Uluru and Elders make remote aged care magic

May 5, 2022

The magic of Uluru and the privilege of caring for our Elders makes all the challenges of aged care in a remote setting melt away for ARRCS service manager Kerrie Stevens.

Kerrie looks after our Nganampa Ngura Mutitjulu-nya Flexible Aged Care facility, community care and School Nutrition Program in the closed Aboriginal community of Mutitjulu, which sits in the shadow of Uluru.

It isn’t always easy, what with the isolation, staff shortages and being in lockdown for months on end to protect some of our nation’s most vulnerable people during the pandemic.

“Because we’re remote, everyone does everything,” Kerrie says.

“So I’m responsible for the running of the facility,” she says.

“And for a while, I was the only registered nurse here, so I was covering the clinical side, as well. And I was mopping the floors on Friday.

“You just fill in and do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done. Everybody just pitches in – cooking, cleaning, showering, whatever needs to be done. It keeps me out of trouble, mostly.”

It’s a long way from Kerrie’s former career, working for more than 30 years as a liver transplant co-ordinator for paediatric patients in a Queensland hospital. But after visiting her sister in the resort at Yulara – which is about half an hour away from Mutitjulu – Kerrie fell in love with the Red Centre and has been with ARRCS for the past five years.

“We are very privileged to be looking after the traditional custodians of this area,” Kerrie says, many of whom are still working artists and artisans.

“I’d do anything for them. I love just being able to hear their stories, when they choose to tell them. It’s the satisfaction you get from doing your best to give them the best life – because they’ve had a hard one up until now.”

Kerrie and her team have taken the time to learn some language, simple phrases in Pitjantjatjara to help with communication. “I’ve got a really good team. They all treat them like their own grandparents, and you couldn’t have asked better than that. Nothing’s too much trouble for any of them.”

Kerrie has a special knack for finding meaningful activities for residents. Like the time she organised for them to fly over Uluru – a special right reserved for traditional land owners.

“They’ve learned from it, they’ve walked around it, but they’ve never seen it from the air,” she says.

“We took the men up one day, and the women up the next, because there are very different areas on the Rock where women or men can’t go.

“We get a lot of retirees coming out to the Rock, doing the grey nomad thing. Why shouldn’t our Elders get the same opportunities to do the same things as other people do in their retirement?”

Kerrie recently discovered that some of our Elders had grown up around camels, walking alongside them as children. At that time camels were reserved for Elders and transporting goods only, so children did not have the opportunity to ride. On hearing this, Kerrie organised for the Elders to go on a camel ride at Yulara for the first time in their lives.

“They had a ball! And the men were all cowboys, they all worked on the stations, so getting them back in the saddle, they looked very at home, very comfortable.”

The trip was a thank you to the residents after a month of being in lockdown when COVID-19 hit the community of Mutitjulu.

“They were really good – they haven’t complained, and they’ve done everything that we asked of them,” Kerrie says.

“It’s a challenge, but you just keep the residents’ best interests in the top of your mind and it’s easy to make the decisions you have to make because it’s whatever benefits the residents.”

When things get stressful, Kerrie doesn’t have to look far to take care of her own wellbeing.

“It’s ruggedly beautiful here. I look out my office window and there’s the Rock. It has a very calming influence, I find. It’s just got this energy about it. And we’re a dog-friendly facility – a lot of us have dogs – so they help. They always make you laugh.”

ARRCS provides aged care, disability and family support across the Northern Territory. Learn more about our services and support in Mutitjulu and Kaltukatjara.

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