Emma Chappell is an ANU graduate currently working as a nutritionist with the Arnhem Land Aboriginal Progress Association (ALPA). Her role involves travelling to Indigenous communities in the the Northern Territory and Queensland, to support local people in making informed decisions about health and nutrition.
Emma joins me on Zoom from her balcony in Darwin, with blue skies and palm leaves in the background. As she tells me about her career, it's clear that her interest in Australian history and Aboriginal literature was the catalyst for her future accomplishments. "Being at ANU gave me some solid research foundations, and also cemented my values. It opened my eyes to the different lenses through which it's possible to view Australia's history," Emma says.
One of her favourite memories of ANU was attending tutorials for Rich Pascal's Indigenous Literature course: "There were about four or six of us in the tutorial, which he held in his office. We were surrounded by floor-to-ceiling stacks of books. Rich arranged one week for Anita Heiss to come and read to us from her books, including her poetry book 'I'm not racist, but'. She was so strong and funny and powerful. It's been great to continue to follow her career since then and see the different areas of literature and activism she works in."
After completing her ANU Arts degree, specialising in Literature and Australian Studies, Emma went on to study Nutrition and Dietetics at Monash University. During this degree, she volunteered at the ASRC Foodbank, which provides daily hot meals and free or low cost groceries to asylum seekers. She then joined the organisation as an employee, coordinating a team of 200 volunteers across ASRC's foodbank, community meals kitchen and Harvest of Hope urban farming initiative.
Emma's storied career continued at the Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin, a leading institute dedicated to the health and wellbeing of indigenous Australians. Her work with Menzies on healthy merchandising in remote stores across Queensland the Northern Territory led her to ALPA, where she has worked since 2019.
"I applied for a job in Darwin in a particularly cold Melbourne winter," Emma laughs. "It was such a cool opportunity to jump into the remote retailing scene under the guidance of some incredible researchers."
It's been a challenging time to be working with remote communities, as Coronavirus border closures and travel restrictions mean it's impossible to continue with business as usual. "Our organisation has been working hard on ensuring food security in these communities so that the gaps on the shelves around essentials such as toilet paper and pasta for example, that were major issues in supermarkets 'down south', wouldn't impact our vulnerable populations. initially it didn't hit as hard as stores were well-stocked for the wet season, in case they were cut off by a cyclone. Since then we have been successful in advocating with both Territory and local government, and food manufacturers, in asking them to 'quarantine' stock especially for our remote communities.
The nutrition and dietetics sector already has a strong network of female leaders, and Emma notes that most people starting out in the industry are women. For those hoping to enter the sector, she offers the following advice: "while you're studying volunteer for everything you can - make contacts and get involved. And then when starting your career, take a leap and go for the job that you feel is out of your comfort zone."
As for a female role model who inspires her? "I'm lucky to be surrounded by incredible female role models in my personal and professional life," Emma says. "It would be rude to single out just one; I could write pages on them."