What is your educational and employment background?
What seems like a long time ago I did a Bachelor of Arts and an MBA at Adelaide University. I have worked in private, non-government, local government and State governments in South Australia and I now work for the Commonwealth government in the Northern Territory. Currently I work in Indigenous Affairs but in the past have worked in youth programs and petrol sniffing programs for people in remote Aboriginal communities.
What bought you to enrol in the Dr Public Health? And why did you choose to do this study within the Discipline of Public health at Flinders University?
At the time I was working in the area of health in the SA public service in the Drug, Policy and Programs Unit and therefore I felt the course was very relevant to my work. I looked around for courses at the time and was attracted to the professional doctorate at Flinders because of the mix of course work and research. When I started I found the course work immediately relevant to my work.
What is the topic of your research project and what stage are you at?
My thesis has been accepted and I will graduate in April, which is very exciting. The topic is ‘The media and public health policy’ and I investigated the possible impacts of the media on the response of the government to petrol sniffing. I looked at a ten-year period from 1995-2005 and focused on the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands in South Australia. My supervisors are John Coveney and Anne Roche and they have been extremely supportive and patient throughout my candidature. The other university service that was invaluable to me, especially as I was often residing in remote areas, was the library’s flexible delivery service.
You’ve spent a fair bit of time in remote Aboriginal communities, can you tell me about these experiences? And can you share your thoughts on some of the ways governments could help to reduce inequities for Aboriginal people living in these communities?
First of all it is an enormous privilege to be able to live and work with people in these sorts of settings. It is a tremendous privilege to be exposed to culture and different ways of thinking.
Living in a remote community is very different from living in major regional/metro areas in Australia especially in regards to things like food supply, where supermarkets are often only delivered food once a week, and where the water and power supplies are sometimes cut for several days at a time. Also, while living in remote communities you become much more aware of the weather and how it affects day to day life. For example, when it rains for days it is hard to travel far so you just have to sit still, which slows you down a bit, but this isn’t always a bad thing.
There is a huge gap between the living standards of Aboriginal Australians and mainstream Australia. I don’t think there are simple fixes. It’s a question of a whole lot of programs and a whole lot of interventions over a long period of time that must be developed and delivered in conjunction with Aboriginal people. The key to working with Aboriginal people is engagement and establishing relationships. Basically the situation is complex and these complexities need to be addressed by governments. And, a lot of what my thesis is about is that once the media started representing petrol sniffing as a complex issue, governments started to respond to these complexities and then we started to see some results.
Given the insights that I can now use in my work, I think I’ll keep working in a similar area. But the difference is now, that I’m more interested in influencing policy, so this is the direction I am heading rather than direct service delivery.
And the main advice I would give to a student just starting out would be to pick a topic that is not over ambitious; I think mine was over ambitious. Also allocate some specific time to study and also allow yourself to have a break from it occasionally because you will come back with a fresh outlook and new ideas.
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