Lowitja Institute proudly supports the next generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research leaders and experts from entry-level research courses through to higher degrees by research. Our scholarship programs contribute to the development of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students by providing opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to develop skills in areas relevant to meaningful and impactful health and wellbeing research.

Lowitja Institute has supported scholarships for a number of researchers working in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health. See our latest scholarship recipients below.

Lowitja Institute’s associated CRC organisations have supported Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health researchers since 2000, as listed in our Changing the Narrative publication.

2023 scholars

Amba-Rose Atkinson

Amba-Rose Atkinson

Prior to the commencement of my research, I sought permission from my Elders to see if my proposed research idea was something my community sees as beneficial. I was provided with approval to continue the research journey, as the outcomes and benefits of the research have been identified as directly benefitting my communities. Some of these include: promoting intergenerational Knowledge transfer; building a relational scholarship base (i.e. Gumbaynggirr researcher working with Gumbaynggirr people and Knowledges); captures the state of Country at this moment in time for future Gumbaynggirr people to learn from and use to advocate for Country; position my communities’ Knowledges as a powerful solution-oriented force.

Brooke Conley

The primary aim of my PhD research is to improve the management of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout (arthritis conditions) for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Arthritis conditions are common for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and impact on all aspects of health and wellbeing. To manage arthritis conditions effectively, education plays a crucial role, yet no culturally informed arthritis education resources currently exist for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

To address this gap, my PhD research is guided by two community reference groups, and includes the following phases: 1) Research yarns with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’, exploring their beliefs, knowledge and informational needs and preferences for arthritis education. 2) Synthesise of arthritis management recommendations from high-quality clinical practice guidelines. 3) Integration of the findings from phases 1 and 2 to create recommendations to inform the development of arthritis education resources. From this process, I hope to create arthritis education resources that are evidence-based and meaningful for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Kisani Upward

The Lowitja HDR Scholarship top-up will assist in financially supporting my travel and accommodation costs between Tingha and my research base with the university. Fieldwork is integral to maintaining the collaborative bond that ties this research to the community, but it is also essential that I maintain my support base through the university and upkeep my commitment to family and community. This scholarship will also financially support the cost of catering during our ‘yarn-ups’, creating a safe and inviting atmosphere to conduct our study. Furthermore, we will require funding to support the costs associated with arts creation and exhibiting our NTRO collaboration to a wider audience.

Having extra funding to cover set-up costs, advertising, and securing an exhibition space will give the Nucoorilma Peoples an opportunity to have their voices heard using a creative, meaningful and impactful platform. By targeted at the general public, policy makers, community controlled organisations and health service providers, our work will be extended beyond a university study to create a meaningful impact on the researchers and their local community.

Paul Saunders

Paul Saunders

The research aims to contribute to understanding the transformative process inherent in effective intercultural development, specifically in the context of Aboriginal Health in primary medical education, to enhance medical graduate capacity in this domain. Indigenous health education contexts in Australia and globally, have demonstrated the value in critically reflexive models of, and approaches to, intercultural development, with transformation an often-profound outcome of such development. Critically reflexive models of cultural safety, cultural responsiveness, and cultural humility are becoming increasingly desired within healthcare environments in Australia, however their focus, development, and application in primary medical education is tenuous, with capability models such as cultural competence taking precedence.

Utilising an Indigenist and Indigenous mixed methods research paradigm, this study seeks to investigate stakeholder perspectives and experiences of Aboriginal intercultural development within primary medical education, underpinned by critical transformative theories. A cross-sectional survey will be used to compare first and final year medical student self-reported capability to assess efficacy. Concurrently, expert Aboriginal perspectives and experiences in this field will be gathered through yarning, including barriers and enablers, and best practice approaches to student development in this context, with approaches to appropriate student measurement and assessment also considered by the research.

Sam Ludwig

Cancer is now the leading cause of death for First Nations people in Australia. Through a strengths-based approach I aim to understand how First Nations people in the Northern Territory (NT) conceptualise their cancer experiences, what language and terms are used (and is current terminology appropriate and acceptable to First Nations people particularly those who have experienced cancer) and what keeps a person strong during this journey.

For First Nations communities and people, knowledge of the above helps us understand our journeys. Further, it provides a body of evidence that can be used to advocate for what we need within the healthcare system to ensure that our treatment pathways and experiences are culturally safe. Some First Nations people believe a cancer diagnosis is a death sentence leading to unwillingness to engage with screening programs or the healthcare system. Through sharing the stories of participants – some who are 20 years post initial diagnosis – it can emphasise that a cancer diagnosis is not a death sentence. This will benefit First Nations people promoting engagement with cancer screening, health check-ups and when engaging with the health care system after a cancer diagnosis.

