Launch of the Onemda: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health and Wellbeing

Patrons and staff from the former Onemda program, Elders, staff, students, and Indigenous health leaders were welcomed to the Woodward Conference Centre on Wurundjeri Country for the relaunch of the Onemda Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health and Wellbeing.

Guests seated at tables in the Woodward Conference Centre, during event proceedings.

Guests at the launch of Onemda.

Meaning ‘love’ or ‘the regard that we have for each other that holds us together as a community’ in the Woiwurrung language,  Onemda will merge the Indigenous Studies Unit, the Indigenous Health Equity Unit, and the Indigenous Eye Health Unit within the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health.

With a clear focus on community at the centre of the three year Strategic Plan, the revitalised Onemda will work to deliver integrated teaching, research, policy advisory, and program implementation to improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing outcomes.

Following a traditional ceremony welcoming everyone to Country, guests enjoyed a performance by the Djirri Djirri dancers before listening to some reflections shared by patrons and staff that supported the former Onemda program, and those who will continue its important work into the future.

Djirri Djirri dancers performing following a Welcome to Country.

Guests enjoyed a performance by the Djirri Djirri dancers.

Associate Dean Indigenous of the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences Professor Sandra Eades AO believes in Onemda’s potential to deliver on its vision.

“Our new strategic plan provides clear commitments to transform local Indigenous and global health outcomes”, she said.

“The revitalisation of Onemda is key to ensure we deliver on these aspirations, and we are pleased to ensure the sustainability of Onemda and its renewed purpose and ambition.”

Building the foundations

The original Onemda program was formed at the University of Melbourne to create space for Indigenous health researchers, clinicians and students at an institution with a hostile legacy. From the beginning, the program was underpinned by a focus on community development and consultation.

“What we wanted to do is build a community asset that people respected, felt connected to, and could trust,” said Uncle Professor Ian Anderson AO, the founder of the program.

“What our work was doing was creating a conversation in our community about how tools such as research and education can make a transformative impact when put in the right hands.”

Uncle Professor Ian Anderson AO

Uncle Professor Ian Anderson AO explored the history of the former Onemda program.

It was through the hard work of trailblazers in Indigenous health, among them Uncle Professor Ian Anderson, Aunty Angela Clarke and Aunty Joan Vickery, that Onemda was able to broaden its research and community engagement agenda.

The program soon began collaborating with researchers and programs both locally and internationally. Research work in the fields of tobacco prevention, racism in healthcare, research ethics, and youth health also enabled the implementation of medical education curriculums that reflected evidence-based approaches to Indigenous healthcare.

This work played a key role in building capacity in the Indigenous health workforce, from 14 Indigenous graduates in medicine nationally in 1987 to over 700 today.

Working together

Bringing together three specialist Indigenous health research units, the new Onemda will connect expertise across disciplines.

Professor Marcia Langton AO leads the Indigenous Studies Unit, which is composed of medical and cultural anthropologists, demographers, clinicians, and medical practitioners leading a range of projects across Indigenous health data management, Indigenous knowledge translation, alcohol management, and family violence.

The Unit provides community-informed advice and support to Indigenous organisations and government bodies including the National Indigenous Australians Agency and the National Native Title Council.

“One of the things I hope to see is a standalone national Indigenous safety plan for women and children and a dramatic reduction in violence, and I believe Onemda will be able to contribute to these initiatives”, Professor Langton said.

Working alongside Professor Langton will be Professor Mitchell Anjou, the new head of the Indigenous Eye Health Unit (IEHU), which aims to eliminate avoidable blindness and vision loss among Indigenous Australians and ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are in control of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander eye health.

Through grassroots health campaigns and collaboration with regional stakeholder groups, the IEHU has seen enormous success and is now on the path to certifying the elimination of trachoma in Australia through the World Health Organisation.

“I commit on behalf of our staff our energy, efforts, expertise and goodwill towards making Onemda successful”, Professor Anjou said.

Leading the revitalised Onemda will be Professor Catherine Chamberlain, who is also head of the Indigenous Health Equity Unit. Her team focuses on three main projects exploring intergenerational trauma, with a particular focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents and their children.

“We are excited to be working on these projects with quite a few people here with us today to support families to transform cycles of intergenerational trauma at that really critical time around pregnancy and birth,” she said.

Aspirations as a guide

Reflecting on the history of the Onemda program, and its renewed purpose and ambition, patron Aunty Doseena Fergie emphasised the importance of RESPECT; Healthy relationships, empowerment, cultural safety, the prioritisation of First Nations perspectives, the establishment of Indigenous scholars, collaboration, and support that enables the Centre to thrive.

“Is our work done with love and care in the spirit of Onemda? Are you visible to community? It is my hope that Onemda develops into becoming an exemplar of good quality practice within the cultural interface”, she said.

“Onemda has not only a vital place within the University, but it has a responsibility towards our people and mainstream society to overcome the deficit discourse as we move forward in conciliation. This responsibility must be covered with a healthy dose of RESPECT, not sometimes but all the time”.

Stones and gum leaves with 'Love', 'Unity' and 'Collaboration' written on them.

Guests were asked to share their aspirations for the Centre on small stones and leaves.

At the conclusion of the event, guests were invited to share their aspirations for Onemda on rocks and leaves that will form a tree to be taken back to Onemda to guide its work.

Their shared hope was for Onemda to embed love, unity, RESPECT, community engagement and empowerment, and researcher support into their work.