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11 September, 2015

Aunty Mary's Outback trip

Aunty Mary walks with Orientation and Mobility Instructor Gavin Stait

Aboriginal Elder Aunty Mary Hooker is visiting towns in Outback NSW to share her vision loss story and encourage other Indigenous people to take care of their health, as part of a series of workshops run by Guide Dogs NSW/ACT.

Aunty Mary, who is a Bundjalung woman, lost her sight to diabetes, and through the free orientation and mobility services offered by Guide Dogs she has regained her independence.

She is now part of a special Guide Dogs NSW/ACT initiative called the Aunty Mary Program.

"I want to encourage more Aboriginal people to listen to their doctor or nurse regarding their diabetes or other health issues, because if they don't listen they could end up like me," Aunty Mary said. "I want people to see first-hand the result of not looking after yourself and understand that eating well and drinking in moderation is important."

Aunty Mary will be accompanied on her road trip by 'Gulliver', the world's biggest Guide Dog, who will wear a giant 5.5 metre scarf in the colours of the Aboriginal flag, which she spent many hours making.

As a keen knitter and painter, she will also speak at the workshop to those who may be experiencing vision loss. "I want people to see how I am still productive despite my vision loss."

"Guide Dogs came to my home to teach me cane training. They taught me how to get to the shops, cross the road safely and move around my community on my own. I wouldn't have gained my confidence without the free training and support from Guide Dogs NSW/ACT. I now have a cane in Aboriginal colours - it makes me feel proud."

Guide Dogs NSW/ACT's Orientation and Mobility Instructor, Gavin Stait (pictured above with Aunty Mary) said while blindness was a big issue for Aboriginal people, the majority of cases were avoidable.

"Aboriginal adults are six times more likely to be blind than other Australians, yet 94 per cent of vision loss in Indigenous Australians is preventable or treatable ," Mr Stait said.

Thirty-seven per cent of Indigenous adults have diabetes in Australia and 13 per cent have already lost vision .

"We're hoping these workshops will help to reduce these worrying statistics by providing Aboriginal people with eye health advice, and practical solutions if they are having trouble getting around due to vision loss."

Aunty Mary having her eyes checked by an optometrist

Gulliver, a 4.3 metre tall, 690 kilogram fibreglass Guide Dog, will be stationed outside three workshops run by Aunty Mary and Mr Stait. The sessions are open to any member of the community that wishes to attend and will include a morning tea and barbecue lunch.

They will be at:

  • Tuesday, September 22 - 10.30am-2pm: Bourke Aboriginal Medical Service, 61 Oxley Street, Bourke
  • Wednesday, September 23 - 10.30am-2pm: Youth Centre, 57 Bathurst Street, Brewarrina
  • Thursday, September 24 - 10.30am-2pm: Dharriwaa Elders Group, 47 Fox St, Walgett

Aunty Mary said she was looking forward catching up with old friends and meeting new ones during her trip to Outback NSW this month.