Issue 4 | June 2015


  1. CEO Welcome

  2. Working at a national level

  3. 2015 Federal Budget

  4. Our Membership

  5. Cultural safety in the national space

  6. Cultural Safety Workshops

  7. 2015 Professional Development Forum

  8. Student and Member CPD Forums

  9. Stakeholder Forums

  10. Conferences, forums and symposiums

  11. Mentoring Program

  12. Working towards establishing a LINMEN

  13. Interview with Professor and Aunty Gracelyn Smallwood

CEO Welcome

A month ago, along with other similar national organisations, CATSINaM was given an assurance from the Australian Government that it would continue to fund our work, at least in the interim. We are currently negotiating for a three year contract so we can build on the foundation we have set over the last two years with the reshaping of CATSINaM and our 2013-2018 Strategic Plan. 

Our funding should allow us to continue the regular activities we have established over the last two years, but it will be frozen at 2014-2015 levels so this means we have less in real terms. There is no additional funding for the many initiatives we had proposed to undertake further work we could do in recruitment and retention of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nurses and midwives, professional development, cultural safety, research and workforce development.

This edition of the newsletter highlights what we have been doing in the last three months – the work that is more public, like the Jurisdictional Member CPD Forums and Stakeholder Forums, and the work that is often invisible as we represent and advocate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nurses and midwives on a national basis. We are also preparing for initiatives and events that will emerge over 2015-2016 – see the articles about the National Professional Development Forum, Jurisdictional Forums, the CATSINaM Mentoring Program and the LINMEN Scoping Study.

We hope your 2015-2016 year starts well amongst all the changes occurring in the health sector. We especially look forward to seeing as many of you as possible in the near future at the National and Jurisdictional Forums.

Kind regards,

Janine Mohamed

How is CATSINaM working for you at a national level?

Representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nurses and midwives is our core business, but so often this work is difficult for Members to see. Here are a few examples from the last three months that may interest you. Several other articles also highlight how we are doing this, especially those on Cultural Safety.

Representation on ANMAC

Janine Mohamed has taken over CATSINaM’s representation on the ANMAC Board, and has attended the April and May meetings, as well as their strategic planning. A topic of high relevance to CATSINaM included the Enrolled Nursing Review Consultation Papers from Community Services and Health Industry Skills Council (CS&HISC) on developing a new training package for the Diploma of Nursing qualification. The new qualification will confirm to the revised Standards for Registered Training Organisations (RTO) released by the Australian Skills Quality Agency (ASQA); however, the current qualification does not.

The issues are: 1) only a one year period is being allowed for the transition of existing students (full or part-time) into the new qualification, which is insufficient, and 2) students would be allowed to enrol in the superseded qualification in the year following release of the new qualification. CATSINaM provided an independent submission to CS&HISC in April on this matter. ANMAC is also working on achieving a more appropriate solution.

We are also a member of the ANMAC Standards and Accreditation & Assessment Committee that meets quarterly.  This is where we are persisting with our advocacy to have ‘cultural safety’ included in the relevant standard of each profession’s accreditation standards: Registered Nurse, Registered Midwife, Nurse Practitioner and Enrolled Nurse. 

Engaging Politicians

Meeting with politicians: The value of holding our March 4th 2015 Close the Gap Parliamentary Breakfast, which close to 60 politicians attended, is that it opens the doors to have personal meetings directly with politicians, not just their staff. Since the event we have met and advocated on CATSINaM priorities with:
  • Senator Claire Moore – Shadow Minister for Women
  • Senator Nova Peris OAM, Northern Territory
  • Senator Rachel Siewert, Greens Spokesperson on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Issues
  • Hon Shayne Neumann SP, Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs
  • Senator Ley, Minister for Health and Senator Nash, Assistant Minister for Health
  • Senator Jacqui Lambie, Tasmania
Participating in Senate Inquiries: CATSINaM was represented at the Senate Inquiry into Health Public Hearing in April 2015. We had previously put in a joint submission to the inquiry with a consortium led by the ANC. At the public hearing we provided a one-page supplement and our three policy position statements: Cultural safety, Recruitment and Retention, and Clinical Placements. Remember, these are also on our website for all Members to use as you need: Our presentation profiled the need and importance of investing in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nursing education, training and employment using our recent economic analysis report:

Working with national commissions and task forces.

