies between 250 or 350 depending on what is going on. Twenty of these people live at Docker River Aged Care. Fully funded by the Department of Health and Ageing (DoHA), the Tjilpi Pampaku Ngura Flexible Care Unit was started in the late 1990s specifically for the local Aboriginal community that was used to living off the land. A “flexible care service” is a recent approach from the Australian Government to the delivery of aged care services for Indigenous Australians, mainly in rural and remote areas.
In May 2012, Frontier Services was asked by DoHA to become the approved provider of Tjilpi Pampaku Ngura Flexible Care. The service receives an unrestricted grant, rather than a set amount per high-care or low-care bed, which allows Frontier Services to designate funds where it deems necessary. The Government has continued to provide extensive support financially to assist Frontier Services in providing this service and supporting the residents to continue to live on their lands.
In the Pitjantjatjara language, Tjilpi Pampaku Ngura means ‘Old Lady, Old Man’s Camp’. This ‘camp’ plays an essential role in the community that goes far beyond just the care of the elderly residents. It is a social hub, a place of gathering and even, at times, a sanctuary for animals. Alongside the 20 residents, 14 ‘camp’ dogs also call Docker River home. Doreen puts it simply, “Dogs are very important to the Aboriginal culture. We (the staff) look after them, worm them, feed them and give them treatment for scabies. If a dog dies, the staff and community hold a burial ceremony.”
For the community, the Flexible Care Service is also seen as a sanctuary, a catch-all for anyone, or thing, that needs care. Perhaps the name ‘Flexible Care’ is more apt than the policy makers knew when it was originally named.
“I don’t know why they come to this facility, but they seem to come here when something happens,” says Doreen.
“Abandoned joeys, puppies, even kids sometimes when their parents have gone in to Alice Springs. They all get left here. Someone had a half-dead owl the other day and gave it to me saying, ‘can you fix this Doreen?’ ”
It is truly, as Doreen describes it, “a different place”.
But what stands out distinctly through Doreen’s anecdotes about Docker River, is the sense of care and partnership between the staff and the people that they support. The word support is very important to Doreen as, to her, it means to work with, rather than govern over, the Indigenous community in which they live.
“We support, we try not to govern, because we are the white fella. I believe that our only role in this community is as a support.”
Last month a prominent Indigenous man died. He was a Pastor and well known throughout Australia. In the Indigenous culture, ‘sorry business’ is the grieving before the funeral where the mob gathers. It can last up to several weeks as family and other mob who knew the person flood in from across the country.
Three residents from the Docker River community, aged in their late 60s and early 70s, were given lifts and help with packing their swags and bedding so that they could camp with their people and join in on sorry business.
Three times a day the staff delivered meals and medication to the residents, and every two days the staff would bring them back to the service to have a shower. The rain does not stop for sorry business and staff are still sorting out the saturated residents and their bedding.
“I was really happy that we could facilitate our residents to be part of this mourning. The Pastor was a very important man. I took three of our residents out so that they could pay their respects. It is a very important part of their culture to be involved in community events like these,” says Doreen.
“I have decided that you don’t plan your day here, you simply can’t plan your day. We need to be able to sort out swags and soggy residents, facilitate sorry visits, unload trucks that are running late and assist the people who come to us for help.”
In the end, the buildings of Docker River are not nearly as important as the relationships that are built and the spiritual significance that exists in this location. Docker River and all the staff and community in the surrounding area are connected to the land, which helps the residents to remain connected to their tradition and culture.
There’s a gift in that – for everyone.