The following article was originally published in Primary Health Tasmania’s Primary Health Matters magazine (Issue 9, page 8) on Friday, 9 November 2018, and has been republished here with permission.
LEARNA Langworthy loves living in Cygnet, a small hamlet nestled in the Huon Valley’s apple, cherry and berry district.
But the 31-year-old isn’t blind to her hometown’s shortcomings. “It’s a small community, and at one stage we had three pubs,” she says. “We have three bottle shops now, two pubs, an RSL … the golf club is licensed, the tennis club is licensed. “It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, alcohol is available.”
Tackling alcohol and other drug dependence in her local community is a cause she and her South East Tasmanian Aboriginal Corporation (SETAC) colleagues are devoted to. As part of her role as an Aboriginal alcohol and other drugs worker, Learna has been completing a Certificate IV in Alcohol and Other Drugs through a statewide training program supported by Primary Health Tasmania. The Drug Education Network (DEN) collaborates closely with the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre to deliver the training – known as the wungana makuminya(meaning creating or changing a path) program – across Tasmania. Unveiled in September 2017, the program aims to build the capacity of the local drug and alcohol treatment sector to provide safe and appropriate care to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The training push has helped Learna broaden her professional skill set and carve out a new career path with SETAC after starting out as a disability support worker.
Now, she works in a team made up of SETAC staff, Holyoake and Anglicare counsellors and representatives from the Cygnet Family Practice. “I’m very passionate about my work, and I love to assist people to achieve their goals,” Learna says. So far, she says learning about counselling techniques such as motivational interviewing has helped her refine her understanding of how to empower people struggling with substance dependence. “At the end of the day, it’s about helping them give themselves the answers,” she explains. She’s also relished the opportunity to find out more about brief interventions and the relationship between mental health and substance use.
Learna says the training, which is made possible through an Australian Government funding package in response to National Ice Taskforce recommendations, also covers topics like when different illicit substances arrived in Tasmania. Under the training program, enrolment priority is given to Aboriginal people working in the alcohol and drug sector, and people providing services to Aboriginal people. It’s an approach Learna supports. “If I had the opportunity, I would probably decide to see an Aboriginal person as well, just because they have the knowledge of the culture,” she says, highlighting the importance of culturally appropriate spoken and body language. “I just think it’s important to have Aboriginal-specific training to be able to work with clients who are of Aboriginal descent.” Importantly, going to regular training on Country has allowed her to meet with other local workers from a range of organisations who are completing the course. “I think we all feed off each other – it’s gone really, really well,” she says. And as a single parent to two young daughters, Learna also wouldn’t be able to undertake equivalent training with her own money or without heading over to Melbourne.
Upskilling local workers like Learna is a critical step to addressing substance misuse in Tasmania’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, Primary Health Tasmania’s Mark Broxton says. “This training will help provide a foundation for a sustainable drug and alcohol treatment system into the future,” he says. For Learna, anything that reduces the stigma and judgment of addiction, and encourages people to get help, is welcome. “When you’re in that space, you can feel helpless, guilty and ashamed. “You’re stuck, and you don’t know how to get out. “But it is an achievable goal, and it can be done, with the right help.”