CEO's Welcome

As I write, we have just emerged from our 2018 National Conference in Adelaide, 17-19 September to celebrate the 20 year of CATSINaM. It was a wonderful and inspiring event that celebrated the amazing contributions that Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander nurses and midwives make to our profession, and Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander health in general.


Thank you to the CATSINaM team for bringing it together, all of the fantastic presenters and, most importantly, the many Members who joined us. If you were not able to join us, this newsletter includes highlights, including the winners of the annual Awards.


The conference was also significant for several other reasons. We launched our new Strategic Plan, held the 2 annual Leaders in Nursing and Midwifery Education Network (LINMEN) professional development day, and our National Cadetships and Transition to Professional Practice Programs resource. A long-awaited event for LINMEN, was the launch of the LINMEN Resource Hub. All are highlighted in this newsletter.


Other important recent developments include the first Orientation Workshop for the new CATSINaM teaching and learning materials for the Diploma of Nursing ‘CHCDIV002 Promote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural safety’ unit, and an expansion in the range of training programs CATSINaM can offer external stakeholders and Members, which are starting to receive regular bookings.


For me it was also an emotional conference as I announced my decision to depart from the role of CATSINaM CEO. I was very honoured by your kind words and the personal gifts I received from members, you are so generous in your kindness and the paintings will take pride of place in my new home in Melbourne. As I said in Adelaide it’s been an honour to serve you.


Kind regards,

Janine Mohamed



Our new strategic plan 

As CATSINaM President, Ben Gorrie launched our new Strategic Plan for 2018-2023 at the conference. The Board has selected four priorities to guide our work over the next five years. The. Our Strategic Plan Summary below provides a snapshot, while the full Strategic Plan gives a clear picture of how CATSINaM will focus its efforts to address the following four priorities.


Priority 1: Develop and support recruitment and retention strategies for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Peoples in nursing and midwifery.

Priority 2: Inform national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and education policy agendas.

Priority 3: Provide a cultural hub for resilience and leadership development of our Members.

Priority 4: Inform best practice in culturally safe learning, workplace and health service delivery environments for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Australians.

20 years young and going strong: The 2018 CATSINaM Conference

Our National Conference in Adelaide was a very special event this year – 20 years since the birth of CATSINaM. From humble and passionate beginnings, CATSINaM is now a highly respected and well-recognised national organisation for both the nursing and midwifery profession, and the wider Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health field – and still passionate about what it does and why!


We were so excited to welcome 300 delegates to participate and celebrate with us, starting with our pre-conference workshops on the Monday for LINMEN (see article below), self-care with The Koorie Circle and Elverina Johnson, and the Student day on cultural safety, racism and resilience. The conference program explored a wide variety of critical topics, including cultural safety, the new Codes of Conduct for Nurses and Midwives, social and cultural determinants of health, Birthing on Country, national maternity care services, sexual health, social media, utilising comedy, higher education, traditional healing and human rights.

CATSINaM Annual Awards 

One of the best moments of CATSINaM’s year is honouring our Members and stakeholders at the annual CATSINaM Awards. We expanded the range of awards this year with Student of the Year and the Sister Alison Bush Award. Congratulations to the highly deserving winners. 

This award is for an individual CATSINaM Member who demonstrates excellence in the nursing and/or midwifery profession. The 2018 recipient is Jason Coombes, a Kurnai man from Lake Tyers Aboriginal Trust at Lake Tyers in Victoria. Jason is a long-standing Member of CATSINaM whose dedication and passion for his people, community and CATSINaM family is unparalleled.


He is currently the Community Remote Area Nurse within Oak Valley Community, a remote community located on the southern fringe of The Great Victoria Desert, approximately 516kms northwest of Ceduna on Maralinga Tjarutja Lands.


At the Oak Valley clinic, there are often only two nurses working. Jason is responsible for consultations and assessments of community members, the diabetes program, school program and health promotion, as well as for providing leadership and liaison during emergencies. As an indication of the trust and relationships he has built with community, Jason opens his home for Sunday Roast, where everyone is invited.

