Committee welcomes keen quintet


Five new additions to the APA’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Committee will bring a stronger voice of youth and Indigenous perspective, says committee chair Michael Reynolds. Melissa Mitchell reports on the changing face of the key advisory group.

The motivations behind Aaron Percival wanting to minimise health issues in the Indigenous population are many. Aaron has seen first-hand the impacts of chronic disease on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population of which he is a part. But more than that, the Gamilaraay man from Connabarabran in north-west New South Wales wants to use his experience and knowledge gained through physiotherapy to help increase the numbers of Aboriginal people engaging in primary care initiatives.

One of the steps Aaron has taken to meet his aim is to become one of five new faces to join the APA’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Committee, appointments which were announced at the beginning of March. Aaron, APAM, applied for a position on the committee because he felt a driving need to act, to help empower the Indigenous population to have positive intergenerational health outcomes.

‘I wanted to see where and how physiotherapy can guide my practice into the Indigenous health space,’ Aaron says. ‘The primary goal for my induction into this committee is to assist with my own, and overall, strategies I can utilise within private practice to assist my people’s health. How this opportunity will assist me in this, I’m unsure but I’m extremely keen to find out.

‘I hope to utilise my connections to Indigenous health organisations, as well as the knowledge and experience I have gained from the Wollotuka Institute, where I work as a casual academic in Indigenous health, to assist in reducing the fog around cultural safety and Indigenous health equity.’

Aaron, who moved into private practice after graduating from the University of Newcastle in 2015, has a keen interest in sport after playing, coaching and managing multiple sports including all-age soccer to national events such as the Indigenous Tertiary Students Games. He also has a keen interest in health and wellbeing management through exercise, and hopes to use both to improve health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

‘I jumped straight into private practice to help people make better life choices, with the aim of minimising chronic health issues which is one of the main health issues plaguing my people,’

Aaron says. ‘The combination of health management and sport is not a new concept to engage with Indigenous people—I hope the committee and I can find new ways to explore this.’

The five new inclusions on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Committee include Kamilaroi woman Kathryn Potter, APAM, a physiotherapist who founded the Indigenous owned company Physiotherapy Innovations and who has worked in the hospital and health service environment for 15 years. She will join bursary students and APA student members Tiana Pitman, Eleanor-Grace West and Cameron Edwards, who is also a member of the APA Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) Implementation Group. The quintet will join five existing committee members to make up a complement of 10.

The new-look committee will meet for the first time in the coming weeks, and hopes to have strong representation at the Transform 2019 Physiotherapy Conference, to be held in Adelaide from 17 to 19 October. Committee chair, APA Sports Physiotherapist Michael Reynolds, feels that the new additions to the committee will be able to contribute in a positive, meaningful way.

‘We have a lot of youth coming on to the team, they’re some of our previous bursary students who are now physios. They’re a new generation with a new generation of understanding,’ Michael says. ‘They bring stronger First Peoples’ voices to our organisation and have been selected from all around the country, which is fundamental to meaningful change. They are joining a passionate group of experienced past and present members of our committee, and I am looking forward to seeing how their voices continue to grow and be heard.

‘The role I see for the committee is to create spaces where experts can gather and provide input toward our push to reconciliation, create networks to support Indigenous and non- Indigenous physiotherapists working in the space, and celebrate the great achievements of physiotherapists who are determined to see equitable access for all Australians,’ Michael says. ‘Understanding and respecting our rich First Peoples’ cultural histories and re-learning our past, is integral to effective health service delivery. It is my aim that the committee will collaborate with physiotherapists and Aboriginal communities on the ground to help develop resources, and be a contact point to collaborate and share ideas with physiotherapists who need support in this area.’

‘Given that only half a percent of Australian physiotherapists identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, it is great news that we have welcomed so many onto the committee to provide a voice that historically has not been heard. Three per cent of the Australian population identify as Indigenous with many not receiving the healthcare they deserve or having a say in their futures. I am heartened to see so many from Indigenous backgrounds becoming involved and the support they are already providing for the next generation.

‘There has been much bigger spotlight on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and a much bigger spotlight on Closing the Gap,’ Michael says ‘And there’s a much bigger focus on how physios and the APA can help Close that Gap. But it’s not a simple approach.

‘The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Committee is a little different to other groups in that we all encourage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to apply, but we actually preference that voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Despite being one committee of 10 people, it’s really representative of a wider group, and a longer-term plan would be to have it operate akin to a national group.

‘We’re currently exploring options on our next steps given the much larger support for these issues. There are a lot of questions being asked such as how can we engage better with our Aboriginal patients and achieve better health outcomes? How can we raise the profile of physiotherapy, moving better and becoming healthier in Aboriginal communities? Prior to colonisation, Aboriginal people were generally healthy. What happened? What can we learn from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures? These can be difficult concepts to understand and recognise. Having more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander physios within our organisation to help answer these questions is a great step forward.

