Charles Darwin University (CDU) is launching a new research centre that focuses on maternal and infant health services across Australia.
The Molly Wardaguga Research Centre was named in honour of an Aboriginal elder and Senior Aboriginal Health Worker from Arnhem Land, who was a strong advocate for returning health services to Aboriginal control and Aboriginal communities.
The Research Centre is dedicated to the late Burarra elder from central north Arnhem Land, who was an important contributor to the Australian call for the return of community-controlled birthing services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
She was one of the founding members of the Mala’la Health Service Aboriginal Corporation in Maningrida, and a strong advocate of two-way knowledge to improve health care for Indigenous Australians. She mentored many doctors, nurses and midwives over 40 years and was the recipient of a Human Rights Reconciliation Award.
The new research group will have broad reach, using research to work with communities and stakeholders to redesign maternal and infant health services for the best start in life for mothers and babies in the NT and across Australia.
Building on more than 25 years of research to target the first 2000 days, from conception to age five. They will work side-by-side with communities to co-design services to give communities greater control.
The Research Centre was officially launched, with permission from Molly’s family, by NT Health Minister Natasha Fyles, members of Molly’s family, her daughters Virginia and Lucy, representatives from the Mala’la Health Service Aboriginal Corporation, including the Chair Charlie Gunaburra and Senior Aboriginal Health Practitioners.
Ms Fyles commended CDU for its commitment to research and clear vision for strengthening maternal and infant health care in the Territory and right across Australia.
“In particular, it is important that Aboriginal Territorians have control of their health care, and over our term of government we will be transitioning four remote community health clinics to community-control,” Ms Fyles said.
Co-Director of the Centre, Associate Professor Yvette Roe grew up in Darwin. She is a Njikena Jawuru woman from the West Kimberly region with more than 20 years’ experience working in the Indigenous health sector.
“Indigenous knowledges have been here for eternity. We can hypothesise and develop models, but if we’re not doing it on the ground in partnership, co-designing, implementing and sharing this knowledge as a two-way process we’re not going to get anywhere,” Ms Roe said.
“Birth is our first ceremony; we come in; we leave our mothers; we have connection to culture, to land and to protocol. The whole process is so important and we are going to value and respect that through our processes at the Research Centre.”
Molly’s daughter, Virginia Barnyarla said: “We need birthing two-ways so that we can be with the spirits and birth safely. Our mother explained this and mentored and taught so many people through her life, from when she was 17. I wish she could be here.
“We can feel our mother’s spirit here tonight, she is always here in our hearts.”
The research team has members based in Brisbane, Darwin, Sydney and Nowra and aims to positively impact health outcomes for women and babies in the Northern Territory and Australia-wide, addressing the social determinants of health such as education, training and employment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
The team has a strong track record, with more than 20 currently funded projects and many national and international collaborations.
Co-Director, Professor Sue Kildea said: “It’s time to listen to Aboriginal people. Molly taught us the importance of being able to be born on your land and to die on your land. Molly was part of the Health Board when they managed to get aged care services back to Maningrida and, before she died, she made me promise that I would keep trying to get birthing services back to Maningrida before I died.
“I’m hoping that everyone here today is going to be on that journey with us,” Professor Kildea said.