This award acknowledges organisations that demonstrate culturally respectful, committed and successful partnerships between our Members. NSW Health has had a long-standing strategy to build the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nursing and midwifery workforce through cadetships and undergraduate scholarships to Aboriginal people undertaking nursing or midwifery at an undergraduate level. Postgraduate scholarships are also provided to registered Aboriginal nurses and midwives for further professional and career development.


The Cadetship program has produced 150 graduates, including 90 registered nurses, 14 registered midwives, and 46 enrolled nurses. Currently a further 47 cadets are in various stages of their university degree, with 20 expected to graduate at the end of 2018. Last year, the Strategy began a formal mentoring program in partnership with CATSINaM and the Local Health Districts in NSW. The two-day workshop offers training to be effective mentors, supporting leadership in mentoring and anti-racism strategies. To date, 36 Aboriginal nurses and midwives have attended the mentor training.

Taneeka Hyatt is a Bundjalung woman in her last year of Bachelor of Midwifery at Southern Cross University on the Gold Coast, and employed as a Cadet on her country at the Tweed Hospital. She was nominated as the Student Representative for her cohort at Southern Cross University, and continues to promote the importance of Aboriginal midwives and culturally safe midwifery care within the institution.

The Student of the Year Award

This new award recognises the achievements of an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander student nurse or midwife who has made significant contributions to their education institution, community, nursing and midwifery and/or CATSINaM’s vision and purpose. It was not possible to choose between two nominees, so we chose both for the inaugural Student of the Year Award – Vernon Armstrong and Taneeka Hyatt.


Vernon Armstrong is a Griffith University nursing student who has been a research assistant and a mentor for the university’s 'Hands Up Experience' program, and also works as an Aboriginal Health Worker for Gidgee Healing in Mt Isa in his holidays. Recently he worked as a National Ranger in Burketown, on his traditional lands, Gangalidda, gaining experience in the importance of safeguarding our sacred land, while also surveying fauna and flora. Vernon works hard to support CATSINaM’s vision and purpose, and to be a leader for his family, community and for his people.


Sister Alison Bush Award

The recipient of this new award in 2018 was Cherisse Buzzacott, an Arrernte woman from Alice Springs. She grew up in Alice Springs and now lives in Canberra, working for the Australian College of Midwives as the Project Officer for the Birthing on Country Project.


Cherisse has lived most of her life on her traditional homelands, 25 kilometres from Alice Springs. She became passionate about midwifery while at high school. As she wanted to work in health, but not with sick people, this led her to midwifery. She is passionate about Birthing on Country and improving maternity care for Aboriginal women. She makes wide-ranging contributions to CATSINaM’s activities and is regularly invited to speak at conferences and other events.


For six years, Jane was the Western Australian Director for CATSINaM and, before that, a member of CATSIN for four years. During this time, she was an advocate and a champion for Western Australian Aboriginal nurses and midwives. Jane reflects the high calibre of Members that the Hall of Fame represents.

The CATSINaM Hall of Fame

The 2018 inductee into the CATSINaM Hall of Fame is Jane Jones, a Noongar woman, born in York, Western Australia.


She is a registered nurse, and works as the Practice Manager at Derbarl Yerrigan Health Service in Perth. In this role she educates non-Aboriginal staff to care for Aboriginal people in a culturally secure way. Jane has been instrumental in supporting the service’s Heart Health program, which provides rehabilitation and ongoing support to Aboriginal patients who have had a cardiac-related event.


Jane supports and mentors’ Aboriginal students as they undertake studies in health related fields like medicine and nursing. She also supports universities to ensure they are more culturally inclusive and provides events to ensure non-Aboriginal academic staff understand Aboriginal culture and history, and better support students. Jane assisted in development of the WA Aboriginal Nursing and Midwifery Strategy, which has continued to promote pathways and employment into nursing and midwifery for Aboriginal students.

CATSINaM Fellows

Two outstanding CATSINaM Members joined the CATSINaM Fellowship in 2018 - Associate Professor Ray Lovett and Professor Roianne West.

Associate Professor Ray Lovett is a Wongaibon man from far west New South Wales, and an epidemiologist. Currently he is a NHMRC Research Fellow with the Epidemiology for Policy and Practice group at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, Australian National University. He also holds an adjunct Fellowship at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies in the Indigenous Social and Cultural Wellbeing group.


