Loretta Weatherall is using her voice to help the next generation

29/May/2023     Mater GroupResearch

Loretta Weatherall is a proud Gamilaraay woman, who has spent over 10 years delivering and promoting education and health programs in First Peoples communities. She has brought her passion for helping her fellow Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to Mater Research in her role as Indigenous Research Assistant for the Indigenous Queensland Family Cohort program (IQFC).

The IQFC is a longitudinal study, launched at Mater’s South Brisbane health campus in 2022, which aims to examine and enhance understanding of the serious health issues faced by First Peoples, and improve perinatal and early childhood outcomes.  The study identifies First Peoples families during pregnancy and will monitor health and wellbeing of participating mothers, babies and fathers over five years.    

“In my job, I recruit participants into the IQFC, and I follow them on their journey within the study by staying in touch with participants and building their trust. I also collect their biological samples for our biobank, which is a large collection of human samples.

“I’m really passionate about improving health outcomes in Queensland for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families,” Loretta said.

Loretta said that she never thought she’d work in heath, however her goal is to use her skills to become a role model for Indigenous women.

“I worked in the local court system in my hometown of Walgett before moving into health. I’m the kind of person who can work anywhere and like it, as long as I’m helping Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people," Loretta said.

Loretta’s first foray into research came when she was living in Tamworth and working at a university in a role supporting academics. It was here that she met Associate Professor Kym Rae, who now leads the IQFC program at Mater Research.

“Kym came to me and asked me to design a book for the participants of a study she was running. I asked her about her research, and she told me about how what we do as a mum affects our babies.  I was really interested in learning more, and from there I joined the research team,” Loretta said.

“At first, I found research challenging, and it took a long time to recruit participants as I wasn’t a Tamworth local, so had to build trust with the community. I engaged with the young mums I was recruiting, and I am still in touch with a lot of them today. My first ever participant has become a friend and her ‘baby’ is now in Year 7!”

“I’m so passionate about my culture and about closing the gap, not just in health, in everything.

“So many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids are scared of the academic world. I want to be a mentor and teach them that they can do whatever they want to do if they put their mind to it. I want them to remember to keep trying, and that if people tell them they can’t do something, to say ‘I can and I will!’”. 

The 2023 theme for Reconciliation Week is “Be a voice for generations”, and for Loretta, being a voice for generations means speaking up and remembering and respecting everything your ancestors went through.

“Always speak up, and always know about and be proud of where you come from and what your ancestors did. We are one of the strongest living cultures because we’ve been through so much. For our people to be able to keep voicing our opinions and being heard shows that we are strong, and we are still here.”

“I have two daughters who are now in their 20s. I have always taught them about their culture and not to forget where they came from. It’s really important to me that they’re involved with NAIDOC events and understanding things like the intergenerational trauma of the stolen generation. I didn’t want them growing up and not knowing our culture. You just can’t take things for granted.”

“The work of the IQFC and our focus on First Peoples Communities is just another way we’re giving our voice for our generation. I am proud that our research will drive greater understanding into health issues faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and provide interventions to improve outcomes for our communities.”

For more information about the Indigenous Queensland Family Cohort, please click here, or to get in touch, please email qldfamilycohort@mater.uq.edu.au.

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