Towards an Aboriginal Knowledge Place: Cultural Practices as a Pathway to Wellness in the Context of a Tertiary Hospital

  • Alasdair Vance University of Melbourne
  • Janet McGaw University of Melbourne
  • Jo Winther Royal Children's Hospital
  • Moira Rayner Royal Children's Hospital
Keywords: Aboriginal people, Australia, health care, transcultural, place, nomothetic, ideographic, Indigenist


The Indigenous community in Australia is beset by extraordinary disadvantage, with health outcomes that are substantially worse than those of non-Indigenous citizens. This issue has consequently been the subject of voluminous health research that has given rise to a range of affirmative action policies progressively implemented over the past decade. Statistics, however, remain dire. This paper argues that new models of research practice and policy are required that are inclusive of Indigenous ways of knowing, doing, and being. It proposes a new framework to promote wellness in urban hospitals for Aboriginal young people and their families modelled on equal, 2-way dialogue between Western and Indigenous ways of doing health. Cultural safety is an essential starting point, but a range of other practices is proposed including oversight by a board of Elders, inclusion of traditional healers in treatment teams, and “space, place, and base” within the hospital building and its grounds so that it can be used as a site for culturally engaged Indigenous outpatient care. Practice approaches that embed culture into assessment, formulation, and treatment are being trialled by the authors of this paper, three of whom have Aboriginal heritage. Together the authors are working toward building an Aboriginal Knowledge Place within the major teaching hospital where they work.

Author Biographies

Alasdair Vance, University of Melbourne

Professor of Child Psychiatry

Department of Paediatrics

University of Melbourne

Janet McGaw, University of Melbourne

Senior Lecturer

Faculty of Architecture Building and Planning

University of Melbourne

Jo Winther, Royal Children's Hospital

Senior Clinical Psychologist

Developmental Neuropsychiatry Program

Royal Children's Hospital

Moira Rayner, Royal Children's Hospital

Head Koori Mental Health

Royal Children's Hospital


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