Working in the Australian Outback couldn’t be more different from being a nurse in leafy Lytham, but Andrea Carpenter took to it like a duck-billed platypus to water.
Andrea has just returned from 18 months working with patients in some of Australia’s most inaccessible outposts.
She spent time working with Aboriginal communities and in a variety of places throughout Western Australia.
Andrea – currently based at St Annes Primary Care Centre – has worked for Blackpool Vic’s Children’s Wards and at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in the past, and was inspired to work in “the dust bowl of Australia” after spending a three-week holiday there with her boyfriend, a doctor working in Aboriginal health care.
The remote gold mining town of Mount Magnet really captured Andrea’s imagination.
It has a population of 640 and the deepest underground mine in existence – with a mix of white settlers, miners and the original landowners: the descendants of the Badimaya people who still live in the town.
Andrea, who was born and grew up in Blackpool, worked as registered nurse at the town’s nursing post.
She said: “It could be very busy and hard work. As the RN I saw all the patients. We had visiting paediatric specialists once a month and, fortunately, I was able to put my children’s nursing background to good use. There were some very sick children, especially a toddler with a redback spider bite. I had him flown out with the flying doctors to Geraldton, where he was treated.
“There were a number of ‘roll-overs’ of cars and trucks. Some swerving to miss kangaroos, but others, I suspect, falling asleep at the wheel.”
The former Claremont Girls School pupil said she identified with the Aboriginal people because of her experiences working for with the homeless.
“You have to gain their trust, and this is understandable when you look at the history and appreciate the inhumane treatment by white settlers. You have to remember they were the original people of Australia.”
Andrea, who lives in Lytham, says the indigenous people haven’t adapted well to the Western lifestyle and their health is affected.
Fresh food in the outback is expensive and rarely of good quality, unless people can grow their own, which can be difficult in the dusty soil.
“There is heaps of evidence to show they die from preventable diseases and 20 years earlier than expected,” she said.
“Alcohol is a big problem in remote communities, and results in fights and nasty injuries. Aboriginal people have very different ways, and you have to learn to respect their culture.”
After working in bigger towns as a night-time hospital coordinator and then in theatre recovery, Andrea decided she missed the uncertainty of working on a rural patch, so joined an agency, where she would be flown out, then spend up to two hours on patient transport and travel up a dirt road to get to her post in Bidyandanga – a dry town where alcohol was not allowed.
Once there, she was stuck until it was time to go home.
Andrea’s favourite memory of her time in Oz is of one of the elders coming to watch one of the Mount Magnet locals ride her horse, Couda.
She said: “I will never forget that day, or any of the time I spent in Australia.”