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Student story: Learning, walking and living on Mparntwe Country

9 Dec 2022

Occupational therapy student Annabelle Keynes recounts her dream placement at Purple House in Mparntwe, Alice Springs; an experience she describes as ‘immersive and affirming’. From small acts of kindness delivered in tea cups to hearing tales and recollections from clients during long car trips southwest, Annabelle’s story is sure to inspire.

Annabelle with camp pup­py, Yuen­du­mu, Warlpiri Country.

Palya! I have just com­plet­ed a five-week occu­pa­tion­al ther­a­py place­ment with the pri­ma­ry health team at Pur­ple House in Mparn­twe, Alice Springs. Mparn­twe, home to the Arrernte peo­ple, strad­dles the ephemer­al Todd Riv­er, lined with ghost gums, and is sur­round­ed by the Tjorit­ja (Mac­Don­nell) Ranges. 

Pur­ple House is an Abo­rig­i­nal-lead organ­i­sa­tion that works with Abo­rig­i­nal clients who have chron­ic kid­ney dis­ease and are receiv­ing dial­y­sis treat­ment three times per week. It had been on my radar as an excit­ing place­ment prospect since 2020 when I com­menced my studies. 

Lead­ing up to my place­ment, Antho­ny Albanese had also pledged to spend $30 mil­lion on bet­ter renal care in remote com­mu­ni­ties across the coun­try. It felt like a poignant time to be work­ing with the organisation. 

Pur­ple House has three sites in Mparn­twe. I was pri­mar­i­ly based at North Side, where a flur­ry of tea and toast is made every morn­ing when clients arrive.

Pur­ple House North­side clin­ic, Mparn­twe, Arrernte Country.

Prepar­ing kan­ga­roo tail, Mparn­twe, Arrernte Country.

This sim­ple offer­ing seemed to be at the essence of Pur­ple House: small acts of kind­ness, and a real push to cre­ate a non-clin­i­cal, home­ly environment. 

There are end­less oppor­tu­ni­ties to build gen­uine rap­port with clients and pro­vide holis­tic and cul­tur­al­ly appro­pri­ate health care. 

For instance, the clients share their con­cerns over a cup of tea, or around a fire out­side, and they can be seen to by the allied health team avail­able on site: nurs­es, GP, phys­io­ther­a­pist and occu­pa­tion­al therapist. 

Spe­cial­ists such as oph­thal­mol­o­gists and podi­a­trists are reg­u­lar­ly booked to be on site for a day to see clients. 

Clients are also sup­port­ed to see Ngangkari (tra­di­tion­al heal­ers), and bush med­i­cine is always avail­able to them. Rachel, my OT super­vi­sor, and I would pre­scribe assis­tive tech­nol­o­gy, help with social par­tic­i­pa­tion, run func­tion­al ther­a­py activ­i­ties such as paint­ing or cook­ing kan­ga­roo tail, and vis­it clients in hos­pi­tal to help with their reha­bil­i­ta­tion program.

We also trav­elled to two remote com­mu­ni­ties, spend­ing sev­er­al days in Yuen­du­mu, Warlpiri Coun­try, vis­it­ing aged-care clients at their homes, where we exchanged sto­ries over cups of tea, typ­i­cal­ly on people’s front veran­das, and often beside a fire to keep warm. 

We brought donat­ed bean­ies and bush balms with us and could gift these to clients as we pre­scribed assis­tive tech­nol­o­gy to help with their mobility. 

We also trav­elled to Kaltukat­jara, Pit­jan­t­jat­jara Coun­try with two Pur­ple House clients that want­ed to spend time with their fam­i­ly on Coun­try. It was an eight-hour trip to the south­west pock­et of NT, past Ulu­ru and Kata Tju­ta on wash­board roads. 

The hours passed quick­ly as Kuma­nara, grow­ing with excite­ment, shared sto­ries of his child­hood, the his­to­ry of Kaltukat­jara and life as a local police­man. Kaltukat­jara is a very beau­ti­ful com­mu­ni­ty sur­round­ed by euca­lypts and big, rocky ranges. Rachel and I spent an extra day there vis­it­ing dial­y­sis clients before mak­ing the return trip back to Mparntwe.

Wash­board roads, Kaltukat­jara, Pit­jan­t­jat­jara Country.

This CRANAplus Under­grad­u­ate Remote Place­ment Schol­ar­ship was spon­sored by AussieWide Econ­o­my Transport.

My place­ment with Pur­ple House was both immer­sive and affirm­ing. After two years of online study in Naarm (Mel­bourne), I was grate­ful to final­ly put learnt skills into practice.

Dur­ing the five weeks I was able to build rap­port with incred­i­ble peo­ple; wit­ness con­sid­ered, cul­tur­al­ly appro­pri­ate health care; learn an exten­sive amount; and feel well and tru­ly a part of the Pur­ple House family. 

Please vis­it www​.pur​ple​house​.org​.au/​o​u​r​-​story to learn more about the incred­i­ble work Pur­ple House do. 

Deep­est respect to the Arrernte Peo­ple, on whose land I learnt, walked, and lived upon dur­ing my place­ment. For Kuma­nara. For­ev­er home in Kaltukatjara.

Vis­it Awards, Schol­ar­ships & Grants to learn more about grants and schol­ar­ships avail­able through CRANAplus.