Gaining a better understanding of the impact of alcohol and drugs on indigenous people was the focus of the Australian National Advisory Council on Alcohol and other Drugs (ANDCAD) recent visit to the Pilbara.As a member of ANDCAD, Monash Health emergency physician and Monash University’s Associate Professor Diana Egerton-Warburton was invited to the Pilbara by Associate Professor Ted Wilkes the Principle Advisor, Indigenous drug and alcohol matters.
“After arriving in Karratha amongst the surreal flood of fly-in-fly-out (FIFO) workers in high vis, we travelled to Roebourne to participate in a community meeting where we had the opportunity to talk with people from all aspects of the community to find out the issues most important to them and their biggest challenges,” said Professor Egerton-Warburton.
Roebourne has a long history of harm due to predominantly alcohol harm, but more recently Gunga (cannabis) and Narbee (crystal methamphetamines) have become problematic.
Alcohol, however according to community members, remains the biggest problem in Roebourne.
“The following day we attended the ANACAD meeting at the Mawarnkarra Aboriginal Health Service in Roebourne, a walk-in centre run by the Aboriginal Health Service providing both primary health care and initial management of emergency cases.”
“Leaving the coast we headed to Turner River Rehabilitations facility, a Commonwealth funded project based upon a therapeutic community model.”
At the residential facility for people with drug and alcohol dependence, the ANDCAD team met with indigenous clients and heard first-hand the challenges and benefits of living in the facility.
“We then headed to Port Headland to the Bloodwood River Tree Association, a not for profit organisation that offers services including support for the homeless and alcohol and drugaffected; accommodation; women’s shelter; food vouchers; clothing; housing assistance; education and employment assistance.”
Staying overnight at the famous Iron Clad Hotel in Marble Bar, Associate Professor Egerton-Warburton had the opportunity to talk to the locals and the community nurse—an ED nurse who had worked in regional WA.
“His roles included ambulance officer, doctor, nurse and pharmacist. He is on duty or call 24/7 and takes the usual skills of an ED clinicians multitasking to new extremes”
“The next day we were back on the road for another three hour drive to Nullagine where we met with members of the Irrungadji community in a riverbed,” said Professor Egerton-Warburton. “Hearing the real life experiences from the community members was insightful and humbling. We talked about their life experience and the challenges they face.”
Back on the road again heading back to Hedland, we had to detour on public roads many kilometres around mine sites that look similar to a regional town. The geometric layout and the eerier yellow lights make the sites look like something out of science fiction movie. We then joined the FIFO workers on the trip back to Perth.”
The findings of the Council trip will be reported back to Senator Fiona Nash the Minister responsible for drugs and alcohol policy within the Health portfolio. Ant relevant outcomes will also be communicated to other ministers including the Ministers for Justice, Indigenous Affairs, Education and Immigration and Border Protection