2023 Year in Review – Beautiful Shawl Project

2023 marks six years since we first partnered with the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) and the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS) to create an Aboriginal Breast Screening Shawl Trial 

Now known as the Beautiful Shawl Project, the initiative sees us partner with VACCHO and Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs) or Aboriginal-led services across the state to reduce barriers to breast screening. 

The Beautiful Shawl Project is a community-led initiative driven by the needs of Aboriginal women and steered by Aboriginal organisations. It provides safe and empowering breast screening experiences to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women by supplying cultural screening shawls and a tailored screening pathway. Every shawl is designed by a local artist so those who screen feel connected to their community and to Country.  

The Beautiful Shawl Project continues to grow year-on-year. In 2023, we welcomed two new ACCOs and two new health services to the project:  

  • West Gippsland Healthcare Group  
  • Better Health Network – The Salvation Army  
  • Dandenong and District Aborigines Co-Operative Limited (DDACL) 
  • Mullum Mullum Indigenous Gathering Place  

One participant in the project this year said: “It's good to see all the women come in carrying their shawl and walking out with a smile on their face, knowing that they've done the right thing.” 

Another said: “To have the artwork around and it just feels inviting. A cup of tea, bikkies, a little yarn, you know. It's not just coming to get screened; you are yarning to Mob and you're catching up with people, having a cuppa and talking about your health. It's a lot like a one-stop shop”. 


Image of Kristi Watts showing off her beautiful shawl

Image 1: Kristi Watts at Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-Operative. Artwork by Michelle Searle, Awabakal – titled Women Supporting Women.

We had a mixture of van visits to ACCOs and group bookings at existing BreastScreen Victoria clinics this year, with transportation arranged to and from the clinics. Our Community-led approach remained at the heart of the project no matter where the appointments took place.  

The Beautiful Shawl Project plans to engage with 10 ACCOs and Aboriginal-led services next year:  

  1. Dandenong and District Aborigines Co-Operative Limited (DDACL) 
  2. Mungabareena Aboriginal Corporation  
  3. Mullum Mullum Indigenous Gathering Place  
  4. Ramahyuk District Aboriginal Corporation Morwell  
  5. Ramahyuk District Aboriginal Corporation Sale  
  6. Gippsland and East Gippsland Aboriginal Co-Operative (GEGAC) 
  7. Lakes Entrance Aboriginal Health Association (LEAHA) 
  8. Mallee District Aboriginal Services - Swan Hill  
  9. Mallee District Aboriginal Services – Kerang  
  10. The Salvation Army Better Health Network  
Images of Janice Lovett showing off her beautiful shawl

Images 2&3: Janice Lovett at Winda-Mara Aboriginal Corporation (WMAC). Artwork by Saige Bell, Gunditjmara and Yorta Yorta – titled Kalat.

The newest additions bring the total number of Victorian ACCOs, and health services involved in the Beautiful Shawl Project to 27. 

In 2023, we also re-engaged with 11 ACCOs previously visited by the project. 434 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women screened across the 10 sites this year, of which 173 screened for the first time.  

This year witnessed the highest number of women participating in the Beautiful Shawl Project and the most first-time screeners, underscoring its foundation in the proactive engagement of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.  

Participants have highlighted how the Beautiful Shawls provided valuable benefits, fostering cultural safety and enhancing the overall effectiveness of the screening process.  

“The shawl was amazing, I felt really comfortable. I felt like it was something that I've not ever worn. The colours, everything about it is home to me because that's our Country."  

This time was the first time I've used the shawl and I just felt really, really safe and not exposed. It sort of makes it a lot easier to have the tests and everything done.

We’d like to thank every ACCO/Aboriginal-led department/team that welcomed the Beautiful Shawl Project into their organisation in 2023, including: 

  1. Bendigo & District Aboriginal Co-Operative (BDAC) 
  2. Njernda Aboriginal Corporation  
  3. Oonah Health and Community Service Aboriginal Corporation  
  4. West-Gippsland Healthcare Group (WGHG) 
  5. Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS)  
  6. Budja Budja Aboriginal Cooperative  
  7. Dhauwurd-Wurrung Elderly and Community Health Service (DWECHS) – Portland  
  8. Winda-Mara Aboriginal Corporation (WMAC) – Heywood  
  9. Gunditjmara Aboriginal Cooperative – Warrnambool  
  10. Kirrae Health Service – Purnim  
  11. Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative – Geelong  
  12. Salvation Army Better Health Network 
  13. Bass Coast Health 
  14. Rumbalara Aboriginal Co-Operative  
  15. Goolum Goolum Aboriginal Co-Operative  
  16. Dandenong & District Aborigines Co-Operative Limited (DDACL)
Images of Frances and Jude showing off their beautiful shawls

Image 4 (left): Frances Nicholson at Rumbalara Aboriginal Co-Operative. Artwork by April Atkinson, Yorta Yorta – titled Yorta Itjumatj Bayi (Healthy Breast).

Image 5 (right): Jude Ritchie at Dhauwurd-Wurrung Elderly and Community Health Service (DWECHS). Artwork by Amelia Lovett, Gunditjmara – titled Women Past & Present.

Adding to our dedication to improving breast cancer outcomes for Aboriginal Victorians, we were proud to sign an agreement with VACCHO in May 2023. In it, we commit to continue working together and leading the way for a culturally safe and evidence-based cancer journey model. 

VACCHO released a powerful new documentary that showcases the Beautiful Shawl Project and the incredible women who have brought it to life this year.

VACCHO CEO Jill Gallagher AO says the documentary “captures the essence of what The Beautiful Shawl Project is about – Aboriginal women leading the way with vibrant, culturally driven artwork, and amazing stories”. It “demonstrates the power of having Aboriginal women in the driver’s seat – and the positive health and wellbeing outcomes that are created by doing so.”  

“I’d like to sincerely thank the incredible women who shared their deeply personal stories as part of this beautiful documentary – I think it’s an amazing film.” 

“I’d like to pay tribute to Communities across Victoria for embracing the Beautiful Shawl team with open arms on visits across Victoria. We look forward to seeing the Beautiful Shawl Project expand to new locations across the state in 2024 and beyond.”


Image 6: Sonya Sheppard and Racheal Pierson at Frankston Breastscreen. Artwork by Alkina Edwards, Yorta Yorta, Wemba Wemba, Mutti Mutti and Wiradjuri – titled Dunguludja Mulana (Strong Spirit).

Dates for the project's 2024 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.