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Purple House

With special guest:

  • Sarah Brown
    … in conversation with Bill Kable

Twenty years ago in Central Australia the Aboriginal people called kidney disease “never return home.”

When kidney transplant is not available survival from end stage renal failure means dialysis where the patient is hooked up to a machine for five hours every second day for the rest of the patient’s life. And if Central Australians can only access the machines in Alice Springs and Darwin then that is where they will spend the rest of their lives.

Twenty years ago the Aboriginal people with this condition were forced into a place where no one spoke their language and they were lonely and homesick. Family, culture and community relationships were suffering.

Then one leader from the tiny community of Kintore 530 km west of Alice Springs decided to take action. This started with a fund raising operation where the Papunya Tula artists held an auction of their work at the Art Gallery of NSW and in one night raised the astonishing figure of over $1m. With the newly raised funds a kidney committee was formed and our guest Sarah Brown was hired as Chief Executive Officer for the fledgling service. This meant starting in 2003 from the corner of her living room to frame a constitution, open a bank account and achieve charity status. They were on their way to establishing the new, Indigenous owned and run, not-for-profit that would shortly become known as Purple House.

Purple House in Alice Springs is not your usual dialysis facility. It is the operational heart of the organisation that makes available a karaoke machine, a pizza oven, a fire pit for cooking kangaroo tail, a washing machine, a hairdresser and lots of chickens. Every week busloads of American tourists visit the house paying $10 for a tour.

But the real secret to Purple House is not the Alice Springs operation but the purple bus, a colourful mobile renal clinic which visits the remote locations to bring dialysis to the people who can access the services where they live. The purple bus has been so successful that the Northern Territory Government has recently provided a second bus so patients can attend funerals or cultural business.

The generous Board of Directors has extended the service to some non-Indigenous patients, most notably actor Jack Thompson who had been diagnosed with end stage renal failure. Jack had worked on a film project in the Northern Territory for over 10 years but his diagnosis would have forced him to abandon this project without the assistance of Purple House. The directors recognised Jack’s lifelong contribution to Aboriginal causes and made available the Purple Truck so the show could go on.

Sarah Brown has lots of stories as you can imagine. She still loves these remote areas and we are privileged to hear about her life bringing hope to the widespread despair. What a success story! Dialysis is now offered at 15 remote locations across three states. And Sarah is the unassuming but dynamic core of this operation. No wonder she is called a Bush Health Hero by one of our major health funds.

Sarah Brown

Sarah Brown describes herself as “chief toenail cutter and chin plucker” at Purple House, the organisation she leads. But to others Sarah is a HESTA Nurse of the year, an Australian Financial Review BOSS true leader, an Australian of the Year nominee and CEO of a Telstra Business of the year. After training and working as a remote area registered nurse Sarah was invited to head up Purple House, a new organisation to provide services to people with kidney disease in remote areas of Australia. This has been an overwhelming success that has remained true to its philosophy of respecting the deep cultural values of her clients.

Song selections by our guest: Under the Milky Way by Jimmy Little & Beds Are Burning by Midnight Oil

Listen Now (mp3)

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