Northern exposure: The girl next door

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Watson, L 2016, ‘The girl next door’, QAS insight magazine – May 2016, p. 35, <QAS Insight Magazine – May 2016 edition by QAS Media – issuu>.

By Leah Watson

Like many living and working on Thursday Island, Deidree Whap’s story about how she joined QAS 26 years ago is unique.

‘I live next door to the ambulance station and I always watched what they were doing, until one day the superintendent asked me if I wanted to come over and have a look,’ Deidree said.

‘I followed up with the honorary service – they usually have a group of community members come into the station and they get to have a look around the station – and if the superintendent ever needed help, they’d call up and that’s how I started.’

After working as an honorary, Deidree then became a cadet and was eventually admitted into the Indigenous programme with her aunt in 1989.

‘The work has definitely changed a lot since then, which has been good I think,’ she said.

‘We used to drive in an old Toyota as an ambulance and then a Mitsubishi van, and it used to be so cramped.

‘Also, the stretchers were really hard back then and you needed two people to lift it.

‘Back then it was really meant to be a two-person job, whereas now, even with stretchers, you can operate as one person.’

Being self-sufficient on the road is certainly an important part of being an ambulance officer on Thursday Island, but, like OIC David Cameron, Deidree is aware of the strong sense of community.

‘On the mainland, for example, you’d have to ring for a mechanic to come and change a tyre, but here on Thursday Island you have to do it yourself,’ she said.

‘But even when I have gotten a flat, I had people from the community assisting, saying ‘No, Deidree, you can’t do it yourself.’ And I said ‘No, we’re trained to do it ourselves.’’

Likewise, Deidree feels an important connection to Thursday Island.

‘I’ve been to Cairns, I’ve worked in Cairns, but that’s only been if they want relief. Or we go down there to do some training. I mean, I’ve got options but when they started to recruit Indigenous people into the workforce they wanted people to work in their own community and that’s what I’m doing,’ she said.

‘I’ve also worked in Weipa and Bamaga, but I think my heart is here and I need to give back to the community.

‘Just last year, when I got my 25 years, I counted and I’ve worked under one superintendent and 25 OICs.

‘It’s been an interesting journey – QAS has made me the person I am today.’

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