Aboriginal Communities of the Northern Rivers

Aboriginal health priorities project Northern Rivers, NSW

Aboriginal staff at the University Centre for Rural Health (UCRH) in Lismore are leading the Health from the Grassroots Project aimed at giving voice to local mobs (from the Tweed to Clarence Valley) to talk about their priorities for community health and wellbeing and perspectives on what’s working well and what needs improvement to support community health and happiness.

We aim to collate the many comments and feedback received into actions to inform service provision and research.

Our motivation is the persistent inequities in health outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. It’s been said many times that solutions need to come from the ground-up, involving the communities, as they know what works and doesn’t work. It will also require a focus beyond the health sector, given that a significant proportion of the health gap is attributable to social and cultural determinants of health.

Late last year we conducted a community survey (paper-based and online) to collate perspectives from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living on Bundjalung and Yaegl country. At the same time, yarning circles were held in various locations across the Northern Rivers to learn more about community experiences and ideas for service improvements. From this first round of consultations, a picture emerged as told by community, depicting a vision for a healthy future with priority areas that need to be addressed along the way.

Key to a healthy future is strengthening connection to culture and country, also associated with good nutrition, physical activity and social connections. Responsive and coordinated services are vital not only within health but across the whole system (family services, education, housing, employment, etc.). The priority areas provide a roadmap for the development of system change actions. Crucial to this will be addressing institutional racism and improving cultural safety of services.

Over the next few months, we will be going back to community to check-in about what we’ve heard and to talk further about the priorities and relevant actions needed for a healthy future. We will advertise these consultations on our website. If you’d like to talk to us or would like us to visit your organisation, please contact Frances Parker or Veronica Matthews (Contact details below)We aim to produce the community-led action plans by the end of the year.

This is the first step in a community-led journey about thinking and acting differently. The project centres local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities within a collaborative process, leading systems change and devising strategies to improve health and wellbeing. It will generate new knowledge about how to facilitate community-led solutions utilising a whole-of-system approach. For without transformational change and Indigenous empowerment, current systems won’t adequately address health inequities1.

  1. Hernández, A et al. Engaging with complexity to improve the health of indigenous people: a call for the use of systems thinking to tackle health inequity. Int J Equity Health. 2017;16:22-30.