Audiology Australia
Home 9 Audiology Blog 9 My Journey into Audiology

My Journey into Audiology

Jan 23, 2024

By Rebecca Allnutt, NT Dept. of Health, NT Hearing Services

Rebecca and painter Margie Lankin, with the artwork commissioned by AudA.

Rebecca Allnutt and painter Margie Lankin.

I would like to start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which I reside today, the Arrente people, and pay my respect to elders past and present, and emerging leaders.

I am an Aboriginal woman, a descendant of Dolly Dalrymple of the Dalrymple tribe in Tasmania. I am also grateful to have had, and continue to have, an amazing career as an audiologist.

My beginnings

From a young age, I knew I wanted to work in the health industry because I grew up surrounded by nurses. My paternal grandfather became hearing impaired when he was young after being involved in a mining accident that destroyed a significant part of his hearing. I was always fascinated with his big, old hearing aids (I think now they were Calaids, for those of us who have been around a while) but I was also very aware of the struggles he had with communication, especially in family gatherings. My maternal grandfather was big in Rotary and when a group of Deaf students visited from the USA I was able to spend time with them learning sign language as well. I guess the scene was set.

I grew up in Queensland, first on the Gold Coast then in Hervey Bay, but no matter where we lived my mother always connected with the local Indigenous communities. She was very proud of our heritage and made sure my sister and I knew about our past even though we grew up in a non-Indigenous way. I wasn’t very academic and struggled at school, but I was determined to get into university to study speech pathology. I thought this was the only way I could work in the field of hearing. I missed at the University of Queensland at the end of Year 12, so I repeated the final year of school determined to increase my score. I was successful in obtaining a place for a Bachelor of Arts degree at UQ and my quest to work in audiology began.

There are some people in your life that you will never forget and for me one person is and will always be Dr Brad McPherson. I met Brad when I first went up to the Speech Pathology Department to “suss it out” and he began talking to me about this degree called “Audiology”. The more he talked, the more I knew it was exactly what I wanted to do. He put me in touch with a couple of local clinics where I was able to do some observations and I was hooked! I plodded along with the Bachelor of Arts doing a double major in Psychology with a lot of assistance and tutoring from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit at UQ. I continued to visit hearing clinics and annoy Brad at the Department. When it was time to apply for the Graduate Diploma in Audiology, I think there were only 20 places and word on the street was “lots of applicants”. Given entrance was based on academic scores, I didn’t think I would be accepted but in the end I was successful, all due to Dr Brad. I often joked with him that they probably accepted me to stop me from being the annoying student who constantly visited the Department but he said, “You were passionate about making a difference to people with hearing loss and that is so much more important than academic scores”.

My early career

My career started with another amazing person, who to this day I still consider a great mentor, Jeanette Scott. I accepted a position with the Department of Health in Darwin with the Northern Territory Hearing Services. Moving to a new place and leaving family and friends behind was daunting, but it was the best thing I ever did. Jeanette was the Manager and Principal Audiologist at the time and not only supported me professionally by sharing all her amazing knowledge about Indigenous health, but also helped me personally as a new graduate. I remember one of my first solo trips to Katherine, a few hours south of Darwin. I didn’t have my driver’s licence so I flew down on the “milk run” plane, arriving soon after sunrise to a welcoming committee of heat and flies. I used the local phone box to call a taxi only to be asked, “Which airport?” Evidently there were two in that small town! I got my licence very quickly after that.

I was lucky to go on so many amazing trips to the Indigenous communities around the Top End, mainly flying in the small planes (lots of early mornings) and working with other professionals including ENT consultants, Teachers of the Deaf, speech pathologists and of course audiologists from other Departments.

I was seconded to do 12 months’ research with Menzies School of Research, which opened my eyes to how different and challenging that work can be. I was extremely grateful for the opportunity but I knew my heart was in the clinic. I took a break from the NT and worked back in Queensland at a private practice for a short stint but quickly realised I needed to get back to my love of Indigenous health.

Hearing Australia

I had never worked with hearing aids and didn’t find them easy to navigate but I took a position with Hearing Australia (then Australian Hearing Services) in Cairns. It was a steep learning curve but I grew to love the devices we were using (IT312, PB675, SB13) and found it very rewarding to see the delight on people’s faces when they realised how much they had been missing. There were many tears (including a lot from me) during these appointments.

After 12 months in Cairns, I was lucky enough to be offered a position in Alice Springs as the Manager of the Hearing Centre. My mother spent a few years in the Alice when I was at university, so I had visited several times and fallen in love with the place. I remember the  first time I flew in over the ranges and it felt like I was coming home. This feeling hasn’t changed even after 22 years.

Alice Springs

Alice Springs has given me so much, both professionally and personally. I met my husband here when he was an Advisory Teacher for Hearing with the Department of Education and made incredible lifelong friends. I have gone back to where I started working with the NT Department of Health, NT Hearing Services. I have a team of wonderful staff (past and present) working beside me to improve the ear and hearing health status of Indigenous people in Central Australia.

I was honoured to receive a Public Service Medal in 2008 for services to Indigenous Hearing Health, thanks to a previous Managing Director of Hearing Australia whose motto was “Indigenous hearing health is everyone’s business”. I have been on the Boards of Indigenous Allied Health Australia and Audiology Australia and I value the experience and learning gained from both these positions.

But my biggest thanks go to all the amazing Indigenous families who have welcomed me into their communities, shared their stories and wisdom, laughed at me trying to speak their languages (not very well), and allowed me to cuddle their beautiful babies. These experiences can turn any bad day around and I am truly grateful to all those families.

This blog post was first printed in Issue 90 of Audiology Now – Audiology Australia’s quarterly magazine, available for members only.

You can share your audiology story by contacting us online and selecting “Media & PR” as the nature of your enquiry.

Similar Articles

National Alliance of Self Regulating Health Professions needs legislative backing (NASRHP)

The current Scope of Practice Review has initiated discussions about the “regulation” of the health professions space. What the paper lacks is the recognition that self-regulation can be divided into two categories. Firstly, there are those who truly self-regulate. Secondly, there are professions falling under the National Alliance of Self-Regulating Health Professions (NASRHP), operating to meet external standards for self-regulation.

read more