Challenging the colonisation of birth: Koori women's birthing knowledge and practice

Karen Adams, Shannon Faulkhead, Rachel Veronica Standfield, Petah Rosa Lee Anne Atkinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states that Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination for social and cultural development. This fundamental right has been impeded worldwide through colonisation where many Indigenous peoples have had to adapt to ensure continuation of cultural knowledge and practice. In South East Australia colonisation was particularly brutal interrupting a 65,000 year-old oral culture and archives have increasing importance for cultural revival.

Aim: The aim of this research was to collate archival material on South East Australian Aboriginal women’s birthing knowledge and practice.

Methods: Archivist research methods were employed involving a search for artefacts and compiling materials from these into a new collection. This process involved understanding the context of the artefact creation. Collaborative yarning methods were used to reflect on materials and their meaning.

Findings: Artefacts found included materials written by non-Aboriginal men and women, materials written by Aboriginal women, oral histories, media reports and culturally significant sites. Material described practices that connected birth to country and the community of the women and their babies. Practices included active labour techniques, pain management, labour supports, songs for labour, ceremony and the role of Aboriginal midwives. Case studies of continuing cultural practice and revival were identified.

Conclusion: Inclusion of Aboriginal women’s birthing practices and knowledge is crucial for reconciliation and self-determination. Challenging the colonisation of birthing, through the inclusion of Aboriginal knowledge and practice is imperative, as health practices inclusive of cultural knowledge are known to be more effective.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)81-88
Number of pages8
JournalWomen and Birth
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2018


  • Archives
  • Indigenous medicine
  • Labour
  • Midwifery
  • Parturition

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