November 9, 2020

Narrun Wilip-giin: Creating a culturally safe space

NAIDOC Week is an opportunity to participate in a range of activities and support your local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.

It is also an opportunity to look back on the year and highlight the good work done by the Aboriginal Support Unit at Northern Health.

It was in October last year that we saw the launch of Northern Health’s 2019-21 Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan, known as the RAP.

At the launch Jennifer Williams AM, Northern Health Board Chair said, “This is Northern Health’s first ever RAP and is a ground-breaking plan which demonstrates our commitment to the Aboriginal community of the north.”

Underlining their commitment and leading by example, the Board, Executive and senior managers all attended Aboriginal cultural competence training, currently offered across all campuses to staff.

This year the Aboriginal Support Unit has a new name- Narrun Wilip-giin and their team sports a new uniform designed by local Aboriginal artist Gary Saunders. Narrun Wilip-Giin is a Woiwurrung name that means ‘Spirit Keepers’.

Artworks from Gary and another local Aboriginal artist Kahli Luttrell can be seen across our campuses.

Gary was also involved in developing a colouring book to be provided to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children during their hospital journey at Northern Health, launched on National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Children’s Day.

The development this year of our first Aboriginal Employment Strategy has seen Northern Health actively recruited Aboriginal consumers for various committees besides employing a second Aboriginal Liaison Officer (ALO), an Access & Support Worker, and an Aboriginal Midwife.

Northern Health is working towards creating a culturally safe space for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by carrying Wominjeka ‘Welcome’ signs and Acknowledgement Plaques displayed in foyers, wards and other prominent areas. The plaques acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land and is a reminder that we all walk on sacred ground.

The launch of our Smoking Ceremony Garden is yet another example of creating a culturally safe space. The Garden called Jornung-bik, ‘A Pleasant Place’,  features indigenous plants native to this area, artwork by Kahli Luttrell and an audio bollard or ‘message stick’ to educate the broader community about the significance of Smoking Ceremonies to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. See video below:


The Northern Health Aboriginal smoking ceremony garden is a space not only for Aboriginal people to use, but also a beautiful nature space for staff and visitors to Northern Health to spend time.

The revamped Stow Family Aboriginal Garden too has a mural by Kahli Luttrell with new indigenous plants.

Northern Health is ‘Asking the question’ of all patients at entry points, if they are of Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander origin, to help meet their health care needs and close the gap . Narrun Wilip-giin runs ‘Asking the question’ training throughout the year, across all campuses.

A live Aboriginal Patient Monitor which allows us to know in which wards there are Aboriginal patients, and in which clinics Aboriginal patients have appointments, is another step, aimed at providing better care for those of Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander origin.

Last year saw the introduction of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs to promote the careers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait nurses and midwives (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander RUSON model). The Registered Undergraduate Student of Nursing (RUSON) model offers Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, the opportunity to join Northern Health, as an employee and working closely with a Registered Nurse or Midwife, build their knowledge and skills even as they build their confidence.  More about this later this week.

Later this week we also launch Bilang-‘Straight Talk’, an online service directory, listing Aboriginal services located and operating within the Northern Health catchment.

Looking to the future, Narrun Wilip-giin is in talks with the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service to formalize their partnership.

On Wednesday 2nd December, Narrun Wilip-giin will be hosting an Aboriginal women’s health and wellbeing workshop in partnership with Victorian Aboriginal Health Service and Djirra.

Our Koori Maternity Service along with our Physiotherapists are planning a six week post birth Physiotherapy Clinic in 2021.

Much has been achieved. “I think we are making good progress towards the implementation of our Reconciliation Action Plan,” says Toni Gabelish, Aboriginal Liaison Officer, yet points out that more remains to be done. “I hope we will be able to gain more human resources to continue achieving our objectives, and better address the needs of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples,” she adds.

Featured image shows the Northern Health Smoking Ceremony Garden launch.