This research builds on existing Kungarakan understandings of knowledge, in particular the concept of Mookanunganuk (a Kungarakan word embodying concepts of regeneration, rebirth and lifecycle) to show visually how different knowledges can be separate and overlap, the cycle of acquisition of knowledge and how an individual’s knowledge may develop over time. This will contribute to furthering First Nations scholarship. Must be no more than 250 words. Provide a short description (100 words recommended) of your project – what are you out to do? What is the significance of your research for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and community? *Required This research is significant in multiple ways.

Developing a deeper understanding of what keeps First Nations peoples strong during an experience of cancer helps advocacy to ensure that cancer treatment and support services are appropriate and meet our needs. The terminology of cancer survivor and cancer survivorship used in the non-Indigenous space seem to have been applied to the First Nations cancer space without critical through as to if they are appropriate. Through exploring this terminology more deeply we can determine if it reflects the way First Nations people think about these issues.

This provides First Nations peoples a vocabulary with which to articulate our experiences of cancer experiences. While this research is focused on the NT, there is a paucity of research nationally on First Nations peoples five years post cancer diagnosis. The majority of participants in this research are in this cohort (+5yrs after diagnosis) and this study offers new perspectives on the views of this important group of people. The experience of First Nations people who have/have had cancer during the COVID pandemic are explored briefly. There is currently little research in this space. Finally, a novel method of Picture Yarning provides a new and culturally safe way to explore the cancer experiences of First Nations people using participant-initiated art is being evaluated. As far as can be ascertained, this is the first time that this method is being used in the First Nations research space, and we are excited about broader future applications.

Stephen Harfield

The PhD aims to understand how primary health care can be strengthened to improve accessibility and make services more adolescent friendly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adolescents aged 15-24 years living in urban settings. The study is conducted with and in partnership between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled health services and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adolescents to addresses a need and is a priority of the community. The study centres Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adolescents by privileging their voices, knowledge and understanding, to inform and guide the research.

By centring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adolescents we can understand their unique needs and experiences in relation to health and wellbeing and health care access. Furthermore, the study will provide opportunities for empowerment, give adolescents a voice, support their identity and agency as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people, and allow them to contribute to important conversations about their own lives and futures.

By better understanding the needs and experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adolescents, we can as researchers and policy makers with the involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adolescents develop services, programs and policies that meet the needs of and are more effective and relevant to the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people. Ultimately, providing an opportunity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adolescents to drive the reconfiguration of primary healthcare services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people.

Tileah Drahm-Butler

This research will benefit Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who access Emergency Departments. This research intends on being transformative, primarily for the Cairns Hospital ED and with sights set further. It is intended that this research methodology will be able to be replicated across place, providing a framework for other communities to engage in this work with their ED. This research will be the first of this scale to ask the question of what the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community determine to be cultural safety in the ED. It is hoped that when the ED workforce of Cairns undertakes their registration and relevant CPD for their professional bodies and AHPRA, that there is depth in understanding of what cultural safety means for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

It is intended that this research and the subsequent action which occurs as a result, will lower the numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who do not wait for treatment or who discharge against medical advice, before their treatment is complete, however this research will not measure this, other than to reflect this through the Indigenous Storywork, including the action register of the CSWG. Furthermore, it is intended that as the front door to the health system, culturally safe care in the ED will have impact on the journey through the health system for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are entering the health system, thus contributing to better health outcomes overall.

Alumni showcase

Vicki Couzens

‘Koorramook Yakeeneeyt’ (Possum Dreaming): Cloaks, cultural traditions and wellbeing in Aboriginal communities

PhD thesis

Vicki Couzens’ thesis asks the question: What impact can reviving age-old Aboriginal traditional practices have on the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal people and their communities? Her project aims to:

Conduct a post-evaluation of 70 Aboriginal communities in Victoria, NSW and SA who took part in the cultural revival of possum cloak-making activities between 2005 and 2015.
Examine the health and wellbeing impact of reviving the practice of possum cloak-making among more than 1,400 participants who took part in possum cloak-making workshops in Victoria, NSW and SA during this 10-year period.

Develop a culturally-appropriate model of health and wellbeing support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities that leverages the lessons learnt from the cultural revival of possum cloak-making practices.

Vicki Couzens is a Keerray Wurrong woman from the Western Districts of Victoria. Vicki says ‘My work is inspired by my culture. It is my passion for the reclamation, regeneration and revitalisation of our cultural knowledge and practices that drives me and informs the work that I do. The research and creative expressions I explore are drawn from the teachings of our Ancestors, Old People and Elders who guide me through my life. Land, language and identity are who we are… through the use of language, stories and image our culture is made stronger, our connections are made stronger, we are made stronger.’

