A conversation with our donor, Dr David Bertholini

Our Remote Laundries project is having an incredible impact on the health of families in remote communities.

As a self-funded charity, Remote Laundries relies heavily on the generosity of donors. Every dollar counts and is life-changing for families who don’t have access to washing facilities and clean clothes which are crucial to being healthy.

We could not do what we do without the support of individuals, such as Dr David Bertholini, an incredible supporter who has donated monthly since 2020. Recently, Aboriginal Investment Group CEO, Elizabeth Morgan-Brett sat down with David to understand more about what motivated him to contribute to the Remote Laundries project.

But first, let’s set the scene so you too can see why David believes our Remote Laundries project is a simple solution to a large problem.

Overcrowding linked to scabies and rheumatic heart disease

In the NT, the issue of overcrowding is the highest in the country, where up to 56 per cent of people living in state-owned and managed Indigenous housing are considered overcrowded (AIHW 2017). The more remote the housing, the more prevalent the overcrowding.

Scabies is a skin condition caused by a microscopic mite called sarcoptes scabiei. The mites burrow under the skin and make the skin very itchy. It is a common problem in remote NT Aboriginal communities where up to 50 per cent of children and 25 per cent of adults are affected. Eight out of 10 Aboriginal babies who live in remote communities will get scabies before their first birthday.

Scratching of the skin causes secondary bacterial infections which are associated with kidney and heart disease, including rheumatic heart disease (RHD), a preventable disease. Shamefully, in Australia, we have some of the highest rates of RHD in the developed world.

Now back to David…

Dr David Bertholini is an anaesthetist on the Sunshine Coast, who has been donating monthly to the Remote Laundries Project since 2020. His ongoing donation has equated to one year’s worth of washing support for one of our laundries – impressive!

“A friend made me aware of the work AIG is doing. I looked at the website and realised immediately that this project is vital. It’s simple. It’s effective. And it’s improving lives,” said David.

Growing up in Adelaide, David developed an interest in Indigenous health while completing medical school. This interest led him to Central Australia in the mid-90s; the one-year experience having more of a profound impact than expected. As a result, David had long been wanting to get involved in something to help turn around Indigenous health.

“I have four kids of my own. They are so privileged and will never know what other children in this wealthy country must deal with just to stay healthy and get an education.”

Dr David Bertholini with a patient during his time in Tennant Creek circa 1995.
What made you decide to not only donate but continue donating each month?

I’d never heard about scabies-related health issues when living in the city, but it was a massive problem among patients I met at the Alice Springs Hospital in the 90s. And to see the direct link between the rash caused by the mite bites, and the chronic heart and kidney diseases was a real eye-opener for me.

We all have pressures in life, but most of us don’t question our access to reliable and effective laundry facilities. I have four teenage children who never lack clean clothes, clean beds, or have to deal with overcrowding. We take for granted our access to housing, clothing, education and healthcare. And just like me when I was their age, they were unaware of the issues that remote Australian communities face.

Are your kids aware that you are contributing to making a difference for children in remote communities?
Yes, they are. When I talked to them about the Remote Laundries project, it was hard for them to believe that something so seemingly insignificant as access to clean clothes and bedding could determine kids’ ability to go to school, their educational outcomes and life-threatening chronic health conditions. They assumed that these issues happened in other countries, not Australia. 

You mentioned you were not aware of the extent of harm that scabies can have. How do you think we can improve that awareness?
I think it is a sad situation that eradicating rheumatic heart disease (RHD) has to be an aim for our country but until we are able to control the spread of scabies in households, this is our reality.

As a health professional, I was shocked when I was first exposed to the extent of the issue as a new graduate in Central Australia. But we can get so caught up in our own lives, and we in cities on the east coast don’t see this. It wasn’t until I heard Australian of the Year, paediatric cardiologist, Dr Bo Reményi speak at a conference in the NT about the link between scabies and RHD that I was again reminded of the issue. Bo works so hard to improve the care in communities, yet most of us in regional and city-based practices have little idea of how big an issue rheumatic fever remains.

Thanks for your time, David, and for continuing to contribute to our vision. 


David got involved with the Remote Laundries project for a very simple reason – it is effective and changes lives. We would love to hear from you if you also wish to contribute to the project.

You can donate online www.remotelaundries.org.au/donate or chat with our CEO, Elizabeth Morgan-Brett via email elizabeth.morganbrett@aiggroup.org.au or phone (08) 8922 2666.