Fellowship rewards leaders in Indigenous health and welfare

18 March 2011

Future leaders in Indigenous health and welfare have been recognised with the presentation of this year's Rowan Nicks Russell Drysdale Fellowships.

Dr Glen Hughes, Olga Collis-McAnespie and Cynthia Payne were today announced as recipients of the 2011 fellowships, which are awarded by the Rowan Nicks Russell Drysdale Committee via a bequest through the University of Sydney. The Fellowship provides financial support for Indigneous people undertaking research or establishing projects which will make a tangible difference in Indigenous health and welfare.

Dr Hughes and Ms Collis-McAnespie will each receive $60,000 over one year to pursue their chosen projects, while Ms Payne will receive the second half of the 2010 fellowship she opted to receive over two years.

"The Rowan Nicks Russell Drysdale Fellowship is the only scholarship of its kind in Australia," says Louise Lawler, Executive Officer of the Rowan Nicks Russell Drysdale Committee and an Honorary Research Fellow in the School of Rural Health.

"One of the unique and very important aspects of the fellowships is that they give resources to people at a grassroots level - these people can see what needs to happen in the community and are able to do it thanks to the fellowship.

"The fellowhips also offer a much greater flexibility than most grants. The recipients themselves tell us what they'd like to do and they do it, we don't police it in any way. This leaves flexibility for them to change tack in response to community need, without having to come back to us and renegotiate."

Olga Collis-McAnespie.
Olga Collis-McAnespie.

An interactive workshop to help Indigenous women to reach their full personal and leadership potential will be the subject of Olga Collis-McAnespie's fellowship.

The program, titled Express Yourself, hopes to empower women to take responsibility for their own and their families' lives, identifying barriers and developing skills to allow them to reach their full potential.

A Managing Consultant with Culgoa Dreaming Consultancy, Ms Collis-McAnespie has devoted her life and studies to improving conditions for her own people and improving awareness and understanding in the wider community, with more than 30 years of experience in Indigenous consultancy.

She also works full time as a mentor to year 11 and 12 students at Bourke High School and is a Councillor on Bourke Shire Council.

Glen Hughes.
Glen Hughes.

Dr Glen Hughes has been recognised for his work improving oral health in socially disadvantaged Indigenous communities.

Having worked in Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Kiribati and the Solomon Islands, Dr Hughes believes the poor standard of oral health in socially disadvantaged Australia rivals that of any of these developing countries. He has spent the last 16 years working with Indigenous Communities in South Australia, the Northern Territory, Queensland and New South Wales.

Dr Hughes' fellowship will allow him to quantify the unmet oral health needs in the Australian Indigenous community. Based on early pilot studies, he expects the burden of untreated disease to exceed a billion dollars.

According to Dr Hughes, the time is right to close the gap in funding - until this is done, ad-hoc funding and reactive policy decisions will continue to be made. At the present level of funding, Dr Hughes is only able to allocate 10 minutes to each of his patients a year.

Cynthia Payne.
Cynthia Payne.

Cynthia Payne will continue her work assisting people and improving health with a holistic approach through the Coastlands Community Wellbeing project.

Her work, based on the Indigenous concepts of health as not only physical, but also social, emotional, cultural and spiritual wellbeing of the whole community, takes place in the Hinchenbrook community, which was severely damaged by Cyclone Yasi.

Ms Payne's work is also about addressing different layers of grief and loss, which are often at the core of illness and poor health or prevent people from making changes to their life choices that will ultimately lead to improved health.

There have now been 15 Rowan Nicks Russell Drysdale Fellowships awarded since the program commenced in 2004 as a joint bequest from Dr Rowan Nicks, an eminent cardiothoracic surgeon formerly based at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, and Lady Maisie Drysdale, wife of the artist Sir Russell Drysdale.

"For other philanthropists wishing to contribute to the deserving cause of Indigenous health in Australia, this is a fabulous opportunity to really make a difference," Ms Lawler says.

Media enquiries: Katie Szittner, 9351 2261,