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Thursday 24 March was a special day for the Lowitja Institute staff. Not only was it national Close the Gap Day, but some 200 guests, friends and colleagues gathered in the laneways at the rear of our offices at 179 Grattan Street, Carlton to mark the opening of our Melbourne headquarters. The event celebrated our past, present and future Victorian partnerships, signalled the presence of the Institute’s operations in Victoria, and outlined the vision for the future of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research nationally. Although the weather was chilly and wet, the rain held off and the spirit of the event was full of warmth and colour.
There were many highlights on the day. Wurundjeri Elder Aunty Joy Murphy Wandin generously welcomed the Lowitja Institute to the Country of her Ancestors. ‘I used to say that if our community gets researched any more I am going to scream, that blackfellas are the most researched people in the world,' she told those gathered. 'I’m sure that’s still the case but, with the Institute opening, it will be about us saying, teaching, mentoring and making sure not only what outcomes there are but that they’re culturally appropriate.’
Our Patron Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue AC CBE DSG, spoke of her pride at lending her name to the first national organisation solely committed to Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander health research and led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders – Pat Anderson, Kerry Arabena and Ian Anderson.
Chairperson, Ms Pat Anderson talked about the successes of our predecessor organisations, outlined the future challenges and the support and input of the Institute’s Victorian connections to develop our research agenda. Pat also emphasised that the decision to locate the Institute in Melbourne acknowledged that most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians live in cities and towns and that a balance needs to be found between a focus on remote and urban areas.
Professor Michael Wooldridge, former Federal Minister for Health between 1996 and 2001, gave the keynote speech. In it, he highlighted the appropriateness of locating this collaborative, evidence-based research body in one of Australia’s geographical medical and health research hubs, containing, he said, one-third of Australia’s bio-medical research organisations. ‘For the Institute to be here right where the action is shows that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research is entirely serious,’ he added.
The Welcome to Country was followed by a cultural dance performance from the Koori Youth Will Shake Spears, and we felt immensely privileged to be entertained by local musicians Archie Roach, Lou Bennett and Lisa Maza. Archie Roach told us the story of meeting up with an old Uncle who had been along to a health service. He came out with tears in his eyes and Archie asked him if he was ok. His Uncle responded, ‘I’m just so happy that I was treated by an Aboriginal doctor… I never thought I would see the day’. As Archie also said, ‘The old people fought for our people to be educated so being here today feels pretty good… because we know what it took.’
To all those present, and to all those who contributed to the occasion, the Lowitja Institute would like to extend a very warm 'thank you'. It was indeed a day to remember.