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John Curtin Medallists

Joan Winch (2008)

Joan Winch has worked tirelessly to improve Indigenous primary health care in Western Australia.

As the founder of Marr Mooditj Foundation, she has helped to deliver appropriate and effective health worker training for Indigenous people and communities across the State.

After leaving school at the age of 13, Joan has gone on to have a long and distinguished career in the health sector. She graduated from the inaugural Diploma of Nursing cohort at Curtin University of Technology (then WAIT) in 1979, and became the first visiting Nyungar community nurse at the Perth Aboriginal Medical Service in 1980.

Two overseas trips, a visit to India in 1975 and China in 1977, led her to believe that appropriate and effective health care must involve practical training and education, and a specific cultural context in which to teach and provide care.

After starting work at the Perth Aboriginal Medical Service, Joan began planning an Indigenous health worker education program that applied the principles and practices she had seen overseas. As a result, she set up the Aboriginal Health Worker Education Program in 1983. In 1990, the program became the Marr Mooditj ('Good Hands') Foundation.

Joan's vision for a community-controlled, culturally appropriate and effective primary health care program was awarded the Sasakawa Award for Primary Health Care Work by the World Health Organisation in 1987.

In 1999, Joan became the Director of the Centre for Aboriginal Studies (CAS) at Curtin, a position that she held for three years. She has continued to provide guidance to the Centre through her membership of the Aboriginal Advisory Committee and is the Patron of CAS.

While the Marr Mooditj Foundation has made a substantial contribution to the Indigenous and wider community through its health programs and training, Joan has devoted countless hours to serving her community. While working as a visiting community nurse, she used her free time to help mothers in Indigenous communities with practical help and instruction. She continued this work after establishing 'Mooditj Mums' as part of the Marr Mooditj program, which led to the establishment of the Indigenous maternal and infant health service Ngunytju Tjitji Pirni in Kalgoorlie.

Joan has also served on many committees including the Royal Australian College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists Indigenous Women's Committee and the Federal Health Minister's Advisory Council (Women's Health).

Her status as a respected Nyungar elder, founder of Marr Mooditj, Premier's Indigenous Leaders Scholar and the recipient of many national and international awards, is testament to the battles she has won against overwhelming odds.

Joan has never hesitated in taking on challenges that she felt were worth fighting for. She has placed the welfare of Indigenous community members and groups, as well as that of her family and friends, before her own interests.

Joan Winch is indeed a most worthy recipient of the John Curtin Medal for 2008.

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