Sarah Ireland’s fascination with Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures began young when, as a 10 year old, she saved up her pocket money and bought a copy of Story About Feeling by ‘Big’ Bill Neidjie, the legendary Kakadu Man.
‘Mr Neidjie’s stories captivated me and began a lifelong interest in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture,’ she says. ‘This interest naturally combined with my professional interests in health as I grew older.’
Sarah is a registered nurse and midwife based at the Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin and is engaged in PhD research supported by a Lowitja Institute scholarship linked to our Research Program 2. Originally from the Upper Blue Mountains in New South Wales, Sarah obtained her nursing degree from Sydney’s University of Technology in 2003 before moving to Darwin in 2006 where she completed her midwifery training and attained a first class honours degree in science.
‘I lived and worked for two years as a nurse and midwife in one remote Aboriginal community,’ Sarah says. ‘This highlighted to me the profound disadvantage many Aboriginal women have in accessing quality reproductive and sexual health services. Through relationships with the Aboriginal Health Workers and senior women in the community, I began to realise how removed the services were from the community and began to question the way that health services were delivered.
‘This initially resulted in my honours research which looked at the experiences and clinical outcomes for Aboriginal women who reject travel to urban centres and instead stay in their home community to give birth. My PhD builds on the experiences and relationships that I formed doing this research by exploring the social, cultural and historical factors underlying women’s reproductive and sexual health in this one remote community.’
The work is being undertaken with permission and in partnership with women in the community.
Sarah says her immediate goal is to finish her PhD ‘and give back to the community a piece of quality research’.
‘In the longer term I hope to contribute to improving the health outcomes for Aboriginal people both through health practice and research, and to participate in informing national debates on remote area health policy and practice. It would also be great to use my skills in other places around the world where women live in remote places and experience similar reproductive and sexual health challenges.’
To read more about our other scholarship holders, go to: www.lowitja.org.au/lowitja-institute-scholarships.