The inspiring story of a 28-year old woman determined to make a difference.

Vinka Barunga is determined to be the first Aboriginal doctor in her community.

A two-hour drive from Broome is the town of Derby. It’s a large town for the Kimberleys with a population of over 9000 and the two distinct wet and dry seasons which mark out this part of Australia.

It’s from this town that a 28-year woman has come – and now returned. A young woman determined to make her mark. Determined to give back. Determined to make a difference.

From SBS

Vinka Barunga knew from when she was a child running through the streets of Derby that she would be a doctor.

Vinka, who was raised in the Aboriginal community of Mowanjum 10 kms away remembers running half dressed through the town as a child and swimming fearlessly in the crocodile infested waters.

She told Mamamia “I feel really lucky to have grown up in Derby – I was able to have a childhood experience where running around without shoes was a necessity and spending the day in an old dirty was the norm.”

She remembers the health struggles too. The ear infections and watching the ravages of a community struggling the destructive nature of alcohol.

“You grow up in a community where you see domestic violence and you see people drinking and you think that that’s the way of life,” she says.

“Growing up I saw sickness” she told Mamamia “but didn’t fully understand what that meant for my community and my culture. “

“It was also in high school that I began to understand how the history of Australia’s treatment of Indigenous people have impacted health and suffering today.”

Vinka grew up in Derby

Last night she was featured on the SBS program Living Black, Kimberly HealingShe told SBS that ever since her mother bought her a plastic stethoscope she knew.

“I think I was always a little bit medically-inclined,”

“I was always that kid who wanted to put bandaids on and take someone’s temperature when they’re sick.”

Vinka – determined to make a difference.

She was going to be a doctor.

And now this young woman – who studied medicine at the University of Western Australia in Perth is back, back in the town from which she came.


Back to make a difference.

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SBS reports that Derby – where the Aboriginal population is over 4000– has never had a full-time Aboriginal doctor. Many of the patients Vinka treats are family and friends.

The health service where she will be working for the next 12 months caters primarily for Indigenous patients.

SBS cites common ailments include diabetes, kidney disease and heart disease.

The children are ravaged by ear and skin infections, with conditions caused and complicated by substance abuse and poverty.

Vinka told SBS that while students learn about these conditions it is very different treating them.

“We learn about the chronic ear infections in children and hearing problems in later life and mental health issues as a result of forced removal of children and forced removal from country.”

“We learn a lot about Aboriginal health issues and we learn about the really high alcohol and drug use and we learn about the domestic violence,”

“I guess it’s something that everyone can learn in theory, but to go and see it is a completely different story.”

She doesn’t see herself as a role model.

Her aim now is to help fellow Aboriginal young men and women follow their dreams and in turn give the community of Mowanjum a purpose. Though she told Mamamia she does not see herself as a role model.

“I think I am reluctant to say yes I am a role model because my vision of a role model is someone who is accomplished and successful in their field but really role models can be anyone.”

Vinka whose own future is bright remains hopeful that the future for  is Indiginous health is bright too.

“The one think I will quickly say about the future for Indigenous health is that – while today the statistics are bad but Australia is only a very young country and so I am hopeful that the future is not as dark as some may think.”

 You can see Vinka’s story on Living Black: Kimberley Healing tonight at 9PM on NITV.