Reflection on Clinical Placement with Purple House

Date published

30 Dec 2019

Scholarship Recipient Rebecca Fatnowna - Reflection on Clinical Placement with Western Desert Nganampa Walytja Palyantjaku Tjutaku Aboriginal Corporation (Purple House)

People may or may not have heard of the Western Desert Nganampa Walytja Palyantjaku Tjutaku Aboriginal Corporation (Purple House) – it is a true example of self-determination of our people and will one day become a household name. Now a well-established Aboriginal community-controlled health service it runs remote dialysis clinics in more than 15 communities in Central Australia. They also operate a mobile dialysis unit, known as the Purple Truck, that allows patients to travel back home to country and visit family for festivals, sorry business and other cultural ceremonies.

Student in front of Uluru

The corporation began as a reaction to the need for Pintupi/Luritja people of the Western Desert to leave their families, country and home, to seek treatment for end stage renal failure. It was the fear of the community that elders would need to relocate and therefore unable to fulfil cultural obligations, care for country and it would halt the passing down of cultural knowledge. In 2000, people from Walungurru (Kintore) and Kiwirrkurra created paintings for auction in New South Wales and raised over one million dollars to fund the WDNWPT.

As an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander woman studying nearly six years of western medicine, it has made me much more aware of the importance of identity and culture for the health of our people. It is my passion, and a key factor in my aspirations. Additionally, studying at James Cook University, where there is a large focus on the needs of rural, remote and underserved communities, it has led me towards wanting to pursue my elective in this area of health. 

The statistics on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander illness and disease patterns are well known, and these figures vary greatly across Australia; however, are generally worse in the Northern Territory. WDNWPT provides a multitude of services in Central Australia including dialysis on country in more than 15 communities, social support and aged care services, National Disability Insurance Scheme services, health education and promotion, nutritional services, advocacy, primary health care and allied health services and a social enterprise, Bush Balm.

Student in front of Purple House Bus

As a volunteer at the Purple House I was able to be involved in patients’ primary health care needs, which gave me added exposure to managing chronic cases in the GP setting. Having a visiting GP, podiatrist and physiotherapist to the Purple House allows for many opportunistic preventative activities that otherwise may be missed in their community. The concept of having dialysis on country was one of the main reasons that drew me to wanting to complete my elective at the Purple House. Already knowing the importance of culture, identity and connection to country in the wellbeing of my people, I was interested to learn and be a part of patients’ journey with this, not having much exposure to this in North Queensland thus far.

With the assistance of AIDA and Royal Flying Doctor Service I have now had some exposure to the cultural context and social determinants of health of the Aboriginal people within Central Australia and will be able to use this knowledge when treating and engaging with patients from this area in the future.

Find out more about the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Scholarship Program