Does the traditional bush medicine Gumby Gumby actually work?What part does cultural safety play in physiotherapy graduates?How does the lack a birth certificate or registration affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander incarceration rates?

These are just some of the research projects undertaken by 20 Indigenous students as part of the Kungullanji Indigenous Summer Research Symposium.

In its fourth year, the Kungullanji program provides a practical opportunity for undergraduate students to experience an academic research environment.

“It aims to improve the retention and participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students by enhancing their academic experience and confidence,’’ says Dr Jennifer Leigh Campbell from Griffith’s Indigenous Research Unit.

“Its overall goal is to develop work-ready graduates and create a pipeline to research. Judging from the calibre of this year’s participants the program is achieving this.”

Bachelor of Science student Eden Little spent her summer researching the medicinal potential of the Pittosporum angustifolium plant aka ‘Gumby Gumby’, which is used in many Aboriginal communities.

“Anecdotally, topical application or ingestion of P. angustifolim is said to treat a variety of cancers, skin disorders and viral infections,’’ says Eden whose people are from the Kamilaroi Nation.

It’s a subject close to her heart. After her aunt underwent surgery for lung cancer in November last year Eden’s cousin sourced some Gumby Gumby from an Aboriginal elder.

“My aunt has been drinking it as tea since the surgery and she’s doing really well.”

Native to Australia, the Gumby Gumby plant has not been extensively researched within the natural products field so with research supervisors at the Griffith Research for Drug Discovery, Eden investigated the structural composition of the plant.

“Preliminary tests are promising, but additional tests are required before biological activity can be confirmed,’’ she said.

“That’s why this project is so important to me as I would love to know if Gumby Gumby really can work to help people with various illnesses.”

Cultural capability

Tyrone Smith is a final-year Bachelor of Exercise Science student. His ancestors are the Mununjali Aboriginal people of Australia.

Tyrone’s project investigated improving cultural capability in physiotherapy graduates.

“In Australia, chronic disease accounts for more than 80% of the injury and disease burden faced by the healthcare system,’’ he said.

“It is essential that physiotherapy graduates be equipped with the skills and knowledge to be culturally informed and able to engage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people appropriately.”

Social justice

With a strong interest in social justice issues, law student Krystal Stringfellow believes many of the issues facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders can be addressed through increased access to justice.

Her research project examined how the lack of a birth certificate or birth registration is linked to increased incarceration rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders.

“Of the factors that lead to prison sentences, one of the most significant factors for Indigenous people is prior offences,’’ Krystal says.

“The significant increase of Indigenous people in prison is due to an increase in the proportion of Indigenous offenders sentenced to prison and the length of these sentences.”

She cites a recent study conducted in the Aboriginal community of Mungullah in Victoria that showed that 80% of young male offenders’ first offence was driving without a license.

“To obtain a driver’s license in Queensland identity requirements must be met – a primary form of identification which is usually a birth certificate or another form of identification such as a passport, which requires a birth certificate to obtain.

“Queensland Health reported in 2014 that 17% of births by Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander mothers listed as Queensland residents didn’t register the birth of their child.

“This contrasts with a rate of 1.8% of non-indigenous mothers listed as Queensland residents who didn’t register the birth of their child.”

Barriers to birth registration include poor literacy, lack of understanding of the significance of the process, lack of support from authorities, English as a second language and complex form requirements.

“The fundamental barrier of identification needs to be overcome,’’ Krystal says. “This will require legislative change, federal programs to fund mobile sites to register births in Aboriginal and Torres Strait communities and key education initiatives.”

Summer school participants: back row - Jordan Lock, Donna Lock, Tyrone Smith, Fiona Wright, Jordyn Godfey, Krystal Stringfellow, Stringfellow, Front row- Jennifer Campbell, Leah Henderson, Morgan, Cameron, Rachel, Tahni, Eden and Andrew.

Participants in the Kungullanji Indigenous Summer Research Symposium back row – Jared Lock, Donna Lock, Tyrone Smith, Fiona Wright, Jordyn Godfrey, Krystal Stringfellow andTopaz Stringfellow; Front row – Jennifer Campbell, Leah Henderson, Morgan St Clair, Cameron Summers-Borchard, Rachel Ah Wing, Tahni Forrester, Eden Little and Andrew Smith.