Nurturing community and culture

One student, one alumnus. Both with a passion for health and care in their community. Here we share their stories.

Despite coming from diverse backgrounds with a range of experiences, Trinity Peachey and Jason Coombes are united by their commitment to careers in health and science, which is firm alongside their connection to Country and heritage.

Trinity Peachey's decision to study Biomedical Science was underpinned by her ambition to go into cancer research or work in a diagnostic centre.

Swapping Shepparton for the city

Moving from Shepparton to Melbourne for study was a life-long dream for first-year Bachelor of Biomedical Science student Trinity Peachey.

Peachey, who grew up in the north eastern Victorian town, population 130,000, said orientation programs run by the Ngarara Willim Centre helped ease her transition to tertiary studies

“I always found them very kind and helpful especially through the experiences I’ve had with Centre via school trips and Indigenous camps,” she said.

“With Ngarara Willim’s help, I’ve felt really welcomed at RMIT. I feel like I belong here now.”

Ngarara Willim provide specialist services and support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples prior to application and throughout their journey at RMIT, to reach their potential through a range of academic, cultural and social programs.

Despite some initial nerves, Peachey said it had been fun living in the city and she was surprised how easy it had been to make friends at university, especially in lectures.

“Normally I’d feel very self-conscious, but here I can express myself more freely compared to a small town like Shepparton,” she said.

Peachey said her culture was very important to her, and she was excited to meet more people and share their different cultures with each other.

“In Shepparton, I was surrounded by Yorta Yorta culture and that’s not really my own, my heritage is from South Australia,” she said.

“My mum and her dad didn’t get to experience their culture as much as they should have, so I want to experience it and care for it and bring it back to our family.”

Her decision to study Biomedical Science was underpinned by her ambition to go into cancer research or work in a diagnostic centre.

“Cancer runs in my family and has affected a lot of people I know – it can have really devastating effects on people,” she said.

“I want to do something, whether it’s help research for a new cure or help families before it’s too late.”

Keeping it real; keeping it black

For Jason Coombes, studying at RMIT was the start of a new career.

Coombes, a Gurnai-Kurnai man from Lake Tyers Aboriginal Trust at Lake Tyers in far eastern Victoria, enrolled at RMIT after a 15-year career that took him all over the world as one of the first Aboriginal Qantas long-haul flight attendants.

Driven by a sense of duty to give back to Aboriginal communities, he completed a Bachelor of Nursing as a mature age student and was the only Indigenous nurse in a class of 350 students.

“I first chose RMIT because it was an easy pathway, but in hindsight I’m glad -  it was the best university I could have chosen. RMIT is very culturally safe and appropriate,” Coombes said.

He went on to complete a cadetship at St Vincent’s Hospital, worked at the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service and as a Clinical Nurse Consultant at Aurukun in far north Queensland, and was the 2018 recipient of the Sally Goold award.

The award recognises a member of the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives (CATSINaM) who demonstrates excellence in the nursing or midwifery profession.

Jason Coombes was the 2018 recipient of the Sally Goold award.

Coombes, a long-standing member of CATSINaM and board member since 2017, spoke highly of the representative body and said it was an honour to be recognised.

Coombes said the first time he realised he was a role model was at a clinical placement at a regional school, when the principal turned to him and told him kids would look up to him.

“I was quite surprised, it’s pretty daunting to think of yourself as a role model, but it’s an honour to be put into that category,” he said, an attitude true to his signature motto: “Keeping it real and keeping it black.”

Coombes has worked with RMIT as an alumnus, and on Indigenous clinical and cultural placements with students, and gave his advice to young Aboriginal people wanting to follow his footsteps.

“Keep at it, it’s not easy. Tap into the resources available, like the Ngarara Willim Centre, CATSINaM, and mentor programs,” he said.

Coombes currently works as a remote area nurse at Oak Valley, a remote Aboriginal community in South Australia, on Maralinga Tjarutja Lands, and  wants to keep working as a nurse in regional communities.

“My dream is for there to be a nurse and midwife in every Aboriginal community in this country. That is how we close the gap,” he said.

He plans to return to study a Master and PhD at RMIT strengthen his position as an advocate for holistic health and care in Aboriginal communities.

“It’s hard to have a strong voice as an Indigenous nurse - no one is listening. I feel I need to get into a power position and make policy makers listen,” he said.

 

Story: Jasmijn van Houten

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