Through dedicated research, engagement with the Aboriginal Elder community, and the preservation of storytelling, Ngangk Yira Research Centre is championing the health and social equity of young Aboriginal people.
By combining traditional storytelling with modern day research, Ngangk Yira is working to help shape our health care system to become more culturally inclusive for Aboriginal mothers and young people.
“We would like to see the research coming from Ngangk Yira to be improving Aboriginal health really in the maternal and newborn space, initially … but we’re also interested in young people, and how we can improve their understanding about themselves, their resilience, and their wellbeing,” says Professor Rhonda Marriott, Ngangk Yira Research Centre Director.
“Mums also probably aren’t as well supported in that first couple of years of baby’s life by culturally appropriate services that provide that good child-health nurse follow up.
“And we know that if we have those good wrap-around services that are culturally secure, culturally supportive, and holistic, then mothers will actually engage with those services … and all of that leads to better health outcomes for both mums and for babies.”
Our mother, the sun, is rising
When Ngangk Yira first opened its doors on the Murdoch University South Street campus in 2018, Aboriginal Elder Marie Taylor was invited to name the centre because of its focus and connection specifically for women.
“Ngangk means ‘mother’, and yira means ‘up there’ [or] ‘the sun’. So, it could be interpreted as ‘the sun is rising’, or ‘our mother, the sun, is rising’.
“This country of the Whadjuk people is actually matrilineal country. So, to see something come out of it that has a specific link to the women and women’s issues is very, very good,” says Marie.
Birthing on Noongar Boodjar
Storytelling has played a significant role in knowledge sharing within Indigenous Australian culture for more than 65,000 years and stories of birthing on country – noongar boodjar – have been a way for Aboriginal Women to help prepare expectant mothers for birthing.
As maternal and infant health is a key focus for Ngangk Yira, these stories are an important part of maintaining culturally holistic services for Aboriginal mothers.
Over the last 12 months Ngangk Yira Aboriginal Elder Doreen Nelson has been working closely with Ngangk Yira and Murdoch University to preserve these stories to harness them for ongoing knowledge sharing within the community.
“The last couple of years I’ve become involved with working with Murdoch University and the team here, helping to get the Aboriginal women together and tell their birthing stories – stories about birthing on country.
“Hopefully [they’ll] be a learning tool that’s used in all different places – schools and health centres – which could give young mums … a better understanding of birthing.”
Telling stories through art
In addition to learning tools used in schools and health centres, these birthing stories on noongar boodjar also now form part of the story line of the tapestry hanging proudly in the foyer of the Ngangk Yira Research Centre, put together by Aboriginal Elder Millie Penny.
“Ngangk Yira had a symposium, and part of that symposium was for women to tell their story buy using art. So, birthing on noongar boodjar is part of the storyline of that beautiful tapestry,” says Millie.
Made up of smaller individual canvases, each one has its own story to tell. Millie’s job was to bring the women together and help them convey their story through their art.
“It belongs to the yorgas – the women, the noongar women. It belongs to the birthing stories of these women, and collectively it’s come up to be a beautiful tapestry.”
Ngangk Yira’s vision for the future
For Prof. Marriott, she hopes the work and community engagement Ngangk Yira is doing can continue to make a different to the health and wellbeing of young Aboriginal people.
“I’ve been passionate about this work for so long – as a nurse, as a midwife, but as an Aboriginal woman, I want to see change. But change isn’t happening fast enough, and my passion and my energy is still there to push that along.
“So, if I can do that in my role as both Centre Director and as Pro Vice Chancellor, and as an Aboriginal woman, I will.”
Learn more about the Ngangk Yira Research Centre.