Transport can be a problem for many residents in the Territory. With big distances to travel and rugged terrain, it’s not always easy for people living in communities to visit their loved ones, attend ceremonies at important times, or even get in the supplies they need.
Which is where the ARRCS Mobile Flexible Respite Troopy Program comes in. Based at the Old Timers Village in Alice Springs, and with three Toyota Land Cruisers available to use, the program offers mobile flexible respite services under the Commonwealth Home Support Program (CHSP) for the people living in several Territory communities who have no way of getting to some of the places they need to.
At the heart of it is support for those people to maintain and strengthen cultural connections: to their homelands, to their personal history, to family and their mob and to important events and occasions.
Their excursions needn’t be far off, or complicated: one recent job for Breath Clifton, who co-ordinates the program, was to take a mother and daughter out from Alice to visit their Country for a few hours – hours that had great significance for them.
But the program goes way beyond Alice and is designed to help residents of the most remote communities to get around.
A Troopy is lent to people in communities from Engawala in the north-east, to Kintore to the west, as far south-west as Mutitjulu and even Kaltukatjara (Docker River), and 120km south-east to Titjikala. Breath feels a special connection to them all.
Two of the Troopies can seat 10 people, including the driver, and the third, newest one, eight.
The usual procedure is that Breath takes one of the vehicles out to the community whose requests or referrals have been agreed upon – and leaves it for community members to use: sometimes they may meet halfway, and sometimes a driver will come and pick a vehicle up. The process is open to negotiation and the needs of a particular individual or family.
The Troopies’ ability to maintain culture and connection with country cannot be over-emphasised, says Breath. There are lots of emotional encounters, memories are reignited, sacred and “sorry” business taken care of.
Recently he took a vehicle to Kintore and stayed there for a week while it was used by a group to travel to a funeral. Access to a vehicle such as this, for this purpose, fulfils a really important cultural need, Breath says, and there are many other cultural essentials it can help with.
At Tennant Creek, the program was recently used to help take a group of older women (Elders) out to a site where they had grown up – not their homeland but somewhere they had been relocated. The visit evoked a host of memories, often painful ones, and it was a time of sadness, for grieving, for remembering the hardships they had had to endure. But it was also a journey of healing, providing some liberation from the past.
On another occasion a lady due to go interstate for a major operation was taken out to her country before she was flown to the city – again, it was an important and empowering trip, helping her to not only deal with the stress and strangeness of the air-travel and distance from home, but also aiding her recovery from the surgery. The feedback Breath received was that it had been a vitally significant event for her.
The Troopies can be used for happier events, too: for a group to do what they love above all things: to go bush, to hunt goanna and cook it while sitting around a fire. To harvest some bush medicine or other plants they may need, or collect gum tree ash to mix with their bush tobacco. Or, quite simply, to meet up with other groups for singing and other cultural events: Breath once took a group of older men (Elders) out to Country to participate in a CAAMA radio recording of them singing.
Sometimes it might just be to chop wood and take it home for carving – to make ceremonial shields or coolamons. Or for personal care, visits to doctors and specialists or shopping “in town”.
The program is flexible and supportive, and each job is unique and can involve some sensitive negotiations about where the greatest need exists at any one time.
The loan of a vehicle seems like such a small thing, Breath says, but the good it can do for a community is really very big.
He also gets a lot out of it personally, including feeling the great privilege of being invited on to people’s country, “which is like being invited into their homes”. The lessons he receives from the close contact with such a rich and ancient culture are hugely rewarding, he says, enriching him with major insights and reflections.
He’s been in the Territory since 2010 and loves its immensity and its privacy. He loves the clients he meets and works with, and the colleagues he works alongside at ARRCS.
“We take a pride in what we do,” he says.
Information about the Troopy Program is also available in language: