Julia Hardaker has been working in local ‘welfare’ for many years now. We caught up with her to find out how she has transformed her career from assisting people locally, into helping canines across the country.
How long have you lived in Armidale?
I have called Armidale home for the last 29 years, despite having lived and worked in Afghanistan for 18 months and a few years in the NT. It’s so good to be back.
What are some of the employment positions you have held in Armidale?
My first career was as a registered nurse. I was the Coordinator of the Armidale Women’s Center for 4 years and the Manager of the Armidale Refuge following that.
When did you join AMRRIC (Animal Management in Rural and Remote Indigenous Communities), and why?
After working in Afghanistan, I was really keen to work in remote indigenous communities in our own country. While working in the Southern Barkly communities in the NT, I found that every time we loaded up the troop carrier with all the women and children to go out bush and do bush tucker and bush medicine programs, we were accompanied by many sick and hungry dogs. I learned that despite how things may look on the outside, indigenous people love and treasure their dogs as protectors, hunters and spiritual companions.
I was asked to apply for the job with AMRRIC and was very happy when I was offered the position. At this point, I moved to Darwin to take up the role. I was the only employee and managing the organisation from a home office! We now have a staff of 3, which is about to grow to a staff of 15!
With a background in health and community development and a lot of support from the field of science, researchers, veterinarians and environmental health practitioners, I have been able to build the organisation to one which is recognised nationally and internationally as a best practice model.
Which remote areas do you visit, and exactly how serious are the animal welfare issues?
We are a national organisation working wherever we are invited to work. I have travelled all over the NT remote communities, the Pilbara and Broome regions in WA, communities in QLD and NSW and commencing in the APY lands in SA shortly.
The animal and the welfare issues are often very confronting. Many communities don’t have access to vets, resources, education and awareness programs, pet food or products in the shops. There are few, if any, locally employed and trained animal management workers. This makes it very difficult for many people to look after their dogs, even though they are deeply attached to them.
Many people feel shamed or embarrassed about the state of their animals and feel powerless without resources to do anything about it. Most community houses are unfenced, and dogs are free to roam. This raises a number of issues, including dogs getting hit and injured by cars and people and children becoming vulnerable to pack behaviour resulting in dog bites and injuries.
When the cost of living and travelling in an out of remote communities is so high, it is not surprising that most families will make feeding their children their priority. There is often little money left to feed dogs, so they are often left to fend for themselves, scavenging in garbage bins and out of the local tip for something to eat.
This is also distressing to dog owners. When dogs’ health is poor, they can carry many diseases that can affect children and communities.
Describe some of the dog health programs on offer.
AMRRIC assists shires, Councils and communities to develop animal welfare strategies to deliver dog health programs. We assist by linking AMRRIC affiliated veterinarians to dog health programs. There continues to be very limited funding across Australian remote communities for this vital work. QLD and WA have been more far advanced than the NT for many years. There is a long way to go in improving service provision in remote communities in the NT; the gap has barely begun to be closed.
When programs are funded, reducing the overall population of the dogs and improving their health, with education and through informed consent, is our key objective. Building the capacity of communities and pet owners through AMRRIC training and education programs, we are able to help communities build more sustainable models that local people own and drive.
What’s your typical day like?
When I’m working from my home office in Armidale, I spend many hours at my computer, working by teleconference, email and Skype. It’s occasionally punctuated by trips to Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, dealing with funding issues, meetings, seeking sponsorship and donations. While I work, I often listen to ABC Radio Darwin, so I can keep up with all the local news up there.
In the field we usually start very early, because we are woken by many barking dogs! We usually set up ‘surgery suite’ in the middle of a community. It is important we work in the open, so people are comfortable to come and participate and they’re trustful of the program. We usually operate off anything we can find in the community, such as a door on drums, off the back of the ute, on top of a washing machine, and sometimes on the ground! It is often hot, dusty and very challenging to work under these conditions. There are no vet surgeries with air conditioning!!
We are usually camping in some pretty rough accommodation, and the team are pretty exhausted by 8 or 9pm when we finish.
We hear that you just received a terrific government grant?
We have landed a big grant to employ, train, and mentor 10 Aboriginal animal management workers positioned across 4 NT shires. This project is the first of its kind in the NT and will be undertaken over the next three years.
Our goal is to make sure we demonstrate that local trained people are the key to the delivery of sustainable programs.
Is it difficult commuting from Armidale to the outback?
No, it’s not so hard, except sometimes I wake in the middle of the night and don’t know where I am (and I’m sure it’s not dementia). It gets tiring living out of a suitcase, but I’m not complaining.
I get to enjoy two immensely contrasted worlds. I am living a life beyond my wildest dreams, spending time with incredible people with amazing hearts with a capacity to quickly forgive us ‘white fellas’. They are working hard to make their future better. I feel honoured to be part of that.
Thank you Julia.