Disrupting dominant discourse: Indigenous women as trained nurses and midwives 1900s-1950s

Article


Best, Odette and Bunda, Tracey. 2020. "Disrupting dominant discourse: Indigenous women as trained nurses and midwives 1900s-1950s." Collegian: The Australian Journal of Nursing Practice, Scholarship and Research. 27 (6), pp. 620-625. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.colegn.2020.08.005
Article Title

Disrupting dominant discourse: Indigenous women as trained nurses and midwives 1900s-1950s

ERA Journal ID14073
Article CategoryArticle
AuthorsBest, Odette (Author) and Bunda, Tracey (Author)
Journal TitleCollegian: The Australian Journal of Nursing Practice, Scholarship and Research
Journal Citation27 (6), pp. 620-625
Number of Pages6
Year2020
PublisherElsevier
Place of PublicationNetherlands
ISSN1322-7696
1876-7575
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.1016/j.colegn.2020.08.005
Web Address (URL)https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1322769620301098
Abstract

Background: The history of Indigenous nurses and midwives in Australia is yet to be fully examined. There is a dearth of Indigenous-led research that identifies the rich and complex involvement of Indigenous women in Australia's nursing and midwifery labour force.

Aim: This paper contributes to the history of Indigenous women's participation in nursing and midwifery in Australia by examining how it was possible for some Indigenous women to pursue nursing and midwifery qualifications when this was not widely acceptable. The paper specifically seeks to investigate the enablers and limitations placed on Aboriginal women in accessing training.

Methods: Underpinned by historical methods and using an Indigenous lens for interpretation, this paper adopts a descriptive case study methodology to make visible the little-known yet important contributions of Indigenous nurses and midwives before 1950. It positions the case studies within the context of the Acts of Administration that controlled the lives of Indigenous Australians.

Findings: Through three case studies, this paper exposes the consequences of the debilitating, racialised laws of the time, which rendered Indigenous people invisible. The case studies demonstrate that Indigenous women did train as nurses and midwives in the early 1900s, even though they are largely absent in the historical record.

Discussion: Writing historical accounts of Indigenous Australian nurses and midwives is challenging, partly because they are largely excluded from the historical record, and partly because of the normalised technique used to frame history in Australia. Much historical discussion fails to account for Australia's racialised biases and produces (race) obstructionist histories. An alternative approach is offered, centred on Indigenous women's work to meet the individual, institutional and ideological racialised limitations set by context (nursing and midwifery history), historical period (1900s -1950s) and place (Australia).

Conclusion: Obstructionist histories mean that the history of Indigenous nursing and midwifery in Australia has not been well researched, interrogated or published. There is a need to document these histories and recognise the Indigenous women of the era who, in spite of the challenges they faced, forged careers in nursing and midwifery and laid the foundations for the Indigenous nurses and midwives who followed.

KeywordsAboriginal nurses, acts of administration, segregation and protectionism, eugenics, exemption, racism
Sensitive Handling NoteContains images, voices, and/or names of deceased persons
ANZSRC Field of Research 2020450107. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history
450117. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing, being and doing
420599. Nursing not elsewhere classified
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Byline AffiliationsSchool of Nursing and Midwifery
University of Queensland
Institution of OriginUniversity of Southern Queensland
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