Ray has extensive experience in health services research, and large-scale data analysis for public health policy development and evaluation. He is involved in the analysis of large-scale longitudinal cohort study data on tobacco and alcohol use, and also contributed to development of a national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander longitudinal cohort study of health and wellbeing.


Ray has held numerous positions aimed at advancing the health of Indigenous people, and is frequently approached to provide policy advice, particularly on tobacco, alcohol and other drug use. Further, he is extensively involved with the local Indigenous community, including as a volunteer working with young Indigenous people at the Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service’s Boxing Club.

Professor Roianne West was born and raised on her traditional Kalkadoon country in north west Queensland. She is a cherished mother of three children, including twin girls. Roianne, herself a twin, studied and graduated together with her sister and brother as registered nurses through Deakin University’s Mount Isa Nursing Education project.


Roianne has extensive experience in Indigenous policy, especially in health and education. She has worked with the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and State and Commonwealth Health Departments as a Registered Nurse and Policy Officer. She is currently Foundation Professor of First Peoples Health and Director of the First Peoples Health Unit at Griffith University in Queensland. She is the author of many academic articles.


Roianne’s passion for improving the lives of Aboriginal people can be attributed to the tireless work of her grandmother and mother in Aboriginal affairs. She maintains a strong connection to community and is often collaborating with community organisations by providing advice, developing training programs, mentoring young people and counselling.

What is happening with LINMEN?

The LINMEN Resource Hub

CATSINaM was very proud to launch the new LINMEN Website and Resource Hub for the Leaders in Indigenous Nursing and Midwifery Education Network or LINMEN at the CATSINaM Conference. It includes:

  • over 200 curriculum resources on cultural safety and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, history and culture.
  • individual member profiles and the ability to connect with other members
  • information about upcoming professional development and networking events
  • project pages to share and highlight key education initiatives and resources on cultural safety and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, history and culture in nursing and midwifery.

Planning for LINMEN: 2018-2020

In early August we held a strategic planning day to set LINMEN’s priorities for the next two years. Over 20 Nursing and Midwifery Schools representatives joined us to discuss future priority activities, barriers and enablers, and ongoing LINMEN initiatives. The priorities identified on the day informed the LINMEN work plan for the next two years – see diagram.

2 Annual LINMEN Professional Development Forum

As part of the 2018 CATSINaM Conference, we held the second annual LINMEN Professional Development Forum on 17 September, with close to 60 people attending. Highlights included a keynote address from Professor Martin Nakata on improving educational outcomes for Indigenous Higher Education students and a panel discussion on Indigenous knowledges and pedagogy in curricula with Professor Roianne West, Dr Chelsea Bond and Professor Lisa Jackson Pulver.

Upcoming LINMEN Events 


Cultural Safety Training: 21-22 November 2018 in Melbourne

This workshop is for LINMEN members who are interested in undertaking comprehensive cultural safety training to inform their practice as nursing and midwifery educators – register here.


Mentoring Workshop: 11-12 December 2018 in Sydney

This workshop is for LINMEN members who are interested in learning the relevant skills to become an effective mentor for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students and/or peer-to-peer mentoring with other nursing and midwifery educators. 


Please keep an eye on the LINMEN events page for the latest information and registration details for both of these workshops and more.


CATSINaM at conferences, forums and symposiums

COAG Indigenous Roundtable keynote address 

On August 1st, Janine Mohamed addressed the COAG Health Council Members – this is the first time that CATSINaM has been invited to contribute in this form. As is clear from the included excerpts of the COAG Health Council Communique, Janine had a strong impact on members, where she spoke about what is required for a strong and healthy future for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Australians. This included:

  • addressing racism,
  • building the Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander health workforce,
  • and strengthening cultural safety across every health system element, from legislation to the coalface of service delivery.

Birthing on Country: Friends of ‘Çlosing the Gap’ Parliamentary event 

On September 13, Janine Mohamed addressed the ‘Friends of Çlosing the Gap’ Parliamentary Event on the importance of Birthing on Country. She was followed by Cherizze Buzzacott, a CATSINaM Member and Australian College of Midwives staff member coordinating the Birthing on Country Project, who presented with women from the Waminda pilot site in Nowra, NSW.

