Smoking ceremony marks collaboration between Blacktown Hospital and Aboriginal community

Blacktown Hospital has engaged with the Indigenous community to signal a new era of healthcare in the region.

Aboriginal elder Stephen Williams ran a traditional smoking ceremony at the site of the new hospital building last week. Due for completion in 2019, the new building will be part of a major tertiary hospital for western Sydney.

“The ceremony marks a coming together of Aboriginal tradition and healthcare, and symbolises the way we have planned our health facilities in collaboration with our diverse communities,” Blacktown Hospital manager Sue-Anne Redmond said.

Aboriginal elders and community leaders were consulted from the early stages of planning the building, which will feature Indigenous art and language.

A new birthing unit with an outdoor respite area was another of the ideas to come from the consultation.

Wiradjuri elder and Blacktown Hospital Aboriginal liaison officer Yvonne To’a said it was important for Aboriginal people to see their culture reflected in health facilities.

“Large institutions can be intimidating and may discourage people from seeking care,” she said.

“Incorporating Aboriginal traditions and cultural elements into the construction, planning and design makes everyone feel more welcome.”

Speaking to the Sun during NAIDOC Week, Ms To’a said the Stolen Generations had prevented many Aboriginal people from trusting hospitals in the past.

“But now it’s different. With an Aboriginal worker in here, they’re quite happy to come in and know that I’ll be here to check on them and see another black face in the hospital,” she said.

The Blacktown-Mount Druitt Hospital project is part of an innovative pilot program aimed at increasing the skills of construction workers, and providing opportunities for local young people and under-represented groups.

Contractors at the two sites are participating in Aboriginal employment programs. Blacktown Hospital’s major contractor AW Edwards has appointed Aboriginal enterprise Bara Barang to run the site staff canteen, and has donated $25,000 to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.

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