School of Population Health

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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health

For over a decade the UNSW School of Population Health has contributed to the global understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health.

Some of our current research and projects focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations in relation to the epidemiology of health, well-being and illness, injury prevention, health literacy, immunisation delivery and enhancing data quality and its use to guide health policy and services.

Our team has established reputations and strong skills across the disciplines of epidemiology and biostatistics, psychometrics, cognitive, clinical and community psychology, primary health care, educational research, evaluation, health promotion and community development.

We have a strong teaching focus and are proud to collaborate with a broad network of bright minds committed to conducting research that provides opportunities to support better policy and practice through community organisational and government networks.

We aim to contribute to significant improvement in healing, positive health and well-being and to the development of positive approaches to social, spiritual and emotional well-being grounded on a rights-based framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health in Australia.

The School of Population Health and the University recognise the unique position of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia’s culture and history. That Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have inhabited Australia for well over 50,000 years and that their unique cultures and identities are bound up with the land and sea.

We acknowledge that the Aboriginal people, the Biddjigal and Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, are the original owners of the lands occupied and used by UNSW's Sydney campuses. In so doing it is important that the special position of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as Australia’s First Peoples is recognised and incorporated into the activities of the School.

The School of Population Health seeks to achieve this through observing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural protocols and the provision of services and programs appropriate to UNSW’s Indigenous medical students and other students who are focussed on Indigenous health and wellbeing.

We are proud to offer a Master of Public Health Specialisation in Aboriginal Health and Wellbeing, tailored for people interested in pursuing a career in Indigenous health.

Dr Melanie Andersen
Research Fellow SPH, Honorary Research Fellow The George Institute for Global Health

Melanie has expertise in the social and environmental determinants of health across the life course. She uses qualitative and quantitative research methods to answer policy-relevant questions. Her focus is on collaborative, interdisciplinary work grounded in public health and epidemiology but informed by fields including sociology, urban planning and cultural studies. Much of Melanie’s work involves working in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and organisations to address community priorities.

Image - Melanie Anderson

Dr Ilse Blignault
Visiting Senior Lecturer

Within the broad area of psychiatry/mental health, Ilse's research interests include transcultural mental health, the social and emotional well-being of Indigenous Australians, primary mental health care and telepsychiatry (e-mental health). Other broad areas of interest are global health, multicultural health and cross-cultural research methods and ethics. She works closely with the Indigenous Health group, and provides methodological and specialist content advice across a range of cross-cultural research and evaluation projects.


Image - Ilse Blignault


Sallie Cairnduff
Project Manager Ironbark Trial, School of Population Health and The George Institute for Global Health

Sallie is a public health practitioner with experience in leading and delivering health programs with Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations, predominately in NSW. Her approach is to work collaboratively with Aboriginal, government and non-government services to build on existing capacity of local organisations to address their community’s needs.  Sallie is particularly interested in research that has an immediate translation to service delivery.


Dr Patricia Cullen
National Health and Medical Research Council Early Career Fellow

Patricia's research centres on strengthening health pathways for people who are disproportionately impacted by injury, violence and trauma with a focus on integrating trauma-informed care in health settings. Aligned with national priorities and recommendations for addressing trauma and violence, her research is informed by people’s preference to seek support in health settings and responds to services and peak bodies who have described a lack of coordination between sectors, and the need for enhanced workforce support to deliver optimal care.


image - Patricia Cullen


Professor Rebecca Ivers
Head of School, NHMRC Senior Research Fellow

Rebecca Ivers leads a global research program focusing on the prevention and management of injury. Trained as an epidemiologist, her research interests focus on the prevention of injury, trauma care, and the research to policy transfer in both high and low income countries. She has a substantial program of research addressing the global burden of injury, with a particular focus on inequalities in injury in low income settings, and the prevention of injury in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.


image - Rebecca Ivers


Telphia Joseph
Associate Lecturer

Ms Telphia Joseph is a Wajarri Yamatji woman from Western Australia. Community Development was her first passion which led to her interest in environmental health and otitis media. Telphia has a qualitative research base and in a previous life acted in a liaison position between the National Immunisation Committee and service providers offering immunisation programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Her Master of Philosophy involved an evaluation of immunisation activities provided by Aboriginal Medical Services within NSW and their reporting procedures to the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register. Telphia’s area of interest has recently widened to investigate what ‘Supports the retention and career development of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workforce in Urban New South Wales'.


image - Telphia Joseph


Ebony Lewis
Associate Lecturer 

Ebony Lewis has come from a background of Emergency nursing with a passion for improving the end-of-life experience for older people with advanced chronic illness. She has extensive experience in geriatrics assessment and gerontology research. Ebony is currently contributing to projects on prognostic preferences in hospitals, identification of elders at risk in in residential aged care, and optimising Advance Care Planning in general practice.