Central Adelaide Local Health Network (CALHN) Cadetship program

Recently, CATSINaM supported the nursing and midwifery education team at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, part of CALHN to progress with their intentions to establish an Aboriginal Cadetship Program in 2019. Janine Mohamed presented on what CATSINaM’s learned through the scoping study undertaken as part of developing our new Cadetship and Transition to Professional Practice Program resource. This is hosted and now available on the LINMEN site, so we encourage you to gain a copy and promote it widely.


All three Adelaide Schools of Nursing and Midwifery attended, and are keen to identify and support students who gain a place within the program. Jennifer Hurley, the SA Health Chief Nurse and Midwife, also attended to support the initiative, which is consistent with their upcoming nursing and midwifery workforce strategy.

My experience as a Student Nurse in Remote Central Australia: Jessica Payne



Another CATSINaM/RFDS clinical placement scholarship recipient in 2018 was Jessica Payne. These are her reflections on her experience.


My interest in Aboriginal Health is one that is deeply personal and the sole motivation to pursue a career in health. When I became a mother of two beautiful boys, I became inspired in such a way that has given me a sense of responsibility to contribute to solutions relevant to the health and wellbeing of our society; specifically, the inequalities faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people within my own and the wider community.


I began my journey as a nurse working as an Assistant in Nursing in 2010, whilst completing my Diploma of Nursing. I then worked in a Specialist Palliative Care unit as an Enrolled Nurse, providing direct care to those with life limiting illnesses. This is where my love for education about chronic disease management to improve quality of life began. Approaching the graduation of my Bachelor of Nursing degree, the pressure to apply for Graduate Programs is looming. I am still seeking the answer as to which field of nursing I should pursue, as nothing quite fits my ideals and intent in working within Indigenous Australians to empower and contribute to ‘Closing the Gap’ of inequity and disadvantage.


When the opportunity to attend a specialised placement in Tennant Creek presented itself, I knew this was a challenge I had to accept. I hoped it would expand my knowledge, provide opportunities to connect with community, and expose me to the detrimental health and social barriers faced by Aboriginal people as a daily reality. Recent national media attention on Tennant Creek painted an ugly picture. However, it didn’t take long for the community of Tennant Creek to invalidate this.


I was welcomed into the supportive Barkly Primary Health Outreach Team based at the Tennant Creek Hospital. I was privileged to work alongside the health professionals whose dedication to local Aboriginal people across the lifespan is the true essence of cultural capability. The care and services delivered reflected, acknowledged and respected the importance of the preservation of culture, language and lore. I listened to people speak of hardships unimaginable for most. I heard frustrations to the determinants of health continuing to shorten lives and create cycles of crisis. I saw poverty, overcrowding and people without basic human rights, which do not reflect equality and fairness.


Yet still in the face of this I have been witness to resilience, strength, joy, family, language and maintenance of cultural heritage. I met people on this journey who have taught me things that no university degree can define. People who inspire with their love for their community, and their willingness to give the gift of their time and knowledge to help people understand their struggles.


The experience of this journey has been one of profound joy. Each person I met during this time imprinted a piece of themselves on my life, and become a part of what makes up my identity as a mother, woman and nurse.


I will forever be grateful to CATSINaM, the Royal Flying Doctors and the Centre for Remote Health for your support in making this a reality. As I move into the future I go with clarity. I now know that I want to be a Remote Area Nurse, and intend to continue my study which will include midwifery to gain the skills and knowledge required. I sincerely hope that other students pursue the opportunities to attend an extraordinary placement.

CATSINaM training programs: More topics available


CATSINaM has seven different training programs available to deliver for organisations or groups in their locations. An overview of the focus, learning outcomes, fees and participant numbers are available at the CATSINaM Training Programs page on our website. CATSINaM can also help bring the two-day Cultural Safety Training program to your location - this is the same workshop we host each year in Canberra.

