Aunty Barbara (‘Barb’) Gibson-Thorpe’s sense of achievement comes from seeing increasing numbers of Aboriginal workers throughout hospitals and in the healthcare system. For decades Barb has worked tirelessly to improve the experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients through her advocacy, support and passion. Barb's passion has always been in health and equal opportunity for people with disabilities.
Barb has mentored many people throughout her journey and continues to support Elders and young people in many communities. Barb has worked for many hospitals, Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations and the State Government and has been involved on numerous committees and boards. Barb was also a founding member of the Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation.
Barb is a Wiradjuri woman who was born in Lake Cargelligo, New South Wales. Barb is the youngest of ten children of the late Josephine and Frank Gibson. Barb went to school until she was 14 at which time she entered nursing school. Barb has always looked for opportunities to gain more knowledge and to continue her education. Barb has worked in partnership with Echuca Regional Health (ERH) and Melbourne University in research, and is currently working as an Aboriginal Hospital Liaison worker at Robinvale District Health Services.
Life in Bendigo
Barb has two children, Karen and Colin. In the 1980s Barb moved from Lake Cargelligo to Bendigo for her son Colin to attend a school for the deaf. Barb hoped to give her son the best start at life, as there were no schools for the deaf in Lake Cargelligo. Barb is very proud of her children. Her daughter Karen now works for Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation in land management. Barb has supported her son Colin to live independently to secure employment, and his own home.
Barb continued her education in Bendigo, going on to complete a Teacher’s qualification at the College of Advanced Education, known today as La Trobe University. Whilst studying, Barb became active in politics and advocated for land rights. Barb has continued her education completing multiple certificates in Aboriginal Health.
During her time in Bendigo, Barb took on a traineeship at Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) at Bark Lane, working under Des Morgan, an Aboriginal Community Development Officer.
Ensuring hospitals are culturally safe
Barb became one of the first Aboriginal Hospital Liaison Officers (AHLO) for the Bendigo Health Service. The job was very political and demanding as agencies did not understand the role and functions of an AHLO and their need to network with community and Aboriginal health services and co-operatives. Barb and her colleagues worked diligently to make change in hospitals that were often inflexible and culturally unsafe spaces for patients.
For decades Barb has worked tirelessly to improve the experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients through her advocacy, support and passion. Over the years Barb has seen progress and many positive changes occur.
Empowering the people around her
Barb leads by example and builds strong relationships and partnerships with colleagues and services. Barb quietly empowers the people around her to work with respect and is a generous mentor to her colleagues. She is always looking for opportunities to build on progress.
Barb played a key role in a state-wide Aboriginal newborn identification project in partnership with the Royal Women's Hospital, which won an innovation award at a conference in 2014. Barb has built on the positive change this project brought to Echuca Regional Health and arranged cultural safety training for staff as well as Board members at the hospital.
Improving cultural and spiritual wellness
Working with Njernda Aboriginal Corporation (Njernda), Viney Morgan Aboriginal Medical Service Cummeragunja and Echuca Regional Health (CERH), Barb has made the hospitals more welcoming. Making change has always been her goal. Bringing people together to improve cultural and spiritual wellness is something that Barb is passionate about.
This philosophy inspired Barb travelled to New Zealand and Sydney to represent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from Victoria in the Healing our Spirit Conference. Barb is a board and committee member of a large number of regional health organisations and networks. Barb has also been a Justice of the Peace (NSW) and continues to volunteer for the community.
Women in Health Award
In 2000, Barb was awarded the ‘Women in Health Award’ at the Koori Women Mean Business Awards. In 2005, she was awarded the Bendigo NAIDOC award for ‘Valuable Contribution’. In 2006 Barb was also presented the Bendigo Aboriginal District Co-operative NAIDOC Award for the ‘contribution to the workforce or community’. In 2012, she was awarded a ‘Staff Recognition Award, as the Aboriginal Chronic Illness Coordinator for Njernda and ERH. In 2014, Barb was awarded the ‘Best Education Innovation Award’ at Mind the Gap Symposium and the ‘Health Research Award Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander’ for the Closing the Gap Maternity Respect Program, and an ‘Award of Services’ for her work as the Aboriginal Home and Community worker for care management in the Loddon Mallee region.
In 2016, Barb played an integral role in the development of the ‘Rowan Nicks and Russell Drysdale Fellowship’ at the University of Sydney.
Barb has also been involved in a research project, ‘Strengthening Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Workforce’ at ERH and is on the ERH Aboriginal Employment Reference Group, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander NAIDOC Committee and the Aboriginal Yarning Circle for Women.
Barb prides herself on her cross-cultural communication skills, her relationship building abilities, her ability to broker partnerships and her collaborative service delivery approach. Each of these skills has seen her make an enormous contribution to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community of Melbourne.
Reviewed 26 September 2019