Griffith University is proud to recognise the life achievements of a remarkable humanitarian, Aunty Pamela Mam, a First Peoples’ Elder, role model, patron and matriarch. She has, for over 60 years, provided tireless service to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Peoples, particularly in the fields of health care and education. Griffith has now conferred upon her Doctor of Griffith University, for her service to her people in health services and to the community.
A descendent of the KuKu Yalanji Peoples, in the Cooktown area and born in the western Queensland town of Richmond in 1938, Aunty Pamela Mam’s qualities of character and commitment remain undimmed. In her address to the graduands, Professor Debra Henly, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic), stated “Aunty Pamela Mam’s career has helped so many whose needs were either neglected or forgotten and her example continues to resonate today — in practice, principle and philosophy. It is her example that aligns with those of Griffith University, in the pursuit of better education, recognition, reconciliation and health care for Australia’s First Peoples.”
Aunty Pamela is an inspirational figure for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, but also for all people. After her mother was removed from Cooktown under the then Australian Government policy of Assimilation for Aboriginal People — infamous forerunner to the Stolen Generation — Aunty Pamela spent her formative years on Palm Island. It was there she first realised her passion for nursing.
Starting as a Nurse Aid at Palm Island Hospital, Aunty Pamela completed her general training and became a midwife at Brisbane’s Royal Women’s Hospital before joining the Royal Children’s Hospital in 1973.
Aunty Pamela began to focus more intently on the urgent health care needs of Australia’s First Peoples. This led to the establishment of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Health Service (ATSICHS) in Brisbane in February 1973. Aunty Pamela’s nursing expertise, together with the administrative and support services delivered through ATSICHS Brisbane proved vital over the ensuing years.
ATSICHS Brisbane started from very humble beginnings with the initial health care services delivered from a ‘fruit shop’ shopfront at Red Hill. Aunty Pamela was unfazed by her first day where she encountered a space still not ready for operation. Determined and forthright she, along with her colleagues, brought the ‘fruit shop’ up to standard in terms of conditions, equipment, planning and delivery.
Aunty Pamela once said, “When working in direct service with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, it is important to offer humility and leadership, knowledge and learning, respect and culturally responsive care for people. We also must never neglect the everyday support and guidance required by all health care professionals to provide proper health care.”
Aunty Pamela Mam exemplifies these qualities and is an inspirational figure not only for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, but for all people. Accordingly, ATSICHS Brisbane has created an ongoing legacy of diligence, dedication and what Aunty Pamela has described as ‘proper health care’. In her earlier years this term was apt and spoke to the type of care needed so urgently by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, but which was not being delivered through government health services. This was evidenced through too many cases of people suffering from minor, preventable conditions.
ATSICHS Brisbane Chief Executive Officer, Jody Currie said “it makes a difference to the client to know that they’re dealing with an Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander person. The foundations on which this organisation was started are those principles of Aunty Pamela and the Elders, delivering ‘effective health care’ for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Peoples.”
Since its establishment 45 years ago, ATSICHS Brisbane has continued to deliver Aunty Pamela’s vision. Encompassing health, belonging, comfort, empathy and support, the benefits extend throughout the Indigenous communities of Greater Brisbane and Logan City.
Her legacy is evidenced through the breadth and volume of healthcare services delivered by ATSICHS Brisbane. For the 2017-18 financial year, ATSICHS Brisbane reported over 41,900 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patient visits to its doctors with 104,764 episodes of care including 5760 health checks. Comprehensive, systematic care of this kind would not have been possible without the vision and tireless work of Aunty Pamela and her colleagues.
In her 80th year, Aunty Pamela remains a positive influence on the way health care is delivered across the community. This has extended to education and includes the Aunty Pamela Mam Indigenous Nursing Scholarship at Griffith University. Established in 2015 with ATSICHS Brisbane, the scholarship supports nursing and midwifery students of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent.
Professor Roianne West, Director First Peoples Health Unit said “There’s so many different layers to what we’re attempting to do by privileging Aunty Pam’s story. Through a scholarship we’ve got a legacy, we’ve got a story, we’ve got eldership, we’ve got indigenous knowledge, we’ve got Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, all being brought together. It is one way to continue Aunty Pam’s work.”
Aunty Pamela Mam is a life membership of the Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Health Service Brisbane, and a Patron to the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health.