Ray Gates, an Aboriginal physiotherapist based at the Gold Coast, who was the inaugural president of the National Association of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Physiotherapists Inc., is launching a “blogazine” to cover Indigenous health issues with a global perspective.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I wear a lot of hats. I’m an Aboriginal man (Bundjalung through my father’s family) who’s been involved in health in one way or another for the last 23 years, and in Aboriginal health for about 20 of those. I’ve been a physiotherapist since 2003, and before that I worked for the Federal Government’s health department. I was the first Aboriginal member – and later Chair – of the Australian Physiotherapy Association’s Indigenous Health Committee, and one of the founders of the National Association of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Physiotherapists, Inc.
Q: Why are you launching this new publication?
The basic premise behind Indigihealth International is collaboration. The irony of Indigenous health is that we have one of the smallest groups of people tackling one of the largest issues in modern society. It’s so big that none of us can deal with it in isolation. We need to work together: doctors with nurses and allied health professionals, health professionals with service managers, policy makers, and community leaders, the health industry with education, social services, social justice, and infrastructure.
It’s my vision that Indigihealth International will be a way to facilitate that collaboration for the betterment of Indigenous peoples worldwide. By presenting it as a blog style magazine – or ‘blogazine’ – it not only enables all those in Indigenous health to share knowledge, experience, ideas and opinions; it encourages feedback and discussion of these issues. None of us has all the answers, but together there’s no reason we can’t find them.
Q: Why the international focus?
Several years ago I had the privilege of being a guest of Tae Ora Tinana, the representative body for Māori physiotherapists in New Zealand, and engage in a cultural and professional exchange. Of all that I gained from this experience, two of the main things I learned were: for all our cultural differences, the issues relating to the poor health status of Māori people compared to non-Māori were very similar to those we face in addressing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health; and New Zealand seemed to be a lot more progressive in addressing the health of Māori people than Australia had been in addressing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.
When you look at Indigenous health on a global scale, you realise that even though our cultures are different, the health status of our peoples and many of the underlying reasons for that, are very much the same. Some of the issues we face in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health have already been addressed by other Indigenous peoples around the world. Some of our initiatives would likely be of benefit to others. If we come together, in the spirit of collaboration and knowledge exchange, chances are we can learn from those who’ve gone before us, and lead others who are yet to get to where we are, and hopefully in a much more timely manner than we’ve seen to date.
Q: What stories will it cover?
Indigenous health, as an issue, is enormous, and if you’re going to encourage open discussion and knowledge sharing, you cannot try to limit that to any sort of category or subset. Indigihealth International will happily publish any article, be it a news story, an opinion piece, a profile on a profession, project, or service, a policy update, a book review, or whatever else, as long as it is relevant to Indigenous health.
Q. What difference would you like to see it make?
One of my personal issues with Indigenous health is that change happens far too slowly. In a 21st century industrialised society, many of the issues we face in Indigenous health simply should not exist. The reality of that is there are many people suffering from illnesses, diseases, and morbidities, that shouldn’t have to be.
My hope is that Indigihealth International will become a resource for anyone involved in Indigenous health to utilise so that they can enable change to happen faster. None of us, individually, has all the answers. Together, however, there’s no reason we can’t find them all. It would be fantastic to know that someone found a solution, or the inspiration or guidance that led them to a solution, to a problem or issue they needed to address, through articles and discussions shared through Indigihealth International.
Q: Who would you like to see writing for it?
Who writes the articles will likely be as diverse as the content of the articles themselves. Indigenous health is a multi-faceted issue, and the most effective way to address it is to tackle it from multiple directions. I hope to see articles from health professionals, educators, administrators, researchers, government, industry, and peak professional body representatives, community leaders, and anyone else who has knowledge, expertise, or ideas to share.
The more content received, the more that can be shared, and more regularly. I’d love to hear from anyone reading this who might have something they’d like to contribute to Indigihealth International, especially anyone interested in being a regular contributor.
Q. What do you see as the critical issues that need to be addressed, to help improve the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples?
There’s so many … one that I’ve had some personal involvement with over the last several years is cultural safety. It’s an ongoing issue that’s been around since the original National Aboriginal Health Strategy in 1989. The fact we’re still talking about it demonstrates that, to date, we’re yet to address it well enough.
I lecture to third year and post-graduate physiotherapy students about engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and it’s great that the universities I’ve worked with understand the importance of this. The problem we’re finding is that the students, generally speaking, come into the course with little to no prior knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures or history – they’re not getting anything at the secondary education level – so you can’t really start talking about engagement when they have no understanding of what the issues are or where they’ve come from.
Cultural safety is only one of many, many critical issues, however it’s an issue that underlies many of the other issues we face. Any conversation about service provision and access to services, education and workforce development, policy and planning, even prevention of ill health and promotion of optimal health, must include cultural safety as a key factor.
Q. I see from your website that you are a keen fiction writer, in the horror genre. When did you start writing fiction, and why?
Here’s another hat I wear. I’ve had a passion for writing – fiction as well as non-fiction – all my life. I love telling stories as much as I love hearing or reading them. Years ago I found my muse and got some encouragement to take my writing more seriously, and since then I’ve had a number of published short stories and hope to have a novel out in the not-too-distant future.
Q. Is there any overlap between your fiction writing and your work in health?
Given the things I usually write about, I sure hope not! If anything, my fiction writing is so far removed from my work in health that it makes for a nice way to escape and recharge. I read to escape, I write to escape, and hopefully my stories can give others a way to escape too. That sounds very mental health doesn’t it? Maybe there is some overlap after all?
Q: What is the question I haven’t asked that you wish I had (and how would you answer it…)
What’s next for Ray Gates?
One thing I never seem to have trouble with is finding something to do. There are a couple of things I’m working on in the background, and all going well I’ll be talking about them in the coming months. Until then, I’m happy to stay focussed on the things I’m already doing, like Indigihealth International.
• Read the article below, How Physios Can Help Close the Gap.
• This is Ray’s personal website.