My name is Vinka Barunga, and I am a Worrora woman from the Kimberley. My country runs along the north west coast of Western Australia and includes Walcott Inlet, Buccaneer Archipelago, Montgomery Reef and Prince Regent River. My people are salt water people. Along with Ngarinyin and Wunumbal language groups, we live in Mowanjum Community and are united by our belief in the Wandjina and, are the custodians of Wandjina law.
I was born and grew up in Mowanjum Community and the town of Derby. Growing up among my family and culture had a significant impact in shaping and inspiring my dreams. My father was a cultural strong, Indigenous man and my mother was a university educated white woman from the western suburbs of Perth, whose world was far from the life my father had endured.
I grew up in both worlds.
I have grown up with family in community - learning the importance of kinship, country and cultural obligation. I saw first hand the health and education impacts that disproportionately effect Indigenous people, and I felt healthcare was a way in which I would be able to help improve peoples lives and also contribute to both challenging and changing Indigenous statistics.
I have also grown up with the expectation of gaining a western education. A dream that came more from my father, who was never given the opportunity to receive the eduction he deserved to then live in the world that Australia had now become. Based purely on the colour of his skin.
Medicine has been an area in which, I have intrinsically always been interested. However, it wasn’t until I was in high school that I began to understand how Australia’s history and it’s treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people, impacts our communities today.
I have been incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to study medicine and become a doctor and during this time family and community became, not only my biggest inspiration, but strongest support. I moved to Perth and away from my home to finish high school and study at university. Studying medicine was some of the hardest times of my life - I lost both my parents during medical school and this loss left me wondering whether wanted to, or even could continue, but with the support of my community and the knowledge of what they had overcome, I persevered.
My studies and career have now taken me further from family, as I live and work as a surgical registrar in Melbourne. However, being away from home has been made easier drawing on my connection to the people and country who share my blood and dreams, and who have loved and supported me even before I was a doctor. I have also found strength in, and support from the wider Indigenous community. Finding a sort of kinship with not only the Whadjuk Noongar community of Western Australia, and Wurundjeri community in Victoria, but with each of my Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island colleagues, friends and importantly, patients, whom I have been fortunate to care for.
There is an unsaid connectedness and collectiveness within the Indigenous communities of Australia. Our deep seated connection to this land, and to our history brings us together to continue to challenge the injustices of this country - to ensure the continued future of our people and our cultures.
These relationships are integral to maintaining focus, and staying strong to my cultural identity while I am away from country and family, and pursuing the career that will ultimately take me home - to give back to the people and community who taught me so much about who I am, and where I belong.
Dr Vinka Barunga MBBS