Monthly Archives: April 2016

Why I love my electronic Message Stick

A Message Stick, according to Uncle Wiki is

A message stick is a form of communication traditionally used by Indigenous Australians. It is usually a solid piece of wood, around 20–30cm in length, etched with angular lines and dots.

Traditionally, message sticks were passed between different clans and language groups to establish information and transmit messages. They were often used to invite neighbouring groups to corroborees, set-fights and ball games.


I love my Message Stick, you may call it your phone. But now days, I think of all the forms that I can communicate with the rest of the world as my Message Stick.

It really is important to us as a society and I think it is a wonderful tool for helping us stay connected. I wouldn’t have been able to survive all the times I was in hospital without the internet. It was my way of not feeling so isolated, I wasn’t left out, I was still part of the world. It also gave my friends and family an easy way to find out how I was, to check my progress and for them to let me know they cared.

If I wasn’t on Twitter, Facebook or blogging for a period, the red flag would go up and people would check on me. They knew it was a sign that I was unwell again, and they would check up on me, make sure I was fine and then be able to visit if close enough and if I was able to have visitors. But mainly it eased the worry.

I am so glad that I have that way of letting other know that I am alright, I know that if I die at home, some one would miss me with in a few days or couple of weeks. I know that if I don’t respond to texts the same day, some one would check on me. So that is a good feeling. Too often it pops up on the news that some one has been found dead in their home and no one knew. I was happy to hear the story of the little old lady, who ordered a pizza every day, and one day she didn’t so the delivery person, went around to check on her. She had fallen, couldn’t get to the phone to call for help. If she didn’t have that connection to someone outside she would have died.

So thank God for the electronic Message Stick. Even when I feel alone or lonely, I know that humanity is only a push of a button away. I feel good knowing that people in other states or other parts of the world, would be able to raise the alarm if something happened.

I probably don’t have to worry too much at the moment, having three teenagers at home, I would home that they would notice something is wrong at some point, even if its only when they want transport, money or food. They would notice after a couple of days…I hope

But really, I had never realised how good being connected could be until I became ill. Being in hospital for weeks on end leaves you lost. I am not able to lie back and watch TV for hours on end. I can read, but there are times when you need to shake it up. Having access to the internet is a great way to see the photo’s stories and other silly things that friends and family put online. It is a perfect way to see what is going on in the world, when you might not be able to talk, are too ill to have visitors or if you are bedridden at home and can’t do anything. Just sitting with a laptop or tablet in your bed and you can listen, watch, read and be part of the world.

I would be lost if my electronic Message Stick wasn’t available.

Just before I post this, while at the WICC in Brisbane, I was surprised to have three people come up and recognise me from twitter. The power of the little box that keeps you connected. Let me say again, love my electonic message stick



*****Warning Women’s Business Ahead******

A great performance by Tammy Anderson, who did her one woman act of “The Great Walls of Vagina” This is a funny, bit crude and rude performance that educates women on their body parts and the importance of Pap smears. She had so many people in fits of laughing and she gets men up to join in the fun. She comes from Victoria and has toured around AMS ( Aboriginal Medical Services) with this and is supported by the Cancer Council.

While the performance wasn’t to everyone’s taste it did have a lot of support. I was sitting with one of my Elders, who was killing herself laughing about it. She used clinical terms for body parts, and then would ask the audience what words they used. This was especially funny to my mind, when she was talking about the word vagina and all the terms used now days and had people give their names and offered suggestions for women. One lady she said she looked like her vagina, was an Amy! What else can you do, but laugh. But after we laughed and watched everyone doing the exercises, she then told of how easy and important it is to get the pap smear.

Tammy has props and gets the audience to come up and join her in exercises,

IMG_1238 IMG_1237 IMG_1238

This is what the blurb says about her work:
Aboriginal performer Tammy Anderson takes audiences on a deep journey of Aboriginal women’s business, using comedy and performance to connect with women around the taboo topic of cervical screening.

Great Walls of Vagina faces the uncomfortable subject of women’s business head-on in a way that is outrageous and funny – women can’t help but take notice. “The audience is taken on a journey through Moocha meditation, Pap song and dance and a doctor’s appointment with my character Labia Majora,” said Anderson.

Anderson has been performing the show across Victoria at ‘Sister’s Day Out’ events run by the Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service Victoria.

Why is the show important?

