Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service 1988-2014: Breaking Barriers in Aboriginal Research and Services

Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service 1988-2014: Breaking Barriers in Aboriginal Research and Services

Article excerpt

Abstract: This paper describes the growth of Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service (Winnunga), located in the Australian Capital Territory, from modest beginnings at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in 1988 to delivery of a comprehensive holistic model of health care to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community of Canberra and the surrounding region. Winnunga's growth and service delivery are connected to the prominence it gives to research. We argue that research commissioned by an Aboriginal Health Service or in partnership with an Aboriginal Health Service is unlike other research in its retention of ownership within the community. The use of Indigenous Standpoint Theory is also possible (see Rigney 1997; Foley 2003; Nakata 2002; Bessarab and Ng'andu 2010). In addition, the fadings and recommendations of such research can emancipate communities through enhanced service delivery resulting from evidence-based research. This paper also describes Winnunga's focus on community research studies carried out in partnership with universities and Aboriginal research organisations, as well as Winnunga-initiated studies. Their findings and recommendations have been translated into Winnunga primary health care and social and emotional wellbeing programs. The future emphasis of one such study is its potential to contribute to a national prison health care focus on reducing recidivism.


The estimated resident Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (1) population of Australia as at 30 June 2011 was 669,900 people, or 3 per cent of the total Australian population (ABS 2011). The smallest population of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians lives in the Australian Capital Territory (6200 people) (ABS 2011).

Winnunga maintains a longstanding commitment to improve the health of Aboriginal people in the Australian Capital Territory and the surrounding region. The benefits of any research undertaken by Winnunga occur through knowledge translation leading to improved health, and more effective services and programs.

Such knowledge translation can be assisted by the use of Indigenous Standpoint Theory, which Bessarab and Ng'andu (2010:38) consider helps to understand 'the lived experiences, feelings, thoughts and ideas on the research topic'. This interaction is called research topic yarning. Its purpose is to gather information about the research subject in a 'relaxed and interactive' communication with a beginning and an end. When respondents disclose information that is upsetting, Indigenous Standpoint Theory allows for therapeutic yarning to occur during yarning. This means that respondents are supported as their personal experiences are acknowledged and they are encouraged to re-think their 'understanding of their experiences'. This type of yarn is a therapeutic yarn and the respondent becomes empowered by experiencing these events in new and different ways (Bessarab and Ng'andu 2010:40, 41).


Culture and identity are central to Aboriginal perceptions of health and ill health. How Aboriginal people view wellness and illness is in part based on cultural beliefs and values. Swan and Raphael (1995:1) wrote about Aboriginal peoples' mental health in the executive summary of their National Consultancy Report thus:

   Health does not just mean the physical wellbeing
   of the individual but refers to the
   social, emotional and cultural well-being of
   the whole community. This is a whole of life
   view and includes the cyclical concept of life-death-life.
   Health care services should strive
   to achieve the state where every individual
   can achieve their full potential as human
   beings and thus bring about the total wellbeing
   of their communities.

From modest beginnings in 1988 at the Canberra Tent Embassy during the Queen's visit to celebrate the opening of the new Parliament House, Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service today has 68 employees and approximately 4000 clients, and delivers around 40,000 episodes of care each year. …

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