Disease, Death and a Wonderful People In Our Own Backyard

Last year my wife and I were fortunate enough to be invited on a trip over to the Tiwi Islands to be educated on the difficulties Aboriginal communities face in relation to health and wellness. We were joined by Daniel Anderson, an award winning Photo Journalist to capture the trip.

The reason for our visit was we are in the business of helping people change their lives through nutrition, fitness and mindset and I had heard that the Aboriginal communities in Australia faced issues beyond the comprehension of most Australians, so we wanted to see this for ourselves.

We were escorted by two amazing Aboriginal ladies, Helen and Cherise, whose story I would love to share with you one day, who grew up on the Tiwi Islands and whose mother was, at the time, CEO of the Tiwi Islands Regional Council.

Honestly, this was an eye opener. It was beyond my comprehension, I simply did not think this existed in Australia. I have seen war torn countries like Iraq and East Timor, I have been to third world countries both on Operational deployment with the Army and as a tourist, and this was like stepping out of Australia and in to what I can only describe as that.

The first thing I noticed was everyone was just sitting out on the grass…doing nothing, so I asked why. They have no jobs, no work, nothing to do. There are literally no jobs available for them, a few jobs in the council, a few jobs at the art centre and that is about it. This quickly leads to a sense of no purpose for the people and contributes to one of the highest suicide rates IN THE WORLD, with 80% of those suicides in people aged between 10 and 24. The next thing I noticed was the razor wire on every electricity pole. The reason for this is the second most common (behind hanging) method of suicide was electrocution, they would climb the poles and hang on to the wires.

The first place we were shown was the hospital, the busiest place on the island. Chronic disease such as type two diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic lung disease and chronic kidney disease. The Tiwi Islands have some of the highest incidences of these chronic, LIFESTYLE, diseases per capita IN THE WORLD. Renal disease is the most common form of death for the Tiwi people. This can be largely if not solely avoided through good nutrition and fitness.

The next place we went was the ’supermarket’ and ‘general store’. Eating healthy is much harder than eating unhealthy, the main thing I noticed was the amount of tinned and processed food as compared to the amount to fresh and whole foods, it was crazy. The only ‘ready’ options were fried dim sims, chips and ‘brown’ foods. It is not like they can go anywhere else to get food, unless they catch it themselves. They used to be a proud hunting and fishing community, however simply are not fit, strong or motivated enough now to wrestle turtles and dugongs like they were as little as 20 years ago.

The Tiwi people are gifted athletes, for those that know AFL (Aussie Rules Football) some of the games greatest ever past and current players came from here, Michael Long, The Rioli’s, Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti to name a few. AFL is massive in Tiwi, however if you don’t play footy, there is not much else to do.

I would love to build a community centre that allows sports conditioning, group fitness sessions, an open gym, and a ladies only section with a heathy cafe that sold smoothies and a few options for lunch and dinner that could be eaten there or take-away. I would love to see a fully organic vegetable patch and fruit trees, with a chicken coup to have fresh produce. I would love to see this employ the local community and give them goals, aspirations and hope for their people. I would love to personally inspire and educate them on what healthy eating and lifestyle can do for you, and to use Helen and Cherise as a shining example to show them it is possible.

Then, as the word spreads through out the communities, replicate this in other communities as the people of Tiwi truly are wonderful and amazing, they just are finding it difficult to see a way forward and I believe something like this could be the answer. And once we helped them regain their wellness and sense of purpose, they would be fit and well enough to take up their fishing and hunting and between that and their new veggie patch and fruit trees, could sustain a great amount of healthy meals for generations at such a low cost. Contact me if you have a way to help me do this!

Helen, Deana and Cherise on the shores of Tiwi