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are almost four times more likely to die from cervical cancer than non-Aboriginal women in Australia, suggesting Aboriginal women are less likely to have regular Pap tests because of difficulties accessing service providers or cultural barriers.

“Early detection can save the lives of more of our Aboriginal sisters,” said Anderson.

Coll Lavelle's photo.

Stories Can Help

Listening to stories from Community can help with teaching Cultural Awareness and bringing and ease the stress of patients.

The Department of Health and Social Services, of the Northwest Territories in Canada have a program that is about dialogue and story work. The program has people who are affected by cancer talk about their experiences and what they like and didn’t like in the hospital system. The people are recorded and it is done in their homes, so there is no stress of being in an alien environment. The recordings are shared with the Doctors and Nurses at the hospitals, they comment then it goes back to the Communities. When it goes back the people in the Community see how the doctors and nurses react, they hear what their responses are and then they can talk about it, give more information or thank the health professionals.

This is such a simple and brilliant idea. I watched one of the stories yesterday and it was great to see the reactions of the medical profession. One story, the First Nations lady said that when she was sent to the hospital, she wanted her son to come with her, but she wasn’t allowed to. She spoke of how she was afraid and the next trip to the hospital she took her son, she spoke of the need for support and the connection to her family and friends.  The nurse when watching this, well her reaction was priceless. The penny dropped, she said of course you should have your son or any support person, people do it in the city all the time. So one small but important issue was solved just by having people talk up bravely from their homes and not in the hospital environment. This is something that could quite easily be done here in Australia. We could have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people talk of their fears, their expectations from their home, when they don’t have the pressure of being in a hospital, or the urge to say nice things, because you are on their ground not yours.

I loved this idea, imagine if we could just talk and explain one on one to the health professionals, and then have them react and a person to one other person, not looking at the big picture, but really seeing the patient and finding out just how important family, country and your spiritual beliefs.

This program of course is not a cure-all but it is a step in the right direction, and according to the department it is making a difference. The program also allows other health professionals to see it and the Community.



Where to draw the fine line in Racism

After listening to one of the speakers at the World Indigenous Cancer Conference I pondered. There is a fine line between racial identifiers and racial profiling.

Now think about it, you give information to a health professional, they take down the information and it is used to help with things like cancer research and other health research. But that information of your race and other factors is there for others to see, to draw the parallel of what all your race do and don’t do.

Just stop and really think about it, so I go in and I say I am Aboriginal, brain tumour, some time smoker and you can bet your bottom dollar they  think that I am a drinker, probably unemployed. The ideas that we carry around with us all our lives colour our view on people and situations.

This is a real problem but how to deal with it is an even bigger problem. Cultural Awareness can only do so much. people have to be aware of what they are doing and if they see another person jumping to conclusions they need to step in. This also falls in the casual racism category, which seems to be growing. Look at the recent media attention to the Gold Logie nominees. Who would have thought so much angst would come from having two very identifiable non white Australians nominated. I think it’s great that the country is accepting a wider view of what is Australia, but the old guard is still holding on to its White Australia.


When Angeline Le Tendre was talking about the Cancer problems with Canadian First Nation Peoples she made one statement that really hit home. When the medically profession talk about preventative. She said that preventative means you can prevent it, you have a choice, so if you get cancer then you are to blame. She said that Aboriginal people always get the blame, they are bad, they don’t live like us. They do everything wrong, so they are to blame.

When you think about it that is the way many people see a lot of health issues, they see a person to blame for the bad choices that have caused the disease. They don’t see the real problem of LACK of choices. This plays into those bad choices that are selected.

For my point of view, well I totally agree with her, it is such a simple thing, but the realisation, that many do not see the lack of choices and that this lack is what leads to the bad choices. So yep, preventative is a bit of a dodgy word when talking about how people get an illness. In the mainstream society, they might be able to judge, shake their heads, tut tut over some ones bad choices and that they have not done enough to prevent a disease, but I hope they don’t. Because problems are problems, and if you are only looking with a very narrow view as to how to deal with it, well that little window of people who are overlooked will grow and grow.

World Indigenous Cancer Conference

Tomorrow is the start of the World Indigenous Cancer Conference, and there is a huge turnout for it.

Delegates have come from across the world to hear the latest, share stories and to help Indigenous Peoples.

