Dr Maree Meredith, a Bidjara woman, juggles leadership duties across Flinders’ vast central corridor as Acting Director of the University’s Poche Centre for Indigenous Health and member of the College of Medicine and Public Health’s leadership team, while progressing her own research towards building the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal people.
What does your work involve at Flinders University?
It is so varied, I am Directing the Poche Centre and we have a team across three sites, in Adelaide, Darwin and Alice Springs, but I also have my own research responsibilities. I am the chief investigator on a number of projects at the moment, and involved with a lot of project management. I was heavily involved in the CM&PH’s Indigenous Health Strategy and the University’s first Reconciliation Action Plan, and I’m part of the leadership team of the College of Medicine and Public Health.
I collaborate across colleges and make sure the Aboriginal voice comes through strongly, and because our Poche is one of five centres around Australia I have responsibilities to the National Poche Network and there is a lot of collaboration there too.
This year we are celebrating the tenth anniversary of Flinders University’s donation that established our Poche centre, it’s a key milestone and it has meant a new strategy, new mission, but we’ll be celebrating next year due to the COVID-19 situation. Flinders Poche will be hosting the Poche National Network Meeting in 2021 with a strong arts and health agenda.
What is your research focus?
My two major projects at the moment look at arts and health, building on my PhD that investigated how arts centres contribute to the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal people (‘Mapping the health promotion benefits of art centres of the Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands’) One of these is a collaboration with the National Ageing Research Institute, on how art centres and aged care services work together to support the elderly in remote communities.
I also have a book pending working with the Institute for Aboriginal Studies in Canberra, which is based on my PhD.
What inspired you to pursue your research?
My background is in anthropology and I have always been involved in research, and had a love for people and culture.
I’m from Queensland but have always loved central Australia, and I really enjoy working with Aboriginal communities.
Although I have been working in this space for 20 years plus on the ground, my research focus in central Australian art centres was a step outside of my own cultural background as a Queenslander. Central Australia is so diverse and the art is prolific.
One thing that came through and inspired me in my further work was the value of working with Aboriginal translators and researchers. I use interpreters now as standard practice in my research, Aboriginal interpreters who have English as their second or third language. It’s so important to frame questions properly and in the language of the people you are speaking with. The ability to speak one’s language ensures cultural expression continues, people have control over their story.
At Poche we share this two-way approach, western and Indigenous knowledges coming together. It helps keep culture and language strong, there are so many Indigenous languages in the NT and SA, and it’s important our institutions recognise and support this.
My research has essentially been a continuation of my love for working with Aboriginal people.
Are arts centres unique to central Australia?
When we talk about the arts centre model there are more than 100 all around Australia – the APY lands in South Australia was the focus of my research. These hubs are such important cultural institutes.
The centres themselves are unique, as are their roles in their community. With any health agenda it is vital to look at the aspirations of the people, it’s easy to make assumptions but the people have the solutions, you just need to ask the right questions and they will tell you. The priorities for communities vary but one commonality fundamental to any good health outcome is understanding what these are, investing people in a solution and empowering them to carry it forward. Any partnership needs to be genuine.
Can you share something you are proud of?
My PhD research and getting my PhD was a wonderful moment, and being shortlisted for the 2019 Stanner Award was the icing of the cake (an award presented by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies for the best academic manuscript by an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander author.)
For me it is now very much about giving back, and that is the opportunity my work provides – both in leadership and research. I have a motto, which is ‘service beyond self.’ It’s about me now facilitating educational outcomes for the next generation of Indigenous scholars, using my PhD to benefit the greater good.
What has been a challenge and how have you handled it?
I am based in Darwin and oversee staff in three geographically dispersed locations, I think a lot of people don’t realise how vast the distances are through our central corridor! That has been a challenge for me.
Something that’s important is to be accessible to staff, make the time to listen to them. One of the things I have implemented is coffee and chat at 10am on a designated day each week where I’m available to my staff. As a manager you need to be accessible, and I rely heavily on my staff to keep me in touch with the local issues.
A people-centred approach from my anthropology background influences how I manage people as well as my research, that understanding around culture and people.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
When I get time I love to read, I love gardening. I have a tropical garden that is very busy and needs constant maintenance! And cooking at home, that’s how I unwind.
Before COVID-19 I was doing a lot of travel so this has given me more time at home, which has been valuable and appreciated!