Report of the 6th National Conference

Day Two - Yarrabah Aboriginal Council Which Way This Job EHW?

Page last updated: 07 July 2008

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Stephen Canendo, Environmental Health Worker

“Thank you, Shane for your introduction. I appreciate that - it is good to know I am so respected in certain areas. I have been sitting listening to my fellow EHWs from all around the country, and it was good to hear about what people are saying, but I sat down and wondered what I am going to talk about. I thought maybe I should talk about some important services – it’s good to deliver those services. However, before I get into this, I would first like to acknowledge the Irukandjii People, as this is their country we walk on, and to also acknowledge the Working Group who invited me to come and speak here today, and you mob. It is good to see people turn up, as that is motivation itself. One man cannot solve things by himself, so it is good to see people.
Description of Yarrabah community where I am currently living:

• DOGIT community approximately 60 klms from Cairns, but in a boat only 12 klms (15 minutes to get there).
• Established in June 1892.
• 60 klms in length, confined within False Cape to the north and Palmers Point to the south.
• Traditional owners of that country are the Gungganji mob.

History and background

• I am currently employed as Environmental Health Worker at Yarrabah.
• Previously I was in charge of hygiene gang (picking up garbage).
• Current duties.
• Place of birth – Gordonvale.
• Cultural background – I am of Aboriginal heritage - my father was born on Hammond Island, and my Mother is from Torres Strait.

What is environmental health?

I’ve been to a lot of conferences and workshops, and one of the famous descriptions of environment is ‘a place, be it man made or natural, where we tend to spend a lot of time’. So I’d like to say my description of an environment is one word – country. As we live there, environmental health can be classed as caring for country.
For EHW to deliver appropriate health delivery is one word – proper.
You need to get the support of your council. Because EH is new on the scene, the more your Council understands, the better your work will be. You must inform the community that you need their input plus their participation, because remember, any plans you bring your people will abide by that, so try to think for the people, by the people. It has to be a team approach, just like last night when Queensland played better as a team - that’s why they won.
You need to get onside with your fellow workers. What if you come in to do the water with your qualifications, yet someone is already in place doing the water. You think about invading that space. At Yarrabah we have an essential services officer who looks after the water, and they know their job well as they have been doing it for so long. I don’t come in and tell them what they should be doing. I adopt a theory of ‘what can I do to help you’? A lot of time they are busy doing manual jobs, so I can help them by doing promotion. Outside organisations will come in, and whether you like it or not, they will think you might not be doing enough in animal control, for example, and they will go over your head. So when they call you to come to the table, you need to be able to talk to them.
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I have a brother younger than me, and he came to me one day and said ‘What does 1+1=? 2? No, 1+1 makes whatever you want it to be. I thought he was talking silly, but he was a community member and I looked for motivation and inspiration. So I sat down and thought, 1+1 +1+1+1=5, but let’s get outside the box. With that 5 you get the support of your council, input of participation by your community members, and you are working with other staff and organisations. That 5 x 1 will equal a better environmental health service that will consist of safe water, good waste management, good animal control, good promotion, healthy community, good housing - see what I mean, so don’t always think 1+1= only 2, as it can equal anything.
My current duties would be what EHW do – housing inspections, no pest control as I don’t have a licence. But what I concentrate on is promotion, because you need to know what your problems are. You need to know about your enemy before you go on fighting - to look at ways to fix them, studying them and getting in there. For example, housing inspection – you must think ‘What does it do’? What do the negative issues do? I believe they affect your mind. There is a thing called mind, body and place. If you have a healthy mind, you will have a healthy place but, for example, if you have a leaking tap it will affect your mind such that you can’t sleep. You don’t worry about it because you think that’s where the EHW comes in. But a lot of problems I have found in my community are small things.

Just like in Paul Kelly’s song Wave Hill ‘from little things big things grow’. You get to little problems early to stop them before they grow. Just as in health promotion. That’s why I concentrate a lot on educating the children - as they are little things and they will grow - and while they are at school you just keep adding to this.
Then one day they might say ‘That man talked to us about EHW. I want to try and do that, too’. That’s leadership. You can lead from the front but you can also lead from the back. You take your turn and lead first, and then you lead from the back. How do you lead from the back? Encourage. Go along, I am there behind you – I am there for support. Speaking of support, I forgot to mention some important people. I forgot to thank my respective partner - family support is all very important. Just think about it - when you go away to study, you are leaving your partner and children behind. Trust is important too. Also support from your fellow practitioners, and your Indigenous zonal EH coordinators, because they are looking after the government, just like us looking after our issues. If I get a problem I call Clayton as he is my contact with the outside world. He’s done the same sort of training as me but he applied for a job with Queensland Health because he knows somebody. Like other zonal health coordinators, they put themselves there as that is where they felt their calling was - because that is where they felt they can be of more assistance.
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If you don’t get the support of your council, who will support you? Who pays you? Outside organisations have limited resources. Community members are a resource that doesn’t cost you anything.
If you have a community of say 3,000 people like we have, and if I can convince them to help, that’s 6000 extra hands – many hands make light work. Maybe we need to introduce a disease – a major outbreak into our communities. That disease I reckon which has been lost, is pride. Pride is infectious, and if we can get our community feeling good about themselves then that is good. Respect - respect will get us a long way. Respect our country, our fellow man and our people. Respect is good.

cultural attachment

Talking about these workshops and travelling here. Let’s think about how can we relate workshops culturally? Our Aboriginal people and Torres Strait people, even if they haven’t been walking about, why did our people hunt for food in canoes? When it was dry and there was no food, if it wasn’t good there, they went somewhere
else. So let’s think about education for the community. That’s when you take that step like TAFE and a bit further to university, but you are always going to come back. Warriors always set out to hunt, so look at yourself as hunters, as warriors who are not bringing tucker back, but you are bring back something else - information. You
are bringing information back, and educating children. When I visit schools and talk about Mr Germ, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island children like to touch, so pat them on the head – praise is good.

I will finish up with this.

I look for motivation. When I feel I am going to chuck it in I look for something that will make me want to keep going. There’s one word us black fellas use, and that is ‘deadly’, which means ‘good’. I have made up seven letters from the word for the following, for a ‘deadly’ EHW

Dedication: To your respective council, your position and to the duties involved.
Enthusiasm: When conducting promotional duties plus also when community residents are reporting problems and concerns.
Adaptability: When attending meetings/workshops/conferences, understand mainstream jargon. Break it down and communicate it on at the community level.
Durability: To possess mental and physical toughness to face any hurdles encountered, as you will take a lot of abuse. Physical toughness means you might have to go and help your fellow workers grab a dog, for example.
Love: As an EHW it is important to not only love the job you’re doing, but display it when working.

Yearning: To seek further qualifications to improve quality of EH service delivery to your respective communities.

It’s not all about me doing my job, but you doing your job in your community.

One bloke yesterday was so nervous when he was talking, but I could see his passion when he was talking as he was doing this for his community. If you have passion about your job, it makes it all worthwhile in the end. Thank you”.

for further information
Stephen Canendo
Yarrabah Aboriginal Council
C/- Post Office, 56 Sawmill Road,Yarrabah, Qld, 4871
Ph: 07 4056 0745 Email:
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