Remote Public Health Nutritionist, Alice Springs, Northern Territory
My story begins long before graduating from university. I grew up in Shepparton (Vic), the youngest of five children. At age fifteen, and while attending secondary school, I had a weekend job selling fresh fruit and vegetables at Trupackers, a little shop on the outskirts of Shepparton, an experience that was to have importance down the track.
I left school at age 17 without any idea of what I wanted to do with my life. I worked unhappily as a bank clerk for 3 years before resigning to take up manual occupations, finding work in a variety of environments including an abattoir, a packing shed, a cannery, a publishing firm, as a gardener, and as a professional shooter.
In the mid 70’s I began working in the mining industry and worked as a field hand in gold exploration all around country Victoria, and later in diamond exploration in the Kimberley (WA). This lifestyle enabled me to experience the beauty of outback Australia, appreciate the value of dining and yarning around campfires, sleep in swags under brilliantly clear night skies, and enjoy an outdoor working life that was more like being a “paid tourist” than being a labourer. And although I loved the lifestyle, I still had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.
Having no ties, a substantial bank balance and a hippy mind-set I headed off overseas in the late 70’s for as long as my savings would last. While travelling through India it occurred to me that I was in a country overflowing with people with huge ambitions but limited opportunity, and here was I, an Australian citizen and all the privileges that go with it, with countless opportunities and so little ambition! This revelation led me to make a personal commitment to return to Australia and pursue a tertiary education and do something in life that might benefit someone other than myself.
In 1982 I enrolled in Yr 12 English and Human Biology at Tuart Hill Senior College (WA) and produced an aggregate score sufficient to be offered a place in Nutrition and Food Science at WAIT in 1983. I was virtually the only male student in the class and, although I was poorly prepared for studying a science degree, I worked hard and managed to pass all but one subject during the three years of the undergraduate degree. After taking a break for two years to marry, begin a family, and pay off a housing loan, I eventually graduated with a Grad Dip Dietetics in 1988.
In 1990 I moved with my family to Central Australia to take up the position of Dietitian Alice Springs Hospital, a unique hospital where 70% of bed occupancy is by Aboriginal patients, most of whom suffer from chronic nutrition-related illnesses. In 1997 I moved from clinical work into Public Health to work on a variety of nutrition and men’s health projects. In July 2002 I began in the role of Remote Public Health Nutritionist in Central Australia, and graduated a year later from Menzies School of Health Research with a MPH. My professional interests now include working to overcome the obstacles to food security confronting Aboriginal people in remote Australia, and men’s health, two areas of chronic government neglect.
Promoting healthy lifestyles in remote Australia provides interesting, stimulating and often frustrating experiences that provide an excellent training ground for aspiring public health practitioners. The harsh realities of working in remote Australia presents unique challenges, encourages creativity, fosters the development and use of a broad range of skills, imparts a better understanding of what actions have the potential to build health, and helps make public health practitioners better workers.
I wholeheartedly recommend a career in Remote Public Health Nutrition, and I feel fortunate to have found my niche in life. My role in remote Central Australia enables me to combine travelling through and working in the Australian outback with my experiences of my first little weekend job selling fresh fruit and vegetables at Trupackers.