Media Statement:

Ancient Art Delivers Modern Health Device

A mix of ancient sand-drawing techniques using fencing wire and modern projection technology are being used to educate Aboriginal people about preventing kidney disease.

The Western Desert Kidney Health Project is a a multidisciplinary team of Aboriginal health, medical and community development workers and artists with the aim of reducing kidney disease and diabetes by 20 per cent in 10 Indigenous communities representing six language groups. The project covers an area about the size of Victoria and populated by almost 4,000 people whose expected life-span is 17 years less than that of non-Aboriginal people. Contributing factors in this reduced life expectancy are kidney disease and diabetes.

The project’s Chief Investigator is respected senior Wongutha woman Annette Stokes of Kalgoorlie-based Rural Clinical School of Western Australia. “One of the communities the project visits is 700 km out in the desert and is one of the Australia’s most isolated communities,” Ms Stokes said. “More than anything people want to understand what is happening to their bodies so they can make real choices. As hunters, they understand anatomy and physiology – they just have to hear the message.”

A pilot study in 2007 in Leonora, Laverton and Mt Margaret helped 25% of overweight community-members to lose weight – and keep it off, as well as improving cholesterol levels, blood pressure and the other risk factors for early death. Two six-tonne ‘healthy lifestyle’ four wheel drive trucks are used to transport the project team. One is a mobile clinic for early detection of disease and chronic disease management, health promotion and evaluation. The other truck transports artists and healthy lifestyle workers who educate the community members about kidney health. Three distinct areas are the the focus each year and the trucks spend from six to 12 weeks on each ‘run’: Salt Lake, Clay Pan and Spinifex.

Sand-drawing was traditionally done by women using a story stick – and more recently, fencing wire – to tell stories. In this project, the drawing is animated and project workers screen the images on the sides of the trucks to describe how to improve diet, increase exercise, and how to manage stress and provide better health outcomes.

The communities involved are: Kurrawang, Coolgardie, Norseman, Menzies/Morapoi, Leonora, Laverton, Mt Margaret, Mulga Queen, Tjuntjunjarra and Coonana.

The Rural Clinical School of Western Australia, which is a collaboration of The University of Western Australia and the University of Notre Dame, Bega Garnbirringu Health Services, the Goldfields Esperance GP Network and Wongutha Birni Aboriginal Corporation are the main contributors to the project and the founding corporate partner is BHP Billiton Nickel West.

Media Contact:

Association Professor Christine Jeffries-Stokes (Rural Clinical School)

High Resolution Images

For permission to use these photographs please contact Associate Professor Christine Jeffries-Stokes ( as the copyright for the images remains with each photographer.