NACCHO Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Health News: Racism taking a toll during Voice campaign

photo of Aboriginal child's face with white dot body paint & ATSI woman in background with Aboriginal flag t-shirt

The image in the feature tile is from an article Voice campaigns urged to keep mental health top of mind published in the National Indigenous Times on 6 September 2023. Photo: Mick Tsikas, AAP.

The NACCHO Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health News is platform we use to showcase the important work being done in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, focusing on the work of NACCHO, NACCHO members and NACCHO affiliates.

We also share a curated selection of news stories that are of likely interest to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector, broadly.

Racism taking a toll during VTP campaign

Audrina Pinney is only 12 years old but that’s old enough for the young Gamilaroi child to have experienced racism. Audrina believes that if the referendum gets up she and her friend, who she says both get bullied a lot, will have a lot more confidence. Too young to vote, but too old to ignore what’s happening around her, Audrina has taken an active role in campaigning for the Indigenous Voice to Parliament. Audrina’s mother Melita Berthaly said. “This is our future here. If we’re not backing this, what are we backing?” she said. “We want to stop the pain, and the hardship of fighting just to be us. For me, this is all about our younger generations, and supporting them for a brighter better future, sitting at the table with the big guys and having our voices heard.”

For many Aboriginal people in the NSW Riverina, the vote for a Voice to Parliament feels like the most important event of their lives. Aboriginal crisis support service 13YARN say the referendum campaign has been a challenging experience for Indigenous Australians. National program manager Marjorie Anderson said people should reach out for support if they were struggling. 13YARN is seeing a rise of in calls related to abuse, trauma and racism,” she said. The increased focus in the media on Aboriginal issues due to the referendum and the rise in racism on social media is having an impact on the Aboriginal community.”

Eddie Whyman is a proud Wiradjuri man living in Wagga who has recently taken a more public role in activism. He said he’d seen more racism in the last few months than he did growing up. “On social media, we’ve seen the true colours of Australia shine through,” he said. “It’s impacted me mentally, and personally … it’s impacted me significantly.” Mr Whyman said misinformation was leading directly to these impacts. “I’ve always heard, and it’s been more in your face, is that Aboriginal people get everything as it is – free house, free car,” he said. “I’ve had to work for what I’ve got … our local Aboriginal medical and dental provides, but we still have to pay a fee when we get referrals. I’m still waiting for my free house.”

To view the Narromine News and Trangie Advocate article Aboriginal Australians are suffering from racism and misinformation in full click here.

Audrina Pinney & her mum Melita Berthaly speaking on the VTP

Audrina Pinney and her mother Melita Berthaly. Image source: Narromine News and Trangir Advocate.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for kids

Content warning: This article contains reference to suicide. Please refer to the services at the bottom of this article for support.

A Kimberley community leader says young people and their families are still struggling to access basic mental health support despite suicide being the leading cause of death for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed suicide accounted for 27% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children last year. The causes of death report revealed that more than a third of those children were aged between 15 and 17. The high rates of child suicide in the Kimberley have been the subject of numerous coronial inquests, as well as other inquiries and reviews, and the WA government has faced criticism for failing to make good on its highly-publicised promises. Coroners have also expressed frustration that their recommendations have received little to no follow-up at state and national levels.

Nyamba Buru Yawuru CEO Taliah Payne said people in the Kimberley had been in desperate need of help for too long. “When you’re sitting across the dinner table and you’ve got a nephew in a neck brace because he survived his attempt and you’re trying to eat your roast dinner, it’s in your face,” she said. “They’re doing it so violently, which means to me that they’re so desperate, and no-one’s listening and no-one’s seeing the person behind that pain.”

The Broome-based Yawuru, Nimanburru and Djugun woman said youth suicide and mental health issues had been present in her life since her nine-year-old cousin died by suicide when she was 11 years old. “We’ve lost lots of family members to that … it’s in your face, really,” Ms Payne said. “We know that we shouldn’t be seeing this … it’s an ongoing support system that needs to happen. If we have traumatised children, we’re going to have traumatised adults — that is plain and simple.” Ms Payne said young people in the Kimberley continued to struggle to access mental health support and that many were forced to travel as far as Perth for help.

To view the ABC News article Calls for support as suicide revealed as leading cause of death for Indigenous children in full click here.

simple white cross on fresh grave

Suicide is the leading cause of death for Indigenous children and advocates in WA say the situation has been desperate for years. Photo: Joshua Spong, ABC Kimberley.

If this article brought up anything for you or someone you love, please reach out to, call or visit the online resources listed below for support:

13YARN – 13 92 76,

Lifeline – 13 11 14,

Beyond Blue – 1300 224 636,

MensLine – 1300 789 978

Kids Helpline – 1800 551 800

Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467

Mental health app for NT mob launched

The Menzies School of Health Research on Tuesday this week (9 October 2023) launched an online resource which blends evidence-based treatment with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander world views. The Digital Stay Strong Plan, which can be accessed via an app or through its website, is an interactive document that prompts the user to fill out a four-step mental health care plan.

