08 December 2011

The Pros and Cons of Working Agency

It's always at this point in the contract, the last few weeks, when the countdown to holidays is on, that I start thinking about home. I think about my favourite pineapple and coconut smoothie that I get from my local juice shop, hanging out in my craft room, having a decent coffee at Fresh, walking through the Gorge, Christmas, seeing friends and family... all those things that I associate with being at home. I think that this is compounded by working in remote and rural places, having limited access to services and a car. But it is also a time when I start to reevaluate my choice of being an agency nurse and wonder for how much longer I will do it. When I think about this last year, of working for a nursing agency and surrendering to this gypsy lifestyle, there have been good aspects and not so good ones. I made a list of these when we were considering back in July whether or not to extend our leave for another 12 months or not.


  • Not having to get involved in any local work politics. Its really good to swan in, create a little bit of havoc, work for a couple of months and swan out.
  • The opportunity to see more and more of this amazing country and spend time in places that I would not otherwise ever go.
  • The making of new friends in every state.
  • The money. It is far more lucrative working casually, and with not much to spend our money on while we are on contract, our mortgages are getting smashed! It's such a relief to be debt free other than our mortgages and be actually getting ahead.
  • More holidays and the flexibility to take them. We've had 12 weeks off this last year.
  • All those frequent flyer points.
  • The professional challenges. We have learnt skills that we would never develop working at home.
  • Getting to see first hand what indigenous communities are like and forming my own opinions rather than relying on media to do it for me.
  • The security of having work when our colleagues at home are currently fighting a battle with the state government who are closing beds, shutting down services and cancelling nurses contracts due to budget cuts. We are thinking of you all and are there in spirit!


  • Living out of a suitcase in usually crappy accommodation. I really really really miss having my house and my stuff around!
  • Missing friends and families life changing events at home, such as weddings. I have missed three weddings this year. Although we have increased flexibility on taking holidays and can sometimes swing it, the cost of taking a flight out of these small communities for a weekend is often more than you would pay for a return ticket to Europe (I kid you not. For example, the one-way 1.5 hour flight from Cairns to Kowanyama that we took in February cost Queensland Health $1099 for each of us! We saw the invoice!)
  • The risk of leaving our house unattended. Luckily we have dear family and friends who keep an eye out, do random security patrols, collect our mail and mow the lawns. Thank you so much, we couldn't do it without you all.
  • The deskilling of some of our emergency skills. Whilst we have gained a lot of new skills, we have lost others, simply because we aren't doing it every day.
Its kind of an even list, but I still think the pros outweigh the cons. As mentioned, the Tasmanian government is in the process of killing our hospitals and health services and I am not sure if us nurses will win this war or not. So for now we will continue doing what we are doing. It may be that we keep doing this for longer than originally planned but we will see. 2012 is shaping up to be another interesting year.

To all of you who have read my blog this year, have a safe and merry Christmas and I wish you all the best for the New Year.

14 November 2011

Relaxing in Broome

The Sun Cinema

Sipping on iced coffees watching the world go by
The stunning Cable Beach (photo by Rob)

Recently we had a chance to escape out of Port Hedland and zoom six hours up the road to Broome. I'd never been there before, although Rob lived there for a year or so somewhere in his twenties. The beaches are beautiful, but unfortunately plagued by sea lice (yes we got stung) and stingers at certain times of the year. Its such a shame that there are all these amazing beaches here in Australia which cannot be utilised due to stingers, crocodiles and other nasties. Although, some might say that we are invading natures space rather than the other way around!

But aside from the sea lice incident, we had a lovely time eating out, relaxing by the pool, and watching Red Dog at the Sun Cinema, the world's oldest picture garden! It was great seeing Red Dog up here. We are working in the Pilbara, exactly where the movie is set, so it seemed all the more relevant! And the setting was wonderful. Outdoor cinema, old style deck chairs, freshly made popcorn. Perfect. I would recommend a visit if you are ever in Broome.

Unfortunately our time there was too short, we travelled 6 hours each way just to spend 36 hours in Broome, but it was a nice change from the red dust and mining rigs of Port Hedland. Our contract finishes here on December 18th and we plan to be home in Tasmania around the 21st. See you all then for some Christmas cheer!

27 October 2011

The Challenges Facing Indigenous Communities

The many abandoned cars in Lajamanu (bought with mining money).

