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Study of Indigenous cultural perspective on health data wins 2021 Stanner Award

A thesis tracking the development of the first truly empowering national study of health and wellbeing in Indigenous Australia (the Mayi Kuwayu National Study of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Wellbeing) has won the 2021 Stanner Award from AIATSIS.

‘Making Cultures Count: Transforming Indigenous Health Data in Australia’ by Sarah Bourke was assessed by a panel of independent judges as the best academic manuscript submitted for this year’s award.

Ms Bourke is a descendant of the Gidja people from the Kimberley region in WA and the Gamilaroi people on the border of NSW and QLD. Her doctoral thesis used an Indigenist research framework to examine the historical, social, and political factors that influenced the development of Mayi Kuwayu and its emphasis on measuring cultural determinants of health.

The Stanner Award, established in 1985 and judged every two years, is the only award in the country that recognises, supports, and promotes the best research work by Indigenous academics. It acknowledges the significant contribution of the late Emeritus Professor William Edward Hanley (Bill) Stanner to the establishment and development of AIATSIS.

The prize includes a glass sculpture by celebrated artist Jenni Kemarre Martiniello, $5000 in prize money, and mentoring and editorial support to prepare the manuscript for publication by Aboriginal Studies Press, the publishing arm of AIATSIS.

‘For an award of this kind we need expert advice and clear, impartial and informed judgement,’ said AIATSIS CEO, Craig Ritchie. ‘There is a great deal of work involved in reading and assessing the entries.

‘All of the judges were forthright in their assessment that 2021 marked an exceptionally strong field. The quality of entries submitted this year demonstrates the energy and commitment to research by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander scholars, for which AIATSIS is proud to provide support.

‘Notwithstanding the many positive qualities the judges identified in the manuscripts they assessed, the judges were unanimous in identifying a winner.’

Sarah Bourke explained her motivation with this work.

‘I submitted my thesis for the 2021 Stanner Award because I thought that the story behind the Mayi Kuwayu Study needed to be told,’ she said. ‘Having my thesis published by Aboriginal Studies Press will mean that a wider audience can learn how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people do research our way for the benefit of our communities.’

The other entries shortlisted for the 2021 Stanner Award were:

  • ‘The Political Ecology of Indigenous Organisations: translating aspirations, values and principles’ – Josephine Bourne. This research highlights the knowledge and skills Indigenous peoples have built through the work of politically mobilising First Peoples and building their organisations. The first half of this thesis reflects on the historical and political context for Indigenous organisation-building; the second half draws on the stories of 22 Indigenous organisation leaders to identify emerging themes.
  • ‘Goori-Bugg Dreaming: Exploring the journey of Charlotte (Birrpai Goori woman) and James Bugg (her English convict husband), and their descendants through to today, with reflection on the law of the seven generations’ – John Heath. This is an Indigenous narrative based on the lives and experiences of a family dynasty that commenced with a Birrpai Goori woman known as Charlotte and English convict James Bugg and now extends internationally. It follows seven generations of descendants up until the present, highlighting the challenging colonial experiences of the Goori-convict ancestors and the resilience displayed though successive generations.
  • ‘But-ton Kidn Doon-ga: Black Women Know Re-presenting the lived realities of Australian Aboriginal women with mental and cognitive disabilities in criminal justice systems’Elizabeth McEntyre. Presented by and with Aboriginal women with mental health and cognitive disability and enmeshed in criminal justice systems, this work uses their own words to re-present their experiences and lives. Records and statistics over time make it clear that almost all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families or communities have had some involvement with criminal justice systems.

The independent Stanner Award judging panel for 2021 comprised:

Watch the winner announcement by AIATSIS CEO Craig Ritchie below, along with a discussion between Professor Bronwyn Fredericks and Sarah Bourke.

AIATSIS CEO Craig Ritchie announces the 2021 Stanner Award, followed by a discussion between the winner, Sarah Bourke and Professor Bronwyn Fredericks. 


Last updated: 10 November 2023