Nicola Louise Barker is a Ngemba Murriwarri woman from Brewarrina, far west New South Wales, studying social work at the Australian Catholic University. “I am a strong, proud Aboriginal woman from my community; I represent my family and my country. My family and community are the most important things in my life. So I feel it is my duty to give back to my community in a big way”. Nicola also comes from a family of social workers; both her parents worked as social workers in far west NSW.
“I chose social work as I have endured a number of the inequalities and challenges people living in rural and remote communities face every day. For example, my mother fell sick when I was three years old. She was moved six hours away to Dubbo, as there was no available healthcare centre to access the care she needed. Within ten days of my mother becoming sick, she passed away. She passed so suddenly that many of my family did not get to see her as she was so far away.”
“I aim to commit my life to making a change and promoting the need for appropriate health care in small communities. I want to make a difference to communities like mine so that they can access the appropriate health care on or closer to homelands.”
“I know how important it is for people living in small communities to access allied health. For example, I have heart disease, and I manage it with regular appointments to a cardiologist specialist every three weeks. However, people living in communities do not have access to important allied health services such as dentistry, occupational therapy, dieticians, which require people to travel a great distance to get this care and regular appointments. Without this access, it could lead to chronic disease and have future impacts on health and wellbeing”.
Nicola struggled in high school, where she found it difficult to find enjoyment in subjects that weren’t relevant to what she wanted to learn. Nicola was also only one of three Aboriginal students in her graduating high school class. Yet, despite the challenges, Nicola persisted with her studies. “I knew that I needed to continue with school so that I could try to get from one University to another, where I knew I wanted to study a degree in Health Science.
“I found the support of my community and family got me through high school. During my HSC, I worked two jobs and supported my family. I was overwhelmed with trying to find balance. I failed my HSC, but this did not deter me from working hard to get to University. After I had finished Year 12, I took six months off to work to save for Uni. I moved to Canberra and began my university life completing a bridging course to gain entry into my Health Science degree.”
“Moving away from my family to study has been my most difficult challenge. I am the second eldest of eight children, and I struggled immensely with leaving my siblings and dad. However, my dad reassures me every time I call home, “you had to leave and for a reason, a good reason, when you finish you will come home and be with your family again, you just have to finish, and then you will be home”.
“I think any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person that leaves their families, community and homelands to better their opportunities for education or work will find it a challenge. We just have to remember we need University to go home and give back. I think it is important that people from rural and remote areas that need to relocate for study know that Australia needs educated Blackfullas in the community to make a change and start that conversation that will result in supporting our peoples.”
As a student member of IAHA, Nicola believes IAHA has played a significant role in supporting her journey. “I was invited to the IAHA student leadership workshop in Alice Springs at the start of 2015. This workshop inspired me to reach my goal of becoming an accredited Social Worker. At the time, I felt awkward about being only 1 of 2 Aboriginal social work stUniversitymy University, which had around 1000 students on campus. However, arriving in Alice Springs and meeting all these other amazing, committed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health students and graduates made me feel like I wasn’t alone. In addition, I have made really good friends from the workshop that I continue to stay in touch with and catch up with.”
For those considering a career in allied health, Nicola says, “If you want to make a difference in your community regardless of your age, I feel social work is a great avenue. Studying social work will grow you as a person in developing the skills you will need to support your communities. It is never too early or late to start studying and gain a qualification.”
In the future, after completing her degree, Nicola says, “I will return to my community or a rural or remote community as a social worker employed in a health care centre to support individuals and their families with Mental Health. Mental health affects our community at extremely alarming rates compared to other groups in Australia. My passion is to support small communities where access to appropriate healthcare is not available.”