Pioneers: Indigenous Southern Cross University midwifery students, back (left to right) Lucy Miller, Cassie Nest, Renae Kennedy, Tanya Bonner and front (left to right), Taylor Alexander and Tamara Jones with baby Lachlan.
Pioneers: Indigenous Southern Cross University midwifery students, back (left to right) Lucy Miller, Cassie Nest, Renae Kennedy, Tanya Bonner and front (left to right), Taylor Alexander and Tamara Jones with baby Lachlan.

Record enrolment in midwife course

TANYA Bonner wants to use skills picked up studying a Bachelor of Midwifery degree at Southern Cross University (SCU) to help fellow indigenous women give birth in their culture’s traditional way.

Students of Aboriginal descent make up more than 10 per cent of the 50 students at SCU’s new midwifery course at the Caloola Drive, Tweed Heads campus – believed to be a record for a midwifery course anywhere in Australia.

At, or around the time of birth, Aboriginal babies die at rates two-to-five per cent above average, and Associate Professor of Midwifery at SCU Heather Hancock believes an increased number of indigenous midwives can help that change.

Ms Bonner said there was a distrust of the mainstream hospital system because many Aboriginal women have a fear of prejudice.

Traditional “on-country” births for Aboriginal women and the special ceremonies that take place there were important for the mother and child, according to Ms Bonner.

“Now, in isolated communities the women are flown to a regional hospital at 36 weeks into their pregnancy and have to stay in accommodation in town without their extended family until they give birth in the nearby hospital,” Ms Bonner said.

“The women feel they have no choice, and if babies are not born on-country they lose some of their link to the land.

“I hope that if I train as a midwife I will be able to help these women and maybe even be situated in their community so they could have their babies on-country if they choose.”

Professor Hancock, who recently spent four years in the Northern Territory involved in perinatal primary health in indigenous communities, said she believed indigenous midwives would play a crucial role in improving Aboriginal health.

“We believe this is the largest percentage of Aboriginal students ever seen for any Bachelor of Midwifery course in Australia,” Professor Hancock said. “This is of great significance because for the past 20 years Aboriginal perinatal mortality has been well above the average and has not improved.

“One critical way to address this is to educate more Aboriginal women as midwives.

“Research shows that problems are picked up more quickly when women are able to develop close relationships with a midwife they feel they can trust and who understands them.”



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