Orientation workshops for the Teaching and learning resources for the Diploma of Nursing ‘CHCDIV002 Promote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural safety’ unit

In readiness for the new HLT training package that commences in July 2018, CATSINaM has created a comprehensive set of teaching and learning resources for ‘CHCDIV002 Promote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural safety’, a required unit in the Diploma of Nursing. The first or three orientation workshops planned for 2018 was held in Sydney in July, with 13 attendees from seven RTOs that were based in either NSW, Queensland or Victoria.


In the workshop, RTOs went through each component of the teaching and learning materials, undertook several of the student exercises and were shown samples of the types of PowerPoint resources they could develop for delivery. They were introduced to the distinctions between cultural awareness and cultural safety, and what to consider in creating a culturally safe teaching and learning environment. They also did an activity to identify what steps had already been taken and what needed to occur at their RTO to create a cultural safety teaching and learning environment.


Participants were highly satisfied with the day, as shown in this graph. The average score was 4.6 out of five, i.e. between very and extremely satisfied. Common themes for the top four things they gained were:

  • networking and discussions with other RTO staff
  •  information on the teaching and learning resources, guides and approach to delivery
  • knowledge about what is involved in teaching cultural safety, including the concept of white privilege
  • information about further training and development opportunities for staff
  • opportunity for personal reflection.

They were also asked how this would assist their RTO. Participants believed it would help bring greater knowledge of the unit and how to incorporate it into the RTO, and help change the RTO culture for educators and students.


There are two more 2018 orientation workshops for RTOs – you can book here for either location:

  • November 13 in Melbourne
  • November 15 in Brisbane

If you work in or have connections with RTOs in Victoria or Queensland, please encourage them to book in. If you are in other jurisdictions, people can still book into these options or express an interest for a workshop to be held closer to them.

New training program: Key considerations in nursing and midwifery curriculum on Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander health, history, culture and cultural safety

Over the last 18 months, CATSINaM has had invitations from Schools of Nursing and/or Midwifery to explore curriculum on Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander health, history, culture and cultural safety. Along with other stakeholders in Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander health, we have also assisted them to explore the difference between cultural safety and cultural awareness training, and examine what steps assist in embedding cultural safety at an organisational level for culturally safe working, teaching and learning environments.


It became evident that it would be valuable to bring all of this material together via a half-day workshop linked to ‘signposts for cultural safety’ in our profession. The result is the Key considerations in nursing and midwifery curriculum on Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander health, history, culture and cultural safety workshop.

The three desired outcomes are:

  1. To recognise factors that underpin the health inequities faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.
  2. To expand understanding of the importance of comprehensive cultural safety training for preparing higher education providers to deliver curriculum on Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander health, history, culture and cultural safety.
  3. To identify strategies for embedding cultural safety at an organisational level.

This was delivered for the first time at Southern Cross University in early August, and we just completed a workshop for Flinders University in late September.

So, what did people think? Both workshops were very well received and highly rated; all participants in both groups were ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ satisfied.

Embedding cultural safety in the 2nd edition National Safety and Quality Health Standards: A new workshop

CATSINaM has devised a Framework and an associated 2-day training workshop to assist health service staff to implement the NSQHSS within a cultural safety lens. Our framework offers practical, achievable guidelines for meeting the new standards, as well as promoting and improving cultural safety at all levels of health service decision-making and service delivery. For each standard, we have considered ways of ‘knowing, being and doing’ to promote cultural safety. Building partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities is a strong focus in the Framework.


The key learning outcome for this workshop is to gain an understanding and guidance about how to implement cultural safety to meet the NSQHS Standards.  Workshop participants will receive a participant handbook in addition to the CATSINaM Framework. The next workshop will be held 21-22nd January 2019 in Brisbane. Click here for more information and to register.

An interview with Matthew Ball: Applying my learning from cultural safety training with CATSINaM

Matthew Ball is a Nurse Practitioner with a specialist focus on mental health who works in Adelaide, South Australia. He undertook the March 2017 Cultural Safety Training workshop hosted by CATSINaM, delivered by Sharon Gollan and Kathleen Stacey.

