The Cave Hill Meeting called by the Custodians of Anangu Munda that saw the beginning of The National Trachoma and Eye Health Program. (Trevor sits bottom row, second from the right in green top)

The ACS community is lucky to call Trevor Buzzacott a part of the team. An Arabana man, Trevor has been working to improve Aboriginal eye health since before the Fred Hollows Foundation was even in its infancy. In fact, the data that Trevor and the team in the National Trachoma and Eye Health program collected in the 1970s, would mean the formation of the Fred Hollows Foundation, and a plethora of Aboriginal Medical Services across the country.

In a spare office space in the Aboriginal Community Services building at Mile End, Trevor sits and points to the massive stack of paper he’d placed on the desk nearby.

“This has got every single person that we had listed in terms of eye ailments, ear ailments, diabetes, you name it, we had it listed there. And we were then ready to do something about it, way back then.”

In the 70s, Trevor and the team had travelled across the nation, going from community to community, collecting statistics on eye health. He said that connections to groups of Elders all over the country were utilised, so that doors were already open when they arrived. It was connection, Trevor explains, that

“…set the smooth path (…) which gave us the permission to travel all over Australia. And visit every single Aboriginal remote community.”

Trevor’s job didn’t end at data collection, and after presenting the report to the government it was decided that there needed to be some kind of agency.

It was obvious to the team that they couldn’t just swing through communities, doing the tests, engagements, and operations, and leave. There had to be a community-lead effort to maintain eye and ear health in these remote areas indefinitely. This was something the team realised even as they were collecting their data; they needed to establish local Aboriginal Medical Services in community to see what was really going on. Trevor says that if it were not for these Medical Services,

“The Fred Hollows Foundation would not begin to form, and we would’ve been in dire straits still about Trachoma in remote areas.”

93% clarity on the elimination of Trachoma is what Trevor describes as the current context for Trachoma in Australia – but even still, according to the Australian Government, Australia is the only developed country [sic] where Trachoma still occurs. Trevor says that his,

“…commitment is the same now as what it was in 1976 and it’s not gonna change until such times as we can not only be rid of Trachoma, but we then can look at building the capacity. Ownership can go back to the different community groups; they can set up their own medical services if they choose to. They can unite with existing commonwealth and state government services.”

“…and no one is going to relax because we’ve come across this situation before where some of the communities have relaxed a little bit. And you will find that that will then ignite, I guess, the health and eye care problems from our little ones. There’s also a mixture of dental problems now in a lot of our communities because there’s too many sugar products that’s going into our remote areas. So we’ve still got a mix of all those sort of things which we must keep an eye on. And so its ongoing, nothing’s gonna stop.”

The work that Trevor has been doing through ACS is a credit not only to his own dedication, but to the organisation’s holistic approach when it comes to supporting community. What could simply be described as aged service provider is certainly more – a presence embedded in Aboriginal Community across South Australia. Trevor’s work is a great example of what ACS backs outside of your regular aged care services.

Going into communities, Trevor implements a variety of engagements that bring people together, and provide the team with the opportunity to yarn about things like washing your face and hands 3-4 times a day, and eating 3 meals a day with local kids. Trevor describes a recent engagement he’d set up,

“…we’ve done it in the APY Lands over the last couple of years by running a sports competition there. The North Adelaide Golf Club has given me 100 clubs, old clubs, so we chopped the clubs up to that size, and we go and play golf, on the oval, with the little ones. So everyone’s having a bit of fun, and while their doing that we say, ‘right you need to wash your face now, wash your hands’. And they’re doing that, and the little ones are actually doing the whole process of washing their face and hands 3 times a day, having a bit of fun, that sort of thing. And they’re the simple, little ways which I think are very positive, and it involves everyone in the communities, because while we’re doing that and playing golf, on an oval, the Elders will come along and sit down and have a feed – so we’ll have a barbecue.”

It’s obvious that Trevor, and by extension, ACS, feel an all-encompassing responsibility to community. Perhaps this is why Trevor laughed out loud when asked what his official role title was here at ACS. Humbly, he describes himself as being

“…just a reminder of making sure you wash your face and hands every day. And it’s working.”

Talking to teachers, healthcare workers and general members of each community is key to ensuring symptoms of eye and ear problems are not going unnoticed. Trevor will also often visit family homes, making sure their sewerage systems are operating effectively, that they have access to hot and cold water, and that families are aware of the benefits of having animals outdoors rather than indoors.

“So there’s a lot of those common sense things that we can embrace with the community … there’s no cost factors there! … it just opens up the doors, and once you open up the doors to one or two of these communities, you’ll find that – bang! – it’s done. It’ll steam roll. So, we’re lucky because we’re not only dealing with our Elders, we have access to go to the communities and sit down and talk to their children. At the schools, the young workers.”

Trevor feels good about the opportunities available in Aboriginal health. He emphasises the importance of setting up local services, and highlights the government’s willingness to fund such endeavours. One of his biggest hopes is having more Aboriginal medical nursing staff coming through.

“…it would be good to have another thousand senior Aboriginal medical nursing staff right throughout this whole nation. This number is just plucked out, but you can spread that all over the country, and you’re going to be short in numbers anyway, but the reality is if you set yourself a target and achieve it, you will find that the next round of target is going to be much easier to achieve. And it’ll be more willing to be supported as well.”

Trevor speaks about his work in the Aboriginal health sector as not just an interest, but a life commitment. Full of knowledge, stories, and a past that entails being at the forefront of ear and eye health in Aboriginal communities, Trevor is interested in looking forward. ‘Why can’t we do this?’, he often asks, “There’s nothing stopping us from…” he might exclaim.

“That’s why my interest – not an interest, it’s my life commitment, is what we do, it’s ongoing.”

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