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Aboriginal community cultural shawl project to reach more women in 2021

Aboriginal shawl design showing three female outlines.

Echuca’s locally designed shawl features a design by Yorta Yorta, Wemba Wemba, Mutti Mutti and Wiradjuri artist, Alkina Edwards.

In 2015–2017, the life expectancy at birth for Indigenous Australians was estimated to be eight years lower than non-Indigenous Australians (AIHW 2019). National Close the Gap Day is a time for Australians to come together and commit to achieving health equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. 

At BreastScreen Victoria, we're committed to achieving health equality for Aboriginal people. We know that including Aboriginal community participation and control around health service delivery is essential to bringing breast screening to more Aboriginal women. We also understand that addressing critical social issues, such as fear, shame, and the lack of cultural awareness among health professionals, is vital. 

A partnership to increase community screening rates  

That's why we partnered with the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) and the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS) in 2018 to develop the Aboriginal Breast Screening Shawl Trial

The shawl, designed by respected Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta artist Lynette Briggs, was made for Aboriginal women to wear during their breast screen. They aim to improve Aboriginal women's experience with breast screening and support Aboriginal women to screen together. The project also worked to increase the cultural competence of BreastScreen Victoria staff. 

The trial's success, which won a 2019 VicHealth Award in the category of Improving health equity, led us to roll it out across Victoria and being renamed to The Beautiful Shawl Project. The shawls have been used state-wide as part of BreastScreen Victoria's Mobile Screening Service, which visited eight Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations sites (ACCOs) that year. In 2020, we added four more locations.  

The Beautiful Shawl Project was captured in a heart-warming, 12-minute documentary filmed on Country and featured the reactions and feelings of Communities, staff, and clients. 

Since 2018, 274 Aboriginal women have screened due to this project. Most women are first-time or lapsed screeners. And the work continues.  

Expanding The Beautiful Shawl Project in 2021 

This year, we're excited to visit 10 ACCOs and bring breast screening to more Aboriginal women. 

Our Mobile Screening Service is visiting Bendigo and District Aboriginal Cooperative between 19-23 April, followed by Njernda Aboriginal Coorporation (Echuca) between 26-30 April.  

Echuca’s locally designed shawl, show above, features a design by Yorta Yorta, Wemba Wemba, Mutti Mutti and Wiradjuri artist, Alkina Edwards. In a statement about her artwork, Alkina explains that it represents the strength and support given to women who are affected by breast cancer. The women pictured put their hands on each other’s shoulders, symbolising giving strength and empowerment to fighters and survivors, as well as honouring women who have lost their lives. The symbols in the background of the artwork represent family, friends and community support.  

Aboriginal shawl design showing five female figures.

Bendigo’s shawl features a design by local Wadawurrung and Gunditjmara artist, Trina Dalton-Oogjes.

Bendigo’s shawl features a design by local Wadawurrung and Gunditjmara artist, Trina Dalton-Oogjes. In a statement about her artwork, Trina explains that it represents the coming together of women from other communities as they travel and leave footprints across the land. The sisters featured in the artwork shine bright, as the women hold hands in support of a shared journey for breast screens.  

The Beautiful Shawl Project will also be introduced to Budja Budja Aboriginal Co-operative (Halls Gap) and Goolum Goolum Aboriginal Co-operative (Horsham) in June 2021.