Since we started working in rural and remote communities, I've been asked many times about the challenges of working in indigenous health. Whether what they see on television and in the media is true, how I cope with living so remotely etcetera etcetera. Often, the media portrays the vast majority of Aboriginal population as uneducated alcoholics who are prone to domestic violence and are beyond help. The Howard government's intervention was aimed at 'closing the gap' between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians life expectancy and its method was to throw money and resources at it, something that some (usually white) Australians feel is grossly unfair.

When I went remote, I wasn't sure what to expect, nor what my feelings on it would be. Now that I've been doing this for over a year, I've drawn some of my own conclusions, based on my own observations. I've worked in both small towns and very remote and very traditional Aboriginal communities and while the figures vary from community to community there have been some common themes running through both settings.

Firstly, the stereotype of the alcohol and domestic abuse in Aboriginal communities runs rife in many people's minds. Certainly, the media perpetuates this with its reports. And yes, stereotypes exist for a reason. Alcohol and domestic abuse do exist. They also have a concept of 'payback', which allows violent retaliation against a member of the population if they have wronged another. In days past, this was a form of justice. It was approved through a court-like proceeding by a community elder and once performed, was considered finished. For example, the punishment for murder was a spear in the thigh. It was performed by the elder, with family members for both parties present and then it was over. The problem now, is that payback is often used as an excuse for drunken violence and results in an escalation of violence, rather than cultural justice.

However, its important to remember that alcohol and domestic abuse also exist in the Caucasian population. When I work at home, a mostly white population, I see drunk people who have been in fights or assaulted their partners every night of the week. To say that this is an Aboriginal issue alone is just inaccurate and defamatory.

Secondly, the housing issue. This part is mostly true. There is an overcrowding issue in remote communities. As many as twenty people might be living in one house. On my visits to houses in Lajamanu, I would typically see maybe 3-5 filthy mattresses on the floor in one room. There would be unwashed linen, camp dogs, litter everywhere and the houses would be full of dog and human faeces, vermin etc. They were revolting. Completely third world. And subsequently a breeding ground for disease.

When I looked at Aboriginal men and women of around my age (32), I found that many of them had multiple children, some being cared for by the state, were battling problems with alcohol and/or abuse, were dependent on welfare and plenty were illiterate. Now this can also be found in low socio-economic areas in Caucasian populations, but in very remote communities I worked it was sadly the norm. Health issues such as STD's, diabetes and diabetes related complications, obesity, renal failure and chronic skin, dental and eye issues were the primary complaints.

Their parents and grandparents on the other hand, were predominantly better educated, perhaps as a result of the stolen generation, which I realise is controversial. Whatever we think about the stolen generation, and the atrocities that occurred because of it, most of the community members I spoke to who had been affected by it conceded that they appreciated the education and skills they had acquired, despite the method being less than appropriate. Nearly all Aboriginal community members I looked after above the age of sixty were literate, had skills such as midwifery, carpentry, mechanics, cooking and hunting. They were tough old sticks. Their knowledge however, for whatever reason has mostly been lost on their sons and daughters.

So how can we fix it? There is no easy answer, and I don't expect to see it in my lifetime. The solution will take generations. Education, rather than simply money is the key I think. Aboriginal communities don't need money per se. Many of them are extremely wealthy. Millions of dollars is paid to communities every year by mining companies in the form of royalties. But what doesn't happen is wise spending of it (much like most governments!). Instead it gets divvied up amongst the individual families, who spend it on new cars, food, alcohol and mobile phones rather than pooling their money and spending it on infrastructure. And there is no concept of care for possessions or ownership. If the car breaks down, or gets a flat tyre, often they are just abandoned where they are, rather than fixed. It doesn't matter, they will just buy a new one next time royalties are paid. And if another person asks for it, it will simply be given away.

What needs to happen, I think, is two fold. Firstly, we need to focus on getting all children into school. Truancy is a huge problem. The Lajamanu rate of kids going to school regularly was only around 40-50%, other communities maybe up to 70%. Children need to be literate and they need to learn the basics of managing money and their households, respecting one another, the importance of disease prevention, gain skills that will help their communities and their job prospects. And there needs to be repercussions for the parents if their children are not attending.

Welfare across all of Australia needs to be weaned (and not just in Aboriginal communities), and if it is given, needs to be in the form of a BasicsCard. (BasicsCard, by the way is a card that Centrelink pays a proportion of the payment into and can only be used for utilities such as power and water payments, as well as food and clothing at certain shops and education and health costs. Unfortunately it is a bit of racist deal, it only applies to the Aboriginal population. I think everyone receiving welfare should have to have it. By singling out indigenous welfare recipients, it just further divides us.)

