Sarah hails from England, however migrated to Australia when she was young. While waiting for processing, Sarah and her family spent their first week in a migrant hostel beneath Storey bridge in Brisbane before moving to Maryborough in Queensland, where she would spend her school years. Sarah went on to study nursing in Armidale, in rural NSW, spending her new graduate year at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney before moving to Adelaide.
Sarah was working as community nurse in Adelaide at the Aboriginal Medical Service when she helped set up a health service within a drop in centre for Aboriginal youth. She was 22 at the time, living above a tattoo parlour and studying Aboriginal education when she was offered a job in Alice Springs teaching Aboriginal Health Workers. The job involved driving out to communities to deliver education and workshops, however Sarah didn’t have her licence at the time, so her first trips to these remote places were done with L plates on the car. For the next 10 or so years, Sarah worked as a remote area nurse in central Australia, the Kimberley region, Cape Barren Island and even the Top End spending time in Oenpelli. It was here Sarah found out she was pregnant with her third child. She loved being remote so much that she stayed until she was 36 weeks pregnant, drove to NSW, had the baby, then drove back to Oenpelli just weeks after.
For the past 12 years, Sarah has been working as CEO of The Purple House. The Purple House originated when an Indigenous mob wanted to get their people home for dialysis. As you know, when a person has kidney failure that requires dialysis, it means they will need dialysis three times a week for the rest of their lives. For indigenous people who live in remote communities, this may mean relocating hundreds of kilometres away from their family to a place where they don’t speak the language.
This mob formed and created a board of members. This board is made up of people from remote communities in the NT asked the government for assistance and of course the response was no. But that didn’t stop them. They arranged an art sale in Sydney and made a million dollars. The purple house began with a couple of dialysis machines in Alice Springs and one in Kintore. Since then, it has grown to 22 dialysis machines in 10 locations across remote NT and WA. The Purple House is more than a centre for dialysis. it’s a drop in centre, provides social support, help getting people home, they started a Western desert Dialysis choir. The purple house has given hope to indigenous people and brings a sense of wellness to their lives in a time when they are displaced from their families. ‘When you think about end stage renal failure, you’d think The Purple House is going to be a miserable place but as you can see it’s as if everyone is having a party!’
Sarah was kicking back on Cape Barren Island when she spoke to a worker about how things were going in the early stages. They had an unfilled position for a manager in Alice Springs. Sarah jumped at the chance to get involved as the opportunity to work with these guys to get their people back to community with independent money was too good to go by. Sarah’s job is varied and along the way she has pick up skills such as truck engineering, HR, dealing with , making policies, starting an organisation….the list goes on. To say that Sarah has many skills would be an understatement, and you can see from the respect given to her that she is much more to the organisation. No two days are the same and new challenges arise daily that need to be tackled.
As Sarah said, ‘being a nurse has opened up many opportunities for me’. She has had the opportunity to work as a youth worker, in drug and alcohol, taught Aboriginal health workers and nurses as well as presenting guest lectures for medical students, as a remote area nurse and now, as a manager and CEO of a fantastic organisation. In Sarah’s 26 year (and counting) nursing career, she has worked only about one and a half of those in hospitals, which just goes to show how great your career can be without working in a hospital.
Sarah reflects on her time as a nurse fondly and is particularly happy to have returned to Central Australia. Having spent some time working in ‘nearby’ communities, she sometimes receives a visit from young pimply teenagers she delivered 15 or so years ago. Or there’s the young adults she meets with children, who she once gave baby needles to all those years ago and then there’s the people in the communities like Harts Range, who are still like family to her. Raising 3 children who have spent much of their time in remote communities has given them a strong sense of social justice, Sarah states. She couldn’t imagine another career as interesting as nursing.
It was a great pleasure to have a cuppa with Sarah at the purple house, in the yard, surrounded by chooks and a fire pit for cooking roo tails. It was a place of hustle and bustle inside and a place of peace in the outside garden. Not a bad place to go for dialysis!
Please check out the website below for more info on the Purple House