A quiet achiever

Senior midwife Alison Bush was inducted into the Hall of Fame at NSW Healths Aboriginal Health Awards.

Alison Bush is a humble woman. She finds media attention curious and sometimes even bothersome. ‘I only do my job and try to help people to understand each other,’ Alison told The Lamp.

However, having worked as an Aboriginal Liaison Midwife and CNC at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPAH) for the past 40 years, Alison frequently receives deserved recognition for her vital and specialised work.

Alison’s latest accolade is being inducted into the Hall of Fame at NSW Health’s Aboriginal Health Awards. In her characteristically modest way, she said it was an honour to be chosen, but that she just goes quietly about her business. Despite having also received an Order of Australia (OAM) medal for her work, and being named an honorary fellow of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG), Alison is unassuming and ostensibly uncomfortable with any such special attention.

Ever since she was a young girl growing up in Darwin, Alison knew she wanted to be a nurse, and upon entering the profession she soon found that midwifery was what she enjoyed most. Seeing a common lack of understanding between Aboriginal patients and non-indigenous health-care staff, Alison found an important cultural liaison role at RPAH.

‘My work involves endeavouring to help people understand Aboriginal history,’ said Alison. ‘People often say, “That’s in the past”, but it’s not. The difference in living standards is now – it’s in the present. Aboriginal Australia has a small population, but we have the most problems.’

One of the best things about Alison’s job is helping people – both patients and staff – to understand each other. ‘Communication is the most important thing in health care, and to communicate well you have to have an understanding,’ she said. ‘I think that all health professionals should do a course in Aboriginal history and in cultural awareness as part of their formal training.’

Although she has seen an increase in Aboriginal women seeking antenatal care at RPAH during her career, Alison emphasised that for many indigenous women it is not a priority. ‘Looking after their families and dealing with their difficult financial situations can take up a lot of their time and energy, and a history of institutionalised racism can also deter Aboriginal women from seeking antenatal care in hospitals,’ Alison said.

A highlight of her career has been training other nurses, both clinically and culturally, and teaching prenatal skills to hundreds of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health-care workers, as part of the Skills Transfer Program that RANZCOG and James Cook University ran between 1990 and 2001.

When asked if she would like to see more indigenous Australians enter the nursing profession, Alison said she would like to see more people in general – indigenous and non-indigenous – enter the health professions. ‘Our hospitals are understaffed, and we need more people to become nurses and doctors,’ she told The Lamp. ‘Families need to encourage their children to become professionals. Education can help families improve their lifestyles, especially Aboriginal families. The more professionals that Aboriginal children see, the more hope they will have for the future. For many indigenous kids, it can seem that there isn’t a lot to believe in. We need to change that,’ said Alison.

In her own, quiet way, Alison is setting the example, and has been doing so for the past 40 years.