19 July 2019

Claire cements passion for Aboriginal health at camp experience


University of Melbourne medical student, Claire Demeo, recently won a scholarship to join Northern Territory General Practice Education’s cultural immersion camps, giving her the opportunity to travel to Kakadu National Park to engage in the traditions and stories that are the cornerstone of Aboriginal culture. But this wasn’t Claire’s first exposure to the rich Indigenous culture of the Territory, nor was it her first time here: she had already completed a stint on Groote Eylandt through the John Flynn Placement Program, where she worked with doctors, nurses and Aboriginal health workers. Read on to hear about how Claire’s experience in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and culture was reinforced by her cultural immersion camp experience.

The journey from Melbourne to the Northern Territory was a familiar one for Claire, who learned first-hand about Aboriginal culture, community values and health through her experience working in a health centre during her time on Groote Eylandt as a JFPP participant. Despite her prior experience with the Territory’s Aboriginal culture, Claire said she found new opportunities to engage in cultural activities and learning experiences on country at the cultural immersion camp, this year run in conjunction with traditional owners of Kakadu’s Jim Jim region.

The camp started with Murumburr clan leader, Mandy Muir, leading Claire and her fellow campers in a traditional Welcome to Country ceremony, which involved spraying the visitors with water collected from a nearby river whilst speaking to her ancestors in her clan’s language.

“Being part of a ceremony like this was something I had not had the opportunity to experience before,” Claire said. “It made me feel so comfortable knowing Mandy and her family had welcomed us to their land, with which they have such a strong connection.”

Claire said her trip highlight was seeing amazing landscapes, rock formations and sacred Aboriginal sites, and gaining an understanding of the connection between Aboriginal people and their land.

“Sitting in the beautiful sunlight in such amazing places and hearing stories from the local clans passed down from generation to generation was an invaluable and unforgettable experience.”

Claire Demeo“We had the chance to cook bush tucker, such as kangaroo tail, which was my favourite because I put so much effort into preparing and cooking it.”

Along with lessons in weaving, kinship systems, cultural safety and traditional medicines, the participants also visited the nearby Gunbalanya Health Clinic, exposing them to the challenges faced in remote Aboriginal health.

“These day trips allowed for great discussion of the incredible positives of Aboriginal culture, the current challenges facing Indigenous people, and of traditional and modern life,” Claire said.

“These chats were one of my favourite parts of the camp, as speaking to Mandy and the NTGPE Cultural Educators was so enjoyable and insightful.”

“This trust, respect and kindness to open up their lives as Mandy did was such a privilege and I cannot thank her enough for taking the time to give us an insight into her life and the life of her clan,” Claire said.

“The cultural immersion camps are a fantastic opportunity for current and future doctors to gain a better understanding of Aboriginal culture, so that we can better serve First Nations people now and in the future.”

If you’re are a medical student who’s interested in joining an NTGPE Cultural Immersion Camp, please register your interest with our Cultural Education team at ntgpe.cee@ntgpe.org

Claire Demeo