Aboriginal Community Services staff in next to Indulkana sign in the APY Lands.

From the perspective of Jessica Rowe, Marketing and Communications Officer

Through the work that staff do with Aboriginal Community Services, there are often opportunities for them to get out of the office in Mile End, and experience the Anangu Pitjantjara Yankuntjatjarra Lands, where we have multiple centers providing HCP and NATSIFAC aged care services, as well as one residential facility. During April, our CEO Graham Aitken, General Manager of Service Development Lauren Aitken, myself, and the team from Hughes PR headed up to shoot a video about ACS’ involvement in APY Lands’ communities.

It became clear, on the trip, how lucky I was to be travelling alongside the Aitkens with their family ties to the lands, and in my ACS shirt, which is well-recognised by community. The trust that community has in Aboriginal Community Services was obvious just by the reception I received as a complete outsider because I was wearing that shirt. I saw the relationship that our local staff have with Elders they support, and I supposed from then on, that the welcoming reception made sense. From Beth at the Pukatja Elders Village, to Betty at the Indulkana centre, and Rachael in Amata, each of them laughing with Elders, speaking to and about them with respect, and immersed in community – a part of the Elders’ daily lives.

Seeing these relationships made me realise how important it is for organisations to practice a humanitarian approach in every aspect of operations – not just when directly supporting Elders, but in our interactions with colleagues and service providers. If we are being accepted by community, treated as a core part of Elders’ daily lives, and reciprocating this at all levels, it will lead to deeper bonds between community and ACS, leading to better care outcomes.

Richard Aitken from our Community Engagement Team taught me about the Yankuntjatjarra phrase ‘Ngapartji Ngapartji,’ which essentially means reciprocity. The thing about the care relationships between coordinators, General Managers, support workers, and Elders, is that they aren’t just one way. The more that the ACS team remembers this, the better care we can provide. A particularly touching moment from the APY Lands trip was the interview with Beth, the general manager at the Pukatja Residential facility, who spoke about how the women living there are highly intuitive, many of them being Ngangkaris (healers), and can tell when a staff member is sick, injured, or at what point of their cycle they are on – sometimes coming to their aid with healing skills. Through being, Elders teach staff different ways of seeing and living that we may not have been brought up with. In the APY Lands, far less emphasis is put on trivial things that metropolitan life will have us prioritising.

It is important, however, that my visit to the APY Lands wasn’t reduced to a personal lesson. Elders who live there are real, and remain there after we drive back to our busy, air conditioned lives. As I type away on my keyboard and attend Microsoft Teams meetings, images of the APY Lands play over in my brain. Elders and family members waiting outside their houses for meal deliveries, the love for the land expressed in interview responses, cultural differences and family structures reflected in living situations, and the obvious turmoil it would cause Elders to age somewhere other than country. These are the things that ACS encourages policy makers to experience. The ACS centers are functional and essential, and staff seem to do a sensational job, but by no means are they flashy. When the government speaks about funding allocations and implements one-size-fits all legislation, it is clear that what they imagine ACS and communities to look like and possess are not the reality.

Even in my own processes for sourcing marketing content and connecting with remote staff, I discovered my approach was not at all suited to the busy and unpredictable nature of working in the APY Lands. If small projects like that can be bettered by a visit to the Lands, imagine what could change if policy makers took the time to visit and consider how legislation can actually be shaped to create the best care outcomes for Elders.

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