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AOWA leading a project in Aboriginal Health

In 2019, Arthritis Australia worked with AOWA to develop a successful tender, funded by the Commonwealth Government of Australia, to run a project to support arthritis education for consumers. The project’s main objective is to develop and deliver culturally secure arthritis information resources that are informed by and incorporate the cultural rights, values, beliefs, knowledge systems and expectations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’.

Whilst AOWA is leading the workstream, and we recognised that it would be important to bring together appropriate experts, including consumers, to shape and deliver the project. Hence, we tapped into our networks and formed the following partnerships to drive the project:

• National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO)
• University of Melbourne (UMelb)
• University of Western Australia (UWA) – Western Australian Centre for Rural Health
• Curtin University (WA)

One of the researchers involved in the project is Ms Brooke Conley. We interviewed Brooke, and her research supervisor Dr Sam Bunzli for ‘Arthritis Today’ and asked them to tell us a little more about the project and their involvement.

Brooke – tell us a bit about yourself and why you are interested in the project.

I’m a proud Ngiyampaa woman, and my mob is from Cobar, New South Wales. This project combined both my passions: as a Physiotherapist with an interest in musculoskeletal conditions; and as a PhD candidate wanting to improving health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’.

How prevalent is arthritis amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’?

Arthritis conditions are more common and have a greater burden of disease for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ in comparison to non-Indigenous Australians.

Why is it important to develop culturally appropriate resources?

After speaking with health service representatives and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in both Western Australia and Victoria, we have been told there is a lack of information available regarding the management of arthritis conditions. Co-creating arthritis education resources with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community will improve the likelihood that they are both implemented and accepted by the community.

What process will you undertake to develop the resources?

It’s a six-phase process to develop and evaluate the resources:

  • The first phase involves setting up two groups to oversee the research activities. i) A community reference group of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ in Victoria and Western Australia who experience arthritis, and ii) an expert advisory group of researchers, health professionals and representatives from Aboriginal health services.
  • Phase two involves interviewing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ who experience arthritis to understand their health information needs and preferences.
  • Phase three involves collating the most up to date research on the management recommendations for arthritis.
  • Phase four involves culturally adapting the recommendations with the expert groups.
  • In phase five, we will draft these recommendations into education resources that meet community needs and preferences.
  • In phase six, the resources will be evaluated.

Wow – that’s a lot of work for a PhD student to undertake! Do you have support and guidance from experts in the field?

Yes, it is! I have support from a range of different experts including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community members, clinicians, researchers, and my own PhD supervisors at the University of Melbourne, UWA and Curtin University.

How long will the project run?

The project officially commenced in 2020 and will take three years to complete…although COVID has thrown a few spanners in the works!

Will the resources be relevant nationwide?

This project is being conducted in Victoria and Western Australia. In recognition of the diversity among the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, we are capturing the voices of community members living in urban, rural, regional, and remote settings in these states. Further research will be needed to understand how relevant the resources are to other communities.

How will people access the resources?

The format the resources take and how they are implemented will depend on the needs and preferences of the community. We anticipate that the resources may take the form of print, video, or web-based materials and may be used in healthcare settings as individual patient education resources.

AOWA will continue to work with its partners to develop the research and resources for this project. The first three phases of the project are underway, and we expect that the resources will be ready for launch and made available at the end of 2022.


Brooke Conley is a proud Ngiyampaa woman from Cobar, New South Wales. She has completed her Bachelor in Exercise Science and a Master in Physiotherapy Practice and is a current PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne. Alongside her PhD, Brooke holds a clinical physiotherapy position at a City Baths Spinal and Sports Medicine Clinic and an Associate lecturer position at Melbourne University, within the Department of Medical Education.


Dr Samantha Bunzli is a physiotherapist and research fellow at The University of Melbourne, Department of Surgery, within a Centre for Research Excellence focused on optimising outcomes, equity and patient selection for joint replacement surgery. Together with colleagues at the University of Western Australia and Curtin University, Dr Bunzli co-founded ECCO, a program of research advocating for Equity, Collaboration and Culturally secure Osteoarthritis care for Aboriginal Australians.

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