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Whittlesea community leader inducted into Aboriginal Honour Roll

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By Aleksandra Bliszczyk

Longtime Whittlesea Reconciliation Group member and Gunditjmara woman Karen Bryant is one of this year’s 13 inductees to Victoria’s Aboriginal Honour Roll.

Inductees were honoured a gala dinner last month for their contributions to communities and advancing Aboriginal rights.

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Ms Bryant has spent her career working in community services including the early childhood sector and family violence prevention before arriving at Northern Health in Epping in 2007, where she is the senior Aboriginal liaison officer.

“It’s been a really humbling experience, particularly with the last 14 months and what’s been happening with COVID and everyone being in lockdown,” she said.

“The calibre of the other 12 inductees … it was just an amazing experience to hear some of those [stories].”

She said the list was made up of notables who had attracted a lot of media attention; posthumous awards for ‘warriors’ in the early 1900s, as well as ‘the quiet achievers who have spent a lifetime of fighting for the rights of Aboriginal people’.

The Victorian Aboriginal Honour Roll was established in 2011, and the latest inductees take the number of people inducted to 130.

Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Gabrielle Williams said every one of the inductees was an inspiration.

“These Inductees have strived to push the envelope to achieve great things for themselves, their families, their communities – and to make our state a fairer place,” she said.  

For the first 10 years of Ms Bryant’s role, she was the only Aboriginal officer employed full-time, but in the past four years she has seen her role expand dramatically.

“We have some great stuff happening at the moment. We’re busier than ever, but busy means good because we’re helping the patients that come through,” she said.

“In the Aboriginal Support Unit we have six people, three Aboriginal liaison officers, we have administration support, we have an Aboriginal access and support worker and another program we have here at the hospital is the Koori Maternity program, we have an Aboriginal midwife and an Aboriginal health worker.”

Ms Bryant’s role works predominantly with in-patients, and she said having a team around her now meant they could do a lot more with patients, and within the Whittlesea and Hume communities.

“We’ll jump on any vehicles to help the needs of Aboriginal people,” she said.

“We always want to improve education and educating non-Aboriginal people around cultural safety matters, cultural awareness, training new doctors, nurses, cadets, training people to learn about the impacts of history and the impacts on the lives of Aboriginal people.”

She also said educating the patients was as important about treatments and services, as well as booking appointments.

“There’s a lot of fear, historically hospitals haven’t been wonderful with Aboriginal people, but it’s about making that journey better for them, getting them to understand that journey, when to come in, when not to come in, so a hospital is a safe place and we want to encourage Aboriginal people to attend when needed.”

At last week’s Whittlesea council meeting, chair administrator Lydia Wilson acknowledged Ms Bryant’s achievements and thanked her for her work.

“Victorian Aboriginal Honour Roll inductee Karen Bryant has been a volunteer member for 13 years with the Whittlesea Reconciliation Group [and] spends countless hours educating the broader communities about reconciliation,” she said.

“Karen was recognised with an individual reconciliation award from the City of Whittlesea in 2012 for her active role in raising awareness about reconciliation in the community and providing and original voice at the City of Whittlesea.

“This is really wonderful recognition for Karen herself and for the municipality more broadly.”

Ms Bryant said it was not only a personal honour, but important recognition of the many others who had worked in the space.

“We talk about being recognised in what we achieve … so to support me and my journey in my working and personal life, it belongs to everybody that’s worked with me and shared with me my visions and passions [making] our people free of violence, and to improve the health and improve the journey of people coming through the hospital,” she said.

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