Ya (hi) everyone, my name is Alana Gall and I am an Indigenous health researcher at Menzies School of Health Research. I come from a large Pakana/Tasmanian Aboriginal family. Our Ancestors connect us back to the North East coast of lutruwita/Tasmania, and more recently to the Bass Strait Islands of Cape Barren and Flinders Island. One of my family’s ancestors, a woman named Pularilpana, was abducted by European sealers in the early 1800s and taken to the Bass Strait Islands. A number of Pakana/Tasmanian Aboriginal families ended up on the many islands in north east Bass Strait (or the Furneaux Islands) but were eventually forced to live at the Aboriginal Reserve on Cape Barren Island. ningimpi-mana (My Nanna), was born on Flinders Island and grew up there and on Cape Barren Island. I currently work on Turrbal and Jagara Country in Brisbane.
I have always been exposed to natural medicines and cultural ways of life. My Dad, Andrew Gall (kurina), always hunted for food when I was young. He would catch snakes, go spear fishing and also hunt for kangaroos. My Mum, who is of English descent, was a keen gardener (as was her father) and growing food “organically” was just a normal part of our lives. So we tended to use both bush medicines that were traditionally used by my ancestors in Tasmania, as well as natural remedies passed down in my Mum’s family. Growing up I didn’t know this was different to other people and I always liked the idea of using the things placed on earth to heal.
It wasn’t until my daughter was 5 years old though that I really understood just how powerful these natural medicines could be. She had suffered with pustular tonsillitis no less than 5 times in one year. The sixth bout was very stubborn, and I ended up having to go to the doctor for a third lot of antibiotics as it just wasn’t clearing up. This upset me as I hated seeing my daughter in so much pain and the doctor was saying she’d need to get her tonsils removed. I am of the belief that where possible we should keep everything in our bodies, as otherwise why would it be there? So I didn’t like that option either. I decided to jump on the internet and try to find an alternative so looked into natural medicines for tonsillitis on there. I ended up giving her Schuessler Tissue salts and echinacea tincture. Her pustular tonsillitis healed up and now she is 18 years old and hasn’t suffered with it since! This solidified in my mind just how powerful these medicines are and that I wanted to know more.
Since that time my passion for natural medicines has seen me complete courses in Flower Essence therapy and Iridology, a degree in Nutritional medicine, and a Masters by research that focussed on traditional and complementary medicine use by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cancer patients. Through this work I have been able to see just how important these medicines are to the people who use them. In one study I highlight the need for the health sector to open up communication about traditional and complementary medicines in the health care setting, and ensure they are not allowing their own biases about medicine to interfere with providing culturally safe care. As teachers and parents, it is equally important that we understand about these medicines so we can speak confidently about them, and also teach the young ones. This is especially true for the traditional medicines of my people, and other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders around Australia. These medicines have been shown to provide them with physical, emotional and spiritual benefits, which is congruent with their differing views on health, being that of a holistic model of health.
As teachers, it is especially important that you also provide a culturally safe space for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to learn. Through putting your bias aside (assuming you adhere to the reductionist model of health care that is the politically dominant one in Australia) you allow these children to feel accepted in the school setting. By teaching about bush medicine in the classroom, not only is this an interesting and engaging subject for all your students, you foster an environment of inclusion which in turn may reduce racism in the future generations.
I am happy to share what I know, so please contact the team at Wingaru if you have any particular bush medicine topics you’d like to know more about and they can work with me to develop the resources you need to teach your children with confidence about this topic.
nayri nina-tu (thank you) Alana
Pakana woman, Alana Gall, is an Indigenous health researcher at Menzies School of Health Research.
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