Paperbark and pinard
: a cultural and historical exploration of female reproduction in one remote northern-Australian Aboriginal town

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    Indigenous women in the Northern Territory of Australia experience significant reproductive and sexual health disadvantage, which widens with increasing geographical remoteness. Attempts to ameliorate this profound inequity, which have been based mostly on Western biomedical models of health care, have had limited efficacy in improving outcomes. Although an abundance of epidemiological data statistically substantiates Australian Indigenous women’s health disadvantage, a paucity of literature describes the contributing cultural contexts of Indigenous women’s health and even less privileges their experiences and perspectives on their reproductive health and gendered bodies. Set in an Australian remote town, this research aimed to historically contextualise women’s reproductive experiences and to document women’s cultural and linguistic constructions of reproduction. An ethnographic approach was used, which included historical and extended fieldwork over a six-year period, participant observations, written fieldwork diaries, reproductive ethnophysiology drawing and language sessions, semi-structured interviews, focus groups, archival document review, training and employment of Aboriginal research assistants, and consultation and advice from a local reference group and a cultural mentor. Women’s current emic perspectives and use of language to describe the female reproductive life cycle, anatomy and physiology are described and documented. The research findings demonstrate how changes to the local care of women during pregnancy and childbirth, which initially colonised ancestral reproductive practices, later nurtured women’s resilience. Planned locations for childbirth have undergone successive changes, with the only available option now being a regional hospital hundreds of kilometres away. Without robust evidence, scientific and clinical logics have been used to deny women their reproductive choices. This thesis suggest that women’s general health outcomes could be improved by a broad range of measures aimed at achieving better sexual and reproductive health rights for women.

    Note: Please note that thesis contains culturally or commercially sensitive content that requires indefinite restricted access. Author provided a public version of thesis.
    Date of AwardAug 2015
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorSuzanne Belton (Supervisor)

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