Gracelyn Smallwood

I am a Birrigubba, Kalkadoon and South-Sea Islander woman born in Townsville in 1951.  I have been advocating against the racism and violation of human rights against my people for the past 45 years.  I have dealt with almost every disease, both nationally and internationally, however I have never been able to come to terms with the ugly disease of racism.

In 1972, I became a registered nurse and used my qualifications to work in communities such as Alice Springs, Palm Island, remote Western Australia and South Australia. I was a volunteer member of the Townsville Aboriginal and Islander Health service in 1974, and worked as a volunteer Registered Nurse with two volunteer Doctors. Later I became a registered midwife and worked with the Remote Emergency Nursing Services, which took me all over remote Australia delivering babies in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with no benefits of modern technology. I have also worked in remote Australia with the late Dr Fred Hollows on the National Trachoma and Eye Health Program.

I was awarded the Queensland Aboriginal of the Year in 1986 and an Order of Australia in 1992 for service to public health, particularly HIV-AIDS education. 

In 1993, I was the first Indigenous Australian to receive a Masters of Science in Public Health (JCU) for my work on HIV education in North Queensland Indigenous communities.  I have been employed as an advisor to the World Health Organisation on HIV-AIDS and Indigenous communities

In 1994 I became the first woman, first Indigenous person and first non-paediatrician to receive the Henry Kemp Memorial Award at the International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect. I completed a Diploma in Indigenous Mental Health, and have worked with acute and chronic psychiatric patients, Indigenous and Non-Indigenous, for many years.

I was invited to be special guest for the then South African President, Mr Nelson Mandela in 1997, and used the time speaking with activists including the sons of the late Steve Biko, and giving HIV-AIDS prevention talks and workshops. I was one of the small group of health practitioners who understood the risk of HIV-AIDS in Indigenous communities, and we devised the now mainstream and famousCondoman to promote safe sex in a culturally appropriate way.

In 2007 I had one of my greatest achievements, the Deadly Award for Outstanding Lifetime Achievement in Indigenous Health. I was especially delighted with this award, as it is peer- and community judged. 

In October 2013 I was awarded the United Nations Association of Australia Queensland Community Award – Individual, in recognition of service to public health, in particular HIV Aids, contribution to Australian Universities, and consultation to the World Health Organisation.

In 2014, I received the prestigious award of NAIDOC Person of the Year. I was also formally recognised for my contribution of 45 years to health and human rights advocacy.

In 2014, I also became an Indigenous representative of the Queensland Mental Health and Drug Advisory Council and  received the James Cook University Outstanding Alumni Award in 2014.

In 2011, I completed my PhD Thesis Human Rights and First Australians Well-being. My PhD has been published by Routledge in London as a hardback monograph.  The publication is titled Indigenist Critical Realism.

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