“Minymaku-ipi” (Healthy Breasts)

March 20, 2017

Around 670km south west of Alice Springs via Uluru, and just 7km east of the West Australian border lies the remote indigenous Kaltukatjara community, known otherwise by its European name, Docker River. With just 355 residents, Kaltukatjara is part of the spectacular Petermann Ranges and accessible only by tough, dirt roads; it’s one of Australia’s smallest and most remote towns.

Like many remote communities, it can be difficult for residents to access health care, and for women this means recommended regular breast-screening doesn’t happen as often as it should. As community participation in the service has historically been low, late detection and hence the mortality rate from diseases such as breast cancer has been tragically high.

Enter Katie Michell, Remote Outreach Midwife as part of the Central Australian Remote Health Services. Throughout 2016, Katie worked to gain interest and participation in women’s health initiatives among the ladies in the remote communities throughout the Northern Territory, including Kaltukatjara.

In a program called ‘Keeping Grandmothers Strong and Culture Alive’, Katie and her team put together a series of community social events like morning teas and set about gaining the trust of the older generation to act as an example to younger women.

The team’s first focus was on getting the ladies to agree to visit a free mobile mammogram service. As road access to the town was so difficult, the ladies would need to travel to a centre in order to participate.

Concurrently, Katie and her team had to secure commercial support for the project, or it wouldn’t go ahead. Longitude 131° was the major sponsor, providing the full funds requested for accommodation, transport catering and art supplies. Voyages Indigenous Tourism also supported with discounted accommodation, catering and the expertise of its events team to coordinate.

In October 2016, the culmination of a year’s work came together when a group of ladies from Kaltukatjara travelled by minibus to Yulara, where the bright pink Northern Territory Breast Screen Bus was waiting, ahead of some fun and social, relaxing activities for everyone.

As part of the day’s activities the ladies were encouraged to use art to communicate positive health learnings and messages to the community. They painted colourful, healthy ‘ipi’ (breasts) as they would be for a traditional ‘inma’ ceremonial dance which would be entered in an art competition.

The ‘ipi’ showed healthy breasts for feeding babies and free of cancer. Plaster casts were also made of pregnant tummies, and then painted with babies to convey messages of healthy babies living inside healthy mothers.

Kaltukatjara resident Beverley Bell was judged the winning artist with her beautifully painted healthy ‘ipi’. Longitude 131° Manager Felicity Worthington was present at the art judging and received a painting by artist Glenys James. The other artworks were then gifted to women’s health centres in indigenous communities around the Territory to pass on the positive health messages.