Western Desert Nganampa Walytja Palyantjaku Tjutaku Initiative for Dialysis Suport

Seven years ago, artists from Kintore and Kiwirrkura created four large collaborative paintings in support of the Western Desert Dialysis Appeal. These works (a men’s painting collaborative and a women’s from each community) were auctioned off and raised $1 million to support the establishment of a dialysis unit at Kintore.

The benefits of having such a unit available in the sparsely populated Yanangu lands on the border of the Northern Territory and Western Australia were obvious. It allowed people with life-threatening renal disease to receive treatment in their homelands. It alleviated some of the problems inherent in having to travel to towns like Alice Springs, provided comfort to those who were afflicted, reduced the well-documented problems associated with family needing to be far from home in order to be close to ailing kin.

The Kiwirrkura Men’s Painting from the 2000 Western Desert Dialysis Appeal

Now the Western Desert Nganampa Walytja Palyantjaku Tjutaku Aboriginal Corporation wants to take their work a step further by introducing a mobile dialysis unit that can travel the Western Desert lands, from Kiwirrkura to the west, Blackstone to the south, Nyirrpi to the North, and Hermannsburg to the West. 

Again, the benefits are many and obvious. By bringing treatment to the communities, the project can, it is hoped, provide health education in a less threatening and more culturally appropriate manner. It can help preserve in situ cultural transmission by allowing aging patients the opportunity to pass on their knowledge in their own communities, an opportunity too often cut short by the need to relocate to urban areas. The artists of the area are once again ready to participate by creating paintings that can travel with the unit, which again can help to sanction its use and overcome cultural obstacles emplaced by fear, misunderstanding, or lack of knowledge.

The Corporation has created a document which outlines the hope and the scope of the project’s plans. I recently received a copy of this paper from Papunya Tula Artists, and am making it available for downloading here. This is summary of the project’s objectives as stated therein.

Firstly, and most centrally, the mobile dialysis unit will extend WDNWPT’s capacity to return people to country for extended visits and, in doing so, allow them to re-engage as important members of their Western Desert groups and to transfer through language and performance valuable knowledge, stories and rites to those coming up behind them.

Secondly, the mobile dialysis unit will serve an explicit and symbolic educational function, with its kit of human and material resources for building more understanding of the relationship between life history and kidney health for Yanangu and the options available to them for the prevention and management of the disease that threatens their long-term survival.

Our third objective extends beyond our own region and recognizes that chronic renal failure is a problem that is threatening diminishing indigenous communities in other remote regions around Australia and beyond, where lifestyle has rapidly changed, accompanied by poverty and a lack of resources. We are confident that the mobile dialysis unit, as a regional prototype, will encourage and inform similar initiatives for other remote or rural contexts without renal facilities and demonstrate the tangible cultural benefits of returning senior aboriginal people to their traditional lands, communities and culture. We will endeavor to disseminate information at every opportunity, through own presentations at public and professional events, our newsletter and website, and via the distinctive mobile unit itself to visitors in the region. Finally, we will encourage the kind of positive and widespread media reportage that has followed our organization from its inception and allowed us to both share our findings and extend our own frame of reference.

Please help to spread the word by passing the link or the document itself along to anyone who may be interested. Inquiries can be directed to the WDNWPT Manager Sarah Brown.

Sarah Brown <wdnwpt@bigpond.net.au>
PO Box 5060 Alice Springs NT 0871
T. 08 89 532002

Addendum: Thanks to Glenn, a faithful reader from Brisbane, for letting me know that WDNWPT has successfully secured three year funding for the mobile renal unit. Tax-deducatible contributions are welcomed to help with ongoing costs, made to the organization at the address given above.

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