Give us life. Give us information!



This week on the ABC an Aboriginal elder from Lajamanu, Lachlan Ross, called for more education about the prevention and treatment of kidney disease, rather than just relying on medicines once the disease is established.

He said, “It should have been done earlier, not when everything is starting to get worse, you know, because when you don’t educate people in the community, things get worse, people don’t know how to prevent the diseases they get,” he said.

“There’s no prevention, not much talking about prevention, and it’s all about getting new drugs, getting more of that sort of stuff, what about educating people about prevention?

Yolngu people across north-east Arnhem Land also want to understand the causes of kidney disease.

Richard Trudgen from Why Warriors said, “Over the last thirty years and even during the Covid 19 education, many Yolngu (Aboriginal people from NE-Arnhem Land) families were impacted by kidney disease which they were more interested in knowing about it than about Covid.

Yolngu are desperate and dying
Twenty years ago, in my first book, Why Warriors Lie Down and Die, I wrote a chapter called “Thirteen Years of Wanting to Know”. It was about a wonderful Yolngu leader who, for over thirteen years, wanted to know what his kidney disease was about.

I sat down with him and his doctor and explained to him what it was all about. After the conversation, he changed his habits, and his tests showed that his kidneys were now working much better. The doctor rang me to ask me what I had done. I explained that I had done three things. These were:

  1. dealing with the disconnect between what the patient was seeing and what the doctor thought was being communicated,
  2. dispelling the confusion that some of the English medical terms were causing, and
  3. demystifying the whole subject of kidney disease by explaining its basic causes in his own language and worldview.

The doctor called it a miracle. I responded by saying it was just more like good cross-cultural communication – something one needs to be trained in.

Sadly, I keep hearing of Yolngu patients who would rather return home and die instead of going on with medical treatment. A lack of understanding of their condition and the traumas they experience in the health system are simply too great.
However, this is not an insurmountable problem. Effective strategies can and have been deployed over time.

  1. Front-line medical staff need to be upskilled in cross-cultural communication and cultural competency. This training was made available to me when I first came to Arnhem Land in the 1970s and is why I am still here. We are now sharing that learned experience through our free online Q&A, blogs, and short online Cultural Courses.
  2. First Nations cultural groups need general health literacy training in their language and worldview, something we know how to do.
  3. We can also produce more health resources (videos, podcasts, medical imagery and language maps) that can be used by English-speaking medical staff to help facilitate better communication. These resources explain the disease or condition in the people’s language and also include English captions so the medical person can see what is being taught.
  4. We can deliver all these medical, cross-language resources in a bundle, so very busy medical people will have all the language resources in one place, accessible under a single login.
  5. Lastly, we need to put in place a patient communication advocacy support process while improving access to and the functionality of the Aboriginal Interpreter Service.

Without these measures, cross-cultural frustrations will continue for both Yolngu patients and non-Yolngu medical teams, patients will suffer, and the health outcome gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people will not close.


For example, some patients miss appointments because they do not use a calendar. Other patients don’t take their medicines correctly because they don’t understand the English instructions or think the medicines do not need to be taken long-term to maintain or stop the condition from getting worse. Patient health literacy is low, and so the cause and effects of disease, lifestyle, and medicines are not understood.

Hospitals are overworked in general and understaffed, and many staff are doing their best in trying circumstances, but all patients deserve to feel a genuine connection with their medical team. First Nations people with English as a second language often lack adequate communication while simultaneously reeling from the fast-paced, sterile hospital environment that is far removed from their daily lives.
More information on these issues can be found in the book Why Warriors Lie Down and Die. Also see our cross-cultural learning platform designed to teach English First Language people appropriate cross-cultural knowledge and skills. It will also teach the original Australian “Aboriginal” culture.

A bit about Why Warriors Pty Ltd.

We have a bilingual-bicultural team with over 15 years’ experience in producing culturally appropriate podcasts and videos creating answers to the Yolngu people’s questions around a whole range of health issues, including 30 videos for the Covid 19 pandemic.


Other resources are urgently required for kidney disease, rheumatic heart disease, and to finish our chronic diseases video series, which will give Yolngu people the information, in their own language, needed to live healthier lives.


Additionally, we have online platforms on Djambatjmarram, Yolngu Radio and YouTube. However, we require financial support to produce more cost-effective resources and change the lives of thousands of First Nations people. The ongoing savings to the health budgets from such resources will be substantial.


For online or phone interviews, please contact Richard Trudgen

Email:   or call 0400 880 954

Richard Trudgen has been working with Yolngu people in Arnhem Land for over 50 years. He speaks Djambarrpuyŋu and is the author of Why Warriors Lie Down and Die. He is the CEO of Why Warriors Pty Ltd, a community development social enterprise company that empowers Yolngu and other First Nations people by providing access to information and building capacity and understanding between Australian Aboriginal people and the Dominant Culture.

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Richard Trudgen