Sydney to South Australia...

By Katie Fitzgerald

Katie is a Occupational Therapist working in South Australia. In the story below Katie talks about her tansition to rural practice.

Born and bred in Sydney, I have come to love the rolling surf, famous harbour, vibrant atmosphere and busy lifestyle. And because of this love for my home city I caused shock and alarm amongst my family and friends when I told them that I was moving to a town named Port Augusta in South Australia.

In August 2005, I accepted an occupational therapy position with the Child Health Team of the Flinders and Far North Area Health Service. I drove 20 hours via Broken Hill with my best friend with little knowledge and no expectations of our destination. I was motivated by a sense of adventure, lured by the chance to work with the Royal Flying Doctors Service and excited to be embarking on a unique professional experience. As we crossed the Salt Lakes that welcome visitors to this town, I had no idea what I would encounter or what the months ahead would entail.

From my first weekend here I was struck by the magnificent regions that surround Port Augusta. Looking back now my past few months read like a South Australian tourist brochure including treks through the Flinders, horse riding near Wilpena, cycling in Clare and exploring Port Lincoln. However my favourite adventures have been through outreach work to remote and rural outback communities. One trip in particular typifies the kind of experience you can gain when you take on a role like mine.

At 7.30am our group took off for the 45 minute flight to Roxby Downs. Our team comprised of a speech pathologist, podiatrist, mental health worker and our trustworthy pilot. My two day schedule involved home visits, therapy sessions at the health centre at the school and health centre, and childcare visits.

Upon arrival a client was referred who needed immediate attention. He had suffered a workplace injury and was returning home from Adelaide post surgery. He required a home assessment, equipment and home modifications. I was concerned about the situation as I knew that modifications can take weeks and he needed them immediately. However when I arrived at his home, I was met by his family and work colleagues who had already begun work. They had installed a standard ramp and were waiting with tools and supplies to implement my recommendations as I made them. When I left there was a large team measuring, sawing, removing furniture and organising materials, which for me was amazing to see. I was so impressed to see such practical community support and I have come to be less surprised every time I encounter this spirit in this region.

Another appointment was a visit to a home near Andamooka. Not sourced by town water or electricity, this opal miner generated power with wind and solar energy. He used underground tunnels to air condition his home that he had built over 40 years a go with whatever materials he could find. It was fascinating to hear stories of opal mining and farming, and watch demonstrations of inventions he had come up with.

The outreach visit was most exciting (and somewhat frightening) when we were due to leave Roxby. The winds were at 90km an hour and our departure was delayed by 80 minutes. When the pilot got the okay we took off flying through turbulent conditions for much of the flight. Our landing was rocky but very safely controlled by our skilled pilot.

Other outreach visits have involved a health expo in Woomera, presenting on the radio and talking to new mothers about child development. The exciting part of working in rural and remote areas is that you never know what to expect. You can be faced with new clients, new environments and new challenges, and you have to be able to make decisions and deal with situations on the spot. The other great aspect of doing outreach work is the variety of people you get to meet.

My move to Port Augusta was the largest risk I have ever taken, as I didn’t know how I would cope or what to expect. The memorable experience has become one of the most exciting and rewarding times of my life. I will return to my home in Sydney but I’ll return with a new appreciation for the country, knowledge of the resilience and spirit of the people I’ve met, amazed by the beautiful surroundings I’ve explored and grateful I had the opportunity to come to Port Augusta.