The first culturally-appropriate residential aged care facility and future dialysis unit in the Northern Territory’s Nhulunbuy, East Arnhem Land is finally up and running after more than 20 years of Yolngu Elders fighting for its creation.
Developed in consultation with the Yolngu community, Yutjuwala Djiwarr – translated to “Little Heaven” – supports local Indigenous Elders to grow old where they have lived, worked and raised their families to order to keep them connected to country. The facility was constructed to prevent Elders from having to move to cities like Darwin to receive end-of-life care.
An area historically lacking in culturally-sensitive palliative and aged care services, Yutjuwala Djiwarr’s staff and residents have said the facility is a huge asset to the area and the community.
“They miss their family, they die over there [in Darwin], and their family over here in east Arnhem Land they worry, they say, ‘why did they get taken away?’,” Centre Cultural Advisor, Robyn Munuŋgurr, told ABC News.
Every aspect of the 33-bed facility was carefully crafted by the community to be as homely and culturally appropriate as possible. It has airy and sun-filled buildings made of local Gumatj timber, bedrooms with sheltered verandas, a “sorry business space” and a ceremony ground to farewell residents who die.
In order for residents to stay connected to how they live, residents are allowed to have pets, create fires in the spacious outdoor areas and practise bush medicine with native plants and shrubs.
Resident Daisy Gonygulu Burarrwaŋa said Yutjuwala Djiwarr was different from other care facilities she’d been in and that the facility had been looking after residents “really well”.
“For food, clothing, housing, you don’t give us a hard time or tell us off, or anything else. I found it’s really good in my life where I’m staying. It’s really good, you look after us men and women,” she also told ABC News.
While the centre is predominantly for Yolngu Elders, it does accept balanda (non-Indigenous) members of the Nhulunbuy community, with two long-term non-Indigenous residents already living there.
The centre’s official opening is expected to take place later this year.