Our 2024 conference website is now live.
Find out more about this year's event.

Culture the focus at Yutjuwala Djiwarr Aged Care Centre

8 Apr 2024

“You won’t find our residents sitting blankly looking at a television screen. They’re always outdoors, catching the breeze.” That’s Registered Nurse Rosie Breen, Service Manager at the Yutjuwala Djiwarr aged care centre in Nhulunbuy in north-east Arnhem Land. Yutjuwala Djiwarr translates roughly to ‘Little Heaven’. Rosie, who has lived in Nhulunbuy for two years, was attracted to the role at the centre because of the strong cultural focus from the beginning of the planning process onwards.

Work­ing along­side Rosie is Ruth Munung­gurr, who has been an Abo­rig­i­nal Health Work­er for 32 years.

Ruth had plans to be involved in a self-man­age­ment project in her own home­land at Buku­dal with her fam­i­ly – but was drawn to take on the role as a Cul­tur­al Advi­sor at the cen­tre to help the entire community.

When plan­ning start­ed for this aged care cen­tre we went around talk­ing to all the peo­ple who would be involved in each stage – the archi­tec­ture, facil­i­ties and ser­vices,” says Ruth.

We talked to them about the best way and the best build­ing and what every­thing would look like.”

Now that the cen­tre is open, the main focus for Rosie and Ruth each day is to per­son­alise the care pro­vid­ed to the res­i­dents and ensure it is cul­tur­al­ly appropriate.

The Yolŋu work­force is indis­pens­able in this regard,” says Rosie.

They act as inter­preters and trans­la­tors, mak­ing the res­i­dents feel com­fort­able to ask for what they want, and explain­ing their needs. Any nation­al­i­ty would feel the same way.”

Peo­ple in the com­mu­ni­ty are so hap­py about the cen­tre, because it means they are clos­er to Elders, says Ruth.

The cost to go and vis­it in Dar­win, to fly there to vis­it, it’s too much for fam­i­lies,” she says.

It’s best for old folk to be in the com­mu­ni­ty. Eas­i­er for the fam­i­ly to vis­it and take them around in the bus, and to be around fam­i­ly. You should see the smiles on their faces when they can go on the bus for an outing.

And at the cen­tre, there is an open door for fam­i­ly to come and spend time with their elder­ly fam­i­ly members.”

Rosie says that one lady at the cen­tre had pre­vi­ous­ly been in care in Dar­win for two years.

Some­one flagged this to us,” she says.

She hadn’t stayed with her son for two years. We’ve now brought her here and when­ev­er her son comes, her eyes light up.”

There’s no area, not one detail that hasn’t been explored to help make res­i­dents feel at home at Yutjuwala Djiwarr.

The gar­den­ing, for exam­ple, is done by Abo­rig­i­nal men employed by the Arn­hem Land Progress Abo­rig­i­nal Cor­po­ra­tion (ALPA),” Rosie says.

These men also go fish­ing so that the res­i­dents can get the fish and shell­fish they ate grow­ing up. The gar­den is start­ing to get estab­lished, with trees and plants that pro­vide shade for the res­i­dents to sit out­side, and we are start­ing to get fruit and oth­er foods and bush medicines.”

The art cen­tre is anoth­er favourite with the res­i­dents, says Ruth.

We have Indige­nous artists and enter­tain­ers who work close­ly with the art cen­tre. Activ­i­ties include weav­ing and paint­ing. It’s so good. They have mem­o­ries of these activ­i­ties and they are so hap­py to go to those mem­o­ries. And I’ve got to say, Rosie has long straight hair – which is always in demand for the art brushes…”

Then there’s Lol­ly, the res­i­dent dog who has recent­ly been joined by pup­py Yapa. Yapa is Yolŋu for sister.

With 32 beds and a pal­lia­tive care unit, the num­ber of res­i­dents fluc­tu­ates marked­ly as there is an empha­sis on help­ing them to vis­it their fam­i­lies and to go to their home­lands for a week­end or a few weeks.

The Yolŋu work­force is par­tic­u­lar­ly cru­cial in the pal­lia­tive care unit, work­ing with the fam­i­ly to make sure the cor­rect spokes­peo­ple are consulted.

There is a cer­e­mo­ny place out­side for when the pal­lia­tive care patient pass­es, and a smok­ing cer­e­mo­ny is con­duct­ed to pre­pare for a new res­i­dent in that unit.

The cen­tre was a vision of the Yolŋu Elders in Arn­hem Land to pre­vent their age­ing fam­i­ly mem­bers need­ing to trav­el hun­dreds of kilo­me­tres to cities like Dar­win for end-of-life care, and to pro­vide cul­tur­al­ly sen­si­tive pal­lia­tive and aged care services.

The con­nec­tion to Coun­try began with the tim­ber used in con­struc­tion, sourced from the Gumatj Mill, trav­el­ling less than 50km from its source. The atten­tion to cul­tur­al needs is in every aspect of the design. Each bed­room pro­vides access to the out­doors with shel­tered veran­das, suit­able for rest­ing, and vis­it­ing family.

As Rosie and Ruth say: We want every­one to feel at home in this home.”

If you would like to share your own sto­ries of work­ing in remote health, get in touch by sub­mitting an enquiry.