The End of an Era

It has been precisely one week since I completed the last day of my Masters degree and I still can’t reconcile with it, the past five years have been an absolute whirlwind, with my final two years spent living across three states, moving house ten times, and spending countless hours driving up and down the Hume. I’ve learned and experienced so much  it’s hard to believe it’s coming to an end. Luckily I don’t have to start from the beginning, my last blog took you through my first three placements, so I’ll resume the adventure there.

Local Strawberries at Winton Wetlands, Hello Benalla

Benalla: I started my six week community placement at Benalla on October 3rd, this was to be my last “official placement” as completing this allowed me to be assessed as a competent entry level dietitian and marks the end point of the academic journey for most dietitians. My university, however, requires another four week internship in addition to the placements compulsory to become an accredited practicing dietitian in order to obtain enough credit points to complete the degree, which essentially made Benalla placement four of five. Finding accommodation was a real struggle for this one, a previous supervisor at Albury put out a plea to her network and found me a lovely home just minutes walk from the hospital. Benalla is a small town, with a population of under 10,000 but it’s so rich in art and culture that it bustles within its calmness. One thing that shocked me was the street art! The Benalla Wall to Wall street art project rivals any Melbourne laneway providing a gobsmacking amount of astounding quality artworks spread across dozens of buildings in and outside of town. World renowned, but often local artists such as DVATE, RONE, Makatron, Odetith and Adnate have created beautiful, vibrant murals everywhere the eye can see. If that’s not enough, Benalla also hosts the North East Artisans, a collective of local artists with rotating exhibitions. If you’re an arty type looking for a tree change, look no further, Benalla is the place to be.

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Now about the work! After a very brief break my co-student and I met back up here to conduct research and evaluation on the Benalla Grow Your Own Program, an initiative created by an incredible Benalla Health dietitian in collaboration with Beechworth Corrections, and a volunteer from St Vincent De Paul, which aimed to reduce food insecurity in a vulnerable population by installing wicking garden beds installed in their homes. This program tackled several social justice issues in one fell swoop. Aside from the fact the garden beds provided safe, fresh, and delicious fruit, vegetables and herbs for recipients, it also provided the opportunity to learn skills in gardening, and attend social events with other wicking bed recipients. To top it all off, the beds were installed by inmates at Beechworth corrections, giving them the opportunity to learn construction and horticulture skills, keep active, and socialise outside of the prison environment. I was extremely impressed by the reach of the program, and our evaluation showed exceptional levels of success with measurable improvements in food security, and meaningful financial savings for almost all families interviewed.

wicking bed.jpg
A residents wicking garden bed

Aside from the evaluation we completed several group education sessions for people with chronic illnesses and their carers, and probably my favourite part, hosted a few cooking classes in the local neighbourhood house. I could not speak more highly about my time at Benalla Health, the service there is incredible, there is a level of care that perhaps can only be felt in a town so small, everyone is connected and the health service is exceptionally considerate and understanding of hardship, it was a place where I felt my values were not only understood, but passionately shared, it was clear that the priority was making sure residents were safe and cared for, regardless of their means.

It came as no surprise to me when my supervisor popped her head in to tell me that the Benalla Grow Your Own project was selected as a finalist VicHealth’s Promoting Health Equity award. It did surprise me that I was invited to come along! This was an incredible opportunity to be surrounded by people making huge contributions to health promotion across Victoria and I came away from it not only inspired, but with a sense that the world might just be a better place than I sometimes think it is.

Also, we won.

Standing with my amazing supervisor, Kathryn McQualter

By the time the awards rolled around I was already back home in Melbourne undertaking my last placement. I was lucky enough to get a bit more flexibility in where I undertook my this four week internship, despite falling a bit in love with Benalla I was ready to sink my teeth back into Melbourne so contacted every health care organisation in or around towns where I spend a lot of time and was lucky enough to hear back from Carrington Health, which was not only conveniently located mere minutes away from my place of residence, but next door to the Box Hill Central market which is brimming with soooo much delicious food!

Delicious Box Hill

Carrington Health: I had my hands in several baskets over this placement, primarily I was working with a senior health promotion dietitian on another food growers project, where residents were given tools, education, and assistance in digging veggie patches and growing food at home and in a communal garden space. I also worked on developing social inclusion strategies including building social capital and benchmarking initiatives to improve access to services. The culmination of my work at Carrington Health was two events, a cooking class with lots of local kids, and an end of year barbeque for all the food growers involved in our project. With this placement finishing at the end of December it was fantastic to bring everyone together in the middle of all the festivities to enjoy some yummy food and good company.

I found it a bit challenging fitting back into metro life after being rural for the better part of the year, in the city we rely so much more on technology than verbally talking to each other which can sometimes make things less efficient. But so much time is saved due to reduced travel, when you live rural, sometimes you have drive hundreds of kilometers out of your way to attend a meeting or seminar, days are spent getting from A to B, that’s unheard of in the metro area. Adapting to these environments meant I could be more spontaneous on my visits out, but had to be more persistent in ensuring my communications were received and requests acted on. It was also odd being thrown back into the inner surburbs where people are unfamiliar, where they don’t smile or wave when you walk past, or often go out of their way to help you. But I must say, it was amazing being able to walk across the road and have multiple lunch options. You might have noticed I haven’t posted many meals recently and that is honestly because I  haven’t spent a lot of time cooking haha, I’ve been overwhelmed by all of the mouthwatering flavours Melbourne has to offer, I am getting back into it though so stay tuned!

I am very thankful for the opportunities granted to me across all of my placements. I have been warmed by the sheer volume of dedicated health professionals I’ve met, people with a deep care and strong passion for ensuring the best outcomes for the most marginalised populations, people who I share values with and aspire to be like. This is truly the end of an era, I have finally finished my academic journey. The next step is job hunting! Being so late in the year I’ve already hit several road blocks. My academic transcript was not updated before the uni closed which means I need to wait until the new year until I can even begin the process of applying to be an Accredited Practicing Dietitian, then I need to get indemnity insurance and a medicare number too! I can only hope that these processing delays don’t affect my desirability as an employee.

Anyway, wish me luck.

Until next time, take some time out to relax, stay safe, and enjoy everything the festive season has to offer.

Gingerbread made by my lovely sister

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