Tuesday, May 17, 2022  

written by Gary Foley

for 20th Anniversary
download PDF

Jetja Nai Medical Mob
Naomi Mayers [film] 2001
Redfern: Aboriginal activism in the 1970s
by Johanna Perheentupa  -  thesis  |  book
CHAPTER 3Demand for culturally appropriate health care



The first Aboriginal community controlled health service was established by the local Aboriginal community in Redfern in July 1971 to address the blatant discrimination experienced in mainstream services; the ill health and premature deaths of Aboriginal people; and the need for culturally appropriate and accessible health services. [Aboriginal Health & Medical Research Council of NSW]


© GUWANYI; Stories of the Redfern Aboriginal community.

An exhibition at the Museum of Sydney 21 December 19964 May 1997


20 years has seen the AMS grow from a two room shop‑front medical clinic in Regent Street, staffed by a volunteer doctor, nurse and field officer, to a major health care complex in Turner Street featuring medical and dental clinics officer, offering comprehensive primary and preventative health care programs. Today these include a Nutrition Program, Aboriginal Health Worker Education Program, Home and Community Care Program, Immunisation Program, Public Health Program and the Allawah Hostel.


The AMS has also pioneered the concept of Aboriginal community controlled health care services as the only successful way of improving the health of Aboriginal communities. Our experience in Redfern has proved that Aboriginal people are capable of solving their own problems: if we are given control of the resources and  facilities and allowed to do it our way.


All of this is light years from our humble beginnings, so how has such an achievement been possible?



The Redfern Aboriginal Medical Service began in 1971 when a group of concerned Koori people wanted to act against the neglect and racism that Aboriginal people were suffering in mainstream health services. There was chronic disease and little or no bureaucratic will or knowledge to deal with it. Community people, doctors and lawyers who were committed to the Aboriginal struggle for equality, came together on a voluntary basis and operated a clinic in an old shop‑front from 4pm to 10pm daily. Finally, after much lobbying and struggle, they received a small grant from the DAA and were able to hire three staff: a doctor, a nursing sister and a field officer, Shirley Smith, affectionately known to everyone as Mum Shirl.


In 1972 they received funds for a coordinator and Naomi Mayers was appointed. It was still a small operation, working on a shoe string budget with an enormous task ahead of it but it had a clear direction and wide spread community support on its side. The organising committee had 33  Aboriginal community people from all over Sydney who gave their time and energy freely as did many doctors. The AMS eventually moved to slightly larger premises at 36 Turner Street, Redfern. These had to be renovated before it could be used as a clinic. Over $80,000 was raised through community donations and the government met that amount and provided a little more so the building could be converted to house a large clinic and the growing range of health programs.


A few years down the track they expanded again and set up the first Aboriginal dental service, providing beyond a doubt that they could run a cheaper, more efficient service than the fees‑for‑service system the government was then using. In fact in their first year of operation they saved the government a massive $387,000 in costs. Today, the dental clinic is one of the most successful community services in Australia, looking after the Sydney region as well as travelling all over the state in mobile clinics.


Today [in 1996] the Aboriginal Medical Service has a staff of over 50 people working in administration clinics, dental, mobile, health worker education and hostels.



The booklet from this exhibition is available at some second-hand stores.


    In the news  

Naomi Mayers receives honorary degree NACCHO 4/5/17
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