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Member Vivienne Fazulla - Nurse of the Year, NSW Far West LHD

11 Aug 2022

Longstanding CRANAplus Member and attendee at the inaugural CRANAplus Conference in Alice Springs in 1983, Vivienne (Viv) Fazulla, won the NSW Far West Local Health District Award for Nurse of the Year this May. She discusses nursing in Tibooburra, secrets to primary health care success, and the legacy of Afghan cameleers.

In 2014, Viv retired from her job at the Dingee Bush Nurs­ing Cen­tre in Vic­to­ria after 36 years of service.

I last­ed six months,” she says. My hus­band Azz­ie and I were back in Tiboobur­ra and there was a job going, so I applied and got it in Decem­ber 2014.”

They’d met in 1976 in Tiboobur­ra, a town 350 kilo­me­tres north of Bro­ken Hill, just south of the NSW/​Queensland bor­der. Viv was nurs­ing and Azz­ie work­ing as a sta­tion hand.

His father had migrat­ed from Pun­jab and estab­lished him­self as one of Australia’s pio­neer­ing Afghan cameleers in Bro­ken Hill dur­ing the late 1800s.

The couple’s return was like a homecoming.

Every­body knew us,” Viv said. I didn’t have to prove myself… I prac­ti­cal­ly knew every­body here, even if we were all a lit­tle short­er, old­er, balder, and grey-haired. Every­body embraced us.”

Azz­ie passed away in 2018 but Viv has stayed on in Tibooburra. 

The red dirt’s under my skin. I don’t think I could go any­where else.”

Far West LHD’s Nurse of the Year

Around three or four first-year grad­u­ates under-take place­ment at Tiboobur­ra annu­al­ly. Viv isn’t sure which of them nom­i­nat­ed her for the NSW Far West Local Health Dis­trict Award for Nurse of the Year, which she received in May 2022.

In your nurs­ing career, if you’ve helped some­one – even one per­son – over­come adver­si­ty, you’ve suc­ceed­ed, and can accept a pat on the back,” Viv says.

I think I’ve done that and made a dif­fer­ence to people’s lives.”

She’s most proud of the fact I’ve last­ed this long… Hon­est, I’ve nev­er wok­en up and thought I don’t want to go to work today. It’s always been a privilege.”

Rather than focus on her­self, Viv is eager to dis­cuss the future of the remote nurs­ing profession.

It’s a real hon­our to be able to pass onto [the grads] how to live out in a remote area, how to sur­vive,” she says.

They come out here, all alone… They don’t have to rein­vent them­selves, but they do have to think about who they are and where they are.

I just hope they remem­ber – and obvi­ous­ly some of them do – and when I am in a [nurs­ing] home they’ll remem­ber me and bring me chocolate!”

The award can also be seen as an acknowl­edg­ment of com­mit­ment of the Fazul­la fam­i­ly to health care in the Far West Local Health Dis­trict, which is built around Bro­ken Hill Base Hospital.

Azzie’s great nephew’s wife, Avril Fazul­la, her­self took out the New to Prac­tice Nurse/​Midwife of the Year Award in 2022.

The Sham­ros­es and Browns and Burns at the [Bro­ken Hill] hos­pi­tal – many relate back to the Fazul­las,” Viv says.

I think there’s prob­a­bly about 20 peo­ple at the hos­pi­tal that come from Azzie’s family.”

Knowns and unknowns in pri­ma­ry health care

It’s a hard life out here, for the peo­ple on the sta­tions, and you can see the dif­fer­ence you make,” Viv says. You can see the ini­tial wound and work your way right through the dress­ing and recov­ery. You can see how what you do ini­tial­ly impacts on the outcome.

My ethos is, you get three options if you come to me for advice or assis­tance,” Viv says.

You do as I say – in con­sul­ta­tion with you; you take on board and go away and think about it; or you decline my offer – but know­ing full well you can come back again, and we’ll restart the process. I nev­er say no.

I try to assist you to take own­er­ship of your own health out­comes, whether for your­self or fam­i­ly or friends.”

Viv has mas­tered these endur­ing prin­ci­ples, but she has also had to adapt to oth­ers that have evolved over time. It’s eas­i­er now to trans­fer ECG results to Bro­ken Hill, to obtain blood results local­ly with i‑STAT, and to be guid­ed by doc­tors watch­ing through a cam­era in the ED ceil­ing dur­ing emergencies.

She no longer needs to book in a time to call to her out-of-town rel­a­tives (in 1976, her time used to be two o’clock on Sundays).

I remem­ber when I first start­ed my train­ing, you weren’t even allowed to touch a stetho­scope unless a doc­tor dropped it on the floor,” Viv says. Now there are process­es, through edu­ca­tion and sup­port, I can [fol­low] in emer­gen­cies. It’s amazing.

I’m not a mid­wife and in the last cou­ple of years I’d had a cou­ple of ladies go into ear­ly labour. That’s been heart-wrench­ing for me, not the moth­er! But I just calmed myself down… I have done work through CRANA edu­ca­tion pro­grams for what to do in emer­gen­cies. I’m quite hap­py with that.”

Nurs­es have been empow­ered by tech­nol­o­gy, but Viv also believes a nurse’s intu­ition con­tin­ues to play a vital role in mod­ern care.

You’ve got to be aware of your­self and your own gut feel­ing,” she says. That sense of there’s some­thing not right here’ – you’ve always got to believe in it.

Thank you, Tibooburra!

I thank my fam­i­ly for putting up with my career path,” Viv says in con­clu­sion. With­out their sup­port, I wouldn’t be here hav­ing fun in the desert.

Thanks also to NSW Health and the Far West LHD for their sup­port, my co-work­ers here at Tiboobur­ra, and the Tiboobur­ra com­mu­ni­ty. I’m real­ly blessed by our sup­port­ive community.

Remote Area Nurs­ing is the best job! And by the way, my posi­tion is not avail­able to any­one else for some time yet.”

Life and work in Tibooburra 

Dur­ing our con­ver­sa­tion in May, Tiboobur­ra had already exceed­ed its aver­age annu­al rain­fall. The lush salt­bush and scrub add a splash of green to the red dirt and big blue skies – the mag­ic stuff that keeps you liv­ing out here,” Viv calls it.

The road from Bro­ken Hill to Tiboobur­ra has recent­ly been sealed. Any flood­ing of the creeks is now less like­ly to wash away the road or turn it to mud, mak­ing it eas­i­er for health ser­vices and tourists to access Tibooburra.

One day we had a guy come into the health ser­vice, bad­ly injured,” 

Viv recalls. The major­i­ty of our ED pre­sen­ta­tions are motor­bike riders.

My ques­tion was – what are you rid­ing? He told me. Oh yeah, I said, you shouldn’t ride that mod­el out here! Oh, and what do you do? I asked.

I’m a deal­er for these motor­bikes, he said. I own a dealership. 

I asked: what have you learned in the last cou­ple of hours? 

Lots, he said. There’ll be a let­ter going back to head office!”

Whether by bike, plane or car, there’s ample incen­tive to head to Tiboobur­ra, for the love of the desert, hope of encoun­ter­ing native flo­ra and fau­na (includ­ing rein­tro­duced bil­bies), or to explore the new Sturt’s Steps Muse­um which doc­u­ments Afghan Cameleer history.

Do you know some­one whose achieve­ments deserve to be cel­e­brat­ed like Viv’s? Nom­i­nate them for a CRANAplus Award when appli­ca­tions open.