‘The APA is committed under its Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) to make sure more opportunities are provided for Indigenous students, with recognition that we need a greater number of practising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander physiotherapists. Through initiatives that started a couple of years ago, we’re now seeing students becoming valued and engaged members in this space,’ Michael says.

The committee has an advisory role to the National Advisory Council and the APA Board to help shape future directions, particularly in key areas of promoting a culturally-safe health workforce and education. This differs slightly from the the APA’s RAP Implementation Group which oversees the strategic objectives set out in the RAP.

‘We recognise that our workforce still isn’t yet universally delivering culturally safe healthcare. Each healthcare profession has taken steps toward addressing this. AHPRA has strongly signalled their intent to ensure all health practitioners can provide culturally safe care and have undergone training to help ensure this happens. Given the significant historical treatment of Aboriginal people in this country and ongoing prejudice, many will choose not to access some health services. If we are to “Close the Gap”, a little more education and learning is required for many practitioners to be part of the solution. The APA is strongly committed to developing sound training strategies to ensure members are well supported during that phase towards becoming more culturally safe.

‘The APA and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Committee now provides a unique platform for Indigenous physios and physio students to come together and be supported in their careers. The number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander physiotherapists more broadly in our profession is still too few, though is growing slowly with the supports that now exist,’ Michael says.

For Aaron, the committee can play a vital role in taking away the mystery of cultural competence and safety and can help change the thought process around Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health to encourage greater equality.

‘We should, as a profession, be aiming for health equality by achieving health equity,’ Aaron says. ‘The committee demonstrates the want from the APA, as a body, to move forward with Indigenous health by having experiences and youthful perspectives on the management of Indigenous health through physiotherapy.’

Kathryn Potter

Kathryn has an interest in both women’s, men’s and pelvic health and respiratory health, and is a member of both APA national groups.

Kathryn has been recognised for her work in Indigenous health and received an award from the APA Queensland branch in 2018. She is also a member of boards and committees including the You Fella, Me Fella Mentoring Program Advisory Board, the Close the Gap committee at her local hospital, and is an exclusive member of the Australian and New Zealand Indigenous Women in Business Leadership Group.

Tiana Pitman

Tiana, a second-year physiotherapist at John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle on the north coast of New South Wales, is an APA bursary recipient and has attended three APA conferences—Darwin, Sydney and Hobart. Tiana grew up in Taree, Biripi country, and moved to Newcastle where she graduated with a Bachelor of Physiotherapy (Honours) in 2017. She is passionate about helping those around her and making positive changes in people’s lives.

Cameron Edwards

Cameron Edwards is a proud Kamilaroi man, raised on Darug country in Blacktown, Sydney. His passions in physiotherapy lie in Indigenous health as well as in paediatrics. Cameron says he is deeply grateful and humbled by his selection to serve alongside the ATSIHC team, and looks forward to making a difference in the Indigenous health landscape.

Eleanor-Grace Westl

Eleanor-Grace is a proud Dja Dja Wurrung and Yorta Yorta woman, who is grounded by her Indigenous and Scottish heritage. Born and raised in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, she is inspired and supported by her two greatest allies, her mother and sister. Passionate about health and wellbeing, Eleanor-Grace is currently studying a Bachelor of Applied Science and Master of Physiotherapy at La Trobe University.

Aaron Percival

Aaron is a Gamilaraay man from Coonabarabran, in north-west New South Wales. Aaron is a proud uncle of nine nieces and nephews, and has a passion for sport and its contribution to all aspects of health. Aaron undertook multiple mentoring and internship opportunities at the University of Newcastle, and worked at the university’s Indigenous unit while completing his degree in 2015.

Key dates on the calendar

26 May

National Sorry Day is a key recommendation in the ‘Bringing them Home’ report, which was tabled in Federal Parliament on 26 May 1997. National Sorry Day acknowledges and recognises members of the Stolen Generations and mistreatment of our country’s Aboriginal people.

27 May–3 June

National Reconciliation Week is held to celebrate Indigenous history and culture, and to foster reconciliation discussion and activities. This year’s theme is ‘Grounded in truth, walk together with courage’.

3 June

Mabo Day commemorates Eddie Koiki Mabo, a Torres Strait Islander whose campaign for Indigenous land rights led to a landmark decision of the High Court of Australia that, on 3 June 1992, overturned the legal fiction of terra nullius.

7–14 July

NAIDOC Week is a celebration of the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This year’s theme of ‘Voice, treaty, truth’ encourages all Australians to work together for a shared future.

2–5 August

International Day of the World’s Indigenous People’s ‘Migration and movement’ theme will explore issues of Indigenous territories, the root causes of migration, trans-border movement and displacement.

9 August

Garma Festival is taking place at Gulkula, near the township of Gove in the Northern Territory. More than 2500 people are expected to attend this year’s event, which has the theme of ‘Pathways to our future’.

To find out more about the APA’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Committee, contact Lowana Williams at


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