Many people representing their Communities are coming and they will be able to join in the talks, and share at the yarning circle. I am going to it, and of course I will be sharing some of the stories and other highlights of the event.


world indigenous cancer conference

World Indigenous Cancer Conference
12 – 14 April 2016
Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre
Queensland, Australia

Join us for the inaugural World Indigenous Cancer Conference 2016 (WICC 2016), hosted by Menzies School of Health Research, and held in partnership with the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

Our theme for WICC 2016 is ‘Connecting, Communicating and Collaborating across the Globe’, and we encourage participation from a wide range of researchers, public health practitioners, clinicians, nurses, advocacy groups, allied health and other related professionals, and Indigenous community groups and leaders from around the globe.

WICC 2016 is supported by a Strategic Research Partnership Grant funded by Cancer Council New South Wales (STREP CaCIndA) and the NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence in Discovering Indigenous Strategies to Improve Cancer Outcomes Via Engagement, Research Translation, and Training (DISCOVER-TT).

Mark your diary now, and register your interest to receive updates on conference planning and key dates.

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Racism in Health, It’s alive and well

I have posted many stories of what people have had to face when dealing with the health system. my last post showed the story of a non Aboriginal person and what they went through, when it was thought they were Aboriginal.

I thought this was pertinent, especially considering what Gurrumul went through in a Darwin hospital,  I am showing this story and another recent story to show that it is happening all the time.


Gurrumul hospital records wrongly say singer unsuitable for liver transplant, doctor says

Updated Fri at 4:40pm

The doctor who treats Indigenous singer Gurrumul has said staff at Royal Darwin Hospital wrongly concluded in patient records that the entertainer was unsuitable for a liver transplant.

Key points:

  • Gurrumul’s doctor says hospital notes could have “serious consequences” in future
  • Doctor says concerns about Gurrumul’s alcohol intake are false
  • Prominent Aboriginal health worker says more Yolngu people needed at Royal Darwin Hospital

Royal Darwin Hospital has been in the spotlight all week amid accusations Gurrumul was racially profiled and presumed by staff to be a drinker, because he is Aboriginal.

This week, management for the 47-year-old musician said Gurrumul was left to languish with internal bleeding for eight hours after he was taken to the emergency department on March 27.

Gurrumul’s doctor, Paul Lawton, said it was wrongly assumed the health issues were related to alcohol when they were in fact the result of having had hepatitis B as a child.

He said while Gurrumul did not need a liver transplant at the moment, an inaccurate statement in hospital notes – that he was unsuitable for the procedure – could have serious consequences in the future.

“I think it is actually reasonable to draw a line between concerns about Gurrumul’s alcohol intake, which are false, but have been recorded and this statement, since one of the major reasons that a liver transplant is not done is people continuing to drink alcohol,” Dr Lawton said.

Gurrumul’s care appropriate says Health Service

The Top End Health Service, which oversees service delivery at the hospital, said it had reviewed the case and was satisfied Gurrumul’s care was timely and appropriate.

This week, NT Health Minister John Elferink claimed the mistreatment allegations may have been a publicity stunt.

Those allegations have been rejected by Dr Lawford.

Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion said he was awaiting a full report into the treatment of Gurrumul by Royal Darwin Hospital.

The hospital has said it will not discuss patient details but that a past history of alcohol use does not necessarily preclude a person as suitable for an organ transplant.

My second story is about Ambulance services

Compensation awarded to family of Aboriginal man who died waiting for ambulance

Updated 4 Mar 2016, 5:49pm

The family of a young Aboriginal man who died while waiting for an ambulance has been awarded $220,000 compensation.

Geoffrey Yuke was staying with family and friends at an Aboriginal community near Lismore on September 23, 2006 when he began to experience chest pains.

The 24-year-old called Triple 0, explaining his condition and asking for help.

What followed was a lengthy, confusing and ultimately fatal wait for an ambulance.

The family’s lawyer Tracey Randall said the ambulance Mr Yuke called had been delayed because the Box Ridge community where he was staying was subject to a Category A caution note.

In a statement, the New South Wales Ambulance Service defined a caution note as a note attached to an address where a paramedic had been assaulted or threatened while attending a patient.

The note served to warn paramedics who attended the premises in future of a potential threat to their safety.

Under NSW Ambulance protocols, a Category A caution note attached to an address requires paramedics to stand-off and wait for police to attend before entering the premises.

Family shocked by inquest findings

It was not until more than a year after Mr Yuke’s death that his family discovered what had happened, during a coronial inquest.

I think we hear so much in the media about the disparities in health between Aboriginal people and the wider community, and something like this brings home why those disparities exist.

