The angel of Dingee

SERVICE: Vivienne Fazulla at her home. Pictures: BRENDAN McCARTHY

SERVICE: Vivienne Fazulla at her home. Pictures: BRENDAN McCARTHY

It's been a real honour and pleasure to have this role. - Vivienne Fazulla

ABOUT 45 minutes north of Bendigo is the tiny town of Dingee - population 322. And in that town lives a woman who has been tirelessly serving her community for the past 36 years.

She's known as the Mother Teresa of Dingee, and she's been a friend, mentor and in many cases a life-saver. Her name is Vivienne Fazulla and until last week – when she stepped down from her role – she was Dingee's head bush nurse.

Last Saturday the centre hosted a big leaving party for her, which was attended by more than 200 people, with some coming from as far as Port Macquarie to be there.

Mrs Fazulla is sitting in the modest house she shares with her husband Azzie, reflecting on her career.

It's a small unit that sits out the back of the bush nursing centre, which is just off Dingee's main road, King Street.

The house belongs to the nursing centre – a convenient location that enabled Mrs Fazulla, 62, to immediately respond to any given emergency at any time of the day or night.

She proudly explains that there are only 15 bush nursing centres in the world – all in Victoria, and the centre aims to help people from "womb to tomb".

"It's been a real honour and pleasure to have this role," Mrs Fazulla says of her job.

"People have been very generous in letting me into their lives."

Indeed, unlike traditional nurses who see people in times of crisis, Mrs Fazulla says one of the best aspects of being a bush nurse is the chance to follow up on her clients' well-being.

"It goes on for months that you're helping people," Mrs Fazulla says.

"You follow the whole illness or happy event.

"You might finish the little episode but you go back (to their homes) in a couple of weeks and see how they're going.

"You don't just see their sore toe, you look at their situation."

SMILES: Vivienne Fazulla outside the centre she worked at for 36 years.

SMILES: Vivienne Fazulla outside the centre she worked at for 36 years.

For those unfamiliar with a bush nursing centre, it is a holistic centre providing a wide range of health and social services for rural communities.

Nurses' responsibilities therefore include offering people advice and education about preventative health measures, providing palliative care and – in some cases – providing emergency care in a crisis.

Mrs Fazulla admits that the latter duty is a big responsibility and can often be quite stressful.

She says there have been occasions when she has had to assist people having an asthma attack and she has also attended terrible car accidents.

"It's really scary: you're on your own and you only have one pair of hands," Mrs Fazulla says.

"It's worse at night; it can be really scary."

But while Mrs Fazulla may have internally felt the heat at times, it seems that on the outside she has been a voice of reason and calm during emergencies.

Dingee resident Sue Camm has had a first-hand experience of Mrs Fazulla's calm and caring manner.

She talks about the time her partner, Neil, was on the brink of death.

"What happened was my partner, Neil, collapsed," Ms Camm says.

"I ran an ambulance and the call went to Dingee Bush Nursing Centre. Viv showed up at the same time as the ambulance.

"She came right over to me and put her arms around me and said it will be alright.

"She's just a beautiful person – she's not just a nurse but a friend. She's so compassionate ... There aren't many people like Viv around."

Luckily Neil made a full recovery, but Ms Camm is forever grateful for Mrs Fazulla's support during one of her most stressful times.

KINDNESS: Azzie and Vivienne Fazulla at their home.

KINDNESS: Azzie and Vivienne Fazulla at their home.

Robyn Bird, who used to work with Mrs Fazulla at the centre as an administrative centre, echoes Ms Camm's sentiments.

"She's very special; she's unique," Ms Camm says.

"She cheers people up – she just knows their needs.

"She's an angel.

"It's going to be a huge loss to us not having her here: she knows every person in the district."

It's little wonder Mrs Fazulla was named the 2008 Victorian Nurse of the Year.

And it's not only through her job that she has been helping people.

A few years ago when the drought was in full force in Victoria, Mrs Fazulla and a few other Dingee residents started a theatre group.

As most of the town's residents are farmers, the morale in the community was low, and Mrs Fazulla thought that a bit of light entertainment would be a welcome distraction. 

"The director and myself saw a play and we thought 'we could do that'," Mrs Fazulla says, a smile creeping onto her face.

"It helped the community."

When asked what inspired her stay in her position for such a long time, Mrs Fazulla is unequivocal. 

"I wouldn't be able to stay this long if not for the support of the staff," she says.

"I got a job I loved.

"I never woke up and thought, 'I don't want to be a bush nurse today.'

"Every day is different and I'm able to help people."

As for her next step outside of the centre, Mrs Fazulla plan to travel around Australia with her husband Azzie.

"This is virtually a 24/7 role," she says.

"It's time for me to have a break."

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