Researcher's key role in Nyungar community success story

October 22, 2014

A Murdoch University researcher has been closely involved with the rejuvenation of an Aboriginal community centre in Pinjarra, which will officially reopen on Tuesday, October 28.

Nursing lecturer Caroline Nilson from the School of Health Professions has successfully run cooking, nutrition, health and gardening programs for children and adults via the Murray Districts Aboriginal Association (MDAA) Centre for four years as part of her PhD research project.

Many of these classes were run in nearby locations while the centre was renovated but were relocated six weeks ago when building works were completed.

The success of Mrs Nilson’s programs have been instrumental in securing funding for the transformation of the MDAA Centre. She hopes her project’s findings will inform the development of similar health promotion frameworks in other communities in Western Australia.

Mrs Nilson’s involvement with the MDAA began back in 2010 when she was approached to run children’s cooking workshops in the local community. She formulated the Deadly Koolinga Chef Program which was run in her own time and which taught children how to cook healthy, nutritious food.

Its success prompted the women in the community to ask Mrs Nilson to expand the program. She then successfully applied to Murdoch’s  School of Health Professions for the three year Peacocke research scholarship and created the Bindjareb Yorga’s Health Program in January 2012. This program is for women and includes cooking and nutrition classes, group fitness classes, health information yarning classes and a community vegetable garden.

“The project has become much more than a PhD. It’s become my life!” Said Mrs Nilson. “I’ve been at the centre pretty much every day for the last three years. But the project is very much a partnership with the community and the launch event is a culmination of so much hard work. I am extremely proud to be a part of it.

“My scholarship funding comes to an end in December but I am committed to continuing to assist the MDAA and the projects will continue.”

So far around 30 children have gone through the cooking program, which is aimed at 11 and 12 year olds, while around 25 women have attended the cooking, exercise and health promotion classes.

“I think it’s made an enormous difference in the community,” said Mrs Nilson. “For example, the vegetable garden is extremely important because it has given the community a sense of place and connectedness to the land – which is very important to Aboriginal people.

“The programs and courses have brought them all together, not only to learn about healthy eating and exercise, but to have a laugh and connect as a community. Change in terms of kilograms lost is slow but the holistic benefits have been invaluable.

“What we have achieved here can be a blueprint for other communities.”

The MDAA Centre has been completely renovated with funding from Lotterywest, Royalties for Regions and Alcoa Mining with support from the Peel Development Commission, Indigenous Community Volunteers, Greening Australia and Fairbridge Land Care.

The official opening on Tuesday will be attended by 70 invited guests including Lieutenant General John Sanderson, former Governor of WA, Hon Murray Cowper MLA, Hon Sally Talbot MLC and Hon David Templeman MLA.

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