Indigenous health worker awarded prestigious fellowship
13 May 2010
A respected Indigenous elder and health worker, who believes Indigenous health must be tackled from a spiritual perspective, has been awarded a prestigious fellowship to test her ideas in her local community.
Cynthia Payne from Ingham, Queensland, has been awarded the Sydney Medical School's 2010 Rowan Nicks/ Russell Drysdale Fellowship which enables individuals working at grass roots level to undertake programs they believe will have positive, tangible outcomes for people they care for.
First launched in 2005 by NSW Governor and University of Sydney Chancellor Marie Bashir, the fellowship was established through the generosity of eminent cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr Rowan Nicks OBE and the family of celebrated Australian landscape artist, Russell Drysdale.
Cynthia will use the funding from the fellowship to support her Coastlands Community Well-Being Project which aims to support the social and emotional well-being needs of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and South Sea Islander communities in the Hinchinbrook (Ingham) region.
"Aboriginal, Torres Strait and South Sea Islander people come from traditions which are very spiritual and as a result of the processes and history of colonisation, spirits have been wounded," says Cynthia.
"This project is not about replacing Indigenous spirituality with Christianity - it is about addressing the different layers of grief and loss from within a support framework underpinned by Indigenous perspectives, which is often misunderstood by non-Indigenous epistemologists."
The two-year project will involve working in Hinchinbrook on a model for long-term outreach activities based on individualised support and counselling services. It will also involve networking across community organisations and spaces to facilitate community-based support; as well as organising, hosting and providing well-being intervention programs, targeting individuals, families and community groups.
"Indigenous concepts of health incorporate not only the physical well-being of the individual but also the social, spiritual, emotional and cultural well-being of the whole community," says Cynthia who worked as an Indigenous health worker in the area for more than 20 years before commencing a Masters of Applied Epidemiology on scholarship at ANU in 2002.
"This whole of life view includes the cyclical concept of life-death-life and it is crucial that all early intervention strategies to prevent or ameliorate disease involve listening to the community."
"Intervention studies that evaluate the effectiveness of holistic health programs and spiritual health have shown improvements in the well-being of participants. This link between spirituality or religious activity and reduced mortality rates is also evidenced in other cultures."
A woman of Aboriginal (Nywaigi) and South Sea Islander (Yatta and Yeicht) and English heritage, Cynthia commenced employment in 1976 in Ingham as an Indigenous health worker. She is currently a Team Investigator on an NHMRC grant with James Cook University and is undertaking her PhD.
Cynthia will be officially awarded the Fellowship by University of Sydney Medical School Dean Bruce Robinson at a ceremony this week that will feature guest speaker, journalist Dr Jeff McMullen AM.
Media inquiries: Sarah Stock, 9114 0748, email@example.com