Stay Strong lead cultural advisor Patj Patj Janama Robert Mills said while it was designed for Aboriginal people, all Territorians could use the free resource. Mr Mills said about two decades of research and consultation had gone into the plan, which had previously been used across the country for years in more formal settings. “The beauty of this digital program is once you download it, you don’t need Wi-Fi (to use it),” he said. “You can actually go through the four-step care plan on your phone … then you’ve literally got a helping hand on your phone at any time.”

Mr Mills said it marked a huge change for access to mental health support and offered something his generation never had. “I was born in the 60s … there was no discussion on mental health at all,” he said. “We want to break down all the stigmas, mental health is not a dirty word.”

To view the NT News article Menzies launch Digital Stay Strong Plan mental health app in full click here.

mobile phone screen with AIMhi Stay Strong app

The Digital Stay Strong Plan can be accessed on the AIMhi app. Photo: Annabel Bowles. Image source: NT News.

25 years of optometry services within VAHS

This month, the Australian College of Optometry (ACO) is celebrating 25 years of optometry services within the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS) in Melbourne. This unique clinic aims to remove barriers to eye care experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in mainstream services which continues to systematically fail Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and drive health disparities. As an ACCHO, VAHS supports the social, emotional, physical, and cultural wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and is coincidentally celebrating 50 years of operation this year. Eye health is among the many healthcare services available to community members through VAHS, including GP care, dental, physiotherapy and family counselling.

The ACO’s optometry clinic delivers culturally safe care with sessions running every Tuesday and Friday. Nilmini John, ACO Manager of Aboriginal Services, leads the team of four optometrists who service the embedded clinic. In this role, Nilmini works closely with the VAHS team to continually ensure community eye health needs are met.  Collaboration between health care providers and ACCHOs has proven instrumental for meaningful impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health outcomes, and the ACO is appreciative of the opportunity to work within community-controlled spaces, such as VAHS, to deliver effective care.

Gavin Brown, VAHS CEO is passionate about the growth in eye care services at available to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. “VAHS is a recognised leader in the eye health space, and we also acknowledge the incredible work that ACCHOs are doing across Australia. There is a strong synergy by all those involved in improving the eye health in our communities as we continue to be committed to enabling the gift of sight.”

To view the Optometry Australia article ACO celebrates 25 years of optometry service at VAHS in full click here.

Nilmini John, optometrist and ACO Manager of Aboriginal Services, examines patient at VAHS

Nilmini John, optometrist and ACO Manager of Aboriginal Services, examines patient at VAHS. Image source: Optometry Australia.

Lived experience sparks midwife to help others

Being a mother to six boys, with one of her children born prematurely at 29 weeks, prompted Noongar woman Valerie Ah Chee to become a midwife at the age of 45. Inspired to improve perinatal and infant mortality outcomes within the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, Ms Ah Chee is now using her midwifery experience as a Mater Researcher within the Stillbirth Centre of Research Excellence.

“According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Australia’s Mothers and Babies report in 2020, Indigenous stillbirth is at 11.9% while non-Indigenous stillbirth sits at 7.4%,” she said. “To recognise why that is and to try to develop and adjust programs to improve prevention strategies and outcomes is vital.”

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month (October 2023) is an opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of maternal health education and support among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Focusing on Aboriginal maternal and infant health, Ms Ah Chee is working with her team to embed cultural safety in the pregnancy and birth space, to improve the health of Aboriginal women and their babies from a cultural perspective.

The Indigenous team at the Stillbirth Centre of Research Excellence worked with the Indigenous community to adapt core elements of the successful national initiative Safer Baby Bundle (SBB), embedding Indigenous people’s own way of knowing, being and doing. Expanding on this initiative, Ms Ah Chee is now developing resources to educate and support non-Indigenous healthcare professionals who work with Indigenous women in this space.

You can find more information about the Safer Baby program here.

To view the Mater News article Lived experience sparks Indigenous Mater Research midwife to help others in full click here.

midwife Valerie Ah Chee on verandah of old red brick hospital

Midwife Valerie Ah Chee. Image source: Mater News.

Taking care of mental health during the referendum

The Voice referendum is having a negative impact on the mental health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The federal government set aside an extra $10m to boost support services, and research the consequences of the vote. The research side is being managed by the National Centre for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Wellbeing Research (NCATSIWR) at Australian National University (ANU).

Yesterday, Wednesday 10 October 2023, ABC Listen Life Matters host Hilary Harper spoke with:

  • Ms Cornforth of the Wuthathi peoples of the far north-east cape of Qld with family roots also in Zenadth Kes (the Torres Strait Islands), who is Head of the NCATSIWR, and
  • Tanja Hirvonen, a proud Jaru and Bunaba woman (Kimberley, WA), who is a clinical psychologist and Board director of the Australian Indigenous Psychologists Association

about what’s been learned so far, and how can we support those having a difficult time during the referendum, and afterwards.

You can listen to yesterday’s ABC Listen Life Matters episode Taking care of mental health during the Voice referendum in full here.

NCATSIWR fact sheets about the Voice can be accessed here.

If you are an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person in crisis you can call 13YARN on 13 96 76.

ATSI person's hand casting vote in VTP referendum in remote WA community

An Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person casting their vote on the Voice to Parliament Referendum in a remote WA community. Photo: Rosanne Maloney, ABC News.

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