Cardinal Rodriguez walks as one with Australia’s first people

Cardinal Rodriguez at the Purple House

By Ryan Heffernan

CARITAS Internationalis president, Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga stood in solidarity with Australia’s first people when he visited Purple House, a unique medical service operating in Alice Springs and surrounding remote communities.

Cardinal Rodriguez and Caritas Australia CEO, Jack de Groot, engaged in conversations with dialysis patients and witnessed firsthand the Purple House renal facility, nutritional program and traditional bush medicine program – run by the Western Desert Nganampa Walytja Palyantjaku Tjutaku Aboriginal Corporation (WDNWPT).

Caritas Australia funds the WDNWPT’s Wellbeing Project which builds upon the dialysis services by offering meaningful employment and income for dialysis patients through the production and sale of bush balms.

At the same time the program contributes to the retention of traditional knowledge ensuring it will be passed on to the younger generations who learn all stages from the harvesting, production, marketing and sale of bush balms. And they learn valuable business management skills.

Bush balms are made from plants and used for a range of ailments including pain and headaches.

“This work provides cultural and healing benefits to patients who greatly value their link to traditional medicine. The Cardinal was fascinated by this and many aspects of Purple House,” Caritas Australia CEO, Jack de Groot, said.

“This program will help ensure invaluable cultural traditions are not lost. Trainees actually learn cultural knowledge and skills from their Elders who are also the patients.

“They learn production, marketing, distribution and sales of a product they produce together with their Elders. They are supported to engage with mainstream culture and develop confidence.”

Cardinal Rodriguez also took a tour of the Purple Bus – an integral service where a colourful bus travels to remote communities across Western Australian and the Northern Territory. Purple Bus allows patients to access to renal care and medical treatment by a nurse in their own communities, surrounded by family and friends.

Purple House and the Purple Bus are part of a holistic program to address not only physical health conditions for our first peoples but also psychosocial support. They employ and train staff and volunteers from their own communities.

Cardinal Rodriguez, Mr de Groot and Bishop Eugene Hurley also had meaningful and engaging conversations with Andrea Mason, coordinator for Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (NPY) Women’s Council, which Caritas Australia has been supporting since 1995.

NPY successfully empowers many women and addresses debilitating community issues including family and community violence, high rates of male imprisonment, prison rehabilitation services and the impact of changes in government legislation.

One of the NPY’s successful programs is the Tjanpi Desert Weavers supported by Caritas. Throughout the year, the Tjanpi staff travel throughout NPY lands conducting grass weaving workshops for Indigenous women.

Through these workshops – ranging from three days to two weeks – women learn the skills to collect and dye grass, to weave baskets and sculptures, to sell and promote their art, and to manage their subsequent income.

Both NPY Women’s Council and WDNWPT are 2012 finalists for the Indigenous Governance Awards organised by Reconciliation Australia.