In Our Own Right: Black Australian Nurses' Stories

Reviews of In Our Own Right

Review by Diana Grant-Mackie RN BA MN

Stories of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nurses contained 'In Our Own Right' tell us about how it was for them to become nurses in Australia. They tell about their families as part of their own self and the support they had from inside and outside their families. Even when parents did not initially support their children to become nurses they eventually became their most avid supporters because they could see the future that could be obtained for the children and the families and their people. These parents were often part of the Stolen Generation and had also suffered outright racism and exclusion from society during their lives. Older nurses' stories tell of being hidden as children so they would not be stolen from their parents.

Similar stories by indigenous people their families and children can be heard throughout the world. The relationship of racism to poverty is international. It is not surprising therefore; that there are connections between the Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander Australian and Maori nurses and that cultural safety is a common bond. New Zealand nurses experience an affinity with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australian. The role of nurses in setting up the Aboriginal Medical Clinic in Redfern, Sydney has a similarity to how some Maori and Pacific clinics were initiated here.

The stories describe their drive to accomplish what started with goals of providing clinical services for their people and becoming role models for younger people. They had a commitment to generations before and for those ahead. They also experienced the struggle of women to care for family and study and on top of that to perform at work at 100% or better. Some moved into academia or other related health fields.

Many continued within the nursing profession in spite of fewer chances of gaining positions of seniority.

In spite of these difficulties within the nursing profession they went on to achieve goals beyond their own aspirations. There are stories of achievements in examinations; younger girls began as enrolled nurses and completed their nursing degrees; older ones completed studies they had no access to when younger; others went on to doctorate studies. There are also elements of humour that all nurses can enjoy; the housekeeping staff that kept their nurse relatives' bedrooms tidy and clean so they would not get into trouble; the old lady who fought and bit her granddaughter to take her home every time the curtains were pulled around the bed.

Familiar names jump out at me from pages, some from long ago and others from visits to Australia; Aboriginal Medical Services, Fred Hollows and Mama Shirl and correspondence with Ferry Gunseit. I think back to these people who gave me special insight into this aspect of Australian history.

Looking at the photos on the front of the book and in each chapter and reading the stories we see a group of extraordinary women who share their lives with us and inspire us as nursing colleagues. There is a great deal to be learned about compassion and caring for each other.

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Dr Sally Goold OAM
Senior Australian of the Year 2006

Book Launch
By Peter Beattie MP
4 December 2005

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