Image - Ebony Lewis


Dr Sophia Lin

Sophia’s primary research focus is investigating pragmatic strategies to prevent and control chronic diseases and related risk factors in international settings. Areas of research include: assessing the effectiveness of community-controlled health promotion strategies on chronic disease risk factors in Fiji and Sri Lanka; cervical cancer screening in Fiji, intimate partner violence and women’s sexual and reproductive health in Uganda; and effectiveness of improving literacy in adult Aboriginal Australians on social and wellbeing outcomes.




Dr Rob Menzies
Senior Lecturer

Rob Menzies has more than 20 years’ experience in communicable disease control, specialising in vaccine preventable disease epidemiology, evaluation of immunisation programs, and applying vaccines to improve the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. His research interests include improving immunisation program delivery, continuous quality improvement, and the use of large routine data collections.


Rob Menzies


Dr Lois Meyer
Senior Research Fellow, Postgraduate Learning and Teaching, Associate Dean Education

Lois undertakes strategic curriculum development and instructional design across the postgraduate programs.  Lois has a strong research interest in tracing the learning and career trajectories of the School's students and the implications of their postgraduate studies for strengthening capacity in health organisations. Her background is in health professional educational and workplace learning with an emphasis on Human Resource Development and workforce capacity. Her areas of principal research interests are in curriculum design, professional education and workplace learning. 


image - Lois Meyer


Dr Sally Nathan
Senior Lecturer

Sally Nathan’s career has been focussed on what it means to effectively engage consumers and community, in particular those who have been historically excluded from participation and decision-making in societal organisations and structures, including complex health systems. Sally’s research at UNSW has focused on the use of innovative methodologies and methods to measure and understand complex social processes and social change and this has included research into consumer and community participation in health as well as research approaches which engage and partner directly with vulnerable and marginalised communities and the organisations that represent and advocate for them.


Sally Nathan


Professor Richard Taylor
Professor International Public Health

Richard Taylor is involved in several international research studies, including mortality and cause of death, and control of NCD in Pacific Island Countries, and in several national research studies, including Indigenous mortality assessment.


image - Richard Taylor


Dr Adrienne Withall
Senior Lecturer

Adrienne is the Leader of the CHAMPION Team within the School and a descendant of the Kurial-Yuin saltwater people. The main aim of CHAMPION is to promote care and cognitive health in at-risk populations. Her research spans diverse populations, including those with young onset dementia and their supporters, people with chronic drug and alcohol use, the homeless, the prison population, and those who have sustained a head injury or concussion. Identifying risk factors to enable early intervention and promote optimal care is at the forefront of this research.


image - Adrienne Withall





We aim to contribute to significant improvement in healing, positive health and well-being and to developing positive approaches to social, spiritual and emotional well-being grounded on a rights-based framework for Aboriginal health in Australia.

Areas of research

Particular areas of research and service strength and focus are:

  • Epidemiology of health, well-being and illness among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations, including the enhancement of data quality and its use to guide policy and services;
  • Promotion and measurement of empowerment and well-being among individuals, families, organisations and communities, with a focus on youth and other key transition times across the lifespan;
  • Enhancement of Primary Health Care and Mental Health, Drug and Alcohol, Corrective and other programs and services to achieve better health and well-being outcomes;
  • Enhancement of integrative service delivery, promotion of culturally safe models of health care and promotion of empowerment and well-being among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations in contact with the criminal justice system;
  • Increasing tertiary education’s critical contribution toward a competent and empowered Indigenous health workforce with the skills and capacity to achieve positive, widespread change;
  • Promotion of environmental advocacy and well-being and assess the impact of environmental changes on population health;
  • Capture value of our own teaching and learning activities.


