Getting to know ... Kerry Arabena
Name: Dr Kerry Arabena
Title: Professor and Director of Research
Faculty/Division: Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences
Dept: School for Indigenous Health
How long have you worked at Monash?
I started working at Monash on 1 March 2012.
Where did you work prior to starting at the University?
I was inaugural CEO of the Lowitja Institute, which commissions health research for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the Inaugural Chairperson of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples. Additionally, I was completing contracts through my own consulting company.
What do you like best about your role?
The School for Indigenous health in the Faculty is a newly established school and as such is a ‘green field’ I like the opportunity to think outside the box on addressing issues affecting our communties, and being proactive in engaging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in research.
Why did you choose your current career path?
I was interested in research. I was a visiting research fellow with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and the Coorperative Research Centre in Aboriginal Health. I learned a lot about community-driven research in this time. My thesis then won an award for academic excellence, so I thought that instead of running companies I should involve myself once again with research and writing and assisting communities get answers to key questions about their health and well being.
Other than the usual part time jobs we take to get ourselves through university, my first job upon completion of my social work degree was to look after children in care in the Northern Territory when I worked for the Department of Welfare. On one of those trips I visited Kintore community, only to be out there then as a 21 year old running the most remote Aboriginal community controlled health organisation in Australia for three years.
I have really enjoyed all of my jobs – I have learned heaps and have had some of the most wonderful opportunities to keep on learning and experiencing all life has to offer, but really, the one that made me sickest was working in the public service for three months in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Services just after Australia and Torres Straight Islander Commission (ATSIC) was abolished. My job was to tell all the ATSIC regional councils that they would no longer be needed. I became incensed with what was happening and so I left, read for six weeks and wrote for six weeks, then went on a buddhist retreat in the States for another six weeks! The result of this experience was a Discussion Paper called Not Fit for Modern Australian Society – I was proud of that piece of work.
What research/projects are you currently working on and what does it involve?
Currently I am involved in a number of collaborations that have applications in with NHMRC and ARC. Monash University is in partnership with University of Canberra, the Australian National University and the Stronger Smarter Institute looking at the impact of deficit language in the construction of policies that direct aboriginal affairs. Also we are in partnership with University of Melbourne and the Royal Women’s Hospital to look at the health and wellbeing of young women in the 16-25 year old age group and are using social media. Other projects are with Worawa School looking at the social and emotional needs of their students who are from all over Australia, and we are working on a seminar series to kick off in the later part of this year.
What is your favourite place in the world and why?
It is too hard to choose!
I love Davies Creek up in the hinterland behind Cairns. I used to take the family camping up there. I had a favourite little waterhole that you could sit in all day if you wanted to –the sound of water over the rocks and the silence being broken by a cockatoo flying over head was rejuvinating. Another time I just had to get out of my troop carrier and stand on the roof up in Cape York. I was in the middle of the biggest expanse of grevillea I had ever seen – horizon to horizon. It was in flower. I spent about four hours up there and I carry that experience with me still. Finally, there was one big rocky outcrop in the middle of the desert on the way to Kintore past Mount Leibig that I used to stop the car at and climb up. You could still see where the Traditional Owners had engraved the rocks and I came to know where there was a little rock hole at the top. I used to sit there thinking that there was no one else around for at least a 500 kilometre radius. You could make billy tea up there and wait for the sun to go down a bit before driving west again.
What is your favourite place to eat and why?
Melbourne of course – it is a foodie's paradise.
What is the best piece of advice you have received?
My mother and father sacrificed quite a lot to give my sister and me a good education. They told us to go as far with it as we possibly could. My sister is completing her GP training and I have become a professor, thanks to that early advice and the support of many others to take all that education could offer. I am now in a position to be able to give back. It is a privileged position, one that I do not take lightly.
Tell us something about yourself that your colleagues wouldn’t know?
I am a very quiet person!