International Women's Day 2022

At Gurriny Yealamucka, we value the contribution made to our community the women. Mothers, sisters, aunties, daughters and grand-mothers. Who we are today is a reflection of the work and sacrifice of the women in our community.

International Women's Day 2022 is about #BreakTheBias, it is also about recognising the #WomenOfYarrabah.

breaking down barriers

PASSIONATE and very determined would be an appropriate way to describe Gurriny Yealamucka’s Registered Midwife, Tayla Smith.

Tayla is a Kaurna and Narrunja woman from South Australia has been working with Gurriny since June 2021.Although originally from South Australia, Tayla has been living and working in Cairns for the past 20 years.

“I spent a lot of time here as a teenager, I felt welcomed by the community and found a safe and special place here. Not growing up in my community I found Yarrabah to be welcoming and just like a second home for me.

After finishing year 12 in Cairns, Tayla moved to Brisbane to commence studying for her Bachelor of Midwifery, taking three years and now is completing her Masters of Primary Maternity Care.

Working originally for Queensland Health for a number of years after graduation, when the opportunity arose to join the Gurriny team and work with community Tayla had no hesitation, “it was time to work with mob.”

Tayla sees an urgent need and a tremendous opportunity for younger Indigenous members to undertake studies in the healthcare industry and work directly with Indigenous communities throughout Australia.“

We have a need to change the Indigenous healthcare industry from a ‘white and male’ dominated system, to an Indigenous female-led health solution.

There are many options out there now for young Indigenous community members wanting to study in Midwifery. Whilst Tayla relocated to Brisbane to study at Griffith University, her course is available online today, with clinical placements each semester at various hospitals and health services throughout Queensland.

“We need to change the narrative as to how Aboriginal people are seen in Australia, especially Aboriginal women.

“The minute we ask for something better, or demand what is truly fair, we are deemed to be angry black-women.

“We are not seen as equals, or people that are fighting for basic human rights. It’s important to break the bias as to how our women are viewed in the health system. They see us as non-compliant, that we do not engage with the system and that we are bad mothers, that the bias that I want to and feel we have to break.

“We are the mothers that gave birth to humanity 60,000 years ago, we’ve been doing it for a long time.

“What we need are more Indigenous female nurses and midwives working in the system, giving support to and understanding the needs of our women. With only 300 Indigenous Midwives in Australia there exists a tremendous opportunity for younger Indigenous members to study and work with their community and create lasting and positive change for all Indigenous mothers.


TAYLA SMITH - Registered Midwife & Acting Maternal and Sexual Health Team Leader

#BreakTheBias   #IWD2022  #WomenofYarrabah

paradise abounds

For Aunty Carol Warta, Yarrabah has been, and will always remain the best place on earth.

Her country, fed and sustains her people, providing an abundance of food and a lifestyle that would only be described as ‘paradise on earth’.

Aunty Carol in her youth was a hard-working respectful girl. She left school early and commenced working as a domestic in Cairns, before heading to Brisbane to see the big city in 1963.

City life in Brisbane was good, with strong employment opportunities, but Aunty Carol never felt totally safe, not like how she felt back in Yarrabah.

Missing home and country, Aunty Carol returned in the mid-70s. Hard work was always a feature of her family. Her dad was a cane cutter. A tough and uncompromising job, hand-cutting burnt cane in the tropical heat. Carol and the rest of her sisters would walk behind to gather up the cut cane.

Uncomplicated was the best way to describe life in Yarrabah. Carol loved her country. Her father and grandmother passed on many of the traditional skills, hunting and fishing, feasting on local oysters and periwinkles.

Carol still loves and will always love Yarrabah, but she is concerned about some of the young ones today.

“The respect that we showed to elders in our day just is not here now, it’s gone.

“The youth today say, that was in your day, that was a long time ago, it’s not like that now.

“Respect was around in my day and it should still be here today.”

There appears to be a total disconnect between some of the youth of today the tradition.

“A lot of our kids leave school so early and have different ideas and have nothing really good to say about the community.

“They just want to do things their way, or not at all. It’s really sad, they could really make a difference today, but it’s not looking good.

“I tell my grandchildren today, go to school, get a good education and a good job, then you can come back to Yarrabah and do some good work here.”

Not happy with where her town is going, Carol sees much of the blame resting with the parents of the youth today.

“Parent need to be more responsible for their children, they are not doing anything at all for the kids. Lately there’s been fighting on the road.

“The real issue is with the parents, I don’t think they are taking responsibility and guiding their kids.

“We need a return to tradition, we have to take a different approach with our kids, and the parents have to accept responsibility for what is happening with their kids.

Aunty Carol is the matriarch of the clan, or would like to think so… but what is obvious, is that Carol is a determined, loving woman with strong roots based in tradition and has tremendous respect for her community plus a desire to see Yarrabah develop.

Whilst she does not enjoy fully the Yarrabah that we may see today, she still believes that Yarrabah has been and will always be an amazing paradise, and the best place in the world to live. But we need to work harder on building the community.


CAROL WARTA - Community Elder and Traditional Owner - Yarrabah

#BreakTheBias   #IWD2022  #WomenofYarrabah

from the typing pool to the boardroom

Role models and mentors have featured strongly in Ailsa Lively’s life.

“My strength to do the work I do, is drawn from my mother and grandmother, who were both very humble women with very strong work ethics instilled in them.   

“My grandmother was a Stolen Generation victim and my mother, although living in community has forced to live in the Church Dormitory and only visit home on a Saturday for a few hours out at Juyaga. 

“The trauma they had inflicted on their lives was never a deterrent, they paved the way for me, ensuring I was educated, which in return, I have used to give back to community through the work I have done, and continue to do within the community.”

Ailsa’s mum was born in Yarrabah, but at the age of 16 was shipped off to Richmond in regional Queensland to work as a domestic on a station. It was a good life, but totally different to life as she knew it on the coast in Yarrabah.

With a young family in tow, Ailsa’s mum moved her family back to Yarrabah in the late 70s, to live in a two-bedroom unit with her mother.

 “When we came back to Yarrabah to live with nanna, she had a small two-bedroom flat. There were eight of us crammed into that flat. I slept in the floor on a mattress in the loungeroom.”

After completing school, Ailsa commenced work with the Aboriginal Coordinating Council (ACC), the peak body that represented Aboriginal councils in Queensland. Working for the ACC opened Ailsa’s eyes to many of the issues that confront Indigenous communities throughout Australia.

“Growing up you did not recognize many of the issues, you just lived with them, they were the norm.

“The real struggles in our community at that time are similar to many of the struggles today, housing, overcrowding, plus many social issues.

Whilst many of the same issues are still in play, Ailsa believes there is a greater level of disfunction today, that makes these issues of greater concern.

“The new generation lack many of the essential skills that a community brings to its members.

“Respect, discipline, and a community bond, these are lacking, to a certain extent today, whilst many of the underlying issues still remain, we have a disconnect from community today, causing a new and increased level of disfunction that make the underlying issues greater.”

Totally committed to her community, Ailsa believes the challenge for the current and future leaders as well as the community, will lie in their ability to make the tough decisions needed in this community.

“We need to be operating like any other community. We need do away with the mid-week loud party culture.

“We need our kids to have the time and peace around them, to study and develop at home. We need an education system that is culturally appropriate as well as focused on the key literacy and numeracy skills.

“Our kids need the space and peace at home to study, to develop and learn.

“Housing is an important issue in education, how do people learn when they do not have their own space and place to retreat to.”

Success in life, is possible for the youth of Yarrabah. Ailsa’s career took her from the secretary pool to the boardroom.

From humble beginnings at the Yarrabah Aboriginal Shire Council as a secretary, she rose through the ranks to eventually serve as Deputy CEO, before leaving to take the reins of Gindaja Treatment and Healing Centre as their CEO more than 14 years ago.

In my life there has been an abundance of opportunities to work and live elsewhere, but I never took them, my heart is, and will always be with Yarrabah.

“There are some of us that had to stay to ensure we progressed as a community.”


AILSA LIVELY - CEO Gindaja Treatment and Healing Centre – Yarrabah

#BreakTheBias   #IWD2022  #WomenofYarrabah

a return to tradition

Whilst Gwen Schrieber is diminutive in stature, she is a huge personality and massive influencer in the small coastal community of Yarrabah.

Gwen Schrieber is a Traditional Owner and Elder for the community, tracing her bloodlines back to royalty in the Gunggandji  people of the region.

Born into the community, and attending primary school in Yarrabah, before heading off to boarding school in Charters Towers, Gwen had the most amazing childhood.

Weekends and public holidays were spent fishing and hunting, heading off by boat over to Rocky Island, our family land to hunt and gather.

“Heaps of barramundi, we only took what we needed and Granny used a crab hook to get the sand crabs. They were great times, fish were abundant and we were happy.

After finishing grade 11 at school Gwen returned home and accepted a role working in the Yarrabah Office of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Department.

With a keen interest in nursing Gwen applied for, and was accepted to train as an Enrolled Nurse, working in a mental health unit in Goodna (Brisbane).

“The work was very rewarding, I enjoyed meeting people and working with them, no two people are the same, we are individuals, and uniquely different.”

Working in Brisbane Gwen met her husband and moved with him to South Australia and started a family.

South Australia was a good place for Gwen and the family, however the attraction back to her country, ancestors and family was strong.

Her Nan was not in the best of health, (Mum’s mother) so Gwen, husband, and the three kids, packed the family station wagon and travelled thousands of kilometres inland through the centre of Australia to drive to Cairns.

Settling in Cairns, employed as an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Worker, Gwen loved being back in the north and closer to family.

For Gwen the idyllic tropical paradise changed for the worst with the introduction of the beer canteens.

“Alcohol created sheer destruction in the communities and the families. Life was better before their introduction, we live in harmony as a community in nature.”

“Life was uncomplicated and very community focused.”

If Gwen had an opportunity today to change one thing in Yarrabah it would be the availability and access to alcohol and drugs.

 “Get rid of the alcohol and drugs, they destroy everything and everybody.”

Gwen’s life and approach to family and community can best be summed up by her family.

“Mum taught us that civility costs us nothing. It costs us nothing to be civil and polite.

“Mum believed in hard work, and getting off your backside and doing it yourself. Not waiting for a handout, but go out and walk your worn path.

She has been a total inspiration to her family and community, achieving great things and at all times remaining modest and centred.

Fairness and equality are strong drivers in Gwen. We are all equal and should be treated equally. It’s not the colour of skin that determines the value of a person, its what’s inside the person. Bias should never be based upon colour, gender or geography.

“We are all equal, we were created by the same maker, the only difference is the colour of our skin, under that, the blood’s the same.”

PICTURE:   GWEN SCHRIEBER– Community Elder and Traditional Owner

#BreakTheBias   #IWD2022  #WomenofYarrabah

time to challenge the norms

For Renee Grosso, health care is more than treating an ailment, it includes the social, cultural, emotional wellbeing of the individual as well as their physical wellbeing.

Renee has only been with Gurriny for a short period of time, commencing in November 2021, but during the recent COVID outbreak Renee was at the forefront, coordinating the teams, educating workers and community and enabling a very successful response to a potentially devastating outbreak in Yarrabah.

#BreakTheBias is something that resonates strongly with Renee. The bias that affirms the right for males to work remote from their family, and be perceived as the breadwinner sacrificing for their family.

Renee is married with a young family based on the Gold Coast. She is passionate about her work in the regional community here in far north Queensland. “It’s not easy working away from my family, but I believe it should be ok and celebrated for women to have a career as well as a family”.

Renee has quickly discovered the beauty of Yarrabah in the past few months in the role. “The real beauty in Yarrabah rests with the people, their love for life, their culture along with their warmth.

Not afraid of tackling the big tasks, when asked if there on one thing Renee would love to change in Yarrabah, Renee would love to see a marked improvement in the health of this community.

“Why is it possible that one hour over the mountain, the health outlook of non-Indigenous in Cairns is totally different to here in Yarrabah?”

“How is that acceptable?”

“Mainstream authorities are not listening. We need culturally appropriate and specific strategies to improve the health outcomes for the Indigenous communities like Yarrabah.

“Somethings not right, it can be done better, perhaps in a non-mainstream manner, but in a way that makes a real difference and means something to the local community.”

For Renee life is about challenging the norms and breaking stereotypes and her approach to her community in Yarrabah is about empowering and enabling the locals to create a better community and a better life.

PICTURE: RENEE GROSSO - Registered Nurse: Public Health - Gurriny Yealamucka Health Service

#BreakTheBias   #IWD2022  #WomenofYarrabah

building strong values

Although Suzanne Andrews was born in the Kimberley’s, in Western Australia, a very proud Bunuba-Jara women on her mother’s side, she calls Yarrabah home and has done since she was in her early teens.

Yarrabah was remarkably different when Sue and her family returned home.

“There were no houses to rent here, we lived in my grand-dad’s humpy on the beach at Back Beach. There was no running water, no electricity, we used candles or a generator and would go down to the creek for buckets of water.”

Whilst for many this may have sounded rough but life was laid back and very similar in style to what she knew as a youngster in Broome.

Sue finished primary school here in Yarrabah, before being shipped off to boarding school in Townsville.

Like many young Australians, Suzanne finished her schooling and took a ‘gap-year/s’. During this time, she tackled many jobs from a humble check-out assistant, to hospitality and eventually working for Centrelink.

Having spent a number of years, in different jobs, social settings as well as caring for her Nan (mum’s mum) back in Broome, Sue decided it was time to get serious about life, and head back to study. Studying management and finance, with a very brief stint in legal studies, Sue knew it was time to come home and back to community.

With a strong church upbringing, the concept of service to people and the community runs deep with Sue.

“I grew up in the church, my parents were church goers, part of that church upbringing is serving people and community.

“That’s what I love about Gurriny, it’s the serving of my community and mob.”

“Yarrabah is special to me, it’s my father’s family side, this community pretty much grew me up.

“I want to see this community flourish and become a leader in all the communities in Australia.

Sue sees a special opportunity here in Yarrabah, an opportunity to instill traditional family values once more into society. “How do we go back to building strong values within the family as well as the community?”

It is said that it takes a village (community) to raise a child, it also takes a community to instill the values, respect and love that will build a stronger and caring future generation.

CAPTION:   SUZANNE ANDREWS - Chief Executive - Gurriny Yealamucka Health Service Aboriginal Corporation

#BreakTheBias   #IWD2022  #WomenofYarrabah

determined and passionate

Life is about playing the cards you are dealt. For Tamar Patterson her cards have been defined by a passion for life and a strong determination to do the right thing by her family as well as herself.

Leaving school after year 10, falling totally in love with her partner, and then having three children early, before the age of 22, and a fourth after she married her husband at the age of 25.

Together they knew they had an opportunity to grow up with their children and ensure they received a thorough education and opportunities in life.

Tamar was never one to take life as it comes. Knowing that she was capable of more and wanting to make the most of opportunities, Tamar worked whilst her family was young.

“Plucking up the courage, I walked into the Yarrabah Hospital and spoke to the Director of Nursing.

“I’m looking for a job.”

Long story short Tamar was employed as a Dental Assistant, working with the visiting dentist. Unfortunately, the dentist did not visit too frequently, but never happy with doing nothing, Tamar ended up working at the aged care home, cleaning and helping out.

Work took Tamar back to the hospital, doing shift work, staying with the hospital for a number of years, working as an AIN in Women’s Health.

When Primary Healthcare came to Yarrabah, Tamar trained as a Healthcare Worker and pursued a career working with her community.

“It’s never been easy, but I had a passion I could not shake, a determination and commitment to her family, and community.

In 2008, Tamar joined the staff of Gurriny working in the Sexual Health team. “I was not sure if I would get it, but I really knew it was something I wanted to do, and believed if given the chance I would make it work.”

Youth and the next generation feature strongly in Tamar’s life. If given the opportunity she would love to see the future generations gain a strong understanding of traditions, respect, culture as well as education and opportunities.”

#BreakTheBias should not be seen from a negative perspective. Tamar would love to see everyone treated equally and given the opportunities they need. It’s all about making the most of the hand in life you are dealt, but most importantly we need to all be given the chance to make the most of the opportunities in our life.


CAPTION:   TAMAR PATTERSON - SEWB Manager - Gurriny Yealamucka Health Service Aboriginal Corporation

#BreakTheBias   #IWD2022  #WomenofYarrabah

an accidental career

Community is so important for Paula Burns. The opportunity to live and work in Yarrabah has defined Paula’s career and life.

Personal hardship and a less-than-fortunate early life has never held Paula back. Her parents passed away whilst Paula was at primary school. Her aunty and uncle took on Paula and her sister to raise them.

Leaving school in year 10, she embarked upon a career as a nurse at the old Yarrabah Hospital. Commencing at an AIN in Yarrabah, Paula had the opportunity to study as an EN (Enrolled Nurse).

Her studies took her away from Yarrabah to the Torres Straits to study. “It wasn’t all smooth. My partner and my first child stayed here whilst I was in TI studying.”

Paula was always focused on returning to Yarrabah and working with her mob as an EN.

“I want to do the best for my community. Yarrabah is a great place and the people so loving. Nursing gives me that opportunity to give the best care for my mob.”

Paula joined the staff of Gurriny in 2014, after a career lasting more than 35 years with Queensland Health, working with the Community Recall team.

Paula is realistic and very grounded when it comes to her community. “We need greater educational opportunities for our kids. We need high school through to grade 12 here, and a system that allows our youth leave community, gain skills and experience and then serve a roll as a leader in the Yarrabah community.

“Times are changing and we have to keep up with change and the youth will be the future for community.”

Juggling fulltime work with family and community has always been a challenge. “I would love to see our community’s women recognised for the who they are, what they can do, whether it’s a mother or grandmother, they are the backbone of the community.

“Their role in the community, their careers and the important role we play in family life.”

PAULA BURNSEnrolled Nurse: Member of the Community Recall team

#BreakTheBias   #IWD2022  #WomenofYarrabah

the future is NOW

Community and service runs deep for Gurriny Yealamucka Health Service’s Youth Wellbeing Program Manager, Lucresia Willett. From an early age she worked alongside her father, in the community, hosting and working at community and sporting events, providing a rich social canvas for the small seaside town of Yarrabah in Far North Queensland.

After many years in the ‘public-eye’, Lucresia feels it’s time to educate, enable and empower the youth of Yarrabah today.

“The future is here now, we have to take the time to develop and allow the younger members to grow, to take control over the future of our community.”

Lucresia has always been, and will remain a strong advocate for her community and the beautiful town where she lives. “There’s not too many places in Australia that have the sea in the front yard and the rainforest in the back.  We live in nature’s own theme park.”

When discussing Employment and training opportunities for all the youth in her community, you start to see the passion this incredible woman has for her people.

Education featured strongly in her life, her parents wanted to have the best education and opportunities, Lucresia would love to see the youth of Yarrie given the chance to contribute to their community as well as the rest of Australia.

“Our young are no different to the young anywhere else in Australia, the only real difference is opportunity and education. We need our young to get a fair go, and then we will see a different outcome for the community.”

Yarrabah is a large community where unfortunately there are not enough houses for the number of residents living in the town. There’s a genuine need for appropriate housing in her town, houses that allow her community to live with the same dignity and standard of living that is enjoyed by their closest neighbouring towns like Cairns and Innisfail.

“We all grew up in a communal living environment, but today, with more people and nowhere near enough housing we need you young families to have a space of their own. An opportunity for families to live with dignity and pride and confidence.”

As a final message to International Women’s Day in 2022 with the theme of #BreakTheBias, now is the time to walk together into the future. It’s not about following or walking behind someone else, it’s about walking together, men and women, today’s generation and tomorrow’s generation. Together we will change the future and outcomes for our community.

 LUCRESIA WILLETT - Cultural Mentor & Youth Wellbeing Program Manager

#BreakTheBias   #IWD2022  #WomenofYarrabah

the nanny of Yarrabah

Energetic, passionate with an incredible belief in her community, family and her football team, Belita Kynuna is a larger than life personality in Yarrabah.

Born in Cairns, but raised in Yarrabah, Belita has through her work and contribution to community touched the lives of thousands in Yarrabah.

Leaving school at the end of year 10, Belita started her family early, three wonderful boys, her second son was born in Yarrabah in 1986, as Cyclone Winifred raged and cut a path of destruction through tropical north Queensland.

Helping Belita through her delivery that day was a Paula Burns, a nurse who now works alongside Belita at Gurriny Yealamucka.

Although Belita only had three children of her own, she has actively raised or assisted in the growing up on dozens more, as she took on a role within her extended family as a nanny to many nieces and nephews.

“I love kids, if their mum needed help, I could not turn them away. I took them in with love and grew them up.”

With so much love to give and a commitment to children, it was no surprise when Belita commenced her career in childcare in Yarrabah. Packed with enthusiasm and energy Belita tackled this new career. Studying and passing her Certificate 3 in Childcare and followed up completing her Diploma of Child Care in 18 months.

“I just smashed it out. I wanted to learn and was in a hurry to understand.”

Since leaving child care, Belita has studied to become an Indigenous Health Worker with Gurriny, a role she loves and excels at.

“I love my people and I want them to be healthy as well as happy.”

One concern for Belita in Yarrabah is the level of domestic violence she encounters in her community.

“It’s not good. We need to keep our women and children safe.”

It’s not surprising that domestic violence is an increasing issue in Yarrabah. With a growing population and a chronic shortage of adequate housing, family friction is heightened by the pressures caused by overcrowding in the community.

Pressures are released each weekend during football season when the township all join together to support their beloved Yarrabah Seahawks Rugby League team.

Belita is a keen league follower and there’s only room in her heart for one team, well perhaps two. Yarrabah Sea Hawks are her number one and Parramatta Eels in the NRL.

There’s also room for one football legend in Belita’s life. Indigenous football legend Johnathon Thurston who this year will be Yarrabah’s Number 1 supporter.

BELITA KYNUNA – Health Worker- Gurriny Yealamucka Health Service

#BreakTheBias   #IWD2022  #WomenofYarrabah

you gotta have faith

For Adelaide Sands it’s all a matter of faith. Faith in God as well as faith in her community.

“If we have faith in our lord, we also need to have faith in our people.”

Adelaide is a Health Care Worker, employed with Gurriny Yealamucka Health Service. Although she was born outside of the community (Cairns). She was raised with her family in Yarrabah.

“Yarrabah was a great place because we used to spend a lot of time with our elders listening to their stories and how they lived a happy and healthy life.

“We spent weekends camping and fishing, it was good back then, we learnt to hunt and fish, traditional skills and knowledge, were passed down to us by our elders.”

Although Yarrabah today appears to be very different from life in the 70s, in Adelaide’s view we are going to remain positive at all times as we head in the right direction.

Health care today in Yarrabah, is all about primary health care, preventative medicine as well as educating and empowering community members.

“We spend a lot of time listening to them, talking with them and encouraging them to make the changes that will lead to a better and stronger life”.

“We need to stay on the right track, eat properly and the do the simple and traditional things that will lead to a happier and healthier life.

“It can be still good today if we just put our mind to it.

“I have faith in my people and I feel confident about what we are doing, and where we are going.”

In early January Adelaide tested positive with COVID. She had just started a 10-day holiday from work, time to spend with family. Isolating for seven of the ten days was not the best way to spend a holiday.

“We had to go along with it, because it was a health crisis that we had we had to manage at home with help from the Gurriny team and others.

“COVID was a serious threat here in my community and we had to do the right thing.”

#BreakTheBias as a theme for International Women’s Day 2022 resonates strongly with Adelaide. She believes that we should all be equal, and treated fairly, regardless of age, gender or nationality. We are all God’s children and we should be treated equally across the board, no matter what.”

ADELAIDE SANDS  – Health Worker- Gurriny Yealamucka Health Service

#BreakTheBias   #IWD2022  #WomenofYarrabah