As much as we try so many different strategies, I always do wonder who's out there that we don't yet know. I'm Vanessa Latham. I am a mental health nurse and the manager of the mental health alcohol and other drug team with the Royal Flying Doctor Service here in Broken Hill
When I first started, I was one of two mental health professionals. Now we have a team of over 30. Part of the Bachelor of Nursing we got to come in our third year out here to Broken Hill and it just struck me how quickly we kind of fitted into the community, we were so welcome. Coming back a few years later to live and work I still had connections from my time here as a placement student nurse
So, the well-being place the the idea was to create a really safe welcoming non-clinical space that was easy for people, I suppose, to come in. Here, we offer yoga and meditation, we offer Tai Chi, art classes, we also have an art therapist as part of the team and we have a shed, a workshop so we can do woodwork and things like that
It's an absolute privilege working with people, listening and hearing some of the hardest things they have to live through and just being alongside them and helping them and being there on the other side as well.
Vanessa Latham did her Southern Cross University nursing placement at the Broken Hill Base Hospital and Royal Flying Doctor Service over a decade ago and fell in love with the community and landscape instantly.
"It just struck me how quickly we fitted into the community. Coming back a few years later to live and work, I still had connections from my time here as a placement student nurse,” she said.
Vanessa has called Broken Hill home for eleven years now. She is currently the Mental Health Manager at RFDS Southern Eastern Section, supporting people living with extremely adverse conditions due to lifestyle impacts, geographical isolation, and individual vulnerabilities.
"When I started, there were just two of us, and now there's over thirty,” she said.
The team includes counsellors, psychologists, play therapists, art therapists and mental health nurses, community engagement, lived experience workers and Alcohol and Other Drug (AoD) clinicians.
"Had I not come to Broken Hill on my placement, I probably wouldn’t be here.”
Vanessa has played a crucial role in implementing the ‘wellbeing space’ for the RFDS, a place where anyone can access preventative support and wellbeing services such as yoga, meditation and treatment interventions such as counselling and psychotherapies.
"The wellbeing place is designed so that the minute you walk through the door, it's a really calming, peaceful environment,” she said.
"A lot of the workshops are in partnership with local people, so it allows them to share their skills for the benefit of the community's health and wellbeing.”
Regional and remote communities have access to mental health services at one-fifth the rate of city populations. With this in mind, it’s no secret that Vanessa finds her job very fulfilling.
"The most rewarding part of my job is those one-on-one connections where you can just use yourself to accept them as they are, and in that moment, they show compassion, and I show compassion,” she said. "It's an absolute privilege working with people listening and hearing some of the hardest things they have to live through, and just being alongside them and helping them,” she said.
Despite Vanessa’s extensive career portfolio that has taken her to some of the most remote yet rewarding Australian locations, she still wonders what more she can be doing.
"As much as we try so many different strategies, I always wonder who's out there that we don't yet know,” she said. The wellbeing space is now expanding to a purpose-built facility, and Vanessa will continue through her work to break the stigma of mental health and welcome anyone with open arms.
The Southern Cross University Alumni Network
Alumni Impact Award recipients
Alumnus of the Year
Matthew Hoare’s life-long love of surfing is helping his fellow Australian defence force veterans to find peace. An exercise physiologist and co-founder of the Association of Veteran Surfers (AVS), Matthew is all too aware of the high incidence of mental health issues and suicide among veterans, with AVS striving to be a point understanding, collaboration, enjoyment and, hopefully, progress.
Young Alumnus of the Year
Holly Ahern is a Lismore-based multidisciplinary artist with an interest in textiles, painting and large-scale sculpture. After her public artwork ‘In the Heart’ went viral following flood events in the Northern Rivers in February 2022, Holly used imagery of the sculpture to start a fundraiser for flood-affected artists, raising $20,000 in a matter of days.
International Alumnus of the Year
Said Achmad Kabiru Rafiie
When the Indonesian province of Aceh was hit by a devastating tsunami in 2004, Said, originally from the region, had to do something. After joining Southern Cross to study an MBA, he returned to his hometown in Aceh and launched the Moringa project. Through this initiative, students and local people are becoming entrepreneurs thanks to a local resource: the moringa tree.
Early Career Alumnus of the Year
Since joining global security and aerospace prime Lockheed Martin Australia in 2018, Lizz has supported delivery of a variety of programs, including a portable tactical air defence radar system; portable cabins that provide secure workspaces for ADF personnel supporting F-35 operations; and maintenance and training for the F-35, a fifth-generation supersonic stealth fighter jet.</span >