Remote Area Nurse: articles

Robyn White

CARER: Yorke Island nurse Robyn White with her dog Coconut

Meet the real RAN

MEET Queensland's real-life remote area nurse.

With her red cattle dog Coconut by her side, Yorke Island nurse Robyn White has plenty in common with the lead character in the new SBS drama.

In fact, Nurse White was one of the inspirations for Susie Porter's character Helen Tremain in the TV series Remote Area Nurse, filmed at Masig Island better known as Yorke a tiny teardrop-shaped coral cay in the far northeast of Torres Strait.

Despite its spectacular tropical setting, the availability of fresh drinking water is a problem. So too are drugs, alcohol and diabetes.

For the past 13 years, Robyn has been the first source of medical treatment for more than 300 locals.

She has soldiered on through two dengue fever outbreaks, countless cases of diabetes and numerous tropical diseases.

"That was pretty horrific," she said of her first brush with dengue fever, a potentially deadly viral disease spread by mosquitoes.

"During the first outbreak I had to go around checking on everyone and deciding whether we needed to fly them out to Thursday Island for treatment.

"All that time I had it as well. I didn't have all the horrible symptoms but I was lethargic. But I still had to get on with the assessments."

RAN is a six-part drama series focusing on the experiences of a white registered nurse living on a remote island in Torres Strait.

It explores the relationships between the islanders and the nurse as well as the cultural, medical and political problems that they face.

Robyn contributed to the authenticity of the $6 million series by spending three months on the set as a medical consultant.

The producers could not have chosen a better, or more experienced, nurse on which to model the lead character.

After training as a nurse in Gisborne, New Zealand, Robyn travelled to Africa, working in war-ravaged Zimbabwe during the 1970s. It was there, while occasionally carrying a gun for protection, that she experienced nursing at its hardest.

After stints in England and back in New Zealand, she moved to Australia and worked at several indigenous communities.

"I've always been interested in remote area nursing," she said.

"I've done a lot of travelling and you learn to deal with all sorts of things from hospitalising people to evacuation.

"There's hardships involved in living here like the inaccessibility and the shortage of good quality food.

"But if you enjoy what you do, you don't have time to miss anything."

Just like the character based on her role, Robyn has been embraced by the islanders.

"Robyn's pretty good," said Yorke Island's Council chairman Don Mosby.

"She's shown professionalism in her work and understands all the cultural protocols which is very important. She's one of the locals."

As far as television dramas go, those who know about life in the Torres Strait reckon RAN's storylines are close to the truth.

The locals stress that the series reflects an amalgam of Torres Strait yarns but not necessarily stories specific to Yorke Island.

"It is dramatised but it does echo a lot of the issues being experienced in the Torres Strait," Robyn said.

"I think the producers have done a good job, they've done a lot of research."

Jason O'Brien, the State Member for Cook, which encompasses Torres Strait, agrees.

"Just last week it was about alcohol and canteens. I know a couple of islands that are struggling with that issue," he said.

"These are peaceful paradises and the job is how to keep them that way."

By Damien Stannard
January 22, 2006
The Sunday Mail