Young Indigenous Paramedic Josh Harmer is one of several staff members who took part in statewide NAIDOC Week activities in July 2022, which recognised the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
If you ask our paramedics what their uniform means to them, there would likely be a general consensus in the responses they give.
Pride, support, care and compassion are some of the words that come to mind. They’re words that resonate with Aboriginal Paramedic Josh Harmer – but for him, the P1 uniform he now wears also represents something else that is particularly close to his heart.
Josh, 27, completed his year-long traineeship with NSW Ambulance in July and has goals – like all of our workforce – but the one that stands out is his desire to inspire more Indigenous Australians to become paramedics.
“As a P1, I would love nothing more than to have Indigenous graduate paramedics alongside me in an ambulance vehicle,” he said. “I feel I have a responsibility, as an Indigenous paramedic, to be a strong role model in my community.
“I remember when I was growing up I had a strong role model in my auntie, who ran an Indigenous cadetship program with Queensland Ambulance Service. Because of her I knew exactly where I wanted to go… some youths unfortunately don’t have that.
“For me, being a positive role model, where they see I’m Indigenous, they see I’ve gone to university and they see I’m working in a uniform… that’s really cool to them. I’ve had some of them ask me,
‘How can I do that?’
“From some of those youths I know in my community, it’s almost like there is a spark in their eyes knowing that they can do this too and pursue a career as a paramedic if they want to.”
And Josh, who belongs to the Bundjalung and Yorta Yorta people, isn’t just one to talk the talk – he has also been walking the walk to promote his identity to colleagues and, in turn, build closer relationships with Indigenous communities.
A timely example of his work was during NAIDOC (National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee) Week, held in July.
During the week, Josh, who works at Pottsville Station, dedicated a lot of his spare time towards participating in NAIDOC events in the wider Tweed area.
Three of those events included a flag-raising ceremony at the Minjungbal Museum & Cultural Centre; a local health and sports expo (which featured organisations such as the Aboriginal Medical Health Centre); and a march followed by a ceremony – both of which also featured Josh’s colleagues Kirsti Denvers and Rachael Burton – celebrating the Bundjalung people from both NSW and QLD.
“NAIDOC Week is an important week to help Close the Gap,” he said. “And within NSW Ambulance it’s not just for Indigenous paramedics to celebrate, it’s for non-Indigenous ones too.
“We know the statistics are written on the wall, whereby health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are completely different to their non-Indigenous counterparts.
“I have that discussion, quite openly, with everyone I work with to give them some insights on how they can become more culturally safe with say, how we refer to Elders. Or it may be misinterpreting some Indigenous patients, who may come across as abrupt but in reality they certainly didn’t intend to be. I’ve had some amazing opportunities where I have been able to inform fellow paramedics of this, to help them build relationships with Indigenous communities.
“I’m excited to see what we, as a service, can do in the next five to 10 years to further Close the Gap.”
Many other NSW Ambulance staff members also participated in NAIDOC Week activities.
Wentworth Ambulance Station represented NSW Ambulance and Heart Yarns at the NAIDOC Week opening ceremony at the Coomealla Health Aboriginal Corporation in Dareton.
Heart Yarns is the NSW Ambulance initiative that aims to share important health knowledge ‘Both Ways’ with Aboriginal Peoples in a culturally safe and appropriate manner.
Other Heart Yarns NAIDOC activities included the Deniliquin Aboriginal Land Council Koori Market where we (NSW Ambulance) engaged with over 300 community members around the Warning Signs of Heart Attack and how to call Triple Zero (000).
In Brewarrina, local paramedics took part in a march and ceremony for NAIDOC Week.
Callista Bryan, NSW Ambulance’s Aboriginal Workforce Engagement Coordinator, praised the efforts of staff who took part in NAIDOC Week activities.
“NAIDOC Week provides our staff with the opportunity to celebrate Aboriginal culture with the wider community,” she said.
“A lot of activities were held this year after COVID19 restrictions were relaxed, and it was fantastic to see our paramedics out and about with their Aboriginal community at local NAIDOC Week events.”