Themes /

Hope for Health

Kama Trudgen

Manna Matters December 2014



I call Dianne Biritjalawuy 'Mother' in the Yolngu kinship system. At the end of 2013 when my Yolngu Mother was gravely ill, out of blind desperation I did the only thing that seemed remotely helpful out of the time, resources and skills that I had … I offered to cook for her. I had no idea that this simple offering would change her life and lead to a chain reaction that is spreading hope across Galiwin’ku, the remote Arnhem Land community where we live. Now, a group of Yolngu women are trying to raise money to undergo training that would allow them to establish a health retreat in Arnhem Land. Let me tell you the story.

Nearly one in two adults in remote indigenous communities like Galwin'ku struggle with chronic disease. Dianne was suffering from serious health issues that left her wheelchair-bound with unstable ischemic heart disease and uncontrolled diabetes. In response to this, I offered to cook for her, so that she could experience healing through wholesome food. 

The experience was incredible! 

Dianne went from being unable to walk short distances, without feeling extremely breathless, to experiencing a new level of energy and vitality. She rapidly lost weight, her blood sugar levels normalised and she was able to walk up hills with ease. Empowered to understand she could transform her own health, she was hungry for more information and tools to continue this new way of living. She was supported with education, cooking lessons and help to access healthy food options not usually available in her remote community. 

Her recovery was so profound that other community members saw it as evidence that nutrition was powerful and effective. This has caused a chain reaction where other community members are now actively seeking out support to see this same turnaround in their own health.

With Dianne, a group of Yolngu ladies from Elcho Island, all suffering from chronic diseases, are now on a quest to improve their own health and turn their community around. Together, we have found that Yolngu who are not taking control of their health do not have:

  • The chance to”experience” what wellness feels like as a result of good nutrition.
  • Access to information about nutrition, communicated in a language and framework that makes sense for them.
  • Existing skills to make healthy food choices, including understanding food labels or how to cook modern foods.
  • Access to a variety of nutritious whole foods.

This is why a healing retreat is required, to build knowledge and skills alongside actual experiences of feeling well as a result of living well. When you have no energy, vitality and strength, it’s incredibly difficult to take on new information about nutrition and lifestyle. It’s also challenging to adopt significant changes if you haven’t yet had an experience of their value. 

A core group of nine women wants to travel to an established health retreat for intensive training. They know they need to start with their own health, in order to be catalysts for healing in their community. They want to create a space in Arnhem Land where a health retreat can be run for the whole community, incorporating Yolngu traditional knowledge with the best that modern nutrition has to offer. 


You can support the Hope for Health project to train indigenous nutrition trainers by donating at: