'Always Was Always Will Be' T-Shirt made by Victorian Aboriginal-owned fashion and streetwear label Clothing The Gaps, featuring a design by artist, Carla Scotto. This T-Shirt recognises the 2020 NAIDOC theme, Always Was, Always Will Be, and was produced by Clothing the Gaps, who stated on their online shop: 'our merch is an opportunity for Mob and Non-Indigenous people to embrace Aboriginal Australia's true history, support Aboriginal people and unite together.'
Clothing The Gaps was originally founded under the name 'Clothing The Gap', in reference to the term, 'Close The Gap', an Australian health initiative focused on closing the health and life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous Australians. In 2021 'Clothing The Gap' re-branded to 'Clothing The Gaps' after a two-year legal battle with US clothing company 'Gap.'
This T-Shirt was worn by staff members of First Peoples' Health and Wellbeing (FPHW) during the COVID-19 pandemic as a sign of pride, identity, power and resilience. In particular, this T-Shirt featured in a NAIDOC week social media video where FPHW staff members pulled down their surgical gowns to expose the 'Always Was Always Will Be' logo. The social media post 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).
During the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, FPHW staff members worked to adapt to the pandemic in a number of ways including; establishing a Covid respiratory clinic in Thomastown, 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. Wider community outreach work of FPHW also included 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.
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.
With the support of the Office for Suburban Development, this T-Shirt is one of several items that were donated to Museums Victoria by First Peoples' Health and Wellbeing in March 2021. These items include: two bottles of FPHW hand sanitiser, a face mask, a staff T-Shirt (all with FPHW logo), a surgical gown, a Covid salvia test and an 'Always Was, Always Will Be' T-Shirt by Victorian Aboriginal-owned clothing business Clothing The Gaps.
Accompanying these items is an oral history interview and 20 digital photographs that were recorded by curator Catherine Forge on 25 March 2021 with FPHW staff members CEO Karinda Taylor (Wamba Wamba), Site Manager Stevie-Lee Ryan (Taungurung, Site Manager) and Medical Administration Officer Shania Shanahan (Arabana).
These items provide lasting documenting of the important role of FPHW in providing Aboriginal community-controlled healthcare and Covid testing during COVID-19. 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.
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