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Tennant Creek

Richard speaks about his visit to Tennant Creek - his first return to the town in 18 years -  and meetings with health, family and community services working in the town and surrounding areas.

I want to talk about my return to Tennant Creek, which is a small town about 1,000 kilometres south of Darwin in the Northern Territory, with a population of about 3,200 people, 70 per cent of whom are Indigenous. It represents 12 language groups. It might not sound like much, but it is a very special place to me. I spent 18 months working there as a GP almost 17 years ago, and I returned there for the first time in 17 years. So many of the most inspiring, passionate and resourceful people that were there when I worked there 17 years ago are still there. In fact, it was that experience 17 years ago that really pushed me towards politics. It helped me understand that we need to do something about the structural factors that are causing Indigenous disadvantage. It was very much a formative experience for me.

When I returned there only a short time ago I was lucky enough to meet with Barb Shaw. She is the general manager of Anyinginyi Aboriginal Health Centre, and she is the Barkly Regional Council President. She is an  amazing woman—a strong, passionate, resourceful person who, I have to say, was so generous with her time. I want to thank her and her EA, Cerise King, for the help and support that they gave me through this trip. I met Ross Williams Jakamarra, who was also there back when I was there 17 years ago. He is a strong Indigenous man, very active with the football club. He is a Waramungu man. It was great to catch up with Ross again. I met with Joyce Taylor, the treasurer, and William Walker the secretary, and Pat Braun, who is an Arrente/Waramungu woman, as well.

They are terrific people doing amazing work. There is Clarissa Burgen, Marie Murfet and Allan Baldock, all doing wonderful work. But they are under incredible pressure, because the resources that they need and deserve are always limited and they are always in a position where they are facing an uncertain future.

I also had a chance to meet with many of the doctors who work as Aboriginal health practitioners, the nurses
and, indeed, the head nurse, Tandeo Sakala, who showed us around—and I want to thank him for all of his time
and support while we were there.
We met Marie Murfet from the Stronger Families centre. They provide culturally appropriate services for men,
women and families who are struggling with issues of family violence and child abuse in the Tennant Creek
community. We met the inspiring Georgina Bracken, of the Tennant Creek Women's Refuge—again, doing
incredible work.

I also had the great pleasure of catching up with my old buddies from the Tennant Creek Eagles. I stepped out for a training session with some of the boys at the Tennant Creek Eagles club, down there at the footy oval. Again, I played there 17 years ago with the all-Aboriginal team, the Tennant Creek Eagles; I was the only whitefella on the team. I was lucky enough to be presented with a jumper on the occasion of my return. I caught up with the former captain while I was there, Darryl 'Tiger' Fitz, and the footy club rep, William Walkers.

They are doing great work. It was there that I came to understand the really critical importance of sport in the lives of Aboriginal people and as a way of connecting communities. There is so much talent down there, by the way, like Tiger's son, Liam Holt-Fitz, who co-captains the under-15s all-Australian team. If there are any scouts watching right now, keep your eye on this young fella. He is someone that I think has every chance of being drafted to the AFL.

I met with Steve Dawkins and Ryan Lucas, from the Barkly Regional Council, who showed us some of the work they are doing with homegrown remote youth workers. We sat down on the basketball courts and learnt a lot about the work that they do. There is also the after-hours drop-in centre, YouthLinx, doing incredible work with young people in Tennant Creek, with young kids. They run footy, T-ball, and swimming in the afternoons. They teach children life skills—how to make a curry, how to fix a bicycle—as well as just providing a safe place for kids to hang out.

It was a wonderful occasion to be reunited with my colleagues. I have to say we are still a long way from closing the gap, and I returned home with mixed emotions after seeing these wonderful people doing wonderful work but also knowing how much they struggle to be heard. 

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