Secondly, change has to happen from within. Those educated children then need to mentor others in their community, and their own children in time. Too much happens from the white population. The majority of people running these communities are white. Thereby their culture becomes more lost every year. Its rare to see indigenous working professionals which is sad. Here in Port Hedland however, I have just met my first Aboriginal doctor, which is wonderful. She tells me that she feels a sense of responsibility to encourage other young indigenous Australians to achieve and strive for change. People like her need to celebrated. But ultimately, people will only change if they want to. We can throw money and our opinions at them, but unless the community and the individuals within it, want a better life and realise the incentives for change, they never will.

Eventually, we need to give control and responsibility back to the community and appropriate elders in it. The populations need to take responsibility for their own actions and prosperity, care for one another and provide support to those who need it in a culturally sensitive manner. Some communities I've been in, have already started. But Australia has a long road ahead of it to close the gap. But it won't happen without full support and commitment from both sides.

16 October 2011

Clickety click click click

Photo of Port Hedland hermit crabs copyrighted to Maizy Daizy, 2011. Thank you!

Walking home from the supermarket tonight at dusk, we came across what I initially thought was a leaf blowing in the wind. On closer examination, I discovered it was a hermit crab clicking its way across the footpath down towards the sandy beach. Not wanting to step on it, Rob picked the poor thing up and placed it gently on the dunes and we continued on our way. But not even ten metres later, we came across another, and then another. Dozens of the crabs, just the one in Maizy Daizy's photo above, were making their way towards the beach from what appeared to be otherwise residential houses... The clicking of their claws on the cement sounding like a minuscule percussive orchestra.

We have been in Port Hedland for over a month now, and we have walked that same route to the supermarket numerous times to date, but we have never seen this before. What brings them out today? Is it a part of their mating season behaviour, just like the crabs on Christmas Island? The full moon? And where were they coming from? Who knows? But whatever it was, it made our walk much more interesting!

29 September 2011

The Land of the High-Vis Shirt

We've been in Port Hedland for a couple of weeks now. Long enough to have a look around (as much as we can on foot anyway). Like many rural towns, there is not much to do here without a car. Lucky for us, we brought our books, laptops, cameras and sketchbooks to keep us occupied on days off!

Its really a town of miners, engineers and tradies, all employed by BHP and Rio Tinto here in the Pilbara. I haven't yet met anyone who was born and bred in Port Hedland, apart from maybe the local indigenous community. Yellow and orange high-vis shirts are everywhere, in the pubs, the supermarket, the bank, everywhere. Nearly every car on the road is a mining vehicle, also emblazoned with fluorescent reflective stripes down the sides, thereby matching their drivers. I get the impression, that all anyone does here is fly in, work, eat, sleep and drink for fourteen days straight and then fly out.

There is big money here though. Everyone is on mega wages, even unskilled workers are earning over $100K in the mines. Consequently, everything is more expensive: the petrol, the groceries, the pub meals, the housing. The housing especially is diabolical! People are renting out their average 3 bedroom houses to the mines for nearly $3000 a week. And to buy a place here is ridiculous: you are looking at around a million bucks for an average sized home. I don't know how anyone could afford to live here permanently unless you A: bought a place before the mining boom or B: are prepared to live in a caravan!

It should be noted that Port Hedland is not an attractive town. As mentioned in our last post, its dry and dusty, the horizon is littered with mining rigs, trains and ships waiting to transport the iron ore and the red dirt is everywhere. The Indian Ocean beckons you with its turquoise water, but it is a cruel invitation because it is not safe to swim there. Unless you want an encounter with stonefish and box jellyfish. And I suspect you don't. It's interesting to think what would have happened to Port Hedland if the Pilbara region hadn't become a mining hub. Would it have become a sleepy little retirement town? Or would it have just died out and become one of those ghost towns that no-one stops at unless they are in need of petrol on their way up to Broome?

This morning, we decided to catch the bus into the 'CBD', which is essentially not much more than a street of ATM's, a newsagency and the post office. But there is a newish cafe there, housed inside one of BHP's old train carriages. And the food was good! So with relief we tucked into a brunch of eggs, hashbrowns, bacon and spinach and washed it all down with espresso. And for a little while, we could pretend we were somewhere a little more inspiring!

