A Wild Life with Jarrod Wolhunter
It was 2015, and I’d just completed my first semester of a Nursing Bachelor in Regional NSW. Previous to this, I was leading an intrepid lifestyle and moved to Regional New South Wales from, Cairns in Queensland.
It took me the first semester to realise being confined to a country-town for the three-year duration of my degree was not going to be compatible with my desire to explore Australia and experience different cultures.
I’d saved enough money working in bars in addition to the money made hocking my belongings to finance a flight to Darwin, with a couple of weeks of spending money. I planned to find share-house accommodation, and work in healthcare.
After one week living in a Backpackers Hostel on noisy Mitchell Street, I found a place out of the CBD in Casuarina; my housemate would put me in contact with a healthcare agency, and I got my first job as a Wheels on Meals Delivery Driver.
It wasn’t long before the Agency offered me an opportunity to go remote; by remote, I mean 400kms south-west of Darwin, to the isolated Indigenous Community of Wadeye. Here, very little English was spoken by locals.
I didn’t know anything about Wadeye; I knew very little about Darwin. The last time I was in Darwin was after being kicked off a Prawn Trawler for insubordination – but that’s another story. However, I jumped at the opportunity. This was exactly the role I was looking for; to explore a remote place and experience a different culture to my own.
Wadeye, is divided into two camps: Top Camp and Bottom Camp with a Main Street dividing it. The roads are 50 percent dust for 50 percent bitumen. Children punctuate the streets and marauding packs of starving camp dogs patrolling their turf, and viciously protect it.
I was working in the Aged Care Facility as a care provider which involved getting the residents up in the morning, preparing breakfast, and readying them for daily activities. When the residents were occupied by the other staff, I would deliver meals and medications to immobile people in the community. This was a tricky role given the territorial dogs. I’d only be able to complete this duty armed with a cricket stump to fight off said dogs, if they became brazen enough to attack – which many did.
It wasn’t long before I developed friendships in the community. I was looking after the community elders, and providing meals and medications to their family members in the community. On occasion, I’d get a weekend off, and those days would be spent watching the local AFL match or gathering firewood with the more mobile elders who wanted some exercise and a daily outing.
The lines between my actual role and my lifestyle were completed blurred by the end of my time there because I lived in the Aged Facility with the residents.
After a few months, my contract ended, and I went back to Bathurst, NSW, to study internally again. I lasted a few weeks before contacting the agency in search of another contract. This time they sent me to Mornington Island, off the coast of Karumba; Doomadgee being the closest mainland Indigenous community.
I loved this lifestyle. I had my signature hat, backpack and bag that contained all my valuables. It was an adventure at its best, and I was getting paid to do it!
I landed on Mornington, and nobody came to get me. I was stranded at the airport and had no idea where to go or what to do. This would have rattled me in the past but with my previous travelling experiences, I understood that “getting rattled” was a waste of time and energy. I waved down the first person I saw, explained my situation, and they simply contacted my facility for me – and the cavalry arrived to ferry me to my accommodation.
My role was similar on Mornington, and like Wadeye, I’d made friends and connections in the community after a short time, and they would go on to take me on outings to “their country” their specific land that that family had ownership of – on Mornington Island.
I remember one specific day where I jumped into a friend’s 4WD to the other side of Mornington. From there, we travelled to ‘turtle island’ via motorboat and hunted local wildlife. By day’s end, we had caught a turtle, and goanna – enough to feed the family. Any excess catch, like Dugong, for instance, would be circulated through the community via family networks. There was rarely wastage.
This is how I spent the second year of my Nursing Bachelor, caring for my residents by day; studying at night; living amongst the community on my days off. After my time in the communities, I would go on to travel to India and Africa, in my third year of my Bachelor but they’re different stories, again.