Australian Health and Safety and Quality Commission: CATSINaM recently organised a focus group for the Australian Health and Safety and Quality Commission (ACSQHC) as part of their project ‘Improving the safety and quality of health care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people using the National Safety and Quality Health Service Standards’.

National Taskforce on ICE: CATSINaM was invited to participate in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander consultation held by the National Taskforce on ICE in early June. It is too early to know how this will be reflected in the Taskforce’s report, but we advocated for: working in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and communities and ensuring there is strong representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the design, implementation and monitoring of initiatives; building workforce capacity on how to best support families; and increased funding for drug and alcohol services.

Birthing on Country joint policy position statement with the Australian College of Midwives and CRANAplus

At the 2014 Conference, over 40 Members participated in the ‘Birthing on Country’ Yarning Circle (see the report on our website at <>). This lay out the directions that CATSINaM and the Australian College of Midwives should follow in developing a joint policy on Birthing on Country. As a consequence of this work, the Birthing on Country Working Group was established and has met several times so far. CRANAplus has also joined it to create a three-way partnership. Our Members, Rhonda Marriott and Leona McGrath, are on the Committee along with Colleen Gibbs from the Secretariat.

The Working Group are close to finalising a draft position statement. This is a vital development, as the purpose of a position statement is to advocate for and promote the provision of maternity services that are on country, culturally respectful, appropriate and safe for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, their families and community.

Liaison with State/Health Territory Departments

NSW Health: CATSINaM has initiated and are continuing conversations with the Office of the Chief Nurse and Midwife for NSW Health on whether they may collaborate on supporting the CATSINaM Mentoring Program in their state.

SA Health: Janine Mohamed was invited by the Chief Nurse and Midwife for SA Health to present the ‘Aboriginal Nurse/Midwife Award’ at the South Australian Nursing and Midwifery Excellence Awards. This went to Teresa Branson, Kanggawodli Primary Health Care Services (pictured below with Janine).


Engaging with university Schools of Nursing and Midwifery

CATSINaM is in regular contact with university Schools of Nursing and Midwifery for a range of different matters. A key example of this work is the article on ‘Online videos and study resources’. Other recent examples include:
  • University of Technology Sydney: Meeting with key staff, including Angela Phillips and Lori Parish, to learn more about the ‘graduate attributes’ they have developed for students in the health professions, and proposed research that review the current approach to curriculum on Aboriginal health, history, culture and cultural safety.
  • University of SA: Meeting with the new Associate Head of School: Academic in the School of Nursing and Midwifery, Rachel Vernon, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Project Officer for the Division of Health Sciences, Trevor Ritchie to expand their understanding of CATSINaM and the potential for working more closely to support students and improve the Aboriginal health, history, culture and cultural safety curriculum.
  • Flinders University: Meeting with the Senior Lecture – Indigenous Health for Nurses and Midwives to discuss her concerns about Aboriginal nursing and midwifery student placements in SA.

Points of interest from the 2015 Federal Budget

Our review of the recent budget has identified a few points of interest for Members, as well as the nursing and midwifery professions in general:
  • Free vaccinations for people aged 70 – 79 on the National Immunisation Program, and flu shingle and flu vaccination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients.
  • The National Immunisation Register to be expanded to include adults.
  • A $6 incentive per child for providers who identify and provide catch up immunizations if more than 2 months overdue.
  • $20M over two years for the RFDS to support services into remote areas.
  • All workforce scholarships (Medical, Nursing and Allied Health) to be consolidated into one program, have a $72.5M saving target applied over four years and require a 12 month return of service obligation for recipients.
  • The Medicare Benefits Schedule will undergo a significant review to ensure it reflects evidenced-base services and clinical best practice. This will be the most comprehensive review of the MBS ever undertaken. The Taskforce is expected to report back with key priority areas for action late in 2015. There is also a CPI freeze, which may have a detrimental effect for services that are reliant on Medicare income increases for workforce and service growth.
  • Australian Nurse Family Partnership Program to grow from three to five sites.
  • New Directions: Mothers and Babies services to reach an additional 25 locations (total of 110).

