To The Minister, Hon. Natasha Fyles,
I am contacting your office today objecting to the racist attitude and comments made to
my Yolngu colleague at a Darwin health clinic yesterday. This is a situation that has
become life-threatening as my colleague is refusing to continue her dialysis due to fear of
more psychological trauma. The colleague in question, an educated lady who is also an
interpreter, attends Nightcliff renal clinic. Yesterday she got into a conflict situation and
when she said that she was going to leave and not come back she was told by a staff member,
“I don’t care, it’s your problem”. This left my Yolngu colleague shattered and ready to give
up on life.
This is not the first time that I have made complaints about staff attitudes at the Nightcliff
renal clinic towards Aboriginal people, and on behalf of this particular patient. Unfortunately,
this is an issue that is relevant right across the health department in the NT, including in some
Aboriginal controlled health centers. This type of poor communication is only part of the
problem; even normal, courteous human communication often lacks between staff and
Staff attitudes continue to reflect poor education in cross-cultural and cross-language
communication with Yolngu. A majority of health department staff still lack the ability to
explain health conditions so that they are adequately understood by Yolngu patients, both
linguistically and in a culturally appropriate way. Some staff also consistently exhibit an
impatient, racist attitude towards Aboriginal people, likely due to the fact of the
aforementioned communication issues having never been addressed adequately. This
communication breakdown leads to a negative “them and us’’ communication environment,
and a reluctance to engage from both persons on opposite sides of the cultural divide.
My Yolngu colleague told me today that she can’t cope with going back for dialysis, which
will be a death sentence for her. At the moment she is critically ill due to her fluid levels and,
as I understand, a mineral imbalance. Additionally, despite the fact her English skills in the
medical area are extremely good — she is one of the founders of the Hope for Health
program — she was not able to exhibit a clear understanding of her diagnosis. This is an
example of a widespread, fundamental issue in the way health services approach Yolngu and
it leads to wasted taxpayer funds and the ongoing health crises that the Yolngu people are
I will be working hard to get my colleague back to the Nightcliff renal clinic tomorrow. I left
my name with the team leader at the unit asking her to get the manager to ring me when she
is available. However, the points raised show that current policies and approaches are not
Natasha, as a community we seem to be going around in circles on this issue resulting in
a steady decline in positive outcomes. This inaction effectively disempowers and
condemns Indigenous Australians across the Territory to a life of hell.
Speaking as someone on the ground in north-east Arnhem Land, and as someone who speaks
Yolngu Matha, continually engaging with the community — things are worse today than they
were 20 years ago! For the issues to be seen clearly, it needs to be seen from the perspective
of Yolngu people’s lived experience, not always something easily seen from the mainstream.
The Territory could be a national and international leader around cultural competency issues
and upskilling of more people, Yolngu and otherwise, who hold extensive local experience
and commitment to positive outcomes, were engaged in policy and health protocol
discussions. Hundreds of millions of dollars could be saved with carefully planned,
culturally appropriate training for service workers across the Northern Territory,
impacting staff retention and providing efficient and effective health services and therefore
much improved health outcomes.
I have advanced solutions for these issues through continuous collaboration with
Yolngu across Arnhem Land for the last forty years. As you may know, I have worked
with Yolngu in community education around health issues for most of this time. Our Yolngu
media education team is the most practiced in collaborative discussion around health issues in
the Territory. Our team also has over two decades of cultural competence training experience.
The Why Warriors team has built a strong network of Yolngu contributors who can solve
these critical communication breakdowns. By providing digital resources and mentoring
services, detailing culturally appropriate approaches to common misunderstandings, for
essential services staff, fundamental skill deficiencies can be addressed and well established
human to human relation can become the norm. Contemporary health resourcing information
can also be produced to empower Yolngu people in their own language. As a community we
need to ensure these problems don’t continue to worsen, and stem the rise of Yolngu people
who continue to die unnecessary deaths. Please see:
Natasha, it’s time to change the approach. It’s time to listen to real, locally grown
solutions created in the melting pot of NT community dynamics.
I would like to be invited to the table regarding culturally appropriate training for government
service workers across the NT. I have already developed comprehensive learning resources
Can we schedule a meeting to discuss the points I have raised here at your earliest
possible convenience. I look forward to advancing these discussions, and ensuring long-lasting and much needed
change for your constituents and employees in the Northern Territory.
For more information or to support the continuing research and development of resources by Why Warriors, please contact:
Why Warriors is made up of a team of Yolngu and Balanda (mainstream) researchers with over 15 years’ experience in the production of resources for Indigenous communities in Arnhem Land.