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Getting to know… Roxanne McMurray of Leichhardt Women’s Community Health Centre

Leichhardt Women’s Community Health Centre provides low-cost and affordable medical, allied and complementary health care and education to improve women’s health. Being non-government and not for profit, many of our services are funded through NSW Health and some services are fee based. / facebook/lwchc / twitter @lwchc
Tell us about yourself
I have lived in the Inner West for the past 12 years, having come over from the lower north shore but I’m actually fifth generation Inner West. My three times great grandmother emigrated from Scotland in the 1850s and lived in Adolphus, Darling and Waterview Streets. I love the synchronicity that I live just down the road from where she lived and walked. I’ve worked at Leichhardt Women’s Community Health Centre for 18 years and the last 10 has been as Manager. I’ve been on the Board of Detour House and The Girls Refuge for the past six years and in 2014 I formed SOS Women’s Services with a group of local women to advocate (successfully) against the closure of the women’s and girls’ refuges in the inner city. My background is in communications, strategic planning and health management.
I live in Balmain with my husband Jamie and our dog Elsie who is a feisty and independent Shih Tzu-Maltese who, like a lot of Inner West dogs, believes she’s a 6kg person in a fur coat.
Tell us about Leichhardt Women’s Community Health Centre
Leichhardt Women’s was the first women’s health centre to be established in Australia. It opened in 1974 on International Women’s Day after concerted lobbying by a group of Sydney women who were involved in the then Women’s Movement.
At the time in the 1970’s, health services tended to be delivered by men and were following a particularly medical model. There was groundswell of opinion from women that they wanted a more holistic type of healthcare and they wanted healthcare for women by women. So the centre was set up with that in mind. All these years later, 42 years to be exact, the centre has 20 staff and is providing multidisciplinary women’s healthcare to around 4,000 women per year, most of those women live in our local community. The community stretches from the Inner City and Inner West down as far as Lakemba and Punchbowl and up around Concord, a radius of about 126kms. We have 5 clinic locations throughout the Inner West and South West of Sydney and we provide health education across all of those suburbs. We also operate the Women Partners of Bisexual Men Service, which provides counselling and support for women whose male partners are attracted to men. It’s the only government funded service of its kind in Australia.
Our vision is that every woman has the right to affordable and effective healthcare and we do our best to provide that accessibility, no matter what a woman’s circumstances may be.
What services do you provide and who specifically can access them?
We have women’s health GPs and nurse clinics, acupuncture, naturopathy, counselling for relationships including domestic violence and life issues, counselling for women with substance dependency issues and also for women who have survived childhood trauma. We have a women’s health physiotherapist and hope to soon employ a new massage therapist. Most of those services are funded by the NSW Government. All our services are available to local women and some are specifically reserved for women on low incomes.
To add to the suite of services, we have a psychologist, a partnership with Gowland Legal for legal advice, and a drop in arrangement for Indigenous Australian women escaping violence. We provide health education throughout the year and we run a number of groups and talks on a whole range of issues such as meditation, stress management, dance therapy, art therapy, pelvic floor and continence issues.
How does a woman requiring your services first make contact?
We are available by phone or email and a lot of women will phone and they know exactly what they want and the type of practitioner they want to see. Often though, women know they need something but are not completely sure about what that is. They have a chat with us on the phone and we talk with them on what services we could provide or refer them to that would meet their needs.
If a woman requires help for domestic violence issues and if there is urgency we deal with it straight away. If it’s an appointment for a doctor it will depend on how our appointments are going. To get into see the nurse for the first time, you can see them that week but an appointment with one of our doctors might take up to a couple of weeks.
What can they expect when arriving at LWCHC?
Women say that they feel it is a very welcoming and safe environment and a lot of women say that if feels like a home. Every single survey we do, and in our conversations with women, the consistent feedback is about feeling safe and comfortable, and comfortable to talk about their issues.
If a woman is fleeing a domestic violence situation, what other services or associations are you affiliated with that she can gain help with?
