Murdoch University Masters student Rebecca Famlonga has been named WA's Aboriginal STEM Student of the Year at the 2023 Premier's Science Awards
A proud Wadawurrung woman and senior research officer with Telethon Kids Institute, Rebecca commenced her Research Masters externally while based in Broome, after a teaching career which spanned across two decades.
Working with a remote Kimberley community, she has co-designed community-led child skin health interventions.
The SToP (seeing, treating and preventing) trial aims to decrease the number of Kimberley Aboriginal children with skin sores by half.
This is particularly important since, if left untreated, the sores can lead to rheumatic heart disease – which disproportionately affects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Rebecca said the driving force behind her passion was “returning the power of the research back to the people”.
“The history of research with Aboriginal people has been predominantly white people who have gone into communities and not talking to the community about it,” she said.
“I think researchers are realising it’s so important for Aboriginal people to be leading the research.”
Rebecca worked alongside a co-researcher, Beagle Bay local Erin, who she said stood beside her in everything she did.
“I needed to respect how the community wanted to do everything – Erin is very respected within the community – I had people say ‘as long as you’re with Erin, we know you’re doing things the right way’.”
Rebecca said this drove home the point that time needed to be taken during any research to gain trust and ensure that there wasn’t any unnecessary disruption to the community taking part.
“We are now working with Beagle Bay on translating part of the research. Communities often see researchers come and go and nothing changes – we are working to do a couple of things in the health promotion space,” she said.
As for winning the award, for Rebecca the accolade was a chance to bring attention to an important cause.
“I think last night was a fabulous celebration – I felt a little bit overwhelmed to be in a room with such amazing minds and incredible people,” she said.
“I’m really excited to use this to raise awareness.”
Also recognised was Uncle Jim Morrison from Murdoch's Aboriginal Advisory Committee for his work on MissionsConnect, which took home Science Engagement Initiative of the Year.