AITHM James Cook University


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12 November 2019

Gabrielle Sabatino relishes the growing diversity of clients drawn to the “colour-colour” building – the local name for the brightly hued, multi-purpose AITHM Clinical Research and Training Facility on Thursday Island.

The administration and accommodation coordinator is kept on her toes, catering for the escalating number of organisations and government agencies which now view the facility’s multi-media conference venue as an ideal platform to deliver a range of community engagement and local training/education initiatives.

 “We get bookings from everywhere. I really like getting to know the different people who come in,” she said.

Recent clients include Australia’s largest community development program contractor, My Pathway, Axxis Project Training, the Cancer Council, Queensland Health, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Biosecurity Queensland, Indigenous women’s business workshop provider, Murawin Pty Ltd, and JCU’s Capacity Building Program, a pioneering community-based health research initiative.

Demand for the conference space has risen sharply since the building officially opened in November, 2018. But Ms Sabatino has been on board since January last year, when AITHM and JCU researchers first began utilising the $6.36 million facility as a research base for a number of health issues, including infectious, chronic and parasitic diseases, that threaten Torres Strait Islander communities.

Located adjacent to the Thursday Island Torres and Cape Hospital, the facility also boasts teaching and learning amenities for JCU students, including a computer lab, and four apartments for short-term accommodation.

Prior to joining AITHM, Ms Sabatino held an administrative role in QUT’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student support centre (the Oodgeroo Unit), in Brisbane. She is glad her current post also allows her to assist students, “particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders striving to get a degree”.

Her work has personal meaning. She met her husband, a Torres Strait Islander, while he was studying at QUT. After the birth of their first child, they decided to move to the Torres Strait to be closer to his family, who live on Hammond Island, a close neighbour to TI.

“We initially moved to Hammond Island and travelled by dinghy every day to our jobs on TI. It’s about a five-minute ride. But we recently moved to TI,” she said.

Now a mother of two children aged under three, Ms Sabatino has little time for commuting. Apart from organising conference bookings, anticipating client needs and overseeing building maintenance, she also juggles a number of other tasks, including managing accommodation for medical students on the island and organising their rosters at the hospital.

In addition, she is the secretary of the Federation of Rural Australian Medical Educators and personal assistant to JCU Associate Professor Ruth Stewart, a leading figure in the university’s Rural Generalist Education Program, which aims to strengthen health workforces in rural, regional and remote areas.

Work is hectic, but the location is to die for. The conference venue boasts breathtaking sea views – enough to distract even the most conscientious conference participant.

“That is why we have installed a block-out blind – to help people focus on what they are doing, when they need to,” smiled Ms Sabatino.

She is looking forward to sharing that view with more clients, including local residents beginning to appreciate what the dynamic new venue can offer their community.


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