Closing the Gap – my perspective, past, present and future – by Harry Pitt

The Sunshine Coast certainly knows how to turn it on for locals and visitors.  I consider myself lucky tolive in such a wonderful community. You really don’t have to travel too far to see many beaches, Mountains and National Parks.

Entwined throughout all this is the local Aboriginal Culture, land, stories and lore.  I am a proud Torres Strait Islander living close to my spiritual connection the sea but understand the Sunshine Coast is not my Cultural country.

I work in the Closing the Gap program at Sunshine Coast Medicare Local.  The main aim is to improve access of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders to health services and to improve their health and life expectancy.  How does this reflect on me?

I am often asked the question, “Do you know about health?”  My response is, “I identify as a Torres Strait Islander man and I know I am at increased risk of chronic illness.”  In my personal journey I have seen how the social determinants, the health factors and government acts/policies have influenced my family and my people.  I do not have a clinical background but I have seen more than my fair share of negative health outcomes.

As a Torres Strait Islander man I have seen the pain, the suffering and strong debates about family matters.  At the time I was unaware of the complexity facing my family. Economicstruggles and health issues were common, and chronic illnesses became the norm.  Poor mental health amongst my family was given a conditioning name with terms like “sense off” (Torres Strait Kriol) and be mindful not set them off!  This is where medical intervention would have helped to make us aware of what was really happening.

I had heard many conflicting messages about health care overall, I personally reinforced those stereotypes in turning away from good health but didn’t realise history was another compacting issue that my family faced.  I was naïve and sheltered from the political challenges facing my family at that time which prevented them from accessing health services.

Amongst these things Cultural safety and sensitivity was non-existent.  English for me was a second language. I became a translator for my parents and struggled to grasp the concept of the two cultures I faced growing up; i.e. non-indigenous Culture and Torres Strait Islander Culture.  My personal struggles started early through education and social life.   I now faced a fear of services and providers in my community that was marked negatively amongst the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.

How ironic I am now advocating for health and slowly removing these very barriers my family talked about and healing myself and community along the way.I advocate the Close the Gap program and Cultural Awareness, safety and sensitivity education to help our Aboriginal and Torres Strait IslanderCommunities to negotiate and help remove some of these barriers.

The Closing the Gap team works closely across all health providers, services, and community groups to share the message “your health is important” and “you have a choice”.  The biggest barrier I face in “Closing the Gap” on the front line is that my clients are family or have a connection to my family line.  The personal connection can be spiritually and emotionally draining and taxing as for most providers there is perhaps no connection to patients/clients.  I am a Torres Strait Islander first and foremost and an employee second, so issues facing Community strikes home hard and fast at times. The real tragedy is that my peers in the Torres Strait Islander community of my age bracket who are to be my fellow Elders in community are passing too early.


The light at the end of the tunnel is the National workforce providing programs and the staff who advocate for equality in health for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.  Sunshine Coast Medicare Local is transforming within to embed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Culture, safety and sensitivity across its framework foundations to provide a strong commitment to the community we service.  I am proud to help lead this to improve our systems and delivery along with our team, colleagues and organisation.  I have stated, “in order to provide for our guests, we must get our house in order to ensure they are comfortable and safe.”
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander “health” needs to understand Culture, its safety and sensitivity within its systems to embrace community; when you embrace community, community embraces you.

If you require our services please visit our website http://www.scml.org.au/ and together we can Close the Gap in health inequalities.

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