Djarmbi companions: National Reconciliation Week

St Vincent’s has a long history and commitment to the health and wellbeing of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.

‘Positioned as we are in Fitzroy, where many social and political Aboriginal organisations were founded, St Vincent’s has actively sought to identify with Aboriginal patients in the community, who experience poorer health overall than other Australians,’ says Toni Mason, Manager of the Aboriginal Health Unit.

Today marks the beginning of National Reconciliation Week, which commemorates two significant milestones in our reconciliation journey – the successful 1967 referendum (27 May 1967) and the High Court Mabo decision (3 June 1992).

‘National Reconciliation Week offers us an opportunity to reflect on our individual and collective commitment to reconciliation and to explore how each of us can contribute to achieving reconciliation in Australia,’ says Toni.

This year’s theme for National Reconciliation Week, is ‘in this together’. Toni has been working together with Art Curator Monique Silk and staff in the Cancer Centre on a project to ensure our hospital is a welcoming space for Aboriginal patients and visitors.

‘We have commissioned two local indigenous artists to create an art installation that will really brighten the space in our Cancer Centre, as well as improve cultural safety for Aboriginal patients,’ says Toni.

Artists Peter Waples-Crowe and Bronwyn Razem have collaborated together on the installation, entitled Djarmbi.

‘I use the dingo in my work a lot,’ says Peter. ‘People love dogs and the dingo is our native dog. It has also almost been treated like a nuisance, which for me is a representation of Aboriginal people in general.’

‘In this project, I’ve worked with Aunty Bronwyn to create an environment where the dingo is there as a companion animal. We named it Djarmbi, which means friend.

‘Dingoes were my ancestors’ best friends, says Bronwyn. ‘In pre-colonisation times, dingoes accompanied people from one place to another when they went hunting, and they also protected them at night time if there was any danger – they were a very important part of Aboriginal culture.’

The work builds on what we have already done and continue to do, in working towards Reconciliation.

‘It is really important to have reconciliation, because then we reconcile with all that has occurred in the past so we can move forward into the future,’ says Bronwyn. ‘I think it’s a great for patients in the Cancer Centre for patients to have this installation, as it just brightens up their day during the time they spend in here.’

As a national organisation, St Vincent’s Health Australia is committed towards Reconciliation with Australia’s First Nation people. Our vision for Reconciliation is a community where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians’ work together in a spirit of trust and openness to bring about hope, health, love, justice and peace in our world.

The installation was made possible by a Cultural Safety Grant received from the Department of Health and Human Services Cancer Services program.