In Our Own Right: Black Australian Nurses' Stories


The intimate, private, and heart wrenching stories told in this book, the first of its kind to be published in Australia, will penetrate the hearts and souls of even the most hardened reader. Told with incredible dignity and humility, each of the individual and deeply personal stories recounted in this book stands as a powerful testimony to the gross inhumanity and brutal capacity of white people in Australia selectively to destroy and humiliate, without remorse, the lives and souls of their fellow black Australians. Each of the stories told in this book also exposes the nasty and dehumanising effects of racism even in so-called 'caring' environments. What is particularly confronting about this exposť is that individual nurses, and the nursing profession as a whole, were complicit in this racism and its soul-destroying consequences to Indigenous nurses - whose stories are only now being told, for the first time, decades after the experiences related occurred.

This book provides a powerful catalyst for questioning and calling into question the taken-for-granted humanity of us all. When it is considered that the nurses depicted in this book had 'done nothing' other than be of a different colour and culture, bewildering questions arise as to why it was necessary for their white counterparts to treat them so cruelly? Also bewildering is that, in a social context which claimed to be 'egalitarian', how it was possible for the cruel and dehumanising manner in which these nurses were treated to be 'justified' in the name of charity, benevolence and the 'social good'? Enslavement, cruelty and dehumanisation has only ever privileged those who have the power to impose their will and value systems onto others, and the cases of the Indigenous nurses presented in this book serve to underscore this point.

The experiences described in this book also recount acts of human sensitivity. Without the few 'good' human beings who supported them, the lives and aspirations of each of the Aboriginal nurses, reflected in this book as 'colonised outsiders', would perhaps have been different, and may have remained silent and unrecognised, as so many other lives have been, because of the destructive influences of white Australian culture at the time they were trying to develop their nursing careers.

The nurses' courage, determination, resilience, persistence, dignity, and ability to achieve what they have against all odds so graphically presented in this book makes my soul tremble and to ask 'how?'. How did they endure all the brutal indignities, violation and insults that they suffered? How did they remain focused? How did they come to achieve what they did within such a hostile and dismissive society? My answer to this question is that these individuals are, what the ancient Greeks would call 'superhuman god like persons' who are endowed with unique qualities - who know who they are, who know what they are worth and value, and whose identity cannot be taken away by any one or means.

The courage and dignity of the individual nurses who have come forward to write their stories has established a firm and profound basis upon which Indigenous nurses today can stand proudly and with dignity, and create a brilliant affirming future. This can be done without any obligation to anyone.

The nursing profession in Australia has been called to action for many years now. The transcultural nursing movement, which began in the early 1970's, attempted to raise the consciousness of its members. At the centre of this movement were calls for changes to the health care system to make it more responsive to the needs of people from different cultures and who spoke different languages. This call required changes to take place in the minds, hearts and practices of nurses and other health care professionals. Just how effective this call has been, I will leave to individual nurses, nursing organisations and others to judge.

The stories in this book demonstrate how humanity can operate at its worst and at its best. They show all of us that, when at its best, humanity can inspire, encourage and empower us; when at its worst, however, it can also demoralise, discourage, and devastate us - both as individuals and as a people. The lessons are clear: we cannot and must not condone humanity at its worst, and the immoral acts that it seeks to justify. As the stories in this book remind us, so long as racism, discrimination and intolerance of difference govern our public service systems and the minds, souls and hearts of people who comprise those systems, the nursing profession and society at large will remain impoverished, tormented and not at peace with itself or its humanity.

As a colonised people, Indigenous Australians have a profound interest in reclaiming their self determination. In respect of this interest, members of the nursing profession need to open their hearts and souls and the doors to the systems they control, and welcome other voices, other views, and other ways of doing, perceiving and advancing the profession. This book shows us a way forward. Our task and responsibility now is to adopt and follow the path to the future that it has identified. By doing this - together and in partnership with Indigenous nurses and colleagues - the nursing profession too can move forward.

Olga Kanitsaki, AM
Professor of Transcultural Nursing
RMIT University

June 2005

Dr Sally Goold OAM
Senior Australian of the Year 2006

Book Launch
By Peter Beattie MP
4 December 2005

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