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Staff Spotlight - Bonny Cumming Program Manager

Left to right:  Tony Gunanganuwuy, Bonny Cumming, Virginia Barrat and Jan Allen

Our Progam Manager Bonny Cumming volunteered as a vet in 2008.  She became a keen supporter and joined our staff as a coorindator for the Animal Management Worker Program in 2013. She shares her insights about the experience of working in remote communities.

I work for AMRRIC as a program manager and all-rounder.  As a coordinator for the Animal Management Worker program I spent 9 months travelling from Darwin to Arnhemland, training Animal Management Workers.  When the AMW Program finished in 2014 I stepped into different roles, developing policies and working with partner organisations to broaden AMRRIC’s reach.

I came to AMRRIC because they do such important work that can be otherwise overlooked.  The interconnectedness of human, animal and environmental health is overwhelmingly evident in remote Indigenous communities.  To improve health and wellbeing in any of these realms requires considered, culturally appropriate solutions that recognise and address this interconnectedness.  AMRRIC’s One Health focus really resonates with my personal philosophies.

What do you enjoy most about working for AMRRIC?  

Working for AMRRIC has afforded me the most extraordinary privileges that many Australians from mainstream culture don’t get the chance to experience. Travelling to incredibly remote places where the beauty of the landscape can take your breath away. Learning about people’s connection to the land, their family and their ancestors, experiencing a culture that despite seemingly insurmountable challenges is still alive and strong.  Working for an organisation with a genuine purpose, making real change where it’s needed.

What has been your most inspiring moment in your work with AMRRIC? 

Whilst only one of many inspiring moments in my work with AMRRIC, seeing the pride in the faces of Animal Management Workers who are proud to be delivering a service to their community is hard to beat.

What is the most challenging aspect of your work? 

Overcoming culture shock is always a challenge when working in a culture that isn’t your own.  It’s important to be able to make objective assessments about your own judgements and assumptions, and stay open to new experiences and ways of thinking.

The social challenges facing remote communities are also very difficult to reconcile. Poverty, overcrowding, poor health and limited literacy and numeracy are all too common in remote Indigenous communities and play a factor in all aspects of community life.

How do you balance remote work and life’s other commitments?

Frequent travel to remote communities can really put a strain on your physical and mental health, as well as your social life.  It’s really important to recognise the potential for burn out when working in remote communities, and take measures to look after yourself.  You’re of no use to anyone if you are not coping.  It’s really useful to have a team of people behind you that understand and can appreciate what you’re going through.  I’m very grateful for the team at AMRRIC who have such a wealth of experiences working in remote communities and make a great sounding board.

What have you learned from working at AMRRIC?

In mainstream culture, identity is strongly connected to professional life.  Spending time in Yolngu communities of East Arnhem land has been extremely thought provoking; it is  clear that in Yolngu society (as in most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities), identity has little to do with profession, but rather is established by family, connection to land, kinship and ceremony.  Working with Yolngu communities has made me reconsider my own identity.  When I now meet someone, rather than jumping to the default ‘So what do you do?’ line of questioning, I try to get a broader picture by asking about that person’s connection to home, family or purpose.

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