Linda Pearce at her graduation ceremony last year with daughters Sharona and Shannice.
Linda Pearce has achieved a long-held ambition of hers, completing a Certificate IV in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Primary Health Care Practice last year.
Already a mother of four children, and nan to seven, becoming a qualified Aboriginal health care practitioner continues the arc of Linda’s personal and family story, one that is entwined in the story of GEGAC.
Like all of the Pearce mob, many of whom also work at GEGAC, much of Linda’s childhood was spent in and around GEGAC, playing around the feet of her mother, Marion, who worked in the medical clinic and was one of the central figures in the foundation of the organization back in those early days.
“I remember the friendly atmosphere of the place, it was always an open door,” Linda says. “You didn’t have to be sick to come in, people just would, to be together. It was more like a meeting place.”
But, as well as the fun community spirit, Linda also remembers the more serious conversations that were had, the hardships of the time that the founders of GEGAC were working to overcome.
“I remember the stories they shared with us, of struggles, of troubles with the hospital, of racism.”
That history, being around it as a young person, would shape who she would become.
“I never thought of doing anything other than being involved in health for Aboriginal people,” Linda says.
“I always knew this was the work I was going to do. For me it was about giving back to the community, trying to be a role model for the younger generations coming up.”
Her first role at GEGAC was as a driver – a job her father, Jumbo, had also done.
“I loved it – it was good. You got to engage with community, yarn with people, be helpful.”
In between breaks over the years to raise her children, Linda did a variety of things at GEGAC. But gaining some form of medical qualifications so she could provide direct care to community was an ambition that never left her.
And so when the opportunity came up to do a Certificate IV in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Primary Health Care Practice through VACCHO, she grabbed the chance and ran with it.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Practitioners are registered healthcare practitioners who provide clinical services and patient care with a focus on culturally safe practice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Having more Aboriginal health practitioners typically means more Aboriginal people are likely to access the care and treatment they need.
The 18-month course combined classes and course work at Nowa Nowa with 800 clinical and admin hours here at GEGAC, learning things like basic first aid, how to remove stitches, take blood pressure and do health assessments.
Linda said the experience of studying with other Aboriginal people from across the area was a real positive of the course.
“We all knew each other,” Linda says. “There was a good spirit in the group, we all helped each other.”
Linda said her graduation last year was an emotional moment, both happy and sad.
“I was very proud,” she said. “But, there had also been a lot of sorry business, people passing, at that time. I couldn’t help but think that perhaps if more of our mob would have gotten regular check-ups, things might have been different for some people.”
Linda hopes that having more Aboriginal health practitioners like herself will make mob feel more comfortable getting regular health checks, which will help with prevention and early detection of serious illnesses.
Linda says she is excited to see a new generation of young GEGAC workers following in her footsteps – there are a number of GEGAC staff currently studying the same course and set to graduate later this year.
“There is a positive feeling at GEGAC at the moment,” she says. “I like where we are headed, I feel like we are going forward.”
“When I get home from work, the little grannies grab my lanyard and put it around their necks and say ‘I’m going to work at GEGAC!’ A few years from now, those kids are going to be our future – they are the ones we need to make sure GEGAC keeps serving the community.”