Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Conference

The Department of Rural Health, The University of Melbourne recently held its 6th Annual Ngar-wu Wanyarra Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Conference with a record 275 conference delegates.

Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people provided their presentations that addressed key findings and current health issues facing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.

The keynote presenter, multi-award-winning broadcaster and journalist, Mr Stan Grant shared the difficulties he faced growing up and insights into the many challenges the Aboriginal community face.  Master of Ceremonies, Ms Gwenda Freeman, a Yorta Yorta woman and lecturer in Aboriginal Health Education at the Department of Rural Health, said that the health sector needs more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians to be working as doctors, nurses, health workers, administrators, and counsellors – to at least reflect the population percentages in each location.

“Health research and services need to involve and be owned by Aboriginal people,” Ms Freeman said. “Our participation is of direct value to the community.”

Ms Freeman presented on ‘A rural pathway to university studies in Aboriginal health’ which will provide a pathway for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to undertake the Master of Public Health degree, opening possibilities for input at every level of the health sector.

Professor Lisa Bourke from the Department of Rural Health said the conference provides a forum for the presentation of cutting-edge program initiatives and research findings in Aboriginal health and wellbeing by health professionals from the community.

“Health experts from around Australia offer insights into how community-led solutions, underpinned by cultural approaches to Aboriginal health and wellbeing, can transform health practices,” Professor Bourke said.

The conference has become an annual event and offers an opportunity for sharing information and connecting people who are committed to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health practice and research. The conference title, Ngar-wu Wanyarra or ‘Listen Act’, draws on the aspects of hearing, celebrating, learning and taking these messages back to communities and health services to implement.

“We have much to learn by sharing information and we can generate new knowledge through diverse projects and meaningful conversations. Such discussions can often create impact on clinical practice” said Professor Bourke. “Improving health experiences and outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as well as enhancing the health workforce is another aspect of the conference.”

During the lunch break there was the opportunity for delegates to attend online craft classes (either a ceramic turtle or grass weaving coil) provided by Gallery Kaiela Arts or participate in ‘Yarn with us about On Country Learning’ which was provided by researchers from the First Nations health team at the University of Melbourne. All agreed it was a fantastic conference and now planning is underway for the 2022 conference.