In Our Own Right: Black Australian Nurses' Stories

presented by
to Launch of the book
In Our Own Right Black Australian Nurses' Stories

Sunday 4 December 2005 JCU Campus Thursday Island

Let me begin by saying I'd like to thank the special nurse in my life, my wife Heather, for drawing my attention to this terrific book - In Our Own Right: Black Australian Nurses' Stories.

Today we're privileged to be in the presence of some amazing women, who blazed a trail with courage and determination.

The women in this book had to overcome great challenges.

They had to overcome prejudice and racism from governments, from the church, from colleagues, from patients and sometimes even from their own families.

And sadly, many of them, as you'll read in their stories, had to overcome downright hostility from within the ranks of what is usually one of the most caring professions.

But they did overcome them and reach their goals.

It's great to welcome here today four of the women whose inspiring stories appear in the book, including editor Sally Goold.

Sally has done a fantastic job in gathering together the stories of 23 nurses from all over Australia.

The stories of the older nurses all have one thing in common. These brave women basically had to do it alone.

They had no role models to guide them in their nursing career - they were true trailblazers.

Sally was the first aboriginal student nurse at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney and as far as she knows, the first in New South Wales.

Sally has gone on to forge an outstanding career as a nurse educator and is the driving force behind the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses.

The Congress wants to help do something about an appalling imbalance.

2.4 per cent of Australians are Indigenous - yet Indigenous nurses account for just 0.05 per cent of Australia's registered nurses.

This book will help to do something about that because it will be an inspiration to Indigenous people that it is possible to climb that mountain.

It's also great to have with us today three other contributors to the book - Diana Ross, Ellie Gaffney and Renee Blackman.

Ellie was the first Torres Strait Islander to become a qualified nursing sister.

Just recently, Ellie has been in Thursday Island Hospital as a patient.

Some of the staff attending to her she delivered as babies!

And some of them were motivated to take up a career in nursing by Ellie's autobiography Somebody Now.

In the book In Our Own Right: Black Australian Nurses' Stories, Ellie recounts the story of how she came up with the title for her autobiography published in the 1980s.

It shows just how many hoops people like Ellie had to jump through to make it.

When Ellie was first a nurse at Thursday Island Hospital, her own father was there as a patient. He told he was ashamed to see her giving orders to a white nurse's aide.

He said to Ellie - "Who do you think you are? Jus cos you bin go south, you think you somebody now!"

So Ellie called her book "Somebody Now". It has been used extensively in teaching Indigenous nurses and it will now be joined by this fabulous new book!

Because of the trailblazing done by these women, thankfully, things have changed.

Indigenous people doing nursing today don't have to do it on their own anymore.

That's not to say they don't encounter any racism or other difficulties. We know they do.

But at least they have colleagues around them making the same tough journey.

There are currently 72 Indigenous undergraduate students enrolled across the Faculty of Medicine, Health and Molecular Sciences at James Cook University.

Of these, 43 are nursing students. They are spread across campuses at Thursday Island, Bamaga, Mt Isa, Cairns and Townsville as well as being enrolled in the external study mode.

Some of these external students are on islands across the Torres Strait.

The first intake of nursing students graduate from the Thursday Island campus in the next few weeks after having commenced their course when the campus opened here in 2003.

It is no easy task completing a full-time degree at a newly established campus in a remote setting. Congratulations to Sean Taylor, Ali Drummond and Cathy Parker on their achievement.

James Cook University will also graduate its first class of doctors this year and it is worth noting that among the first graduating class from the JCU Medical School are two indigenous students.

Congratulations to Shannon Springer and Bradley Murphy.

All of those people I've just mentioned owe a debt of gratitude to people like Sally Goold, Ellie Gaffney, Diana Ross and Renee Blackman who broke down the barriers and blazed the trail.

May this book and the stories in it inspire many more Indigenous Australians to take up nursing or other careers in health and to stick with it.

We need you.

I have much pleasure in declaring the book In Our Own Right: Black Australian Nurses' Stories officially launched in Queensland.

School of Nursing Sciences Newsletter article

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Dr Sally Goold OAM
Senior Australian of the Year 2006

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By Peter Beattie MP
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