We have an extensive network of 200 services. First of all the police in our local community are very responsive and approachable so we would certainly recommend a woman talk with a local domestic violence liaison officer. We have close relationships with the women’s refuges, the courts, legal services and all of the services locally that respond to women experiencing domestic violence.
Dealing with domestic violence can be extremely difficult. Along with fear and stress, women can feel confused and ashamed. It’s important for women to realise it’s not their fault and that taking a step to reach out for help and confide in a service like ours is a big, brave step – and we never take that lightly. All of our staff are skilled and take the time to listen and work out what to do. There can be many parts to the violence, there can be a time when a woman in that situation wonders, and often hopes, her partner will change or she can find a way to cope. There can be a crisis period – physically and/or emotionally – when the woman is looking to leave and is trying to make those arrangements. After the crisis has subsided it can be challenging while she’s trying to process and deal with everything that has happened. We can support women at every step, and we arrange other support services depending on what she needs and wants. We also have healthy relationship groups, which helps women to work out what type of relationship they want and what their values and priorities are.
I understand that the Christmas holiday period can be one of the busiest throughout the year for your services, why is that so?
There are all the pressures we put on ourselves to finish things this year, to start the new year with a clean slate. Sometimes that can mean we’re rushing around trying to wrap everything up, literally. But the biggest issue for a lot of people can be that Christmas is meant to be a happy time, coming together and enjoying each other’s company and for some women it can be a very challenging time when they’re confronted with old hurts or difficult relationships. Things that can be avoided throughout the year can be much harder to avoid at Christmas time. It can have its challenges and it’s a busy time for the centre as a result.
What motivates you to work in this field?
It’s a really interesting role but I think most of all I’ve wanted a job that has some kind of purpose to it. I love the community and in this line of work you see the effect a service can have on people’s lives. I don’t walk around thinking about that every day but it lifts the bar from being a manager anywhere to being a manager in an organisation like this where you are part of change. That for me is really exciting!
Without giving away any confidentiality, what has been the most inspiring journey a woman has taken to better herself that you’ve seen?
There have been so many, but one in particular springs to mind. I hadn’t been at Leichhardt Women’s very long and I was aware of a young woman in her early 20’s who was dealing with a lot of difficult issues from child abuse, and was seeing a few of our practitioners. She was being closely case managed by the Dr and other services who were providing her with an holistic, wrap around model of care. Over the course of 1.5 years I saw this young woman transform. When she first came to us she was suicidal, had attempted suicide, she was thin and was self-harming. Gradually she became more engaged, more interested and more alert to what was happening around her and her personality started to shine through. There was one day where I realised we hadn’t see her for a while, and that was because the appointments needed to be less frequent. After a while, the next time I saw her she had been to university and had a great job in a Government department. She’s still doing very well.
We were able to provide the environment for that change, but she did it herself through sheer willpower and tenacity she broke through her past. We see a lot of that and women are survivors – they just need the right environment to facilitate that change.
If you could change the world, where would you start and why?
I could say I’d rewind a couple of months and Donald Trump wouldn’t be elected, but seriously, thinking even bigger, I think I’d somehow start with convincing all governments to have a common sense and kindness audit and to think differently about how to prevent and solve problems. We are incredibly fortunate to live in Australia and for the most part there are wonderful opportunities available but many of us go along in our lives and only realise how tough things can be when we encounter a serious problem. That’s when people can feel obstacles, and for the most part a lot of those obstacles are unnecessary.
I’m blown away by the generosity and kindness in our local community – if only we could harness that and spread it, think differently about the possibilities in everything and dissolve the obstacles to progress. I really believe every child and adult would have a better chance of a meaningful and fulfilling life if there was a common sense and kind approach.
Favourite spots in Sydney’s Inner West?
Our Place on Darling – the restaurant in Balmain, Pepperseeds in Rozelle and anywhere along the foreshore especially Mort Bay Park, also in Balmain.
Photo: Roxanne, pictured second from left with Jules and Guy Sebastian and Kerri Betteridge at the opening of renovations for Leichhardt Women’s close partner service, The Girls Refuge.
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