The role of Djäkamirr in redesigning First Nations women’s maternity care services

Jaden Colbert

The following should not be considered legal advice and is for general use only.

Over the last few months, DKL’s Principal, Danny King, has been closely involved in a new initiative to re-establish traditional maternity services for Yolŋu mothers and babies living in Galiwin’ku, Arnhem Land.

Specifically, the project seeks to develop a working model to provide Djäkamirr (First Nations doulas) to enable ‘Birthing on Country’ and continuous support to women during pregnancy and early parenthood.

Commenting on the initiative, Danny King said, “This project is about providing equal access to care for women at a vulnerable time in their lives. To achieve this in Galiwin’ku, we’re exploring workable models to re-introduce traditional maternity practices delivered in the community for thousands of years before Western intervention.

“Hearing about the current situation where Yolŋu women are removed from their communities and support networks during pregnancy, and the harm this can have on the wellbeing of mother and baby, moved me to tears. No woman should be so alone when creating life, and access to essential healthcare is what all women should expect in this country.”

One crucial aspect of developing a responsible, sustainable, and replicable Djäkamirr model is accommodating traditional Yolŋu ways of working within current Australian employment law. This is challenging where Western concepts of time and record-keeping are simply not used by Yolŋu, at all.

The project’s effectiveness and accessibility can be hindered if it requires teaching the Yolŋu community complex and unfamiliar concepts, creating an impasse. While rethinking Western legal structures to accommodate different ways of working could lead to faster and readily available support, it would be challenging as they appear almost immovably entrenched.

“When I was first asked to prepare a contract, I realised that it could not fit with the current law of employment. It’s notoriously inflexible and approaching this project with a level of diligence that ensures long-term success requires significant changes,” Danny King said.

“The project team is already working with the NT Government and is meeting the Federal Government in May. These are positive steps towards creating a sustainable model that can be used in communities across the country.”

The project is a partnership between the Molly Wardaguga Research Centre, Charles Darwin University, Red Cross, Careflight, Yalu Aboriginal Corporation, Australian Doula College, Miwatj Aboriginal Health Corporation, and NT Health.

To read the briefing paper prepared jointly by Dr Sarah Ireland, research fellow, Molly Wardaguga Research Centre, Charles Darwin University and Danny King, click here.

The above should not be considered legal advice and is for general use only.