I spent the mornings of the last two days at GEGAC (“jeejack”). GEGAC stands for Gippsland and East Gippsland Aboriginal Co-operative. GEGAC is a community-based organisation that was formed in 1975 which provides healthcare and cultural support to aborigines in the area. It has it’s own medical centre and dental surgery and provides aged care, drug and alcohol services, cultural business and child, youth and family services. All these services are either discounted or free of charge to indigenous people.

The main aim of GEGAC is to help improve the health of aborigines. This is just a small part of the Australian-wide “Closing the Gap” initiative. Indigenous people have a much shorter expected lifespan than European Australians and poorer outcomes in nearly all aspects of health. This is a very similar situation to New Zealand and our Maori population. It was great to spend some time with the passionate people who run this organisation. They are doing some wonderful work to help lessen the health disparities.

The week I was here was NAIDOC week (National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee). NAIDOC is aimed at increasing awareness of indigenous culture and highlighting the successes of various aborigines. Obviously things were buzzing at GEGAC! On Wednesday morning there was a big get-together at GEGAC before a march through the main street of town. There was a fantastic turn out with well over 300 people participating in the march. I spent the morning helping hand out t-shirts to the participants and chatting with the locals. There was so much enthusiasm from the volunteers and the whole event was humming with positivity. After the march a big barbeque was put on with carnival rides for the kids. It was such a fantastic event to be a part of. Everyone was so welcoming and more than willing to share their stories. Despite being a kiwi I did not feel out of place. They would go out of their way to ask about my background and thank me for helping to support their cause. I felt privileged to mingle with such positive and inspirational people.

I had the opportunity to talk to several indigenous people in the clinic at GEGAC too. This was a very moving experience for me as some of their stories were traumatic and devastating. I met several people who were a part of the stolen generation where aboriginal-European mixed children were uplifted from their families and given to European families to bring up. I met people who had been subjected to physical, emotional and sexual abuse as children and adults. I was very grateful to have the opportunity to sit and listen to these narratives and gain an understanding about the darker times in Australia’s history. As in all places in the world, including New Zealand, domestic violence is still an issue in Australia and is also overrepresented in the indigenous population. GEGAC provides a place for people to go where it is ok to talk about these issues and meet other people with similar experiences. It also provides referrals to counselling services for those who want someone to talk to. GEGAC is doing some really wonderful work to improve the situation in Gippsland and I feel privileged that I was able to get a glimpse into such a fantastic organisation.

 

I have also spent a bit of time in theatre this week. As Bairnsdale is a GP-run hospital all the anaesthetists are GP’s who have done extra study (usually a diploma) through the college of anaesthetists. They were wonderful at getting me involved and had me ┬ádoing all the airway management including putting down LMA’s and intubating. The surgeons were happy for me to scrub-in and assist. I felt quite at home as the theatre-banter was still largely rugby orientated with the usual trans-tasman rivalry!

 

Tomorrow is Friday so another day of tutorials and then the Gippsland Medical School Ball! No doubt I will have plenty of tales to tell when I check in next!