14 September 2011

Port Hedland

We've landed in Port Hedland, WA. Its a funny design, this town. Port Hedland was the original town, near the sea, hence the name. Our quarters, as well as the hotels and a couple of restaurants are located here. But 15km away they have South Hedland, where the hospital is located and there also other run of the mill chain stores like K-Mart and McDonalds. A big gap separates the two. A driver picks us up for our shifts and drops us home at the end.

Its a stark environment, hot, dry, dusty and flat as far as the eye can see. In fact, the only hill they have is the bridge that goes from South Hedland to Port Hedland! The temperatures here can get to 50 degrees Celsius in the summer time. Right now, its in the low thirties. Like most places this far north, the red dirt is everywhere, the tumbleweed thrives, and the landscape is dotted with mining equipment. Here they mine salt and iron ore. And most of the population is fly in-fly out mining workers and their families, as well as the local indigenous community.

Today, on my way to work, I saw the most enormous piles of salt from the mines. They look remarkably like snow covered mountains, and in the early morning light (and when squinting one's eyes) you can nearly trick yourself into thinking you are in the Swiss Alps. But by 9am, the scorching sun is high in the sky, and the illusion dissolves, and you remember that this is indeed Australia. The sunburnt country they sing about in those weird Aussie folk songs.

23 August 2011

Une Question

For a while now, I've been studying French. I've always loved the sound of the language, its romantic connotations. I never studied it at school, but I decided to start learning it a few years back at the local adult education. I have no real need to learn French, but it is something that I would love to say I could do. So I did 2 hours a week for 20 weeks, and learnt the very basics. And since then I've been going it alone. I am one of those people who is a sucker for language learning products. I have flashcards, CD's, books, podcasts, you name it, I have it.

Now you would think that after 3 years of, well intermittent, learning, with all these wonderful tools at my disposal, I would have progressed. And to an extent, I have. At best though, I would say that I am of an elementary level. Not full beginner, but not much further. My main problem, I think, is that I have no native speaker to practice with. You know someone to correct my grammar and pronunciation. And secondly, my study has not been daily.

I read about Steve Kaufmann the other day. This guy speaks ten languages fluently and he reckons he does it through daily immersion, and in a similar method in which we all learnt our first language. For example, I grew up in an English speaking home, so I became fluent in English because I constantly heard it spoken around me. He applies the same principles when he is learning another language. He watches foreign news and movies, he reads foreign papers and books, listens to foreign songs.

So what I would like to know is: is the only way you can really learn a language is to fully immerse yourself in it? As in, does one need to actually go and live in a French speaking country to become fluent? Or can you, if you are dedicated like this Steve Kaufmann obviously is, become fluent with all your resources around? Or does it depend on how you learn and your aptness for languages?

07 August 2011


Its been nearly 2 months since my last update, sorry about that! We've been zipping all over the place. Since coming home from our last post in Mareeba, we've been across to Penang, Malaysia for a holiday, home again and then up to the Gold Coast, for some work related education and then back again to Tasmania where we have been contracted to work on the wild west coast town of Queenstown for 6 weeks. From snow to tropics, our acclimatisation skills have been tested over the last few weeks.

Other Tasmanians will already know that it is not the best time of year to be posted in Queenstown. The winter here is brutal. If it is not snowing, there is ice an inch thick over the car in the mornings or it is raining. Queenstown is a small town of approximately 5000, settled in a valley at the base of Mount Owen, is gray and dark most days and is surrounded by these eerie bald mountains, known as the 'moonscape': a result of environmental damage caused by past smelting practices. It has a long history in mining and railways, with most of the residents in someway connected to either industry. I know I'm not selling it, but having said all that, it does seem to have a kind of austere beauty about it. In a Twin Peaks kind of way.

Anyway, there is only 2 weeks left here... yes its almost over before I've even blogged about it. Next stop? Port Hedland, WA.

14 June 2011

My Studio

I'm a sucker for spying on people's studios! I love to see where they work, create, think and escape the outside world. Having just bought Olga Bennett's book 'Environments' in order to further fuel my obsession, I thought it appropriate to post some photos of the place I spend the majority of my time when I am home. This is my studio for the time being at least. Plans are in the pipeline to build a free standing studio in the backyard...but more on that later.

I was inspired by the miserable weather outside which has been further compounded by a shitload of Chilean volcanic ash that is apparently hanging over NZ and Tasmania and wreaking havoc with air travel therein, to rearrange the space and throw out some things that either A) have been become so daggy that even the op-shop is unlikely to sell them or B) are damaged beyond reusable repair (think old tubes of gouache that have dried to a cement like consistency).

