Vicki Gordon, Bush Nurse, Central Australia

Vicki Gordon, Bush Nurse, Central Australia

Indigenous Affairs Health and Wellbeing Low Aromatic Unleaded Fuel
Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

Bush nurse Vicki Gordon traded New Zealand’s rolling green hills for the red desert plains of Central Australia 26 years ago. 

Arriving with a sense of adventure and desire to experience outback life, she nursed in a remote Aboriginal community called Walungurru, also known as Kintore, 530 kilometres west of Alice Springs.

Vicki’s journey over the last two decades has taken her to health clinics throughout Central Australia and the Northern Territory’s Top End, and led to a new career educating health clinicians about working in remote and culturally diverse communities. 

Vicki identified petrol sniffing as one of the biggest threats to children’s health in Aboriginal communities, but said the introduction of low aromatic fuel has been the most simple and effective solution to the problem.

“My recollection of petrol sniffing in those early days at Kintore are of a couple of young boys, who were brothers, I can still picture their faces now, and they actually passed away because of petrol sniffing,” she said.

“It is a situation you feel quite hopeless about, it is hard to know how to help these young people. The other strong memory I have is in another community, more recently, where two young fellas were in wheelchairs and a young woman was in a walking frame because of petrol sniffing. She had a baby that had to go through therapy to remove the lead from the baby’s blood. Those are strong memories for me.

“Indigenous people make up a third of the Northern Territory’s population which is unique in Australia, yet English is not always their first language and literacy and numeracy are problematic as well. There are many factors in societies all over the world that lead to people abusing whatever substances they can get their hands on, and petrol is an awful substance to abuse.”

Vicki was working in remote communities when BP Australia first manufactured low aromatic unleaded fuel, branded Opal, with the Australian Government’s support. The fuel replaced regular unleaded petrol in and near communities where petrol sniffing was a problem. 

“I think the introduction of low aromatic unleaded fuel has made a huge difference to this situation. It is not a stand-alone; it is one of a number of strategies. These things are very complex and interconnected, but the introduction of low aromatic unleaded fuel, has certainly been a boon,” she said.

“I know people who don’t live in affected communities, or are just travelling through them get a bit overwhelmed and think that the problems aren’t theirs and there is nothing they can do to make a difference. But just by choosing to use low aromatic unleaded fuel where it is available, it does help, undoubtedly”.

To view the Vicki Gordon video from our low aromatic unleaded fuel YouTube account go to