Tracey Randall, solicitor

His sister Margaret Yuke said she had been shocked by what was revealed.

“What I heard at the inquest was heartbreaking for me because I did not know what was going on,” Ms Yuke said.

“Everyone just told me that he had a heart attack, and the police turned up at my door in the early hours of the morning and told me that my younger brother had passed away.”

The inquest found Mr Yuke had died from an undiagnosed congenital heart condition.

The ambulance service said the caution note policy not only protected paramedics, but also ensured they could effectively treat patients with police back-up present to protect them if the patient or someone else posed any kind of threat.

The service said the coroner had been satisfied the Category A caution note placed on the Box Ridge address in 2006 had been appropriate.

Campaign for justice

After the inquest, the findings were left in the hands of Ms Yuke.

“When the coroner gave me all them big folders, I thought to myself I’ve got to do something about this,” she said.

She took the bundle to Lismore solicitor Ms Randall and asked her to take a look.

What followed was a campaign for justice for her nieces and nephews, left fatherless by her brother’s unexpected death.

“What happened to him was very wrong, but I thought about his children and he would have done the same thing for me,” Ms Yuke said.

Dying a slow death not far from hospital

Ms Randall said she had been moved by what she read.

“It was really harrowing reading, the coronial transcript, it was really sad,” Ms Randall said.

“I think we hear so much in the media about the disparities in health between Aboriginal people and the wider community, and something like this brings home why those disparities exist,” she said.

“Here’s a young man who had a heart condition that he didn’t know about, dying a slow death not that far from a major regional town with a hospital.

“I would hope there’s a firm protocol now between the New South Wales Ambulance Service and the police force in relation to responding to calls like this, because part of the problem with the delay [in getting to the patient] was poor communication.”

The family of Geoffrey Yuke was awarded $220,000 in the Lismore District Court last week.

In a statement the New South Wales Ambulance Service apologised to the family of Mr Yuke for the distress caused to them.

The service said it currently had no official caution note in place for Box Ridge.

Ms Yuke said it had been a bittersweet day in court last week.

“He was a wonderful young man. He liked to take the young brothers out fishing and swimming at Box Ridge. Now they all miss him,” Ms Yuke said.

Not quite, but nearly

This is another story that was given to me. It is a brief glimpse of the experience of a person who was mistaken as an Aboriginal Woman. The story is written by her husband. I have kept the story as is, no changes except for the names of people and the hospital.


This is the story of my wife, she is a Maori, we have been together for nearly 20 years. She had a brush with breast cancer and it shocked us, how she was treated. She went into the hospital to have some tests and that was when it went bad. I don’t want to say that Koories get treated badly but I think they have some concerns that the rest of us don’t have to worry about.

Her first visit to the hospital some one changed her nationality from Maori to Indigenous, at this point we didn’t know that it had happened. The tests showed that she had a a cancer and when we were talking to the doctor about her treatment, the staff of the hospital and the doctor. Their behaviour puzzled me. The talked about the medication and the treatment and asked if we would continue and if we would stop coming. We were as I said puzzled. Why would we stop?

The social worker spoke about the importance of continuing the treatment and said that she was sick to death of us not keeping up treatment. Not coming back for check ups. We were puzzled, did she mean New Zealanders? But my wife needed the treatment so we started it and then time came around for surgery. Staff congratulated my wife on sticking it out and said she was great for coming back. We met with the social worker he told my wife that she was committed to the surgery, that she couldn’t back out now. He said the government wastes a lot of money on us and that we had to help ourselves. Was this about us being Kiwi. My wife, who is a beautiful strong wonderful woman. She has overcome so much racism in her life and she realised before me that this was racist. She swore at the social worker, she told him she paid her taxes, he worked for her and who was he to make comments about her attending or not attending. She went off at him and wanted his full name and his full title. She then asked for the name of the other social worker and said this was not the way decent people behaved. She walked out and complained at the counter to the hospital staff about the treatment she had received. Another social worker contacted us to talk about what happened. She started off with talking about the elders and the spirits. I was lost at this point. My wife asked her if she did this with all patients? the social worker umed and ahhed and said she only did it with the indignous ones. My wife asked her why she did that with her? She said because my wife was indignous. My wife said yes she is but not indignous to Australia. The social worker was shocked and appologized to us and said that my wifes record had her as Aboriginal. What I want to know is if we were treated like this and spoken to like this, is it common for Aborigines to have this happen to them?