In late 2009, the Uncle Jimmy Thumbs Up! team made its first visit to five remote Arnhem Land communities with the support of The Arnhem Land Progress Aboriginal Corporation and funding from The Fred Hollows Foundation. The team included the charity’s founder, Dr Jimmy Little AO, and the impact they made was immediate. The program focused on healthy nutrition and lifestyle, and community engagement delivered through a mix of music and new media. In the subsequent 11 years, the organisation has expanded its reach through philanthropic and other funding, and its ’Good Tucker’ signage has now been seen in over 50 remote communities across Australia.
The evaluation of the pilot program in 2009 secured significant funding from Medicines Australia and the Australian Government Department of Health. Thumbs Up! undertook extensive travels through the Northern Territory, Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland. They realised very early on that, while many people wanted to eat healthier food, it was sometimes impossible to tell which products were better for them than others. The high price of fresh fruit and vegetables in remote communities has always been an issue but, thankfully, some store groups now subsidise the transport of these items. However, Thumbs Up! looked for another way to help people choose healthier food and drinks.
In 2018, Thumbs Up! teamed with Menzies Health and University of South Australia to develop the Good Tucker app. Working with The George Institute in Sydney, the app was modelled on their successful Food Switch app and the artwork was redesigned for use in regional and remote settings. The app replaced the somewhat complicated chart of ingredients with a simple green ’thumbs up’ for the best choices, a yellow sideways thumb for ’sometime foods’ that need to be limited, and a red ‘thumbs down’ for foods and drinks that should be avoided at all costs. The thumbs data is linked to the Health Star Rating (HSR) of the product and the app works by reading the bar code.
The Good Tucker app is free and downloadable for both Apple and Android phones and tablets and, to date, over 5000 people have used it. The app has all the information in the program so, once it is downloaded, the user does not need the device to be in internet range for it to work. The results have been very positive and a new update of products was completed in late 2020. One problem was the rating of fresh juice but, after the HSR was adjusted down in February, the app is now ready to help shoppers in remote stores find the healthiest food and drinks.
Thumbs Up! CEO Graham ’Buzz’ Bidstrup has been a member of the Remote Stores Symposium working group since its inception and, in July 2020, Thumbs Up! was invited to present to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs examining food prices and food security in remote Indigenous communities. The submissions and resulting report can be read in Hansard. The resulting work of the Healthy Stores Symposium will be presented at the next Northern Territory Food Summit, to be held in Alice Springs in late June 2021.
Unfortunately, like many other worthy charities, Thumbs Up! was refused major federal funding for its preventative health programs under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy grant criteria. But the organisation clawed its way back through crowdfunding initiatives and other events and is now back delivering its preventative health programs at remote schools and communities across the Top End.