22nd June 2020

Aboriginal Rural and Regional Research Capacity and Capability – Reorienting Thinking Through a Cultural Safety Lens

By DrMJLock


The 7th Symposium of the Western NSW Health Research Network was originally meant for face-to-face meeting in Dubbo for June 11, 2020. Something happened: COVID19! And so it was changed to be totally online and for the previous 4 months the organising committee has worked to get up-to-speed with this “new normal”.

The Executive of the Western NSW Health Research Network (WHRN) worked hard to convert the usual face-to-face symposium into an online format.

The opening online symposium for 11th June had a great line-up: ‘The June 11th session Master of Ceremonies was Prof Megan Smith, Executive Dean, Faculty of Science at CSU. It was opened by Scott McLachlan (CE of Western NSW Local Health District), and Assoc Prof Catherine Hawke (School of Rural Health, University of Sydney and founding Chair of WHRN.

The closing address was by Brendon Cutmore (Director of Aboriginal Health and Wellbeing Directorate, Western NSW LHD).

The Panelists

Other webinar panellists included Mark Lock (Ngiyampaa academic and WHRN co-chair), academics Prof Deb Warr (Three Rivers UDRH) and Prof Faye McMillan (Djirruwang Program, CSU), Karolyn White (Director of Research Ethics  & Integrity, Macquarie University), Summer Finlay (AH&MRC HREC committee members), and Ricky Puata (Community Lead for Cancer Council Western NSW Communities)’

My five minute window is about Aboriginal Rural and Regional Research Capacity and Capability – Reorienting Thinking Through a Cultural Safety Lens.

1. The points that I made were:My connection to rural settings is through my Ngiyampaa mobs history at Murrin Bridge (Johnson, Whyman and Kenned’s), my birthplace of Dubbo and growing up in Narromine, but having to leave to the city for better education and career opportunities. I think that I would have made different decisions if there were Aboriginal researchers talking to me at high school, showing me that I could stay in Narromine and develop a career aligned with my spirituality and culture. The context has changed now and I am actively developing a culturally safe research reform agenda.

2. That agenda includes deep philosophical and empirical investigation of words like “capacity” and “capability”. “Capacity” means ‘the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health researchers’ and “capability” means ‘the skills, networks, knowledge and competitiveness for mainstream funding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health researchers’ (NHMRC 2019). However, many factors undermine capacity and capability building including a culturally dangerous research system.

3. Instead of focusing on the problems with the research system, I want to focus on strong and positive stories. I know two awesome Aboriginal research stories – a shout out to Chontel Gibson (Kamilaroi woman, occupational therapist and academic) and Lynette Bullen (Wiradjuri woman currently undertaking a Health Education and Training Institute Rural Research Capacity Building Program through NSW Health). Both pursuing research careers while living and working in rural NSW. Inspirational! How can I bottle their inspiration??n.

4. Au de Aboriginal Research Inspiration, as a product, does not sound like it has marketing potential. However, think about the selling points: strong cultural voice, strength and identity; steeped in over 60,000 years of spirituality and culture; developed with Elders on Country based on an empowerment formula for self-determination; and proceeds benefit Aboriginal communities. These are also guiding points when reorienting thinking through a cultural safety lens.

5. The challenge I throw out to you is to join me and other Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal colleagues in yarning about capacity and capability building through the Western NSW Health Research Network and the Aboriginal Research Interest Group so that we can build a cultural safety research system that empowers, privileges and values Aboriginal world views.


NHMRC – National Health and Medical Research Council (2019). Targeted Call for Research: National Network for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health researchers 2019 Guidelines. Canberra: The Council. Retrieved from: https://www.grants.gov.au/?event=public.GO.show&GOUUID=DF5392CE-9A72-526A-26FA6B7BDD8C1214, accessed 10 June 2020.