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Reconciliation Week 2023 Recap

Reconciliation Week 2023 - summary

Reconciliation Week presents us with an opportunity to reflect on what we are doing individually and as State and Territory organisations to work towards closing the gap in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.

The continuing inequities in the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people are the greatest blight on health issues in this country. In medicine, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and doctors were found to be at increased risk of mental health problems, including higher rates of psychological distress, higher rates of depression and increased suicidality.

A Reconciliation Action Plan is about respect, relationships, and opportunities and the AFMW Purple Bush Medicine Leaves Project was an early part of our endeavours to forge relationships and support women in medicine. Purple Bush Medicine Leaves Project remains a national project and a core group were part of the instigation of this project: Dr Desiree Yap, Assoc Prof Magdalena Simonis, Prof Deb Colville and Drs Marissa Daniels  and Lydia Pitcher and myself.

Apart from the bursaries themselves which are dedicated to supporting the careers of women in medicine, this project has forged some relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations active in Aboriginal health – AIDA and the Healing Foundation. AFMW is an organisational member of AIDA.

From this work, both Queensland and the ACT have also dedicated additional bursaries to support Aboriginal women in medicine in our own organisations.

AFMW is committed to the principles of a reconciliation action plan of respect relationships and opportunities.

But a Reconciliation Action Plan must be more than a well written statement. It’s often a long journey and involves deep learning and reflection on how we can learn from and embrace Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in medicine as members and active participants and learn from them about how we can do more to address the health inequities that First Nations people experience in this country.

The ACT and Region Cultural Safety event on May 25th was a success and one opportunity for reflection and learning for us. At the same time, we were aware of the cultural burden we were placing on our guests. We concentrated on our own region and our guests were Ngunnawal and Ngiyampaa women.

On the eve of National Sorry Day, we listened to just how deep and hurtful the impact of the forced removal of Aboriginal women and children to Cootamundra Girls Home was and how that trauma continues through generations. One of our presenters told this story of her grandmother’s generation.

An ANU medical student, herself a Ngunnawal woman from our region and the Student Rep to AIDA from ANU gave a moving presentation on her journey to medicine and now through medicine – she spoke of the importance of allies and the mistrust many Aboriginal people have of even disclosing their identity in the first years of medicine. She spoke bravely of the racism she has faced.

A prominent Ngunnawal woman who is also one of the signatories from our region of the Uluru Statement from the Heart gave us a history of Ngunnawal Country and talked about stewardship of Country and particularly about sacred trees and burial sites.

In discussing caring for Country and the shared values Aboriginal people have in caring for Country she related it to corporate stewardship and the way organisations such as our own can learn from Aboriginal beliefs, ways of conducting ourselves through shared values.

Of course, she discussed the Uluru Statement from the Heart and the coming referendum on The Voice.

All organisations benefit from a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP); nearly all organisations have one but a RAP must be a living document and a continuing journey and involve Aboriginal women in medicine as partners, members, and advisors


In summary from Reconciliation Week

  1. Let’s build on the AFMW Purple Bush Medicine Leaves Project and ensure every state and territory advertises the bursaries on their own websites and social media sites.
  2. I encourage each organisation to build on our experience in ACT and organise a continuing education event that embraces and features Traditional Owners and local women of your own areas to build relationships. We have a framework to support you in doing that.
  3. AFMW will maintain our membership of AIDA and deepen our relationships there.

Finally, this year it’s important that everyone read the Uluru Statement from the Heart and inform themselves about The Voice.



Dr Marjorie Cross


Dr Marjorie Cross, OAM
AFMW Council member
AFMW representative for ACT and Region MWS

Expressions of Interest – RAP Working Party
AFMW and all the States and Territories made a commitment to a Reconciliation Action Plan at our last Triennial meeting. I am calling for new Expressions of interest (email) from members who would like to work with me to progress our AFMW Reconciliation Action Plan.


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