I pay respect to Traditional Owners. I pause in respect also for those who have passed on.
In late July 1971, I was invited to attend a Redfern Aboriginal community meeting convened by South Sydney Community Aid and attended by community members as well as members of the Aboriginal Legal Service and doctors from Prince of Wales Hospital Randwick. Discussion was about the incarceration of Aboriginal people due to poor health and in particular loss of hearing which handicapped people during Court proceedings was noted. Following discussion it was decided to set up a medical clinic, a building in Botany Rd was available for $35 per week, a hat was passed around and we had our first week’s rent.
It was decided that initially the clinic would be open from 6pm – 10pm and we would refer patients until we acquired much needed resources. We scrounged furniture, medical supplies, ate steak & salad at $5 per plate to raise funds.
I was the only Registered Nurse present and had returned to work at a major teaching hospital early July so like everyone else involved I volunteered to work at the clinic.
At 6pm 27th July 1971 Prof Fred Hollows, Mum Shirley Smith, Paul Torzillo a medical student whose VW Beetle provided patient transport and myself turned up ready and keen to start. No patients turned up for the first 3 nights but people were dropping by to see what was happening. We were so pleased when our first patient presented.
Then it became essential to negotiate beds for patients at the major teaching hospital where patients had to pay for services – consultation, dressings, treatment.
Patients increased in number and we were successful in obtaining sufficient funds to employ a Registered Nurse & Receptionist, and supplies contributed by Sister Mary Ignatius from St Vincent’s Hospital helped us become established Prof Hollows stated words to the effect “ we could close shop after 5 years because Aboriginal people will be comfortable getting medical attention and hospital staff will be used to treating Aboriginal people” . 50 years later”………….
The Clinic became a Registered Co-operative Company Limited known as the Aboriginal Medical Service Co-op Company Ltd and then AMS Redfern due to the work of Naomi Mayers and the elected Board of Directors.
During the years AMS has worked with other communities to establish Aboriginal Community Controlled Medical or Health Services. We have become a Registered Training Organisation, sponsored sports teams, organised fashion parades, facilitated family unity prior to Link-up, provided a medical service to imprisoned Aboriginal inmates prior to formation of Justice Health, had input into health policies at all levels, set up AHRC (now AH&MRC), NAIHO (now NACCHO), promoted partnerships with mainstream health organisations, provided a submission to the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
There have been hundreds of employees who became valued staff members, many Directors whose governance skills kept our doors open, thousands of patients pass through our doors, and the AMS is the sum total of all of us.