Gwenda Freeman


For Gwenda Freeman, returning to Yorta Yorta land was a homecoming.

In 2017, she returned to Victoria after 10 years of working with The Red Cross in Central Queensland and the Northern Territory.

Proud of her Yorta Yorta descent, Gwenda was delighted to work in the Shepparton area, which is on Yorta Yorta lands.

“Many of the Aboriginal people in Shepparton and the Goulburn Valley Region are of the Yorta Yorta Nation. I live several hours away however, in a small town, west of Maryborough, and north of Ballarat.  So I usually spend one day a week in Ballarat and three days in Shepparton. That was before COVID restrictions of course, and I have been working from home since March.”

Gwenda is a Lecturer in Aboriginal Health Education and sits in the Aboriginal Health Team at the Department of Rural Health (UDRH), University of Melbourne.

“The focus of our work is the health workforce in Rural and Remote Australia and we are part of a National Network of 16 UDRHs, that cover the whole of Australia. Our main base is Shepparton, and we have offices in Wangaratta and Ballarat. In addition, we have staff based in some of the smaller towns in the Goulburn Valley region. My work includes teaching, providing student support, conducting research and leading community projects,” she states.

The role is varied and plans for the next 12 months include supervising student placements (Going Rural Health), profiling Aboriginal Health, furthering Research efforts and offering Continuing Professional Education.

Gwenda enjoys teaching and supporting Aboriginal students in their health courses. At the moment she is teaching Medical students, supporting one student doing a Master of Public Health, teaching and supporting five students doing a Specialist Certificate in ‘Empowering Health in Aboriginal Communities’, working with ASHE (Academy of Sport, Health and Education – specially for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students) and supporting nine nursing students.

There are Six students completed a Masters of Public Health and three from that cohort are now finishing their PhD.

“The Goulburn Valley community is gaining some very well qualified and much needed Aboriginal Health professionals.”

Her insights into Diversity and Inclusion take her back to her childhood in a suburb of Melbourne that housed a migrant hostel. She recalls with fondness that many of her playmates at school came from England and European countries such as Greece, Italy, Germany, Latvia and Poland. Some came from Egypt, Turkey and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

“As I grew older, the landscape shifted and I met more and more migrants from Asian countries, especially Vietnam. At school, I made friends with many migrant kids, as I tended to be more comfortable with them than with many Aussie kids,” she reflects.

“At times, everyone can be blinkered by their own culture and judge others as wrong when they differ from that. How often do you hear people berating others for speaking their own language or practicing different customs and religions?” she asks.

Gwenda believes including people from different cultures can provide depth and breadth to any group.  Different experiences, different ways of learning, sharing different goals and ideas: these actions result in bridge-building, give us greater insight and the skills needed to help reduce conflict.

“Being inclusive and embracing our diversity gives us an opportunity to learn about how other cultures view the world. We can join their celebrations and successes, understand what makes people laugh and cry, find out what is important,” she says.

“We have an obligation to be respectful, interested, caring and accepting of different ways of seeing and doing things.”

Gwenda is determined to make Diversity and Inclusion a reality – rather than just a lofty goal.

Here are her suggestions:

  • To create deep and lasting impact, Diversity and Inclusion needs individuals to commit to the change and be role models
  • When in doubt, write it down. Understand and learn how to react and interact appropriately with different groups
  • Whether a leader, a role model or good citizen, it is everyone’s job to develop and share guidelines for others
  • Find appropriate resources to assist – be a trail blazer. Introduce appropriate ideas at relevant meetings
  • Celebrate significant days in the calendar: Harmony Day, Reconciliation Week, NAIDOC week and Wear it Purple day
  • Consult the website to establish which Aboriginal Land you walk on
  • Find out whether there are migrant population groups in the area, what languages they speak and their traditional celebrations
  • Find out how to arrange for an interpreter for anyone who needs one (never assume English is the first language spoken)
  • Find out how to arrange a ‘Welcome to Country’ and watch Jade Kennedy’s You Tube film on the topic.

With people like Gwenda in the workplace, we in MDHS are better placed to drive, reflect, challenge and excite.

Galnya nangarna nginak (Kind Regards)