Growing our membership

The CATSINaM family continued to grow! We have 542 Members as of the end of June.  Affiliate membership has grown to 59 in total since it was introduced last year, representing 53 individuals and six organisations. We value having more non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nurses and midwives and organisations demonstrate how they are ‘allies’ for CATSINaM through taking up formal membership. Importantly however, 85% of our membership is made up of qualified or student nurses and midwives, including registered nurses, registered midwives and enrolled nurses. 

Overall, this growth means we have more people on the team, which is fantastic, and we are making good progress towards our 2018 target of 1200 Members. Please help us achieve this by encouraging your nursing and midwifery friends and colleagues to join.


Talking up cultural safety in the national space

Highlighting and advocating the importance of cultural safety has remained high on CATSINaM’s agenda over the last three months – in fact, it will never come off our agenda. Examples of our recent work include:
  • delivering a ‘Cultural Safety and Resilience’ CPD workshop to Members and Students at our Jurisdictional Stakeholder Forums
  • presenting on cultural safety at our Jurisdictional Stakeholder Forums (see article below)
  • presenting on CATSINaM’s approach to addressing Cultural Safety at the ‘Having the hard conversations: Good practice in working with resistance to Indigenous health and cultural safety’ International Symposium in Adelaide held by two of the Poche Centres for Indigenous Health and Wellbeing (Adelaide and Alice Springs)
  • presenting to the NMBA and ANMAC on the need to embed cultural safety into the nursing and midwifery standards and competency 
  • promoting the six-monthly CATSINaM Cultural Safety Workshop for stakeholders in national and jurisdictional locations
  • using the CATSINaM Cultural Safety Policy Position Statement in our liaison and correspondence with all our stakeholders, including formal meetings, representation work or submissions
  • sharing our approach to cultural safety with other Aboriginal health professional associations.

CATSINaM's Cultural Safety Workshops

The next available workshop for CATSINaM’s collaborators and stakeholders is July 15-16th in Canberra. Non-Aboriginal people in leadership and management positions are the primary audience so we can develop a shared understanding of what cultural safety is, and what they need to consider in creating cultural safety for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nurses, midwives and community members.

Reflecting on the three workshops we have held so far, we are starting to see how our stakeholders’ participation translates into a more open and supportive position on CATSINaM’s priorities. We have had participants return to their organisations and arrange for all of their staff to undertake the same or similar training, e.g. ANMAC, Sydney University School of Nursing, and Griffith University School of Nursing and Midwifery. 

Several organisations have been increasingly responsive to attending or supporting CATSINaM events, including through in-kind support or contributing to costs. In a few instances, organisations have progressed their work on developing and implementing a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) or decided that it is a priority for their organisation to commence the RAP process. For these reasons, CATSINaM will continue to offer the workshops.

2015 National Professional Development Forum: September 22nd - 24th

Preparation continues for the 2015 National Professional Development Forum in Darwin. If you have read the Friday News in late May/June, you know that we have confirmed it is proceeding, called for papers and announced the availability of student bursaries to attend. The program is being developed with different professional development options being made available across the three days, such as:Diabetes and kidney disease education
  • Mental health and chronic disease
  • Cardiac Care and RHD
  • Self-care and resilience
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Aboriginal art and expression
  • Cultural safety
  • Mentoring
  • Life Coach and Career Planning
The CATSINaM Annual Awards and Dinner will coincide with this national event – this has been a fun and well-received evening since the inaugural event held at the 2013 Conference. So, get involved and join us there!
Maybe it will be you receiving an award, just like Noela Baigrie in 2013 (bottom photo) and Roianne West in 2014 (top photo) shown here receiving the Sally Goold Award for individual nursing and/or midwifery excellence.


