Building Strong Partnerships

25 May 2023

Months of collaboration has seen Mildura Base Public Hospital (MBPH) unveil what many believe to be the most significant piece of Aboriginal artwork ever seen in a health care facility in Victoria.

Covering more than 250 square metres, the three pieces of artwork were produced by local Barkindji artists Aunty Sharon Kirby and Uncle Peter Peterson.

Hundreds of people gathered to witness the unveiling of the artwork which CEO Terry Welch described as a significant step forward in building stronger relationships with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community in the Mallee.

“If you look at the health sector in general, not just us as a health service, there can be disconnect, there’s no question about that,” Mr Welch said.

“It’s been proven that if you can have really well established cultural safety programs, open engagement with all members of the community, including those of Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander … they will connect more with us.”

“I couldn’t be prouder of the organisation’s focus in reconnecting with the community and a key piece of that is the connection with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.

“This artwork reflects that 100 per cent and we are firmly committed to continuing to build that relationship.”

Mr Welch said the process of realising the artwork had been “an amazing journey”.

“It’s been amazing over the last three months to get to know Peter and Sharon,” he said.

“They’ve taken us, and me personally, on a journey of understanding culture and art.”

Launching the artwork on Monday evening, MBPH board chair Mary Rydberg said she hoped the new addition would help make the hospital a more welcoming place for everyone, but especially the Aboriginal community.

“It’s been a really great collaboration, and it certainly, we believe, will strengthen our relationships with the Aboriginal community,” she said.

Aunty Sharon’s work focuses on the story of the Rainbow Serpent, while Uncle Peter’s painting of Lake Mungo shows the native animals and the traditional owners – the Barkindji, Ngiyampaa and Muthi Muthi – who shared and cared for the land for generations, with their footprints representing the ancestors who left their mark so their story could be shared for generations to come.

Uncle Peter said he was thrilled to have his artwork on show at the hospital and to have played a part in passing on his culture to the community.

“The painting is about a lot of sacred stuff – it’s about country and it’s about the river,” he said.

“It’s about all the people in the community;

it’s about the Latje Latje, the Barkindi, the Muthi Muthi … we’re all one family. We’re

all the river people.”

Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley was not at the opening, but in a statement applauded Mr Welch and the MBPH team for taking “an important step forward in building stronger and more culturally safe health services”.

“Mildura Base Public Hospital strives to provide culturally responsive care and support improved health outcomes for the local Aboriginal communities,” he said.

“The artwork demonstrates the hospital’s commitment to this crucial work and makes an important statement to Aboriginal communities in the Mallee about their commitment to Aboriginal cultural safety.

“We strive to achieve greater cultural safety in our health services’ partnerships with Aboriginal peoples as demonstrated by the positive relationship evident today.”