After more than two decades spent fighting for its creation, a small northern community is finally celebrating the construction of its first ever dedicated aged care facility.
- Nhulunbuy’s aged care center will cater for 32 residents, and helps solve a long-term shortfall of care options in the region
- The facility will also eventually feature palliative care and renal dialysis services
- The new facility’s design was led by Yolngu traditional owners from remote East Arnhem Land, on the Gulf of Carpentaria
The new $30 million center being built in the north-east Arnhem Land township of Nhulunbuy is nearing completion, with its first residents expected to be signed in by October.
Djapu clan elder Barayuwa Mununggurr is among the long-term campaigners for the center and said it “will be a place of comfort” for the region’s elderly.
For many years, there’s been a gaping shortfall in aged and palliative care facilities across the remote Northern Territory.
It’s meant countless sick and elderly Territorians have been forced to travel to centers like Darwin and Alice Springs for hospital care, hundreds of kilometers from family and, for many remote Aboriginal residents, pass away far from their traditional country and culture.
Mr Mununggurr, who is also the chairman of Yolngu health organization Laynhapuy Health, said he wanted to see his people be able to grow old near home and family.
He and other clan leaders pushing for better aged care had pitched the idea to successive governments, but it had never come to fruition until now, thanks to approval in gaining Commonwealth funding.
“Sometimes it can be so lonely in Darwin,” Mr Mununggurr said.
“Hospital for those people is very lonely: and that was in the mind of all of us [with this new centre]. Because it’s better to have the people not being sent far away, but to a building that’s [based] locally, in the community, that’s much better.”
The new facility has been designed hand-in-hand with Yolngu leaders, with features like a bunngul (ceremony) ground, for when residents pass away.
Project manager Terese Marchesi, from Australian Regional and Remote Community Services, said “Yolngu people have led this entire project from start to finish.”
“They’ve been involved with absolutely every aspect, from the build through to the landscaping – choosing colours, providing art, providing guidance, working on menu planning,” Ms Marchesi said.
“Everything you can imagine that becomes part of building and operating a facility like this, we’ve had Yolngu people at the heart of it.”
The 32-bed centre, which will eventually also house palliative and renal dialysis facilities, is not solely for Yolngu, and will also be available to the town’s non-Indigenous population.
Resilience of Yolngu ‘never ceases to amaze me’
Long-term Nhulunbuy resident Dave Mitchell said the facility was a game-changer for the township.
“There were a couple of times that I thought this was never going to happen,” Mr Mitchell said.
“But the resilience of Yolngu never ceases to amaze me, the resilience of people being able to be knocked down and get back up again, it’s just mind-blowing in East Arnhem Land.”
Mr Mitchell said many of those who had fought for the centre’s development had passed away before they ever got the chance to see it constructed.
“I feel as if the Yolngu spirit is here – I feel as if those people are part of it, even if they’re not here in body at the moment,” he said.
The centre’s creation follows the opening of the NT’s first ever independent living home for people with a disability earlier this month.