I suppose some may argue this is simply another procrastination method to avoid unpacking and sorting out our house, but I think I might be able to live with that. Now, onto more important matters... What shall I make? Ah... holidays... bliss... Off to Malaysia next week (assuming of course we can fly off the island!).

06 June 2011

Tablelands Adventures Continued

Another day out and about!

Our contract here in Mareeba is almost finished and we decided for our last hurrah we would tourist it up and catch the Cairns to Kuranda Skyrail and return by train through the rainforest. Our dear friend Hwuei was also in town and she came along for the ride. Its really quite a lovely day out, and I think worth the money. The infrastructure alone is pretty incredible and I can understand why they won so many tourism awards. The weather was beautiful, the company and food was great.

We finished off our day with dinner on the Cairns Esplanade which is also quite spectacular in the fading evening light with its free lagoon pool and parkland by the seaside.

Home at the end of the week to frost and single digit temperatures (or so we hear)! Best be finding my down jacket quick sticks!

See you all soon for pinot, open fires and hip widening comfort food!

22 May 2011

Tablelands Adventures - Kuranda to Millaa Millaa

A few images from around the lovely Tablelands in far north Queensland. Its kind of like a tropical Tasmania. Lots of lush green farmland, waterfalls and rainforests. Rob and I took our cameras and had a day out together stopping in at roadside farms, buying limes and avocados ($2 a bag people!) and exploring the local area. Lovely.

21 May 2011

Mareeba Mareeba

A few photos of Mareeba - the place of our current contract. It's quite a pretty town really. The gardens and parks are tidy, the houses are neat as pins. You can tell that they take pride in their home. We've enjoyed the change in pace, the services and a break from primary health care!

This building below is our nurses quarters, an old dilapidated lady, that is in much need of a makeover. But she does have beautiful bones, original floors and charming vintage features, but she has been left to decay. Rob and I have the Taj Mahal of the quarters really, we are in the old matron's flat which at least has its own bathroom and kitchen space, whereas everyone else has a single room with shared facilities. So we probably should be grateful!

I especially love this fire danger sign. I have to wonder though, if the fire warning was really rated at catastrophic, do they really think that there would there be anyone left in Mareeba to read it?

16 May 2011

No. 35 Hold My Hand

Next offering from the list - I think its got potential for a Valentines Day Card. It could say something along the lines of 'I'd activate my rocket boots for you'.

Cheesy??? Maybe, but I think possibly you might get a date if you sent this. Well, I'd say yes.

10 May 2011

Mini Break in the Far North!

Rob and I have arrived in Mareeba - a small town in the far north Queensland tablelands. By comparison to our previous posts, its positively metropolitan! Its only 45 minutes from Cairns, an hour to Port Douglas and has pretty much all the services and shops one needs. We are working at the local hospital, in the emergency department. Its more of a GP clinic, with emergency facilities, but anything of note goes to Cairns, and here the doctors are pretty much seeing everyone, so we are just cruising along. Its more of a working holiday. The work is easy, not at all stressful and there is no on-call. So hence, we are utilising our days off. Over the weekend we hired a car and headed to Port Douglas for a little mini break. It was all cocktails, swim up bar, delicious food and walks along the beach. Some little photo tempters for all of you (especially our fellow Tasmanians, who are probably freezing their butts off right now!)

13 April 2011

No 48: Childhood

Childhood, for me at least consisted of games, books, imagination, cubby houses, animals and the seaside. My father was the park ranger of Freycinet National Park on the east coast of Tasmania and so growing up was done in and amongst glorious landscapes, where I had the whole national park as my playground. I suppose because we were a little isolated, much of my time was spent playing with my sisters, but a whole lot of it was spent reading books. I remember being so excited to discover the school library, and realising that I was allowed to borrow all these books, take them home for a week or two and then get more! It was heaven to my six year old mind. Monsters and fairies, witches and wizards - they were all my companions. And so now, when I think of childhood, I remember the amazing time I had, how privileged I was to be blessed with an imagination and how lucky I was to have had parents who encouraged it!

I'm thinking these one-eyed monsters might be resurrected at some point as a kids range of cards or wrapping paper. Or perhaps I might, one day, create a small children's book to give a new bubba? Maybe these could be the characters... Oh the possibilities.

03 April 2011

No. 58: A Kick to the Head

So naturally, a ninja. But if truth be told, its because I haven't yet mastered noses or mouths!