Vicki Couzens is at the forefront of the contemporary school of possum cloak-making and is highly regarded as a senior cloak-maker and teacher. During the past 16 years, Vicki has collaborated with others (including Lee Darroch, Treahna Hamm, Debra Couzens and Maree Clarke) to implement the vision of reviving cloaks and the associated cultural practices across south-eastern Australia. Collectively they have taught cloak-making to over 1000 heirs of the tradition and shared cloaks and stories with thousands more through exhibitions, books, films, public ceremonies and teaching.

Language reclamation and revitalisation is a passion Vicki has inherited from her father Ivan Couzens who was responsible for the first reclamation and revival steps being undertaken in the 1990s. Following on from the publication of the Keerray Woorroong and related dialects dictionary by her father, Vicki has undertaken ongoing and continuing language development work for the past 15 years. This has included the writing of songs and poems, translations of stories and text, delivery of workshops and community teaching/learning opportunities, language use in artworks and a five year ARC research project on revival languages in SE Australia through the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages. Vicki is also a Board member of VACL.

Vicki has a Masters of Art, RMIT. She has co-authored and published various papers and publications on language and culture.

Alister Thorpe

Engage–Exchange–Change: Strengthening Indigenous health research engagement, action, translation and impact

PhD thesis –The University of Melbourne

Ethics and engagement protocols for Indigenous research are well established, yet it is difficult to measure how (and if) protocols are complied with. There has been an extensive range of Indigenous protocols, principles and guidelines published regarding ethics, engagement and translation of Indigenous health research. These principles seek to improve the research process and increase the likelihood of achieving better research outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. However, real research outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and evidence regarding use of research in policy and practice suggest that research is failing to have the impact that it promises.

To be effective, Indigenous research must involve Indigenous people in the planning, development, dissemination and implementation. This research aims to provide evidence that the development of research that is actively informed and guided by ethics, engagement and translation principles will more likely lead to research impact and benefit for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities.

The proposal aims to develop an Aboriginal health research tool to compare and/or measure the impact of engagement, ethics and translation implementation in past (and current) Aboriginal health research projects.

In the last nine years Alister has worked at the University of Melbourne and been involved in a number of Aboriginal research projects including the Taking Care of Business project, the development of a Victorian Aboriginal Child Health Development and Wellbeing Survey and the Injecting Drug Use Project at the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service.

As an Aboriginal man, Alister wants to protect and strengthen his cultural knowledge and understanding and pass this on to his children. As an Aboriginal researcher and community member he hopes to use the skills and knowledge he has gained to develop research projects applying Indigenous research principles in strong partnership with Aboriginal communities, to support outcomes that improve Aboriginal health and wellbeing.

Lisa Whop

The first comprehensive study on Indigenous Australian women’s inequalities in cervical screening: a Queensland record-linkage study

PhD thesis – Menzies School of Health Research

Since the introduction of the Australian National Cervical Screening Program (NCSP) in 1991, cervical cancer incidence and mortality in Australia have decreased by over 50%. However, incidence and mortality for Indigenous women are two and four times higher respectively than for non-Indigenous women. The NCSP is unable to report on program performance indicators for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women because Indigenous status is not routinely collected by Pap smear registers (PSRs).

Using linked data from the Queensland PSR with hospital inpatient and cancer registry data, Lisa Whop’s thesis investigates cervical screening participation, prevalence of cervical abnormalities and time to clinical investigation following a high-grade abnormality for Indigenous compared with non-Indigenous women in Queensland. Her thesis is currently under examination.

Lisa Whop is a descendent of the Wagedagam tribe of the Gumulgal people of Mabuiag Island in the Torres Strait and has family connections to the Darling Downs in South West Queensland.

Lisa’s research to date has focused on improving outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with cancer. She holds a Bachelor in Medical Science from the Queensland University of Technology and a Masters of Applied Epidemiology from the Australian National University. Her PhD project was focused on the Queensland part of the National Indigenous Cervical Screening Project – the first population-based study in Australia to investigate the effectiveness of cervical screening for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.

She was supported by a Sidney Myer Health Scholarship, a Menzies Enhanced Living Scholarship and a Lowitja Institute Scholarship. She recently submitted her PhD thesis to the Charles Darwin University and is working as a Research Fellow at the Menzies School of Health Research.

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We acknowledge the traditional owners of the land across Australia and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website may contain images, voices and names of deceased persons.