March 12, 2017

The Bodhi Bus (is the best thing ever)

I recently spent a week in Ngukurr. It's the middle of the wet season and road access goes only to Roper Bar Store. After that point, two swollen rivers block the way. I flew into Ngukurr on the mail plane, which was awesome.

But how to get out?

The Bodhi Bus of course! Bodhi Bus provides a twice-weekly bus service between Ngukurr and Katherine, in the wet season as well as the dry. In the wet season, you pay a bit extra and get barged up the Roper River for about an hour and at the remote boat ramp, you are dutifully collected and then arrive safe'n'sound in Katherine via an air-conditioned bus.

Bodhi Bus' wet season drop-offs/pick-ups at Four Mile,
connecting with the barge trip up/down the Roper River.
I promise you, this blogpost is in no way sponsored by Bodhi Bus. I am just a fan. Not only does it service Ngukurr and the communities between there and Katherine, it goes all over the Katherine region - Bulman (incl Beswick), Lajamanu (incl Kalkaringi), Borroloola, Wyndham (incl Timber Creek, Kununurra), Tennant Creek (incl Elliott) and Darwin too (including a stop at Darwin Airport).

Passengers are, I'd say, 95% Aboriginal. On my bus the other day, there were two other munanga on and about 15-20 non-munanga. We all had different reasons to travel. Some got off at Jilkminggan or Mataranka to go home or visit family. One woman with a disability was off to Darwin for a meeting with the Machado Joseph Disease Foundation before going to bible college for study. Others travel to go to appointments in Katherine, return from or go to hospital, attend training, go shopping, or just have a break from community life and/or have a drink or three.

In my experience the drivers are all considerate and flexible. For example, on our trip, we were in no rush and stopped to buy food at Roper Bar Store and at Mataranka. And the passenger with a disability got dropped at her accommodation in Katherine instead of the designated bus stop. It's an impressive service.

But the reason I find all of this so great is because I remember Ngukurr life before the Bodhi Bus existed and can appreciate the difference it makes. I remember the stress that was placed upon individuals and organisations who were travelling between Katherine and Ngukurr and the pressure that was put upon drivers to take extra passengers. For a munanga outsider like me, it was hard to manage - requests for lifts would often start at the start of a week if people knew you were leaving that weekend. And how to figure out priorities? Does so-and-so really need to get to hospital or attend that funeral or are they just keen to get to town to have a drink. This stress was constant. Now that the Bodhi Bus exists, there is less stress for both would-be passengers and for vehicle owners/drivers alike.

However, this post isn't just about me selfishly rejoicing that I'm humbugged less. By now you've probably heard of Social Determinants of Health and know that they're a thing. They determine who is affected by social disadvantage and who gets relegated to the fringes of society. Transportation is a known factor, particularly so for rural and remote people. This is mentioned by the Rural Health Information Hub where they discuss the importance of:
Access to safe and affordable transportation, which can impact both job access and healthcare access. Unsafe transportation, such as vehicles in poor condition, may increase risk of injury.
The safety and risk of injury point is a very important one too as, tragically, everyone in Ngukurr knows multiple people who have died on the Roper Highway over the years.

So thumbs up to the Bodhi Bus. A commercial enterprise that is also (inadvertently or not) a social enterprise, making life in the bush that little bit better and more equitable for some of our most remote and disadvantaged citizens. Keep up the great work!

(Edit/correction: just learned that Bodhi Bus is actually a not-for-profit organisation. Which doesn't make it any less or more great in my eyes)