Jurisdictional Student and Member CPD Forums

We have been on the road holding Student and Member CPD Forums in Melbourne, Sydney and Melbourne during April and May focused on ‘Cultural safety and resilience’. We take the opportunity to talk about our recent and future work with Full and Student Members, encourage Students to become Members if they aren’t already, and gain feedback from Members about their needs and opinion of our work. We have had 15 Students or Members participate to date, with support people also attending for Students in two locations.

We have asked participants two questions to gain their feedback on the forums. The results so far are shown in this graph and are very positive. The first question - How helpful was the ‘Cultural safety and resilience’ PD session to you personally? - is rated as ‘1 = Not at all, 2 = A little, 3 = Somewhat, 4 = Mostly or 5 = Completely’. Responses are shown in the purple bars and equal an average score of 4.4 out of 5. The second question - Would you encourage other Members to come if it was run again? – is rated as ‘1 = No, 2 = Possibly, 3 = Probably, 4 = Most likely or 5 = Definitely’. Responses are shown in the green bars and equal an average score of 4.8 out of 5.

We have three further forums planned for 2015 – so if they are near you, please join us and encourage other Members or potential Members to come along:
  • Brisbane, July 21st
  • Broome August 19th 
  • Perth, August 20th


Jurisdictional Stakeholder Forums

We have also held Jurisdictional Stakeholder Forums on the same day as the Student and Member forums during April and May. We send a special thank you to the Members who have come along to support us by speaking: Ben Gorrie and Simon Hodgman in Melbourne; Leona McGrath, Michelle Cutmore and Matthew Scott in Sydney; and Jasmine Valadian in Adelaide. Attendances have been excellent with 53 people from our full range of stakeholders participating so far, including our November 2014 Forum in Canberra. The pie chart shows the distribution for different stakeholder groups.

During the forum, participants identify what priorities they share with CATSINaM, and where they are willing to explore opportunities for collaboration. To date, the top four ranked shared priorities are:

1.Recruitment and retention of students: 49%
2.Cultural safety (students/staff) - addressing racism: 43%
3.Recruitment and retention of staff once graduated & registered: 32%
4.Importance of mentoring, role models and/or support for students & graduates: 15%
The top four ranked collaborative opportunities are:
1.Teaching and assessing health, culture & history (LINMEN): 32%
2.Cultural safety PD for staff and/or nurses & midwives, including academics: 30%
3.Recruitment pathways into nursing via EN & AN programs, links to high schools: 23%
4.Mentoring program partnerships: 23%
We will follow up participants over the next few months to see how these opportunities can be realised.

CATSINaM at conferences, forums and symposiums

CATSINaM is frequently involved in providing formal presentations and/or exhibitions at professional forums, conferences and symposiums. This lifts the profile of CATSINaM as the peak body and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nurses and midwives in general, and provides a platform for advocating on our priorities and engaging our stakeholders and potential collaborators. You or your colleagues may have seen us at:
  • The University of Melbourne Aboriginal Health Conference in Shepparton: Formal presentation.
  • NSW Health Stepping up Forum: Formal Presentation and exhibition.
  • Coalition of National Nursing Organisations (CoNNO): Formal presentation.
  • Australian Primary Heath Care Nurses Association Conference: Exhibition.

Preparing for the CATSINaM Mentoring Program

We are working on three aspects of this at the moment. First, we our curriculum developers have started developing the Mentor Training Program curriculum materials and the formal documents we require for running the program. Second, we are promoting the CATSINaM Mentor Program through the Jurisdictional Stakeholder Forums – we are getting increased interest in the program. Third, this work is the basis for more focused conversations we intend to have with health departments, services and/or universities over the next three months, such as NSW Health.

