Ten questions for Robbo aka @BiteTheDust

I drove off the lands on Boxing Day 2015 and stayed a couple of nights with Bob Gosford. For my sins he forced me to answer his 10 question quiz. The original post is here.

My pet hate listed in the quiz has certainly come to prominence following the 4 Corners investigation into the running of Indigenous Corporations. Please watch the show “Ripped Off” if you have not already seen it.

Ten questions for Robbo aka @BiteTheDust

In July 2015, Robbo was named the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia Pharmacist of the Year for 2015. Robbo has worked for the last ten years as a remote pharmacist in the vast Ngaanyatjarra Lands of Western Australia adjoining the NT and South Australian borders and is a tireless advocate for improvements in Aboriginal health.

Robbo, George and Girl outside Wanarn Clinic
Robbo, George and Girl outside Wanarn Clinic

I had a yarn with my good mate Andrew “Robbo” Roberts aka @BiteTheDust over the Christmas break just before he flew out of the country for a few months.

In July 2015, Robbo was named the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia’s Pharmacist of the Year for 2015. Robbo has worked for the last ten years as a remote pharmacist in the vast Ngaanyatjarra Lands of Western Australia adjoining the NT and South Australian borders and is a tireless advocate for improvements in Aboriginal health.

At the time of his induction he said that his:
”… biggest thanks go to the people of the Ngaanyatjarra Lands for welcoming me on to their lands and into their lives for over 10 years. I hope this award increases the recognition of the need for pharmacists to be working as part of the health care team for our remote Indigenous Australians.”

The Northern Myth: Tell readers about yourself in ten words.

Robbo: A ten word biography? Desert, bush, medication, literacy, best-practice, education … Dingo, four-wheel drive.

TNM: What makes you happy?

R: Coming out of the bush and having someone make me a fresh coffee that I haven’t had to make myself.

TNM: What makes you angry?

R: The sheer waste you see and the blame-shifting by whitefellas buggering up indigenous organisations.

TNM: Cats, dogs, both or neither?

R: Dogs. The less said about cats the better.

TNM: Sunday morning music?

R: I don’t really listen to music much but out bush where I am you get the church going or some locals playing music somewhere in the community. There is always music in the bush.

TNM: Your Desert Island disc?

R: There are a few bits of music that I always associate with certain things that happen in the past, so some of the old seventies songs, a bit of old Skyhooks or pretty much anything by Madness …

TNM: Where do we go when we are dead?

R: In the ground.

TNM: What do you sing in the shower?

R: Nothing. I’m not a singing person.

TNM: When did you last break the law?

R: Yesterday when I did a u-bolt outside your place without putting the indicators on (laughs) and usually every time I come into town because out bush you don’t worry about white lines or indicators.

TNM: Top-loader or front-loader?

R: Top-loader – out bush that’s all there is!

TNM: Most treasured possession?

R: Well I couldn’t count Girl (my Dingo dog) as a possession. Can’t really answer that one …

TNM: Pen or pencil?

R: Pen! I love a fountain pen. I’m left-handed and I’m a shocking writer so at least it makes me try and have hand-writing that is legible.

TNM: What are you reading in non-fiction?

R: Not much at the moment, all my stuff is packed up. The last book I was caught reading was just released about the life and works of the artists from Wanarn Aged Care called The Wanarn Painters of Place and Time: Old Age Travels in the Tjukurrpa made with the assistance of the arts centre from Warakuna. Some great old artists from the lands have ended up at the aged care centre, including Dr. Mary McLean who is now a West Australian Living Treasure. She doesn’t paint anymore but she is a renowned artist who lived in Kalgoorlie for a number of years and moved back out to country to stop at the Wanarn Aged Care facility.

TNM: What about fiction?

R: Yeah, I’ve been churning through a lot of books. I didn’t read much for ages but I’ve been reading some nasty and forgettable crime fiction recently. Not much of any substance for a while.

A drive home

Here is an accelerated video of part of my drive home from Warburton to Jameson.
The drive was a few days after some rain so it was very green.

Watch out for the truck

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George Tambassis, Pharmacy Guild President interviews Robbo

If you follow the blog you would know the Pharmacy Guild President, George Tambassis, came and visited me a few weeks ago and he wrote this piece on The Challenges of Bush Pharmacy

As well as that piece George also interviewed me. See the agonising the seven and a half minutes below.

George Tambassis, Pharmacy Guild President interviews Robbo

The challenges of bush pharmacy

A couple of weeks ago I had the Pharmacy Guild of Australia President George Tambassis and the Guild’s Communication Manager Greg Turnbull travel with me in remote Western Australia. Here is George’s view of the trip originally published in the Guild newsletter “Forefront”.

ForefrontIf I had to choose three words to summarise my recent tour of pharmacy services in remote Aboriginal communities in Western Australia, they would be: educational, confronting, and inspiring.

The idea for the four-day tour arose when I bumped into my old university friend Andrew ‘Robbo’ Roberts, at the FIP international pharmacy conference in Thailand in September last year.

Robbo has been a remote pharmacist attached to the Ngaanyatjarra Health Service for the past ten years. The health service, with headquarters in Alice Springs, covers an area the size of Victoria, including 10 clinics equipped with drug rooms. All of the communities are actually in Western Australia, in the remote lands to the west of Alice Springs.

The catchment area includes about 2500 people – 90 per cent Aboriginal. Robbo’s job as a salaried pharmacist is to maintain the medicine stocks across the ten clinics, provide professional pharmacy services directly to patients at the clinics and in homes, and to provide medication continuity across the vast area.

For one thing, this means more driving than I imagined could be inserted into anybody’s workflow! On day one of my tour, Robbo picked me up at Alice Springs Airport, we stopped for a meeting with the CEO of the Health Service, James Lamerton, then drove 924 kilometres to Robbo’s home in the community at Jameson.

One of the key achievements I observed was Robbo’s organisation of the remote clinic medicine facilities – through an ‘imprest’ system he has devised. The purpose of this is to ensure that the medicine stocks at all of the clinics are the same, and fully replenished as needed. The stock comes through bulk supply under Section 100 of the National Health Act – medicines packed and supplied by community pharmacies in Alice Springs and Kalgoorlie.

Near Windborne Rocks

One area of concern for Robbo is the inability of pharmacists to claim Medical Benefits Schedule funds for services within his scope of practice and where no community pharmacy is available, while a nurse delivering the same service can make a claim. This is a vexed and longstanding issue, but I feel it is one that should be addressed in recognition of the primary health care role that can and should be played by pharmacists in remote parts of Australia.

What I saw on this brief visit was quite confronting in terms of living standards and cultural differences. It was a first-hand glimpse of why our society has found it so hard to bridge the gap in morbidity, mortality and education. The Third World conditions in which some people are living in these areas is quite disturbing. Health literacy is very poor and is reflected in adherence rates. I wish to sincerely thank the Ngaanyatjarra health Service for the work it is doing, and for allowing me to visit some of its clinics. I also pay my respects to Robbo for his commitment.

I was pleased to learn that some of the medicine shelving in the clinics was provided with the assistance of the Guild under the Fourth Community Pharmacy Agreement. I believe there is more we can do to assist, and as we work on the shape of the next Pharmacy Agreement we will look for opportunities to assist Aboriginal health, through rural and remote community pharmacies, and through services such as the one that employs Robbo.

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