GP registrar, Dr Kylie Parry, has taken the time to reflect on this year’s NAIDOC theme of ‘For Our Elders’.
She is a proud Biripi woman, with Dugatti connections, who draws strength and resilience from her mother’s side of the family.
Her grandmother was a part of the Stolen Generation, while her grandmother’s oldest three children were taken into care and still managed to forge well lived lives which have had a positive impact on their descendants and wider communities.
This drives Kylie to attempt to also make a positive change for First Nations people, and has provided the inspiration for Kylie’s career path into medicine.
“The females on my mum’s side of the family showed me I could have higher career aspirations,” she said.
“My grandmother grew up on Biripi country around Armidale and was taken by the government when she was 16 down to Parramatta Girls Home along with her siblings before managing to escape about a year later.
“Then she met my grandfather and they brought up their family mainly on riverbanks, including my mum for most of her childhood, up to her early teens.
“My mum and oldest aunt and uncle were also taken into care and put in a home for a while in their mid-teens. Mum doesn’t like to talk about it much. That definitely scarred her.
“My mother was one of nine kids with all the women attaining high levels in their chosen careers.”
It started with Kylie’s grandmother who, after settling in Glen Innes with her family, was instrumental in setting up the local Land Council to give the local Indigenous community a voice.
Of her children, the eldest became a Registered Nurse, then a midwife and lecturer at a Sydney University, before becoming a lawyer and now teaching law.
Kylie’s mother became a nurse and was the inspiration for her first career. Kylie’s other aunt was involved in setting up and was the initial Chief Executive Officer of the local Aboriginal Medical Service and has brought specialist services to their local community.
Kylie’s second youngest aunt is also a doctor and was instrumental in setting up the Northern Territory Medical Program and was the first Indigenous Medical Director for this program, and also where Kylie did her initial training.
Meanwhile, Kylie’s youngest aunt has been a strong Indigenous advocate in public services.
Family is certainly a huge positive influence for Kylie. After undertaking the majority of her GP training in the Northern Territory, Kylie has now returned to her roots.
She currently works at Armajun Aboriginal Health Service in her hometown of Glen Innes, and hopes to Fellow under the ACRRM pathway later this year.
She says it was always her mother and her grandmother who reinforced the importance of a good education.
“My grandmother especially always pushed everyone in the family that they had to go to school,” she said.
“My family have never taken any credit for things they have done. They were happy to be in the background, and have been mentors for many people.
“I’ve watched my mum and grandmother’s resilience among the struggles they had, and how our family, especially the women, have always been good, consistent, strong workers, so I guess that was a real inspiration for me.”
Like many young Aboriginal people growing up in rural towns in the 20th century, Kylie struggled to identify what career she wanted to pursue after she finished school.
“I ended up starting a nursing degree at the University of New England in Armidale, but it was my youngest auntie who was a doctor that got me into medicine,” she said.
“I didn’t really believe I could be a doctor before she showed me the way. It was a daunting prospect, but I took the leap, inspired by my Elders and family, and I’m so glad I did.
“I’ve worked in either remote Aboriginal communities or in Aboriginal Medical Services throughout my GP training, and it’s definitely where my passion lies.
“I’m particularly interested in cultural education, and how Aboriginal communities still have shockingly low levels in regards to social determinants of health, such as overcrowding and sanitation.
“I didn’t really believe I could be a doctor before she showed me the way. It was a daunting prospect, but I took the leap, inspired by my Elders and family, and I’m so glad I did..."
“It’s definitely something we need more education on. We hear about rheumatic heart disease in the NT because the rates are so high up there, but we still get rheumatic fever down here in New South Wales as well.
“I’ve also worked in remote Indigenous communities in Cape York and the Torres Strait and we’ve still got such a long way to go, including improving housing and education.”
So, what does the future hold for Kylie?
“I definitely see myself working in my home community to help improve the health of my own community – and to help advocate for them on a broader level,” she said.
“I’ve been inspired by so many people in my life. NAIDOC Week means a lot to me, especially with the focus on our Elders this year.
“But it’s not just my family and my Elders. It’s Elders in other communities who have given up so much of their time and their lives to further Indigenous health. Their careers have set such an amazing example for us.
“Strong Indigenous leaders like Dr Louis Peachey – who is amazing – have really inspired me to do more and have inspired so many other Indigenous Australians to become doctors.
“The more Indigenous doctors we can have working in AMSs, or in remote communities, the better it will be in improving patient outcomes.”
For Dr Kylie Parry, it is very much for her Elders – and her community.