At Peter Mac we know it's important to create a culturally safe place for all our patients and visitors.

NAIDOC Week is an opportunity for us celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and to thank  all our patients and staff who have contributed to making Peter Mac an inclusive and culturally safe place.

Last year we proudly signed an MoU with the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation.

It reflects our commitment to working with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to improve cancer outcomes and experience of care at Peter Mac and we are privileged to partner with Victoria’s peak Aboriginal health body (VACCHO) to advise us in our future work.

Within our Prevention & Wellbeing Program, we have a stream of activity that is dedicated to improving outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients.

The most prominent symbol of our commitment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural safety is our possum skin cloak.

The creation of the cloak was led by prominent artist Vicki Couzens and Baraparapa Elder Aunty Esther Kirby and was made using traditional cultural techniques that have been used by communities in Victoria for centuries.

Baraparapa Elder Aunty Esther Kirby
Baraparapa Elder Aunty Esther Kirby

Vicki Couzens said possum skin cloaks are one of the most sacred expressions of traditional south-eastern Aboriginal peoples.

“Cloaks are vessels for the body and spirit, they connect people with Country and community, and they offer pride, dignity and respect. At the same time, cloaks can be one of our most intimate belongings used in a variety of everyday activities – sleeping, wrapping babies, teaching Country and sharing stories,” said Vicki.

The project is part of a Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) program called ‘Culture is Healing’, which aims to create culturally appropriate spaces in treating hospitals, to encourage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women with breast cancer to return to the facility knowing it is a culturally safe space. This in turn will increase survivorship rates amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women with breast cancer and other cancers.

The possum skin cloak is available for use by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their families going through cancer treatment at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. Please contact the Wellbeing Centre to access the cloak. 

The idea for the program came about at a Think Tank hosted by BCNA in March which brought together 48 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who have been personally affected by breast cancer. The two-day Think Tank encouraged women to share their own stories, challenges they faced and insights from their own communities. This insight was then used to discuss how outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women with breast cancer could be improved.

Peter Mac acknowledges the owners on the land on which our centre stands, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation and pay our respects to elders past, present and emerging. 

Watch the making of the cloak below.