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Spotlight on inspiring Aboriginal health stories at National Rural & Remote Health Awards

17th November 2023
By Theo Clark
The National Rural and Remote Health Awards set the stage for recognition of the inspirational contributions of a range of Aboriginal health professionals and organisations from around Australia at Parliament House last week.

Inspirational contributors to Aboriginal Health

The National Rural and Remote Health Awards set the stage for recognition of the inspirational contributions of a range of Aboriginal health professionals and organisations from around Australia at Parliament House last week. Hosted by Rural Health Pro, the awards were launched in 2023 to celebrate exceptional rural and remote health professionals, including those working in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.

There to welcome everybody to the lands of the Ngunnawal people on which Parliament House sits was local elder and Director of the Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation Auntie Violet Sheridan, who congratulated all finalists for being nominated by their peers and employers. Aboriginal health organisations were well represented across all ten categories, and a large contingent from the Aboriginal health sector converged on Canberra to attend the event.

The Award for Excellence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healthcare was sponsored by Australian Unity, whose General Manager Indigenous Business & Community Engagement Trish Oxford also gave an address and spoke of the importance of working in the spirit of Yindymarra, a Wiradjuri word that means to approach something with dignity and respect.

"Thank you to Rural Health Pro for organising this event and the opportunity to acknowledge the work completed across the country, and congratulations to the nominees and award recipients – together we can go some way in progressing healthcare equity across regional and rural Australia", Ms Oxford said.

The Federal Government was represented by the Assistant Minister for Rural and Regional Health, Emma McBride MP, and the Opposition by Senator Anne Ruston, Shadow Minister for Health and Aged Care.

2Award for Excellence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healthcare

From an inspirational field of contenders, it was a partnership between Darling Downs Public Health Unit and Darling Downs Indigenous Health that won the award for Excellence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healthcare for their Healthy Skin, Healthy Heart program.

The program was created in response to the rise of skin conditions and acute RHD in Cherbourg, Queensland. Director of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Services at Darling Downs Health Rica Lacey told RDN that working in rural and remote health was rewarding because "you become part of the community. The health responses that we’ve led have been community-led."

Dr Priya Janagaraj of Darling Downs Public Health Unit said that being nominated by their First Nations community to receive this award was "a great honour and it's motivating, and definitely inspires us to continue to do the work that we’re doing for the community... to improve the lives of rural and remote Australians and also to close the gaps of Indigenous Australians and First Nations communities," she said.

"RHD disproportionately affects First Nations people and is a disease of disadvantage and we all have a role in closing the gap and achieving health equity."


110,00km worth of enthusiasm to attend the awards

Katherine West Health Board (KWHB) was recognised with the award for Rural/Remote Multidisciplinary Collaboration of the Year. Summing up the enthusiasm in the room, CEO of KWSB Sinon Cooney told RDN: "We’ve had two flights, had to stop off on the way, maybe a 10,000km round trip - it was worth it!"

"We work with some of the most disadvantaged people in the Territory - in some of the most remote locations. When it rains, we get cut off from some of our remote communities, so access to healthcare is what we’re about," explained the Board's Director of Community Engagement David Lines.

"I think events like this matter because the recognition of people’s hard work across the sector is really important to one, recognise it, but also celebrate it as a collective," Mr Lines said.

Katherine West Health Board is a small, Aboriginal community-controlled health organisation covering a vast 162,000 km² region in the western Northern Territory. This year, it celebrated 25 years of Aboriginal community control.


3Scoring goals for for remote Aboriginal health

The award for Dedication to Health in a Remote Location went to Hoops 4 Health, an Aboriginal-led business based on Larrakia Country in the Northern Territory, that blends the life experiences of its mentors with leading-edge trauma-informed neuroscience.

"I felt proud of our team and the efforts of what we’ve done over the last 20 plus years, especially in Northern Australia and Central Australia and doing work with our most vulnerable and most remote communities in the world," founder Timmy Duggan OAM told RDN.

"A lot of the work does go unnoticed, you’re out in remote locations, right? And you just do the job because you’re obligated to it or you got a community mindset and you got a commitment to improving lives. And that’s what we do at Hoops 4 Health, we’re having a go and that’s why its important to celebrate and acknowledge the hard work that’s done right across remote and rural Australia," Mr Duggan said. 

Hoops 4 Health has been running basketball and health programs since 2001, with the slogan, "Leading and Dreaming in the Spirit of the Game".


Goojinburra woman wins Rising Star award

Shay-Lee Coulson, a Goojinburra woman of the Bundjalung nation and a third-year medical student at the University of New England pipped a competitive field to take out the Rising Star award. "Even just being nominated for the Rising Star Award has been an experience that is both humbling and very exciting,” Ms Coulson told Rural Health Pro.

“My nomination extends beyond my individual achievements; it is a testament to the collective efforts of my support network and, further, to each First Nations medical student committed to addressing the unique challenges of rural healthcare," she said. 

"The healthcare disparities I witnessed growing up, the stories of my family set my course early on to break down the health inequities however I can. It's about honouring who I am, where I come from and bringing culturally safe and competent care to the forefront of medicine.”

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For full coverage of the National Rural and Remote Health Awards, visit www.ruralhealthpro.





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