Working towards establishing a LINMEN

The first meeting of the Leaders in Indigenous Nursing and Midwifery Education Network (LINMEN) Working Group occurred in April with representatives from CATSINaM, ANMAC, ACN, ACM and the College of Deans of Nursing and Midwifery. They agreed on their terms of reference, discussed options for sourcing funding to support a Scoping Project and the process for setting up a Scoping Project.

The purpose of the Scoping Project is to gain input from stakeholder groups about their level of support for a LINMEN, what relationship it would have with LIME (the Leaders in Indigenous Medical Education Network), and how it should be governed and operated. More information on the initial proposals for a LINMEN are in Section 3 of the ‘National Summit on Cultural Safety in Nursing and Midwifery: Summary report – see

Currently we are developing the Discussion Paper for the Scoping Project and exploring funding options so we can undertake it. We will keep Members and stakeholders in the loop on what is happening, as we intend to send out the Discussion Paper far and wide once we can move on the Scoping Project. Watch this space!

Resourcing our future with the wisdom of experience: An interview with Professor and Aunty Gracelyn Smallwood

We are honoured that the nationally and internationally renowned Professor Gracelyn Smallwood, who has had a long relationship with CATSINaM, was willing to be interviewed for this newsletter. Professor Smallwood has devoted her career to advocating for the empowerment of Indigenous communities and a human rights approach to addressing and redressing racism through education, health and economic sustainability. We asked Aunty Gracelyn four questions that highlights the wisdom she has gathered over her many years of experience since she graduated in 1972 (see photo). We hope her answers inspire you to succeed in the nursing and midwifery professions.

Thinking about all you have done over the last 40 years in nursing and midwifery, with the wisdom of hindsight, would you still choose the same career if you were a young person today? Why?

Without a doubt, I would do it all again, especially my registered nursing and midwifery qualifications. I was privileged to grow up and learn about the impact of colonisation of our people. My father was sent to the notorious Palm Island mission as a half caste child with some of his other siblings.

I am the third eldest of 19 siblings. As a teenager, I remember my Mum, who had 13 children, preparing herself for childbirth. Once the preparation was done, she would usually walk over the hill to the maternity section of the Townsville Hospital ready to give birth. My Mum and other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women disliked being examined by the many male doctors at the Hospital, as this was culturally inappropriate. Once the babies were born, the staff would take them from the mothers and place them in the Nursery. The mothers then had to sleep on the veranda, as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women were segregated from the other patients in the wards. This was during the time that First Nations Australians were legislated under the Flora and Fauna Act.

When I commenced my training in 1967, there was much political unrest as the 1967 Referendum was occurring to count First Nations Australians in the census and address citizenship and voting rights. When I was growing up, my female role models were mostly domestics on very low wages. When I graduated, I found there were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander registered nurses and midwives, although there were not many of them. Since that time I have had the pleasure to interview the majority of them, and many have now sadly passed. I had the opportunity to see the world through their eyes to gain strength in my fight for justice.

So, yes, I would do it all again. I have been privileged to travel the world since the 1970s and have witnessed so much suffering and poverty. I have dealt with many diseases in my 48 year nursing career, from Hansen’s Disease to HIV/AIDS. However, the only disease I could never come to terms with was the ugly disease of Racism.

What advice do you have for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are starting out in nursing and midwifery?

There is an enormous commitment required, so therefore you have to be dedicated to study and hard work to succeed in the profession. It is also difficult because Australia has a long way to go in quality race relations to Close the Gap. In order to survive, we have to be better than the non-Indigenous nurses because of the negative stereotyping. When I was undertaking my nursing training, I made sure my shoes and uniform were immaculate because of this. I was watched very carefully and judged simply for my cultural identity and advocacy for human rights.

Fortunately, there is now much more support available to Indigenous nurses than when I commenced my training. We must remember that our freedom fighters fought for this privilege. We need more Indigenous people in the field of nursing, medicine, health sciences and social work.

