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JILL Gallagher is humbled by her Order of Australia for distinguished service to Victoria’s indigenous community.
But she’s not about to rest on her laurels. There’s still a lot of work to be done.
As head of the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation for the past 12 years, she has seen her people face increasingly dire health challenges since she joined the organisation in 1992.
”Chronic disease is a huge problem, tobacco is one of them, diabetes is a huge issue and when you look at Victoria you’ve got a lot of Aboriginal people living in urban areas who have shocking health problems. The health status of people living in Fitzroy is the same as people living in Fitzroy Crossing, so we have a job to do convincing governments that there are Aboriginal people who live in Victoria who need just as much support.”
Asked to list her most significant achievement in her time in Aboriginal health, the 57-year-old cites her influence in getting the state government to sign the statement of intent to close the 17-year life expectancy gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.
She says there are many factors, beyond access to health services, that contribute to the disparity. ”If you’re going to close the life expectancy gap you’ve got to look at education and employment opportunities. Anyone whether you’re black or white, if you’ve got a job you’re going to be a lot more healthy.”
She is also proud of her role in the return of 800 Aboriginal skeletons – the Murray Black Collection – from the Museum of Victoria and the National Museum of Australia to indigenous communities in northern Victoria and southern New South Wales for burial.
”My passion is actually for us as Aboriginal people to be recognised and valued as Aboriginal Australians and to enjoy the same benefits that this country offers as non-indigenous Australians.