Highlighting the achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nurses and midwives

Elle Brown RN & Mark Aitken RN
We’re celebrating the stories and work of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nurses and midwives this NAIDOC week.
This issue deals with sensitive issues related to the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in colonisation. If this topic raises sensitive or triggering feelings for you, consider whether now is a safe time to read it. Give Nurse & Midwife Support a call on 1800 667 877 if you would like to talk about what you are feeling.

Celebrating NAIDOC week: For Our Elders, 2-9 July 2023

We spotlight the achievements and some of the challenges of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander colleagues in this NAIDOC week edition of our newsletter: Edition 21: Supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nurses and midwives. 

We appreciate and celebrate the individuality, uniqueness and diversity of those who make up the professions of nursing and midwifery and know that sharing our stories makes us stronger.

Yarning is a central part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. When we asked First Nations nurses and midwives to be part of this edition of our newsletter they jumped on board and told us they would like to tell their stories through yarning with us. We thought that was a great idea, so this edition features three special episodes of the Nurse & Midwife Support podcast. We’re so grateful to our colleagues Lesley Salem, Dr Ali Drummond, Aunty Gina Bundle and Alexandrea Burton for joining us to share their stories, experiences and important insights. 

We’re also thankful to mental health nurse and frequent contributor Tessa Moriarty, who helped us coordinate this newsletter and joined us as a co-host on the podcast.

We pay our respects to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nurses, midwives and students and acknowledge their rich and long history of providing care and service to their communities. We continue to learn about the impact of colonisation on the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nurses and midwives and lend our voice to improving their health outcomes, experiences in the workplace and eradicating racism.

Cultural Safety is our responsibility — consider cultural safety education

Improving Cultural Safety in healthcare is the responsibility of all healthcare workers. Indeed, our Code of Conduct requires it. Principle 3: Cultural practice and respectful relationships says that we as nurses and midwives are tasked to “create a positive, culturally safe work environment through role modelling, and supporting the rights, dignity and safety of others, including people and colleagues.”

Cultural Safety is something we can — and must — learn through education, training, and listening to our First Nations colleagues.   

We encourage all nurses and midwives to complete the Murra Mullungari training offered by the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives (CATSINaM).  Murra Mullungari offers an Introduction to Cultural Safety and Cultural Humility to help you start or continue your lifelong learning and improve the care provided to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients and colleagues. 

Please also consider the invitation to join CATSINaM, generously extended by the organization to the Nursing and Midwifery Professions.

In this issue

Yarning with a nurse trailblazer

Wonnarua woman Lesley Salem speaks to us about her experiences being the first Aboriginal Nurse Practitioner. She shares her passion for nursing, her experiences of racism and her dedication to education and mentoring others, especially student nurses.

“I went home and my image is of me at three in the morning in a cold shed, sitting by myself... I said, ‘This is the most exciting profession on the planet of the Earth.'"

Listen to Episode 41: Yarning with Lesley Salem, the first Aboriginal Nurse Practitioner

Talking Cultural Safety with the new CATSINaM CEO

Dr Ali Drummond was the acting CEO of Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives (CATSINaM) when we recorded this podcast but has recently been appointed CEO. Congratulations! 

Dr Drummond is a Meriam and Erubam man of Zenadh Kes (Torres Straits) and Wuthathi man from Far North Queensland. He shares his background in nursing, his move towards academia and specifically why that is an important place to embed Cultural Safety and Cultural Humility. In the podcast, Dr Drummond references Dr Chelsea Watego and her book Another Day in the Colony, an insightful and powerful challenge to racism in Australia.

He explains that nurses have always been changemakers: 

“I think there's an assumption that nursing and midwifery are apolitical. Nothing is apolitical, we all live in a social, cultural space, there's politics everywhere. If you're not actively engaging, just being aware of it, and understanding whether you are condoning a certain ideology, or certain approach, or certain direction ... just claiming an apolitical space is a bit of a cop-out. Yeah, I think acknowledge that and understand that our disciplines aren't apolitical, we've never been. We've always pushed for what's best for our patients, for the community. But what's best for our patients and community can be quite complicated. So we have to go to the next step then, and understand the complexity. Cultural safety really helps us understand.”

Listen to Episode 42: Cultural Safety with Dr Ali Drummond

The Baggarrook Caseload program making a difference

Aboriginal Liaison Officer Aunty Gina Bundle, a Djiringanj, Walbunja woman and midwife Alexandrea Burton, a Waradjuri woman, talk to us about their careers in health and the Baggarrook Caseload program at The Royal Women’s Hospital. They are Closing the Gap, providing culturally safe midwifery practice and care. They also demonstrate the importance of care for your colleagues translating to the ability to improve care for clients. Each member of the team is helped to have a manageable workload, be in a culturally safe environment and enabled to have time for the other roles in their life.

Aunty Gina explains, 

“Midwives historically were Aboriginal Aunties. Due to colonisation, those practices were put a stop to. So what we've tried to do over the years is recreate those old practices in a contemporary setting. Hence now we have Aboriginal nurses and midwives in this hospital, but in the context of a caseload team, which is a five-star one, these girls offer five-star treatment.”

Aunty Gina has recently been awarded a well-deserved Medal of the Order of Australia in recognition of her service to Victoria’s Indigenous community. Thank you for your tireless work! 

Listen to Episode 43: Baggarrook midwifery with Aunty Gina Bundle and Alexandrea Burton

Pursuing Cultural Safety through education

Tessa Moriarty shares her story of realising that her own experiences as a Māori woman raised in New Zealand did not exempt her from the need for Cultural Safety training in Australia. Tessa explores her challenging but crucial education in the CATSINaM program Murra Mullangari: Introduction to Cultural Safety and Cultural Humility

“The training program requires a deep level of personal awareness, insight and growth. There was no hiding from our own lack of understanding, ignorance and bias. But the real outcome for me, is a personal acknowledgement that I need to keep learning — from a position that is much humbler and willing to admit what I don’t know.”

Thanks to Tessa for sharing her story, and for all her help in coordinating this newsletter!

Read Lessons I Needed in Cultural Safety and Humility

The power of education

All of our participants spoke about the importance of education to facilitate reflection and recognition of bias. The generosity of our podcast guests in taking part in these podcasts is unparalleled. Each talked about how we might better support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nurses, midwives and students. The first step is education in Cultural Safety and Cultural Humility. Next steps might be that education throughout your career. Follow CATSINaM on Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn to stay up to date with their important work. 

Reach out

Nurse & Midwife Support is the national service supporting the health and wellbeing of nurses, midwives and students. If you need to talk, call us free, confidential, 24/7 on 1800 667 877 or email us

Sovereignty was never ceded.

First Nations health matters. 

Elle Brown RN & Mark Aitken RN
Nurse & Midwife Support Stakeholder Engagement Team 

Cover art courtesy of NAIDOC