Digital photograph depicting Site Manager Stevie-Lee Ryan (Taungurung, left), CEO Karinda Taylor (Wamba Wamba, middle) and Medical Administration Officer Shania Shanahan (Arabana, right) at their workplace, First Peoples' Health and Wellbeing (FPHW) clinic in Thomastown, Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung Country, Victoria, 25 March 2021. They are pictured standing in the carpark in face masks and surgical gowns, exposing their 'Always Was, Always Will Be' T-Shirts made by Victorian Aboriginal-owned fashion label Clothing The Gaps.

In this photograph Stevie-Lee, Karinda and Shania are re-creating a scene from a video that they posted on the FPHW social media accounts during NAIDOC week in November 2020. This video showed FPHW staff members pulling down their PPE and surgical gowns to expose their 'Always Was, Always Will Be' T-Shirts as a sign of pride, identity, power and resilience. It was accompanied by the words: 'Fighting COVID together, but we have been fighting for 65,000+ years.'

First Peoples' Health and Wellbeing (FPHW)'s Thomastown clinic first opened in 2018 with an aim to improve primary healthcare access for First Peoples in the north-west region of Melbourne. In late 2019, just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, a second FPHW clinic was opened in Frankston. The organisational ethos at FPHW, as articulated on its website in early 2021, is to 'commit to an Australian First Peoples definition of health, not just the physical well-being of an individual, but the social, emotional and cultural well-being of the whole Community' (National Aboriginal Health Strategy, 1989).

This photograph is one of 20 photographs that were taken by curator Catherine Forge shortly before interviewing Karinda, Stevie-Lee Ryan and Shania about their experiences of delivering Aboriginal-led and managed healthcare during the pandemic, including COVID-19 testing, community support programs and preparations for vaccine administration.

In this oral history interview, Karinda, Stevie-Lee and Shania discussed the various ways in which FPHW responded to the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, which included; rapidly setting up a respiratory clinic at the Thomastown clinic, increasing staff capacity from 7 to 27 staff members (across both the Thomastown and Frankston clinics), overcoming early challenges with limited supplies of PPE and surgical gowns, rolling out a number of flu vaccination clinics, meeting a significantly increased demand for mental health services due to social isolation during lockdown, transitioning in-person appointments to tele-health services, navigating the challenges of being situated in a 'Covid hot spot' and working with positive Covid cases, ensuring staff safety and strict sanitisation procedures at the clinic and preparing for the arrival of vaccine rollout in 2021. Beyond their on-site work at the clinic, Karinda, Stevie-Lee and Shania also discussed the wider community outreach work of FPHW, including involvement in NAIDOC week activities, active social media engagement with community via Tik Tok, Instagram and Facebook, and COVID-19 awareness raising in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.

Despite grappling with longstanding inequalities in the Australian healthcare system and significant challenges with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, Karinda, Stevie-Lee and Shania spoke proudly throughout the interview about their significant achievements during the pandemic. Stevie-Lee reflected: 'We want to close the health gap. We want to increase the life expectancy of Aboriginal people. The reason I'm able to do this today is because my ancestors did what they did for me, and I'm definitely going to stand up proud and say that we have given everything we've got, and done everything we can for community .. I think First Peoples have led the way in the response to COVID-19.' Shania reflected that 'I think to date we've done 6,000 Covid tests, so that's something to be really proud of .. we've done amazing and we continue to hold onto who we are and what we are.' Similarly Karinda reflected, 'we are coming back stronger than ever, and in the middle of a pandemic. We're here. And we're not just keeping up with the mainstream [health models], we're setting the standards in our COVID-19 response.'

FPHW was one of a number of Aboriginal community-controlled health organisations and health services across Victoria that provided culturally safe, locally-led healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic. In Melbourne, the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS), which was first established in 1973 as Victoria's first Aboriginal community-controlled healthcare provider, also offered Covid testing services and opened a respiratory clinic in Fitzroy. VAHS provided extensive community outreach and support, including food and medicine deliveries, community events and COVID-19 awareness raising.

Physical Description

Colour digital TIFF file


With the support of the Office for Suburban Development, this is one of 20 photographs that was taken by curator Catherine Forge alongside an oral history interview that was recorded at the Thomastown clinic of FPHW on 22 March 2021. Following this interview and photoshoot, FPHW also donated a number of objects to the museum's State Collection, including: two bottles of hand sanitiser, a face mask, a staff T-Shirt (all with the FPHW logo), a surgical gown, two Covid saliva tests and an 'Always Was, Always Will Be' T-Shirt by Victorian Aboriginal-owned fashion label Clothing The Gaps.

These items provide lasting documenting of the important role of FPHW in providing Aboriginal community-controlled healthcare and Covid testing during the COVID-19 pandemic.They highlight the ancestral knowledge systems and approaches that inform First Peoples healthcare in Victoria, and represent a wide range of issues and themes including; closing the gap in Australian healthcare, trauma-informed healthcare models, traditional knowledge systems, First Peoples community outreach and solidarity, Covid testing, Covid vaccines, isolation and lockdown, mental health and wellness, cultural identity and NAIDOC week celebrations, and the various ways that First Peoples community members came together to support one another during the COVID-19 pandemic.

More Information