I recently spent a week volunteering with the SOS Health Foundation offering podiatry services for palm island residents. Palm Island has a population of approximately 2000 people with a large percentage of indigenous people. The contemporary Aboriginal name for Palm Islanders is ‘Bwgcolman people’ which means ‘many tribes – one people’. Many of today’s community members are descendants of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people forcibly removed to Palm Island from throughout Queensland.
I was happy to offer my podiatry expertise to the locals with the aim to improve the health and wellbeing of Australia’s disadvantaged. The SOS Health Foundation connects Allied Health Professionals with these opportunities. You can read about Jim’s experience volunteering his physio skills last year at Palm Island.
It was a pleasant ferry ride between Townsville and Palm Island that probably didn’t require the travel sickness tablets I took. The smooth passage to the Island was very much like the rest of the trip; filled with easy going people and beautiful surroundings. As the first podiatrist attending the Island with the SOS Foundation, one of my roles was to scope the podiatry needs of the population.
Before visiting Palm Island, my impressions of the Island were based on experiences of other people and information from the media. You may have heard of Palm Island being mentioned in the media recently with a landmark Federal Court case finding the police officers that responded to a 2004 death in custody and subsequent rioting breached the Racial Discrimination Act. From my end of things, I was assured many times that people don’t wear shoes or all they wear are thongs. This was proven wrong when I saw many residents wearing somewhat supportive sandals and enclosed shoes such as runners in the hot environment. Another surprise was when I learnt that some residents like to use natural resources to help smooth their feet.
I wasn’t sent alone on Palm Island, SOS also sent a visiting Speech Pathologist and there is a permanent physiotherapist currently supervising a final year physiotherapy student. This was a great opportunity to collaborate with other professions and form treatment plans for the residents.
As podiatrists already visit the island, my role was to find the gaps and see people who hadn’t been seen. This involved home visits, in clinic consultations and a visit to the local drug and alcohol rehabilitation service. All aspects of podiatry were covered; high risk feet such as diabetes, general footcare, paediatrics and musculoskeletal/biomechanical podiatry. I did a few community talks and walked in the parade for White Ribbon Day.
There was time to squeeze in a quick trip to the beach and attempt spear fishing and also a night at the pub to soak in the sunset. The group was given an island tour and several chats with local community members.
I flew back to Townsville on a light aircraft. Seeing Palm Island and the ocean connecting it to the mainland gave me a beautiful aerial view. My new impression of Palm Island is that it is a visually stunning location with fantastic people that are looking to improve the social, physical and mental wellbeing of residents. Unfortunately, with so many groups that form the Palm Island community, difference of opinion makes progress slow.
Lastly, I would like to express my gratitude to the team at Your Podiatry Canberra and Sport & Spinal Physiotherapy. The crew has been very enthusiastic about my expedition to Palm Island and the business has been consistently dedicated to fundraising for the SOS foundation. See more on our 2016 Work for Significance fundraising day here.