Conference Summary | The 2023 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Eye Health Conference (NATSIEHC23)

group photo

The 2023 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Eye Health Conference (NATSIEHC23) was held on Dharug Country in Western Sydney from 24th – 26th May. The conference theme ‘Our Vision in Our Hands: Finding Our Voice’ sought to highlight emerging and future First Nations leaders of the sector, while also resonating the strength and values of the longstanding movement for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander self-determination in health, and the broader current national movement to enshrine First Nations Voice to parliament.

NATSIEHC23 was the seventh annual, national conference and aimed to build on the collective work of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector to improve eye health access and outcomes for First Nations Australians. The conference was led by the National Expert Group in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Eye Health (NEGATSIEH) and co-hosted by AH&MRC (Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council, NSW).

Over 240 delegates attended the conference from all states and territories – this included over 100 First Nations delegates. Three days and over 50 presentations provided opportunity for connection and a rich sharing of wisdom and learnings. Delegates included representatives from Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations and other primary care service providers, eye care clinicians, policy makers, researchers, non-government organisations, hospitals, professional peak bodies and government departments from across the country.

There were many highlights, and it is difficult to only mention a few. On the first day, there was a welcome reception held outside the hotel in the park and in glorious sunshine. The beautiful Welcome to Country from Peta Strachan (Booroberongal of the Dharug Nation), smoking ceremony and dance performed by the Jannawai dance clan was enjoyed by delegates. The strong Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership throughout the conference is reflected in the quote:  ”we want to advance things for our communities, our families and that’s why we’re presenting today - that is the First Nations Eye Health Alliance”.

Image: Welcome Reception; Welcome to Country, Smoking Ceremony and dances performed by Jannawi Dance Clan

Kane Ellis, of the Illawarra Aboriginal Medical Service opened day two in Aunty Pat Anderson’s absence, and he referred to the upcoming referendum for constitutional change to enshrine the Voice to parliament. Anne-Marie Banfield, co-chair of NEGATSIEH, introduced  the newly appointed First Nations Eye Health Alliance (FNEHA) board and facilitated a panel discussion about the aims of the Alliance. Donna Murray, a Wiradjuri and Wonnarua woman and CEO of IAHA, spoke about designing a future of our own design in the first key note presentation. Lauren Hutchinson spoke from the heart in delivering a beautiful Jilpia Nappaljari Jones Oration. Karl Briscoe, CEO of NAATSIHWP, challenged us on workforce and demonstrated cultural load. The first international key note for NATSIEHC was presented by Renata Watene from Aotearoa who proposed the significant value in First Nations peoples working together on eye care. There was great feedback about the Gala dinner with the wonderful entertainment, venue and awards recognising such stellar work out in the field.

different speakers across the 3 days

Image:  (L-R) Kane Ellis, Donna Murray, Lauren Hutchinson, Karl Briscoe, Renata Watene and Uncle 'Widdy' Welsh

dinner - awards

Images: Gala Dinner entertainment; Eric Avery,  KebiKub and Blanche, and The 2023 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Eye Health Award recipients

On National Sorry Day we heard from Uncle ‘Widdy’ Welsh (no. 36) with his heart breaking story as a survivor of the Kinchela Boys Home. Our hope was subsequently uplifted with IAHA student trainees talking about their experiences at the conference and plans for the future.

IAHA students

Image: IAHA students presenting for the first time

Shaun Tatipata, after all his hard work during the conference as MC and co-chair of NEGATSIEH, was able to break the exciting news about the 2024 national conference is planned for nipaluna, lutruwita (Hobart, Tasmania).

We would like to thank our sponsors the Fred Hollows Foundation, RANZCO and others organisations who provided direct and indirect support for the conference and delegates.

A special thanks go to all of those involved in organising and delivering the conference; well done and thank you also to all the presenters – together we enjoyed a triumphant NATSIEHC23!

See the full image gallery here