Remote tales

There are PSA members working in all corners of the country but we tracked down two of our most far-flung members to ask them about their working lives in the top of the north and the bottom of the south.

Te hapua croppedTop of the north

Jenny Subritzky has come to expect the unexpected working as a dental therapist in the remote Far North – and it’s what she loves.

“It’s not everyone who can look up and see a horse poking its head through the window of your office as you work,” she laughs.

Jenny works for the Northland District Health Board providing mobile dental services to schools and communities along the 120 kilometre stretch between Kaitaia and Te Hapua, not far from Cape Reinga.

Jenny has been a dental therapist – or what she says used to be known as dental nurse – for 48 years.  She returned to the north, where she grew up, in 1994 after living and working in Auckland for 25 years.  She still wishes she had returned earlier.

The communities Jenny visits are small and well off the beaten track, which is what defines her job.

“I love it.  The people embrace you and really look after you because they don’t see many services which actually come to them.  You get to know people in a different way and they often talk to you about all sorts of things and problems which actually have nothing to do with your job.”

It’s those aspects of her work which she knows she would never get in a more urban environment or clinic.

“At Te Hapua for example we park up beside the kohanga and become part of everything going on in the community.  You get to know Nana right through to the baby who has just been born and you end up treating several generations of children.”

Remoteness though does bring distance, which in turn means a lot of travel.

Jenny lives in Houhora and commutes home each day from wherever the mobile clinic is based at the time.  That can mean driving well over 100 kilometres a day.

“There is a lot of travel but you get used to it,” she says.

There are other challenges as well.

Working so far away from main centres means professional support isn’t so readily or immediately available.

“You can also feel a bit like a country bumpkin when you go to a conference or something because you’ve been a bit isolated and come from somewhere totally different,” Jenny adds.

Organising your personal life also takes a little more thought.

“When I’m way up north there are no banks or shops so it can be difficult to do those normal sorts of things that many people can just pop out and do in their lunchtime.  I have to schedule appointments carefully and sometimes actually have to take a day off to go see the bank or the doctor.”

As one of the PSA’s most northernmost and long-serving members – Jenny loves her remote patch and wouldn’t have it any other way.


D ChittendenBottom of the south

Dale Chittenden has just had a very dramatic reminder of the challenges of living and working in one of the country’s most remote locations.

Dale works for the Department of Conservation on Stewart Island where he is the Programme Manager Visitor and Historic Assets Southern Island Area.

Last month his wife, who was eight months pregnant, suffered complications and had to be medi-vaced off the island twice.  After the second incident she ended up staying in Invercargill Hospital and Dale returned home.  Suddenly he got a call out of the blue telling him the baby had to be delivered immediately and he ended up missing the birth of his fourth son.

Dale is philosophical though, saying “it’s part of the risk you take living somewhere like Stewart Island I guess”.

Medical dramas aside, Dale believes he’s lucky to work in a place where he loves to be.  He’s been working on Stewart Island for 13 years after transferring from the Nelson Lakes region.

“I’d always planned to go back to the Nelson Lakes area but things change and I just love it here.  If you’re into the outdoors, then Stewart Island is a mecca for you and being able to work on the island makes it even better.”

The tight community and amazing support is another big attraction for Dale.

“It’s different than working in other places because the community gets behind you not only personally but also with your job because what DOC does is so integral to the island’s environment and culture and whole way of life here.”

Although sometimes Dale says that can have its downsides.

“You can be a target if people aren’t happy with what’s going on in the department.  That can mean being bailed up at the pub or at a barbeque trying to explain or defend what’s going on.”

The rugged weather-beaten environment of Stewart Island brings specific work challenges.   Dale says building tracks and getting equipment to very remote parts of the island, while battling unpredictable weather, can require extra planning and flexibility around work programmes.

His office also has to be a lot more self-managing which in Dale’s view is a big plus, although he does go ‘over to the other’ side regularly to attend meetings with his colleagues in Invercargill.

“Some things aren’t available like dentist and banks so you also have to go across to get things done and we rely on things like online shopping which is delivered by boat,” Dale says. 

Freight charges do push the cost of island life up with items like power and petrol up to five times more expensive than on the mainland.

Dale knows that at some stage he and his family will have to think about leaving the island so the boys can go to secondary school.  He is also a little uncertain about his job with another round of DOC restructuring coming up. 

Whenever that day comes Dale says it will be a very big change – but at the moment island life is still very much the life for him.


This article is from the March 2013 issue of the PSA Journal. You can read back issues of the Journal by clicking here.