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International renowned health expert challenges forum participants

[by Stephen Hagan]


Professor Gracelyn Smallwood. Image: FNT

A direct challenge by a renowned social justice advocate to several hundred participants at the National Indigenous Suicide Prevention Forum in Brisbane yesterday was warmly received in the spirit in which it was delivered.

Professor Gracelyn Smallwood, Bindal Traditional Owner and James Cook University Adjunct Professor asked participants what they wanted their families to remember them for when they retire.


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"What legacy do you wish to leave your family?" asked the retired health professional who graduated as a nurse and midwife in 1972.

"Made a lot of money, bought a big house and a new car every couple of years and have money saved for a rainy day by proudly being a good yes person for your white boss."

The silenced capacity audience at the Sofitel conference centre was in awe of the audacious provocation by their keynote speaker on the opening morning of the forum.

"Or that you bought a small house, a second-hand car and not much in the bank for a rainy day, but have a good reputation for helping your people against the wishes of the government, and have a good quality of life, culturally safe with a strong foundation and can sleep well at night."

The well-known health advocate who was recently named a Queensland Great answered the challenge posed.

"I know which person I want to be, and have been. How about you?"

Professor Smallwood said her biggest concern was most of the people she was speaking to were 9 to 5 workers.

"Unfortunately most of our mob who have serious health issues, especially those with known mental health challenges don't necessarily fall ill during your working hours."

Queensland Health was in the cross hairs of the health advocate for their failure to get on the front foot in addressing appalling health issues of the state's large First Nations population.

"I don't care if you get six-figure incomes, but I do get very upset if you earn those big bucks and choose not to go out of your way to help our mob when in need."

Another group of health professionals whom Professor Smallwood singled out in her seminal address were health consultants.

"These consultants, black and white, are growing rich off our poverty," she said.

"The government throws billions of dollars at black health every year and still there is no significant closing of the gap.

"In fact, the health gap is getting bigger by the year."

"The only people who are benefiting from our poverty and poor health are the consultants."


She received nods all around from her audience when she said she was no different from others in the room who attend a funeral every week of loved ones whom they lost far too young.

"Even worse," she said, "is going to a funeral every other week of someone who took their own life because of the dark place they got into and couldn't get out of."

Other keynote speakers at the forum include Professor Pat Dudgeon and Dr Mark Wenitong.

The national forum concludes tomorrow.

Professor Smallwood became a registered nurse and midwife in 1972. She has over 50 years’ of experience in general nursing, midwifery and psychiatric nursing







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