Also remember that you can be a great role model in this profession. However, do not forget your cultural heritage, and use your political and professional knowledge to your advantage. You may suffer racism, but it will make you stronger - do not let that deter you. Remember there has been a long history of suffering for Our People. Those who have gone before us have made easier pathways for our younger generation to succeed.

You have faced many challenges over your career, including experiencing racism in the workplace. What have you drawn upon to deal with racism and continue with your nursing and midwifery career?

True, I have been nursing 48 years, there are so many examples of racism. Here are just a few.  When I was doing my anatomy and physiology subject in 1968, there were only two Indigenous students in the class. In those days you learned your profession and did your theory at the same time. The theory exam consisted of multiple-choice questions and you had a number written on the top of your paper to identify who you were. I studied consistently and felt very confident after the exam. The exam was sent to Brisbane for marking (I was training in Townsville) and the results were returned to our tutor Nursing sisters.  They then matched the identification number to our names. When my results arrived I had been awarded a High Distinction.

One of the non-Indigenous students from a wealthy family in my class only received a Pass. Her parents queried the mark with the Medical Superintendent and Director of Nursing/Matron, and suggested that their daughter’s number was mixed up with mine.  This student’s family found it very difficult to accept that an Aboriginal student had been awarded a High Distinction. I took it in my stride, because racism appeared like normal behaviour to us even, though I challenged it all the time. The Medical Superintendent and the Matron supported my results without question.

During my studies, I developed a great rapport with Matron Wanchap at the Townsville Hospital. She always encouraged me to do better and to succeed. I would go home on days off and one time the Matron asked if she could come and meet my family.  I said to her “At your own risk, it’s a goat track in the hills”. She met my Mum and was absolutely shocked at our living conditions in an overcrowded condemned house on Castle Hill.  This gave her some insight into my constant advocacy and determination to Close the Gap.

I am still encountering racism to this very day, as well as lateral violence. I have been around the world, done my nursing, midwifery and mental health qualifications, a Masters and a PhD. These days I still sometimes find that when I go to a hospital to do casual work and am not known to the new nurses, even though my tag says RN/RM, I can be allocated to Enrolled Nurse or Assistant in Nursing duties. Just last week, the young nurse in the senior role allocated me to a bay to look after the old people. She didn’t look at my tag and just assumed I was an EN or AIN. I had an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flag on the collar of the uniform, which I usually always wear, and the RN badge on the other side with my tag around my neck, and a photo ID with my RN number. At the end of my shift, when I told her I was heading off, I mentioned that I was a RN/RM, and pointed out that she had placed me in the Falls Bay where usually patients are looked after by EN/AINs. However, I told her that I had thoroughly enjoyed it, as I like caring for the aged and dementia patients.  I also mentioned to her that my PhD had just been published into a book in London and she was very embarrassed.

In the early days of my career, when I was the nurse in charge of a ward, the family of a patient would routinely ask me to speak to the nurse in charge about their relative, not realising that I was the nurse in charge. They don’t see my RN/RM tag, but will always notice that little Aboriginal badge I wear on my uniform. The following story goes back a while, but the mentality still hasn’t changed. I was a Senior Nurse on a Ward and my cousin, also a nurse and who is dark skinned, came to collect me for morning tea. A woman ran up to us and said, “Quickly, get a nurse”. We knew exactly what she was talking about. She wanted us to get the non-Indigenous nurse. I proceeded towards the patient and called “cardiac arrest". The junior nurses came to assist in the emergency. My cousin and I performed CPR and all the other protocols necessary to keep the patient alive until the acute emergency team arrived. One of the doctors told the woman that if it wasn’t for the two nurses she spoke to, her husband would have passed on. It was our quick thinking that had saved him. The family were quite wealthy, but to thank us they gave us a bag of oranges. If we didn’t have humour, we would not have survived.