Tell us a little about yourself and how you got connected to CATSINaM

I grew up in England and learned a little about Aboriginal heritage and culture at school. When I came here 20 years ago I was surprised by the dreadful level of racism. While here I had a psychotic episode and became homeless. The only people who looked after me were Aboriginal people in a park in Northbridge, Perth. Prior to being homeless I lived in a backpacker’s place, but Aboriginal people, who later would look after me, were not allowed in there. The Aboriginal friends I made told me if I needed anything, to just ask. When I became homeless they were the people I turned to asked for help. They got me home to England by taking me to the immigration centre - the irony of this is not lost on me.


I came back 15 years later in 2011, naively thinking things may have moved on. In my first few months at the Noarlunga Health Service, there was a person who came in frequently who mostly wanted to have a yarn and feel a sense of connection. I heard a nurse say, “We don’t work with them”, referring to Aboriginal people. I would sit down with him and talk. I saw him every couple of months. We would have a sandwich and a cup of tea. I realised how little I knew about what was happening in Australia and how offensive it was that people wouldn’t think to do this; just sit down and talk.


Soon after, our health service was doing an event and wanted an Aboriginal person to speak. The senior Aboriginal community member I spoke to could not talk on the topic and linked me to Janine Mohamed at CATSINaM. Through this I was invited to participate in their cultural safety training, which is co-facilitated by Sharon Gollan and Kathleen Stacey for CATSINaM.

What interested you in doing cultural safety training?

I didn’t know what to expect, the change in language was a distinct difference to any other training available in the health service, which was called cultural awareness and cultural competence. Of course, its not possible for me to be competent in someone else’s culture. I learned about dominant culture, white privilege and different dimensions of racism.


I learned that I didn’t need to walk in shame about white privilege but use it to work for change. I have almost every layer of privilege – I am a white, middle class, heterosexual male from the UK. I also realised that instead of asking Aboriginal people to talk about their culture, I can do some research and reading and find out more myself rather than Aboriginal people being asked to explain themselves and always have spotlight put on them.


I noticed how the facilitators demonstrated and articulated culturally safe behaviour. How the white facilitator stood and spoke, and who answered questions. Those are things that I can do as well. I will make mistakes, but I can start doing things. The permission to not know, is quite nice. Because I am white, middle class and male, I ultimately don’t have to feel discomfort, but perhaps I should get to know the experience of discomfort. This also comes unconsciously from, ‘I can’t be seen to get this wrong, as I am better than others’.

How have you taken your learnings back into your work context?

I work in mental health and am also involved in the Hearing Voices Network in SA. I remember when I was invited to work in the Aboriginal Family Clinic. I asked the Director, if she thinks the clients will want a Nurse Practitioner. She said, “I don’t think they care if you are a Nurse Practitioner”. I smile now. The training gave me permission to work there and get my whiteness out the way a bit. It also helped me understand how I can easily keep myself safe as a white person by disconnecting from the reality of racism that is part of the lives of Aboriginal clients.


One client sobbed his way through and I cried throughout the session. He said, “You were the first whitefella to listen to that without trying to stop me”. I realised I may have got something right here. I got out the way so he could hold the space. We don’t always do this as mental health professionals, as it is uncomfortable.

This client invited me to go to a traditional healer with him, and spend time understanding something about his experience of this healing process. I knew not to ask him to show me what I wanted to know. I went, sat and was asked questions by the traditional healer. It was interesting to be on the other foot -I didn’t know the protocols. Afterwards, both the traditional healer and doctor wanted to know my thoughts on the healing process. The workshop gave me the sense that it doesn’t matter what I say, as long as I am not disrespectful. I can be honest and hear their thoughts. It invited me to realise that something I didn’t understand, traditional healing, could be very useful to an Aboriginal person.


Now I can say to clients that, “I understand a little bit about traditional healing, and I can support you to access it but I don’t understand it fully”. It has changed my understanding of voice hearing. From what I have seen, it has invited me to get out the way. The work I am doing as a mental health professional is not necessarily the most useful, correct or powerful, or I put it in perspective as it only has a part to play in the bigger picture.


