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Education for Strong Health and Culture - 2010 Symposium in Launceston

The 2010 AIDA Symposium was held on Saturday 2 October 2010 at the Country Club Resort, Launceston.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctors, medical students, health professionals and Indigenous health and education advocates attended AIDA’s 2010 Annual Symposium, held on 2 October in Launceston, Tasmania. The Symposium celebrated the theme of ‘Education for Strong Health and Culture’.

AIDA President, Associate Professor Peter O’Mara, kicked off his presidential speech with the special announcement that there were now 150 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctors, and that for the first time, doctor numbers had been overtaken by the 160 medical students enrolled in medical schools across the country.

“This is a five-fold increase in the number of doctors and medical students since AIDA’s inception in 1998,” he told the cheering crowd.

In addressing the Symposium theme, Associate Professor O’Mara said AIDA had always recognised the need for the health and education sectors to work more effectively together to create real opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids to succeed in school and go on to careers in the medical or health professions.

“Sometimes it takes just one person – often a teacher – to make all the difference, but we can’t just leave this to chance.

“Schools, principals and governments all need to work with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents and communities to ensure that our kids, not just the lucky few, get a good education and gain the confidence they need to succeed in life,” said Associate Professor O’Mara.

Associate Professor O’Mara urged the Government to ‘hold solid’ on the Prime Minister’s election pledge to ensure that all Australian kids, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids, would have access to a good quality education.

However, he said it would take more than a good quality education to improve Indigenous health outcomes.

“We need to build a depth of confidence in our children, and I believe a large part of making our kids strong in confidence is directly linked to making them strong in culture,” said Associate Professor O’Mara.

Keynote speaker Gary Fry, Principal of Moulden Park School in the Northern Territory, a school recognised as a site of excellence in school strategic planning, actions and outcomes, agreed with Associate Professor O’Mara’s point about the importance of culture.

“We need to build in – through both explicit and implicit structures into our Australian curriculum – an acknowledgement of the legitimisation of the Indigenous identity and rightful position of Indigenous identity in this country, and to imbue these values throughout the curriculum.

“We need to make sure all our Australian kids know their history, their ‘real’ history, which leads to peace and real understanding, the basis for a real way forward,” said Principal Fry.

Like Associate Professor O’Mara, Principal Fry also urged the Government to ‘hold solid’ on its promises to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“If you keep giving broken promises, people will stop listening. It’s getting more difficult to get [Indigenous] people to care, because they’ve had years of entrenched behaviour with the ‘otherness’ of Western civilisation treating them with disrespect.

“Trying is one thing, but it’s usually not good enough. It’s gotta be your best and it’s gotta be consistent and it’s gotta be exceptional if you want to build [Indigenous] people’s trust. That’s a fundamental problem we have in our schools,” said Principal Fry.

Fifteen year old Nakisha Smith, a Year 10 student at the Clontarf Aboriginal College in Perth also addressed the Symposium gathering. Ms Smith is now in one of the higher literacy and numeracy classes at her school, but she says growing up in the remote mining town of Kalgoorlie, her mother helped her at home with reading and spelling.

“The thing I would like to see change in Aboriginal education is to see the numeracy and literacy in Indigenous schools be the same as big schools in the city.

“I would like to see more Indigenous people going off to university and getting a degree in something and doing something they love.

“I want to see more Indigenous doctors, lawyers, teachers and more so that they can go back and help their communities change, to make it a better place for the locals,” said Ms Smith.

Fellow student Zenneth Cox, spoke of his ‘desperate’ plea for his town and the future of his family in Halls Creek, which lies 450 km south west of Kununurra and 650 km north east of Broome.

“What would I like to see changed? More kids having a better education not only for themselves but for their family,” said Mr Cox.

AIDA’s website for budding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctors, ‘Kids Space’, was also launched at the Symposium by AIDA Patron Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue, who explained the aim of the website was to encourage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to think about the possibility of a medical career.

“It is very important that we get kids early if we want them to think about a career in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.

“I commend AIDA for its leadership and efforts in bringing together a focus on health and education,” said Dr O’Donoghue.

AIDA’s 2011 Symposium celebrates the theme, ‘Our Doctors Making a Difference’. It will be held on Saturday 22 October at Cable Beach Resort, Broome.

Associate Professor O’Mara

“Knowledge is power, more importantly, education is empowerment,” Associate Professor O’Mara told the Symposium gathering. Associate Professor O’Mara also shared his inspiring personal story of teaching himself and his mother to read. As a shy, young Aboriginal boy, Associate Professor O’Mara said he did not feel confident enough to ask his teachers for help.


Mr Gary Fry

In addressing his presentation, ‘Countering a tide of Western education dysfunction’, keynote speaker Principal Gary Fry said the legitimisation of Indigenous education, including bilingualism and biculturalism, needs to be recognised in schools.


Ms Nakisha Smith and Mr Zenneth Cox with AIDA CEO Mr Romlie Mokak and teacher, Mr Kiel Weigel

Year 10 students from Clontarf Aborignal College, Ms Nakisha Smith and Mr Zenneth Cox with AIDA CEO Mr Romlie Mokak and teacher, Mr Kiel Weigel. Both students were given a standing ovation after their heartfelt speeches. For many, Ms Smith and Mr Cox’s courage and determination was a reminder of what we are fighting for in Indigenous health and education.


Children try out AIDA’s new website for kids, ‘Kids Space’ at the Symposium.

Children try out AIDA’s new website for kids, ‘Kids Space’ at the Symposium. In launching the website, Dr O’Donoghue said, “It is important to have culturally appropriate web resources as well as images of successful Indigenous role models, and this [website] provides that.” The ‘Kids Space’ website can be freely accessed at

This page was last updated on: 16/10/2014