Aboriginal Child and Adolescent Health

image - Adolescent Health

Centre for Research Excellence in Aboriginal Child and Adolescent Health (CRE REACH), funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), is a five-year work program led by Professor Sandra Eades to improve Aboriginal child and adolescent health through Aboriginal leadership and collaborative research teams. Bringing together a diverse group of leading public health researchers, the four priority themes for CRE REACH include tackling early childhood developmental delay, smoking, over/under nutrition, and injury. Program Details.  Prof Rebecca Ivers is one of the Chief Investigators, working on several research streams including:

  • Next Generation Youth Wellbeing Study - Understanding health trajectories in Aboriginal adolescents and youth 10-24.
  • Injury/Burns and Prevention - Understanding burn injury in and effectiveness of interventions for preventing burns and minimising severity of burn injuries in Aboriginal children.
  • Adolescent Driver Licensing Support - Improving employment and education outcomes for adolescents through driver licensing support programs.


Ironbark trial: healthy ageing for older Aboriginal people

image - Ironbark Trial

The Ironbark trial is a cluster randomised control trial comparing the health outcomes of the Ironbark: Standing Strong & Tall program (a weekly exercise and yarning circle) to the Ironbark: Healthy Community program (a weekly social program) among groups of Aboriginal people aged 45 years and older.
The research includes funding local Aboriginal services to deliver one of the programs for 10 – 15 Aboriginal people for 12 months.  We aim to recruit 60 services and around 600 participants (both men and women) into the trial over the next 4 years.  We are working with collaborators in NSW, SA and WA.

There is a nested evaluation to determine acceptability of the Ironbark: Standing Strong and Tall program to participants, and an economic analysis.  We envisage the research will have direct policy and program benefits for Aboriginal specific falls prevention programs, and wellbeing programs for older Aboriginal people.

See Project Details


Our teaching Who are the programs designed for?
Our approach The Aboriginal Health and Wellbeing specialisation stream


Our teaching

The School of Population Health delivers innovative, interdisciplinary, flexible and practical programs that combine a solid foundation in Indigenous health with choices from a wide range of cross faculty electives. Our students develop comprehensive knowledge and skills designed to enhance their careers and enable them to play a meaningful role in a sustainable future. Postgraduate programs by coursework or research are available on campus and online.

For postgraduate students, we offer  a nested Public Health Masters stream in Aboriginal Health and Wellbeing, which supports students to progress from Graduate Certificate, to Graduate Diploma, to Masters with a project-based component that fosters a research higher degree in Indigenous Health. Two externally delivered electives form the core of the specialisation stream, PHCM9630, with a public health focus and PHCM9632 with a psychosocial focus. These courses are delivered using a blended learning approach including a mandatory residential workshop.

For postgraduate coursework students we offer:

We also contribute a variety of lectures and tutorials on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and environmental health topics in the undergraduate medicine and postgraduate public health and international health programs of the School of Population Health.


Our approach

There is clear recognition of the need for respectful, strengths-based, and empowering ways of working with each other and with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, organisations and communities. Our courses offer innovative learning experiences that enable students to gain the understanding, skills and confident voice to contribute effectively to improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and environmental health. Our methods are designed to stimulate transformational learning and enhance the wholistic application of public health skills and principles to virtually any health or social discipline.

You do not need to be working in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health to get the most out of our innovative courses. Our continuing aim is to provide the skills and inspiration to students to learn generatively throughout their lives. A similar lens is used to assist international and domestic students to recognise their potential role and capacity to support the protection of environmental values and assets that are so important to human health and wellbeing which is a fundamental and shared tenet of Indigenous cultures around the world.


Who are the programs designed for?

These programs are targeted towards students with specific interests in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, primary health care, public and environmental health, allied health, mental health and social and emotional wellbeing, community development and to the broader sector workforce to cohesively address the physical, psycho-social, cultural and environmental determinants of health and wellbeing now and for future generations.


The Aboriginal Health and Wellbeing specialisation stream

The Aboriginal Health and Wellbeing specialisation stream offers an innovative learning experience that enables students to gain deeper understanding and necessary skills to contribute effectively to the national effort to improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing. This specialisation provides significant opportunities to examine Indigenous-specific content and its application in areas of the student’s own sub-disciplinary public health interest. The stream defining courses enable students to immerse themselves in active study of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives of health and wellbeing. These are externally delivered using a blended learning approach and include mandatory pre-semester workshops, scenario-based learning, sourcing and critiquing research literature and program and policy documentation, as well as individual, professional and group information sharing and reflection.