5 November, 2023
Mulungu celebrates 30 years in community
IT started with a simple need – for basic health care in the Mareeba Aboriginal community – and 30 years on, that need is being met thanks to Mulungu Aboriginal Incorporation Primary Health Care Service.
For any health organisation, hitting a 30-year milestone is quite significant according to CEO Gail Wason, who has watched Mulungu evolve and change for 15 years.
She has watched the original vision become a reality, with thousands of patients being seen at the medical centre since it was established.
“It all started with a collective of people coming together with the same common cause. We had our kids coming in and out of hospitals, and the community felt like they were being treated as second-class citizens,” she said.
“They would be going to the hospital and would be waiting with no follow-up, so they got together and rang Wuchopperen and said, ‘hey, we want to a deliver a service here in Mareeba for our community, how do we do this?’.”
Wuchopperen Health Service, an Aboriginal Health Organisation based in Cairns, had been established only 12 years beforehand and was making a positive effect on the Aboriginal community already.
It was the collective efforts of John Grainer, John Wason, Rose Collis, Dorothy Hastie, Thelma McNamara and George Gertz that established Mulungu and built it up to what it is today.
“They governed well in conjunction with Wuchopperen, but then, in their own right, they applied for funding and applied for incorporation and then lobbied for the service to be held in Mareeba,” Ms Wason said.
“They first started in the alleyway behind the Graham Hotel … they first had a room in there and that is all they had and then the doctor used to come up here.
“They then moved across the road to Walsh Street in the little pink house on the corner.
“From there, they got more funding to buy property in Sutherland Street and modify it to be a clinic, and we started bringing in more patients.”
The organisation bought on several healthcare workers as they continued to expand, with their very first one still employed with them to this day.
Today, Mulungu operates out of its facility on Walsh Street next to the IGA and also has a clinic in Atherton, which was opened in 2021.
Their dental clinic in Atherton has some of the best dental equipment in Australia, with state of the art technology helping Aboriginal locals keep their pearly whites shining.
“Dental costs a lot of money for resources and we have the latest technology and we bought that technology before it even hit Australia,” Ms Wason said.
“Aboriginal people here do not have good oral health and that is what we want to overcome, so we want to be able to provide a free service to those who need it most.”
Corporate services manager Samanthia Dooley said having the dental clinic also worked hand in hand with all the other services the clinic provided, benefitting the overall health of Aboriginal people in the community.
“It all works side by side I guess, with other health because if you have bad teeth, you can also get chronic diseases and it affects your mental health and confidence – so it’s holistic,” she said.
The staff has increased from 22 members to almost 120 members over the past 30 years, with Ms Wason highlighting the importance of “growing” local people within the company.
“We love growing local people, and I think providing a dedicated, caring service to Mareeba shows that because we see the babies that came in here now 30 years old,” she said.
“It is all about people from the heart.
“We are still growing people and we know there is a lot of issues to work on, I guess – a lot of healing still has to happen.
“We see people in the park drinking, we see all these issues, and we want healing, and we want to be able to heal them and help them become good citizens, all for the better.”
To celebrate their major milestone, Mulungu is hosting a ball at St Stephens Catholic College’s Holy Spirit Centre, with tickets already sold out.
They hope to come together and look back on their biggest highlights and look into the future of the service.