In the 1970s, the Whitlam Government commenced funding for health, education and legal services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Australia was becoming an embarrassment overseas based on the appalling treatment and statistics of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The Whitlam Government pledged $100M to the Queensland Government to improve Aboriginal infant mortality rates that were six times higher than the Australian average. Whilst the infant mortality did decrease by 50% the Indigenous Workers were told they had to tie string on their coffee cups so non-Indigenous staff did not use them. Whilst the string has been removed from these coffee cups, institutional racism remains the key denominator as to why the Gap is widening.

During my employment as Director of Nursing at the Hetti Perkins Nursing Home in Alice Springs, I conceived my third child. In my previous pregnancies with my son and daughter, I had high blood pressure, even though I was extremely healthy. I was full term and my obstetrician in Alice Springs had sent me home to Townsville to have my baby around family and specialists who were aware of my previous history. I was admitted to the Townsville Hospital, where I commenced labour. However, I experienced complications and asked the midwife to call the specialist in to do a caesarean section. The midwife replied “the baby is not fully engaged and we cannot call a specialist in at this stage”.

Just before this, my mother was visiting Weipa and caught a barramundi. She saw a death totem and was very nervous about what was happening to me so tried to get back to Townsville from Weipa very quickly, which was not easy to do in those times with minimal transport. At the same time, I was having dreams about our cultural death bird. When the midwife came back to check on me, I again asked for the specialist to be called in as I could see the cultural death bird. I was dismissed and given an intramuscular injection of Largactil 25mg, which placed me out of labour and I went into a deep sleep. I woke up screaming two hours later, so they administered another injection. Within the next half hour my foetal movements ceased and again, I went into a deep sleep. The following morning I was discharged from the hospital without a foetal heart recording. The hospital’s excuse was “it was difficult to pick up the heartbeat because of the excess fluid I was carrying around the baby”. This is known as polyhydraminos.

By the time my mother had arrived that day, fortunately for me she took me back to the hospital as she was very worried. Mum knew there was something wrong with my baby as she could not feel any movement. I then gave birth to a deceased baby and the post-mortem concluded that he had died of a brain haemorrhage within thirty minutes of the first injection of Largactil. The specialist who did the autopsy knew me and was furious that staff ignored me and did not respect my cultural and midwifery knowledge. This was a very traumatising experience. The key issue is to remember that most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have their cultural protocols, and are still struggling to this day to have them respected.

What would you like to see CATSINaM do over the next few years?

I have joined CATSINaM because there are fresh ideas, a young, progressive Indigenous nurse at the top, and I think my knowledge and wisdom of being a mature age nurse can be beneficial to CATSINaM. I am really pleased that young nurses are leading the way and drawing on the wisdom of the mature age nurses. When I was born, my life expectancy was 55 and I am now 64. Every day is a bonus. I would like CATSINaM to promote lots more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nurses and midwives to join the team.

A little more about Professor Gracelyn Smallwood

Aunty Gracelyn has received multiple awards in recognition of her work in nursing, midwifery, preventive health, health promotion and community development across a range of health, mental health and wellbeing, and community development areas. These include the Queensland Aboriginal of the Year Award in 1986, an Order of Australian Medal for 25 years’ service in public health in 1992, the Henry Kemp Memorial Award from the International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect in 1994, the 2007 Deadly Award for Outstanding Achievement in Indigenous Health, the United Nations Association of Australia Queensland Community Award – Individual in 2013, the James Cook University Outstanding Alumni Award in 2014 and the 2014 NAIDOC Person of the Year.

Following completion of her PhD in 2011, Professor Smallwood wrote a book that was launched in May this year, Indigenist Critical Realism: Human Rights and First Australian’s well-being. More information about the book, along with another interview with Aunty Gracelyn can be found at this link to the First Nations Telegraph:

A book preview is available at: 


Unity and Strength through Caring

5 Lancaster Place, Majura ACT 2609

Phone: 02 6262 5761 |

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