Linking in action: Reba and Retta in Brewarrina

Driving along the dusty highway leading into the NSW Outback towns of Nyngan, Coolabah and finally Brewarrina you can’t help but feel jolted by the dryness of the land. Emus kick up dust as they scurry across parched paddocks to reach a field full of tasty wheat, and wedge tailed eagles fill bright blue roadside skies searching for a meal courtesy of the passing trucks and utes. This is tough country at the best of times, full of resilient people, but the impact of the drought is clearly being felt by all the residents of this uniquely Australian landscape.

Our Outback journey was to meet and share the positive impact our Linkers are having in ‘Bre’, and there are many.

Reba (Wiradjuri/Ngemba/Murrawari) and Retta (Weilwan/Uralarai/ Kamilaroi/Yorta Yorta) are 2 proud Aboriginal women doing great works in their community. From a small office in the main street of town they work with over 140 of their community looking for support to access services in and around Brewarrina. ‘Around’ Brewarrina can mean a trip to Dubbo over 4 hours away. The isolation and difficulty accessing health services often leads to poor health outcomes for the local Aboriginal community, so the support provided by Reba and Retta is a very transformational thing.

Retta told me about linking with a chronically ill 53-year-old woman ‘D’ who was almost bedridden due to her weight and multiple illnesses. The thought of a long trip to Dubbo was daunting. She also has early stage renal failure, severe depression and struggled to leave her home.

Retta’s 1st call was to a service called Murrabinja to register for fuel and accommodation and following extensive conversations assistance was approved. She was able to travel with ‘D’, lend support and advocate in a culturally appropriate way. It made a world of difference.

This relationship was the beginning of many positive changes in ‘D’s health, including losing weight and leading a healthier lifestyle which have all contributed to her feeling more positive and engaged with life. ‘D’ is now often seen around Brewarrina and Retta can see the continued effects of these changes in her life. I had a chance to see ‘D’s house and it was covered in Christmas decorations and clearly much loved. It was obvious she was heading in the right direction.

Both Reba and Retta talked about some of the challenges they face…

Retta: “Being a small remote town with no charitable services or resources we have to travel with our people to accommodate their needs when in hardship. I’ve been working alongside other services in the region for over 12 months now and working in partnership with these services means we’ve been able to manage health difficulties, but also provide welcome charitable and donation gifts for those less fortunate in the community. Particularly around Christmas time.

Last year Bourke Vinnies donated 8 Christmas hampers to our community and with such a high rate of clients this year I’ve been given 30 Christmas hampers and toys to distribute to the elderly and families in need.

These partnerships have also eased the burden for some, with assistance in paying bills and groceries until their next payment.

Having a yarn with Reba and Retta by the famous ‘Brewarrina fish traps’ it’s clear how important maintaining culture and working in culturally appropriate ways is to the Brewarrina community, which they both work hard at achieving. This river town has a complex history, being home to the state heritage listed Brewarrina Aboriginal Mission (Closed in 1965), the first institution formally established by the Aborigines ‘Protection’ Board, and they still navigate through some of the legacy that exists within the community as a result of forced displacement and neglect.

Brewarrina in 2018 still faces many challenges, however Reba and Retta are passionate about being part of positive change within their community.

Through being linked to these stories by Retta and Reba it’s clear that being a Linker in towns like Brewarrina is not only about linking the local community, but also (hopefully) linking people from the city or large regional towns to the stories and battles faced in Outback NSW.

If only ALL Australians could visit Brewarrina.