Paola Nadich

AIDS Council of Central Australia 1993-2010

    I remember being in an ad with my son – who was probably about five or six – and a photo was taken of his hand in my hand together, and then there was this whole hoo-hah because I had on a very masculine watch at the time, so people assumed it was a male’s hand, and then there was a bit of hoo-hah about having a man and a child.

    Interviewed by Panos Couros on 24 February, 2016

    PN    
    I would say the early ’90s I first got involved with the AIDS Council of Central Australia, when it was in Todd Street at Gagliardi’s. That was for a few years, and then I left Alice Springs and I came back to work there in ’99 because I had a job as a youth harm reduction officer, and did that probably for a couple of years. On and off, after that until about 2010. Since then, I’ve not had much involvement.

    PC     
    Okay, so there are a lot of stories in all of those periods, so the first time you were with Phil and Tony?

    PN    
    I was volunteering then around that time, and then I think Phil turned up a bit after that. There was one period there for maybe about a year I was even chair because nobody else would do it.

    PC     
    You did quite a few different roles there?

    PN      
    Yeah, I’ve done a fair bit through the needle and syringe program as youth harm reduction worker, I did a bit around sexual health stuff as a women’s educator, working really closely with Clinic 34 and [Central Australian Aboriginal] Congress.

    PC     
    And how was that work in the community?

    PN      
    Look, I think it was okay. When we did do community stuff, I allowed myself to be directed by Indigenous workers and followed their lead. In some ways it was quite difficult because for a lot of people English was their second, third, fourth language. Sex wasn’t really talked about, but you did the best you could.

    PC     
    So did you mainly work with Aboriginal people?

    PN      
    No, it was pretty mixed, it was across the board. And a lot of stuff also with health workers like nurses and just other organisations.

    PC     
    Were you personally affected by HIV and AIDS in any way?

    PN      
    Not HIV, I’ve got Hep C. I’ve known close friends who are HIV-positive, and I guess it was going through that. Probably the very first person who I met who was HIV-positive was when I was about seventeen at my aunty and uncle’s dinner table. They were very straight, middle class people in Adelaide and their connection with this was around football, but they were very nonjudgmental and accepting people at the same time.

    PC     
    When you were with the Council the first time, what sort of programs were being run?

    PN      
    There was a support worker, there was a needle and syringe program. I guess I remember the people more than the programs, so there were people like Di Lane, Di Lyn. I remember being in an ad with my son – who was probably about five or six – and a photo was taken of his hand in my hand together, and then there was this whole hoo-hah because I had on a very masculine watch at the time, so people assumed it was a male’s hand, and then there was a bit of hoo-hah about having a man and a child.

    PC     
    I’ve heard of Di Lyn and Di Lane...

    PN      
    Di Lyn and Di Lane, Sarena Ruediger. Tony and I have been friends for a very long time, and because I got involved through knowing that he was involved. Alice Springs is a bit like that – it’s not what you know, it’s who you know, and sometimes you don’t even need to know anyone, you just need to have the right personal attitudes. There was that thing of, "It’s not in the Indigenous community, but when it does get in there, it’s going to go like wildfire." And my understanding is we're still saying that, which I think is quite interesting. 

        
    There was a lot of support for the gay community. And then a few more years later, diverse funding to the queer community, generally. The AIDS Council used to be quite strong in that, advocating for and supporting and providing a safe space and organising events.

    PC     
    Can you tell me about some of the events that come to your mind?

    PN      
    There were a few girls around at the time, and we were quite strong in supporting them, and tried to do monthly dances and get performances happening. There was a really young drag performer from Darwin who came down a couple of times, I can’t remember her name. Really skinny, tall, quite amazing.

    PC     
    From the Tiwi Islands?

    PN      
    No, she wasn’t actually Indigenous, it was a non-Indigenous person, Grey. I think that was a really good time. We did things like interviews with CAAMA Radio for one of the World AIDS Day weeks. We got CAAMA to broadcast from the mall, we did an all-day broadcast. People like James Ward were around, and I think even in the earlier days, Dr James Ward was around.

    PC     
    Okay, what was his role?

    PN      
    I think he was doing research at the time, so he was quite closely associated with the Council. Who else? Jim Buckell, I think it was Jim and somebody else who got ACOCA happening in the first place. So they were quite good days when Central Australia had its own AIDS Council that wasn’t attached to the Darwin AIDS Council.

    PC     Were you here when ACOCA fell apart?

    PN      
    It fell apart, yeah, I was around. There seems to have been lots of people going "It should be this and it should be like this". And it’s across the board in organisations, really, and I’d imagine Darwin as well, where people come from somewhere else and go, "We should do it like they do it", and then change everything, try and do that, and then it doesn’t work and then they leave. Then I think the locals get a little bit disillusioned and get a bit burnt out from being the only ones doing it, so then they fall away as well, so then you’ve got nobody. Then you’ve got the department. But I think the department were always
    a bit "Why do we need two AIDS Councils in the NT?" 

