Living a happier life

Monday, 08 July, 2019

Living a happier life

Purple House’s headquarters is the soul of the organisation. Covered in vibrant Indigenous art and featuring a fire pit cooking native food in the backyard, the House emanates warmth and laughter — reflecting its role as a place of healing.

Central Australia has gone from having the worst to the best survival rates for dialysis in Australia, thanks to Purple House. The organisation is having a significant impact on the lives of remote Western Desert Aborigines with renal failure.

Purple House is a network of dialysis, social support services and aged-care services throughout Central Australia and parts of neighbouring Western Australia.

It was founded in response to the growing numbers of Pintupi/Luritja people from the Western Desert being forced to leave their families, country and homes to seek treatment for end-stage renal failure far from home.

With remote Indigenous people in Central Australia up to 30 times more likely to suffer from kidney disease than other Australians, many were dislocated from their country to regional centres such as Alice Springs. With their elders far from home, their communities feared for their future as senior Pintupi were not present to pass on their cultural knowledge.

So they decided to do something about it.

The collaborative women’s painting by Papunya Tula artist that was auctioned at the Art Gallery of NSW in 2000.

Creating their own solution

In 2000, Papunya Tula artists from Walungurru and Kiwirrikurra developed four significant collaborative paintings which, along with a series of other work, were auctioned at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The $1 million raised from the auction facilitated the foundation of the Western Desert Nganampa Walytja Palyantjaku Tjutaku Aboriginal Corporation, which developed a new model of care based around family, country and compassion.

The Corporation’s Indigenous name means ‘making all our families well’, and recognises that people must be able to stay on country, to keep families and culture strong.

Run from its headquarters in a suburban house in Alice Springs, the Corporation rebranded as Purple House in 2018.

Purple House now runs 19 dialysis clinics in remote communities and a mobile dialysis unit called the Purple Truck.

The Purple Truck on the road.

The Purple Truck

For remote communities, there’s nothing quite like the sight of the Purple Truck arriving. It means some of their nearest and dearest are coming home.

Featuring the artwork of Papunya Tula artists and dialysis patients, Maurice Gibson and the late Patrick Tjungurrayi and Ningura Napurrula, it’s a beautiful thing.

The Purple Truck is a self-contained dialysis unit on wheels. Established in 2012 with the help of Medicines Australia, Papunya Tula Artists and Fresenius, it gives patients with end-stage renal failure the chance to return home for family, cultural or “sorry” business.

With two dialysis chairs, the Purple Truck travels to remote communities, ensuring that patients who visit home can be confident they’ll survive the trip.

The Purple Truck’s extraordinary work was recently highlighted in the ABC’s Australian Story program; it was part of a feature on actor and renal failure patient Jack Thompson, who relied on the Truck to undertake dialysis while filming on location in Central Australia.

Actor Jack Thompson with the Purple Truck during the filming of 'High Ground in Arnhem Land'.

Return to country

While the Purple Truck does valuable work, it can only see a limited number of patients. Which means most Indigenous patients come from across the Western Desert into regional centres like Alice Springs for treatment.

In the past, homesick patients would catch a lift home, where they would wait until they got really sick from missing dialysis and would have to be evacuated by the Royal Flying Doctor service back to hospital.

Which is why the Purple House introduced a Return to Country service, offering patients support to get home for short non-dialysis trips and to return to Alice safely for dialysis. Now that patients know they can get home every couple of months, they have something to look forward to and their homesickness is alleviated — better for their wellbeing and their health.

A Purple House volunteer cheers up a patient with a new hair colour.

More than ‘just’ dialysis

In addition to dialysis and safe travel to communities, Purple House offers advocacy, wellbeing activities, health promotion, health education and primary healthcare, aged-care, National Disability Insurance Scheme services, school nutrition programs, volunteer opportunities and a thriving bush medicine enterprise called Bush Balm.

In 2018, after more than a decade of lobbying, dialysis in very remote areas was added to the Medicare Benefits Schedule, providing a stable funding source for the first time and securing the future of Purple House services in remote Australia.

The Directors of Purple House gathered around the fire pit in the House's backyard.

A house of art

Great art is, and has always been, central to Purple House.

Purple House staff member Cherie with patient Sandra.

The House itself is covered in colourful paintings by patients and friends or, in the case of the murals at the front, painted by children of dialysis patients. There are ‘doodle boards’ on the fences where people have made their mark and inside, paintings from their Art Centres adorn the walls.

Purple House was borne from the sale of art, and its logo incorporates elements from the original collaborative women’s painting auctioned in 2000. It references the vision of those Pintupi men and women, which still underpins the organisation’s values today.

Combining the strong colour palette of the original collaborative painting with its signature purple — straight from the walls of Purple House’s suburban headquarters in Alice Springs — the House’s logo represents people coming together at a meeting point, which is exactly what happens at the Purple House each day, where patients, their family and friends gather to laugh, to dance and to live healthier and happier lives.

Dialysis patients and their families singing at Purple House.

Holding a health conference or retreat in Alice Springs? Invite Purple House CEO Sarah Brown to talk about Purple House’s inspirational work. For more information, visit

This Purple House feature was made possible thanks to the Northern Territory Convention Bureau. Contact the team on 1800 656 209 for more information on conducting your conference in the Northern Territory.

Top image: A Purple Truck mural adorns a wall outside the Purple House. All images credit: ©Purple House

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