There is quite a bit of hearing voices work done from a western although non-pathologising model, but Aboriginal clients are seeing traditional healers as well. One man told us after 18 months he was Aboriginal - he had very good reasons for not telling us. I found out a bit about his nation and we talked about that. Afterwards he told me he connected with his own community, who he hadn’t spoken to for 15 years.


I then made the mistake of taking on the task of encouraging him to see the traditional healer. He was in hospital one day. I had already asked about the traditional healer several times. I consulted an Aboriginal staff member about him not wanting to do this. That staff member decided to talk to him about it, which led to it happening. There was enough safety for him to say that would be good. I saw him within a week of him doing that, and see him ongoing. It is unexplainable to a white person who doesn’t get it, but there was an explicit change in the distress he experiences and the sense he makes of it. As result, he is now choosing to leave mental health services.


Another Aboriginal woman came to me about wanting to get rid of her voices and have more medication. I don’t do medication but offered to try and understand why she hears voices. She has two supportive voices, family members, who help her take her meds and do what she needs. She asked me to come with her to the traditional healer. The healer helped her understand the importance of her voices and her skill in being able to hear them.


A practical thing I did was print the map of Indigenous Australia and use it for people in the clinic to identify themselves. I have met people from 44 different nations! I often tell colleagues I came to the cultural safety training, and one thing I didn’t know was who the people were walking around me in my area (Matt lives and shops near his work). That is a powerful story for people, as they don’t realise that.

I also regularly do Acknowledgement of Country when I start a meeting with 5-6 people and share why we need to do this. It is a way of paying respect but reminding myself, holding myself to account. What comes with privilege, is the easiness of life, so it is easy to not do it.


Other things from the workshop was the obviousness of negotiation and collaboration, but how little of that we actually do, little meaningful negotiation with Aboriginal clients. It helped me watch my language as well, just in terms of not saying something, specific words I now won’t use.


The other thing I hear in the workplace, is about white people saying Aboriginal people aren’t connected to their Aboriginality. I sit and listen and what I learned is that connection to culture just is. It might not look like it in a nice white office in Marion. I hear Aboriginal people saying they just want to go back to Country for a day or two, go and connect. I would say Aboriginal people are very connected to culture, but they have to live here in Marion where it is not always safe and not safe to talk openly about culture!

Has it affected your life in other ways?

It has got into my personal life. It was an invitation at the workshop to extend our learning there, to not keep it separate because it isn’t. Personally, I never felt very British as I was uncomfortable that we were an empire built on colonisation, torture and trauma of others. When think about that, everything I have is built on the abuse of others. To try and get my head around that I don’t have to live in the guilt of it, just acknowledge and accept it.


The training allowed me to challenge racism more broadly, to feel OK to do this even if highly uncomfortable. I notice the separation off from those who don’t want to address racism. I used to never come back to my colleagues on their racism

The workshop changed my life. It not so easy for me to shut my eyes, look the other way and pretend anymore. It took me way back to when I was growing up. My friend was black - he was adopted by his white parents. We cut our fingers to be blood brothers at seven years old, and I never forget being surprised that his blood was the same colour as mine! The workshop gave me some permission to go back there and re-understand this. We were split up when we were nine, didn’t see each other for 20 years, but we stayed friends.


It has changed how we talk about Aboriginal people, culture and safety in our home. We talk about cultural safety and use that language We talk about how white our house is, that it represents more than just a group of white people living in a house. My kids were 5 and 7 when I did the workshop. When I was doing a presentation in Sydney they came and joined me. I told them about the Welcome from Gadigal people. We went to Circular Quay and saw an Aboriginal education enterprise there. My kids wanted to go and talk to the people involved. I feel like this is an important journey we are doing.


On Jan 26, we don’t go to the beach or do those things, we have a conversation about what we think it means. Ultimately, the training told me that I need to take responsibility - in a good way. I can do this.

Upcoming events 

Orientation workshop: New teaching and learning resources, CHCDIV002 Promote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural safety: November 13 2018, Melbourne


Orientation workshop: New teaching and learning resources, CHCDIV002 Promote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural safety: November 15 2018, Brisbane


Cultural Safety Training: November 20-21 2018, Melbourne


National Safety and Quality Health Standards: Embedding cultural safety: 21-22 January 2019, Brisbane