    PC     
    There was a bit of a scandal that happened, wasn’t there, where there was someone called Eric. The fraud squad got involved.

    PN      
    Yeah, was it that bad? Yeah, right.

    PN      
    I think he was ex -military. I remember that his
    house burnt down.

    PC     
    Yes, that’s when ACOCA fell apart.

    PN      
    I was involved with the Territory Users Forum, and Charles Roberts was around then, yeah. And Charles Roberts used to be a really strong drug user advocate who was quite loud. So we still had contact with NTAC around that stuff, so when Frank Farmer came down to find a place and to get that all happening, I was in contact with Frank and we sort of did, myself and another person, Jodie Hill Carr, I can’t remember her name, I asked if we thought this was a good place. So I guess in some ways, it was the drug user advocacy that kept their fingers in the connections, really. And then it became a bit more focused around the Hep C program and then NTAHC became the AIDS and Hepatitis Council.

    PC     
    And how did you feel about the integration? Did it
    work in the beginning? 

    PN      
    I think it was a bit mixed, but I think there was also an understanding that something had to happen and if that’s the way it was going to go, then so be it. And Frank [Farmer] was quite good in how he went about it. And I think this place – it’s good to see that it’s still here and it’s still happening here and even since then there have been really sort of highs and lows here.

    PC     
    Any highs that you remember?

    PN      
    Well, me, of course! But I guess for me, it was that time that I was here and we did have a pretty strong Indigenous connection and I did have the sister girls coming here and hanging here quite a bit. I had a couple of young Indigenous workers who were trying to mentor into being educators. And I guess for some of those people, it started them on that journey of knowing that they could have a voice – because they were quite smart young people. And they’ve all dispersed now. Yeah, a young HIV man who I supported who finally passed away, Tristan. That was a pretty sad time because he ended up living in Melbourne in the hospital there away from everyone, away from his family. I think in some ways, he wanted it like that and in other ways, that was sort of difficult for him. That was around the time when the movie that was filmed in Central Australia, Sampson and Delilah came out. Then there was also really low times around that time as well because things were always changing at the Top End – new directors, all again with different ideas of how things should happen down here, or really not even supporting down here at all. Yeah, it got to the point where I was actually made redundant, which is probably why I’ve nothing to do with the whole service for quite a few years because I wasn’t very happy

    with the whole process.

    PC     
    So would you say there was a lack of understanding, where there was a miscommunication?

    PN      
    Yeah, I think so. And not really I guess necessarily including the community in that vision. And there’s been a little bit of forgetting about the old people who put lots and lots of hard work in to this area and this field for a long time. And yes I think you’ve still got to nurture those people – like Tony Hand, for example.

    PC     What do you think your personal achievements were?

    PN      
    Probably the stuff around the Sistergirl support, and I worked fairly hard on advocating for drug users as well. I think that whole community were very comfortable with coming here, and that was a bit of a double-edged sword. Frank was, I think for a lot of us, there was quite a love-hate relationship with him, but I think he did a lot of good work for NTAHC and he provided some sort of consistency because he was there for quite a few years. And he was quite supportive across all the programs – and I think that’s maybe one of the challenges for NTAHC is there are so many different groups in a way that had to be supported and nurtured and that if you’re not the right person, then it can easily just swallow you up and spit you out. It’s good that NTAHC’s still going and it’s good that it’s still got a place in Alice Springs. Maybe one of the highlights, I had a couple of women’s, not retreats, but a couple of communities had a few days women’s programs where it was not just about sexual health, there were sort of things like dietary stuff and diabetes stuff, but we all worked together to deliver those.

    PC     
    And that’s all part of the holistic approach to health?

    PN      
    Yeah, that’s right, I think so too.

    PC     
    And can you think of one favourite moment?

    PN      
    One favourite moment? I think that I was quite proud of the broadcast with CAAMA in the mall and that was just before I left. I thought that was really successful and that had a good thing. That was probably 2009. So we had an all-day broadcast and just kept bringing up issues for HIV and people like James Ward being interviewed. There were a few other people, but I can’t remember who they were. I guess I’m a little bit surprised these days where it doesn’t seem to be quite so much support for the queer community and even though it’s not completely tied in with HIV and Hep C, I guess it’s just that supporting the...

    PC     
    Because you say that about here - Darwin NTAHC works with the Pride Committee really closely.

    PN      
    Well NTAHC down here used to drive the whole Pride stuff and that doesn’t happen anymore.

    PC     
    But do you think that’s also a product of Pride
    actually coming in its own thing?

    PN      
    Possibly, possibly, yeah. And whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, we don’t really know. Whether that came out of, there were actually a couple of people here who just went, "We don’t care if we’re not being supported, we’re doing it, anyway, we’ll do it ourselves".

    PC     
    Okay. Do you have any more to say?

    PN      
    No, that’s fine, that’s good for me.