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Australia’s oldest Aboriginal medical service celebrates 50th anniversary

Eight hundred guests joined the Aboriginal Medical Service Co-operative (AMS Redfern) to celebrate 50 years (+1 for Covid) of outstanding achievements at a gala dinner at the ICC Darling Harbour on November 26.

The night of celebration was emceed by Walkley Award winning journalist Karla Grant and featured several live acts including, The Donovan Band, Jarrod Hickling, Kebi Kub Dancers and The Brolga Dance Academy.

Welcome to Country by Gadigal Elder Allen Madden, speeches by the Honourable Linda Burney MP, Aunty Gracelyn Smallwood, Professor Kelvin Kong (Worimi man and the first Aboriginal surgeon in Australia), Aunty Dulcie Flower and also from AMS Redfern Chair Edie Coe, CEO LaVerne Bellear and Director Ricky Lyons traced the organisation’s history and impact.

The early days of AMS. Established in July 1971, it was the first Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service in Australia. Photo: Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW

AMS Redfern was established in July 1971 and was the first Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service in Australia.

The early years were hard-fought given a rapidly growing Aboriginal population in Redfern and a shoestring budget to service their health needs.

The 1967 referendum had led to the end of the official “apartheid” system, and an exodus of impoverished Koori people from rural areas to Sydney followed.

Jobs and a better way of life for themselves and their children were behind this drive, with the media calling these new city dwellers “refugees in their own country”.

Mr Ricky Lyons, Director AMS Redfern, addresses 800 guests at the celebration. Photo: AMS Redfern

AMS Redfern pioneered the concept of Aboriginal Community Controlled Healthcare and was founded to provide healthcare services to the local Aboriginal community. AMS Redfern is underpinned by the principles of self-determination and worked hard to overcome the neglect and racism Aboriginal people were experiencing in mainstream health services.

Initially AMS was a shopfront in Regent Street, Redfern, and later moved to Turner Street on land donated by the Sisters of Mercy.

Volunteer doctors, nurses, nuns, medical students/practitioners, and local Aboriginal people initially staffed the Service and AMS is grateful for these early health pioneers.

Professor Fred Hollows, Gary Foley, Sol Bellear, Gordon Briscoe, Naomi Mayers, Marie Bashir, Dulcie Flower, Lyn Mundine, Mum Shirl and Paul Coe were just some of the names integral to getting AMS Redfern up and running, while Prime Minister William McMahon declared his Government would never grant any form of land rights to Aborigines.

Now in its 51st year of serving the community, AMS Redfern is at the forefront of improving health outcomes for Sydney’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community and beyond.



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