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A woman in a splashy African print smock dress walks past our mobile medical clinic where we’ve set up outside of Anglicare on a heavy humid morning. 


She slowly reads the side of our van with a furrowed brow, cocks her head, and asks me with a Franco-African lilt, “what’s zis for?”  I explain that Wheels of Wellness offers free –or bulk billed where possible– medical care and we have a nurse, health worker and doctor on site today. We are here to help people who are living rough, I tell her, and to take pressure off the emergency department. She gazes again at the van, clicks her tongue, and declares, “Australia is really great. You care about your people.”


Interestingly, Doctor Amanda Roberts–the creator of Wheels of Wellness (WOW)—also traces her roots to Africa.  Disenchanted by the systemic violence and oppression she witnessed while growing up and working there, Amanda parlayed her way into a position with Australia’s Royal Flying Doctor Service.  She eventually set up her own clinic in Cairns.  It wasn’t until Amanda observed a whole segment of the population falling through the cracks of primary health care and engaging intermittently solely with emergency services that she came up with an alternative to better serve them. She then invented WOW – the only mobile clinic of its kind in Australia.


Having accepted an opportunity to help at WOW, I am now meeting people who would not normally be in my orbit. Mostly they’re men; more than half are Indigenous and a good portion are homeless. Many have mental health issues, and a lot are experiencing the pain and physical problems that come with addiction. The usual suspects are alcohol and ice, but addictions to prescription drugs like Endone and Oxycodone often grip these guys tighter than anything that comes in a bottle or a needle. 

What unites many of the patients is their frustration with or their avoidance of doctor’s offices and clinics.  There’s Paul*, a veteran from the Cape who is surprisingly candid about both his temper and his excessive alcohol consumption who often gets kicked out of facilities.  Sally*, a homeless and obese lady from up the Cape who’s embarrassed to go back to a clinic when she can’t keep herself clean.  And we get visits from Steve, an ice addict who is well-known by exasperated hospital staff, and who often takes a nap beside the van because he knows it’s a relatively safe place to sleep. 

Not surprisingly, what also unites these patients–and those who show up not for treatment but just for chats– is their desire for dignity and the human connection. Richard* comes frequently; he’s an artist who totes both a collection of poetry and a severe bi-polar condition. Martin* is a spritely 91-year-old gentleman who brings me tiny treats and we talk politics.  And my African friend as it turns out, speaks five languages, has eight children and spent a third of her life in a central African refugee camp after escaping the atrocities in her home country of The Congo.  As an immigrant myself, I have to agree with her: Australia is great. And I am proud to be a part of an organisation that is treating people well. 

Written by Jules Steer