2022 in review: Beautiful Shawl Project

This year marks five years since we developed the first Aboriginal Breast Screening Shawl Trial in partnership with the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) and the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service(VAHS). The project’s implementation has evolved since 2018, but its driving purpose remains the same: to provide safe and empowering breast screening experiences for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women through the provision of cultural screening shawls. 

The shawls are designed by talented local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, so those who screen can feel connected to their community and to country.  

The Aboriginal-led Beautiful Shawl Project now works in partnership with Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs) and select health services to deliver group screening sessions to women across the state. 

Jessica Elsworth, Community Engagement Coordinator, says the success of the project comes back to the fact that it’s driven by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community. 

“From promoting the visit to taking client booking details, the local ACCOs are involved in the entire process,” Jessica says.  

“ACCOs know how to best engage with their Communities, so the project’s success comes back to their support.” 

Jessica, Community Engagement Coordinator, with group booking at Mungabareena Aboriginal Cooperative

The Beautiful Shawl Project continues to go from strength to strength with the addition of five new ACCOs and one health service this year: 

  1. Oonah Health and Community Service Aboriginal Corporation 
  2. Bass Coast Health 
  3. Mungabareena Aboriginal Cooperative 
  4. Goranwarrabul House 
  5. Gippsland and East Gippsland Aboriginal Co-operative (GEGAC) 
  6. Lakes Entrance Aboriginal Health Association (LEAHA) 

Amanda Morgan, proud GunaiKurnai artist behind the shawl used at GEGAC, was excited to get involved with the project. She believes that it will help raise awareness of the importance of regular breast screening in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. 

“The beautiful thing about the project is that it brings all the strong, beautiful, black women and elders together to support each other in a culturally safe space on country,” says Amanda Morgan, artist behind the shawl used at GEGAC. 

GunaiKurnai artist, Amanda Morgan

The newest additions bring the total number of ACCOs and health services involved in the Beautiful Shawl Project to 23.

In 2022, we also returned to six ACCOs previously visited by the project. One hundred and seventy-eight Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait women screened across the 12 sites this year, of which 61 screened for the first time.  

Map of Beautiful Shawl Project sites. Image supplied by VACCHO

Traditionally, the mobile screening van visits each ACCO. However, some of the new ACCOs that joined us this year were situated near permanent screening clinics. In these cases, group bookings were arranged at the existing sites, with transportation arranged to and from the clinics. Cultural screening shawls remained at the heart of the project, regardless of whether the screens took place on the van or at a fixed location. 

The Beautiful Shawl Project plans to visit twelve ACCOs again next year: 

  1. Bendigo & District Aboriginal Co-operative (BDAC) – Bendigo 
  2. Njernda Aboriginal Cooperative – Echuca  
  3. Budja Budja Aboriginal Cooperative – Halls Gap 
  4. Goolum Goolum Aboriginal Co-operative – Horsham 
  5. Dhauwurd-Wurrung Elderly and Community Health Service (DWECHS) – Portland 
  6. Winda-Mara Aboriginal Corporation (WMAC) – Heywood 
  7. Gunditjmara Aboriginal Cooperative – Warrnambool 
  8. Kirrae Health Service – Purnim 
  9. Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative – Geelong 
  10. Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS) – Multiple sites 
  11. Rumbalara Aboriginal Co-operative – Mooroonpna 

Mungabareena Aboriginal Corporation – Wodonga 

Aunty Nellie Flagg wrapped in shawl at Bendigo and District Aboriginal Cooperative (BDAC) in 2021

“The Beautiful Shawl Project is about Aboriginal women leading Aboriginal outcomes,” says Jill Gallagher, CEO of VACCHO. 

“The project received incredible engagement from the Community on visits across Victoria in 2022. We are really excited about continuing this incredible partnership with BreastScreen Victoria and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations in 2023,” says Jill. 

Dates for the project's 2023 calendar are still being finalised. If you’re interested in screening with the Beautiful Shawl project next year, please keep an eye on the VACCHO calendar for all upcoming visits or reach out to your local ACCO for more information.