Kimberley Hunter – My Journey into Allied Health

My name is Kimberley Hunter; I am a Nyikina woman from the West Kimberley region of Western Australia through my Kabay (Paternal Grandmother)—since a time immemorial, my people have shared custodianship of the Mardoowarra—the mighty Fitzroy River. I also have connections to Bardi, Jabirrjabirr and Nyul Nyul saltwater Country along the Dampier Peninsular through my Karloo (Paternal Grandfather). I was born and raised on Kaurna Yerta (Adelaide, South Australia), and I currently live on Bidjigal Country (Sydney, New South Wales).

What allied health profession have you chosen and why? When did you decide to choose this profession? Where did you study?

I always struggle to answer these types of questions because the ‘choice’ to become a health professional has never completely felt like my own—it requires the telling of an intergenerational story. Like many of us, my grandparents were given limited opportunities in life and experienced hardships and sacrifices I couldn’t imagine having to endure. Their children, my dad, aunties, and uncles, grew up fortunate enough to receive a decent education and have dedicated their lives to the frontlines of health, justice, housing and child welfare systems—advocating and creating change for our mob. My dad’s life, however, was tragically cut short from an asthma attack, so I guess for me, travelling down the path towards health has always been close to my heart. However, my journey to even stepping foot in a university would not have been possible without those who have gone before me, carving the path for me to follow. It is important for me to acknowledge this.

I completed my studies in Occupational Therapy at the University of South Australia in 2015; Tahnee Elliott (fellow IAHA member) and I were the first Aboriginal women to graduate from the uni with this degree—not far behind our brotherboy & trailblazer Tirritpa Ritchie (also fellow IAHA member). I later went on to complete a Graduate Certificate in Public Health at Flinders University in 2018.

Occupational Therapy initially appealed to me because of its broad scope of practice. As a young person, I was worried about being trapped in a job I didn’t like—I wanted flexibility in my career, and the opportunities for different areas of work within OT seemed endless. I also valued the holistic lens OT applies to a person’s wellbeing, as I could see alignments between this and my own concepts of health and wellbeing from a First Nations perspective—one that also takes into consideration the wellbeing of our environments, relationships with others and aspects of self/family/community that often get lost in the medical model of health.

How would you describe your professional journey?

I entered university straight from high school; however, my grades weren’t high enough to get into OT, so I studied a year of Human Movement before transferring. My family were (and are) my biggest supporters and inspirations—especially my mum; as a single mother of three, carer of my two elderly grandparents, working multiple jobs and studying full-time, I’ve seen her persevere through incredible odds. She is the most special person in my life.

As far as role models in health go, I would have to say, my late uncle, many of us may have been fortunate enough to receive a scholarship in his name (Puggy Hunter Memorial Scholarship), but sadly not everyone knows his story. As one of the most influential

Aboriginal men of our time, my uncle Puggy was a fierce grassroots leader who took community calls for change to the highest levels of government and made significant changes to the health policy landscape. He fought uncompromisingly until his last breath, and even still, his legacy lives on through the opportunities his scholarship continues to create for our mob.

What has been the most challenging things about your journey into allied health?

Interacting with colonial institutions is a constant challenge. Connecting with the Indigenous Student Support Unit at the uni and accessing the tutorial assistance they offered is absolutely what got me through.

Why is it important for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to work in your profession?

The representation of Blackfullas in OT and across all allied health disciplines is so important. We hold within our hands, thousands of years of knowledge of what good health looks like and we have to remember that the current state of poor health many of our mob experience today has been unjustly shaped by a system that was never designed for us. Whenever the challenge of achieving health equality for our mob seems out of reach, we must come back to what we know works—and those answers are found within our knowledge systems, cultural practices and societal and ecological relationships.

I love working with and for Blak women. I’ve spent countless hours listening to thousands of First Nations women and girls of all ages from across the nation, and I carry their voices in the deepest depths of my heart and mind. I believe achieving First Nations Gender Justice and Equality is something we should all be striving for, and Wiyi Yani U Thangani is a vehicle for this change to the light. I wake up every day feeling incredibly honoured and privileged to be a part of this work and journey.

What role has IAHA played in supporting your journey?

I have been a member of IAHA since 2013, when my Aunty Debra first brought me along to the national conference in Adelaide, since that day I’ve attended every conference and forum, been involved in the HFTC as a student, and have just entered my second term as a Board Director. IAHA, to me, is like family, the relationships made and support I have received has played an integral role in shaping my journey and who I am today. Culturally safe spaces are few and far between, and the environment IAHA offers feels like home—it truly is something special. I can’t thank IAHA and our members enough for the personal and professional support they continue to provide me.

What would you say to a person (young or old) who is thinking about a career in your chosen profession?

Put your hat in the ring & give it a go. Each one of us are capable of great things, and our contributions to our communities, big or small, matter.