Georgia Corrie vividly remembers sitting in a year 11 high school health and human development class, being the sole Aboriginal student in the room, and listening to statistics being rattled off about the failure of Closing the Gap targets. ‘Here’s your future’, she thought. More likely to have chronic disease. You’ll die younger than your peers. Less likely to finish year 12 and attend university. No hope.
The sobering reality for the country’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people struck a chord with Georgia and inspired her to pursue a career as a nurse to drive meaningful change.
A proud Nyamal woman born and raised on Wurundjeri Land of the Kulin Nation, Georgia undertook her graduate program at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne. There, she looked after many young Northern Territory kids venturing down south to undergo valve replacements to treat rheumatic heart disease. It was her lightbulb moment, she recalls.
“I decided I didn’t want to be at the end of this problem – I wanted to be at the front of it finding solutions,” she explains.
Over the past decade, across the NT, her nursing career has spanned roles tackling adult chronic disease and, predominantly, working as a remote nurse, running health clinics in Aboriginal communities. In one of those in East Arnhem Land, she helped transition a community into an Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (ACCHO), seeing first-hand the benefits and improved outcomes that it can bring.
In February this year, she pivoted to take on the role of the Yes23 campaign’s NT Coordinator, travelling far-and-wide to talk to people from all walks-of-life about supporting constitutional recognition for an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament in the upcoming referendum.
“It’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” says Georgia, of jumping on board.
“For me, it’s about being able to share the first-hand positive experiences I’ve had seeing the Voice work in remote communities on a wider scale within the NT and being able to amplify those successes to a national level.
“The opportunity for me is being able to share that story, that yarn, with people all over Australia who might not be aware that this is already taking place to a degree, and what a Voice being nationally enshrined in the constitution will open the door to. “A lot of the time, it’s giving that hope to people and explaining that this isn’t something new. This is something that we’re doing already that’s working, and we need you to come on board and be part of this.”
As the NT’s Yes23 campaign lead, Georgia is the go-to person for resources and support, especially when it comes to the wellbeing of the crucial local ‘Yes’ group volunteers out in the field who are sometimes exposed to “the racist views within Australia”.
A big part of her role involves driving long hours across the NT, taking the conversation to dozens and dozens of remote communities. Then there is talking to businesses and organisations, doorknocking, presenting at local markets, anywhere and everywhere, to spread the message.
She is not doing it alone, of course, with organisations, land councils, and Aboriginal medical services, joining the effort.
“We’re all in this together, and that’s the magic of the campaign,” she says.
“It’s an opportunity for lots of people to get involved and engaged, to make this change. And a lot of Australians are ready for that.”
Her message when speaking to Australians who will vote on the referendum is one built on foundations of education and unpacking misinformation that is potentially influencing the narrative, particularly through social media.
By and large, however, Georgia says most people she speaks to support the underlying goal of the Voice.
Changing the Constitution to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and enshrine a Voice to Parliament would establish a new advisory body, representing First Nations people across the country, to have a say and provide advice on government policies and laws that affect their lives. The Voice will be made up of a committee of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from every state and territory, who will give advice to government on key issues that affect communities, like education, health, housing and jobs. The government will still be responsible for all laws, projects, and funding.
“The most common response is – ‘is that it?’…‘Why would you say no?’ she reveals.
“It is a very simple request, that recognition and opportunity to be heard.
“The way I frame it is it’s changing that narrative from this problem, negative speak, to we have the solutions. We just don’t have the platform for them to be heard. And that’s what the Voice brings.”
Importantly, as an Aboriginal nurse, one of the key areas Georgia believes an Indigenous Voice to Parliament can begin delivering critical change immediately is healthcare. When governments listen to Indigenous people about issues affecting them, she says they make better decisions, and communities get better outcomes.
As she learnt in high school, Australia’s health system has consistently failed to improve the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Something needs to change, and Georgia, who has seen first-hand the impact consultation with local communities can have on building trust and taking control in navigating healthcare needs, believes the Voice can trigger that change.
“Here in the Top End, in the Northern Territory, we see conditions that developing nations have eradicated,” Georgia points out.
“Things like trachoma, rheumatic heart disease, issues that need a community Voice to fix.
“We need well-respected, well-educated professionals, cardiologists, nurses, allied health teams, as part of the solution. But it also comes down to on-the-ground challenges – we need to navigate the housing crisis, the overcrowding in houses, the fact that communities don’t have water security. These are some of the challenges that some Australians are completely unaware of, that other Australians navigate daily.”
Nursing has a big role to play in improving outcomes, says Georgia.
“For nurses, social issues are union issues.
“Us nurses, especially in certain parts, we see first-hand the impact of failed policies. We’ve seen first-hand, hope be diminished by Voices that have had short-life expectancies because they’ve been silenced by the stroke of a pen.
“This is an opportunity for us. We can’t change the past but we can draw a line in the sand and we can work for a better future and grow as a country. And that’s where recognising our First Nations people, and doing that through a Voice enshrined in the Constitution, is our most important step. And that’s what it is, a step. It’s a beginning for us to work together and to change that direction we’re taking, because we know that no government or Party has consistently had the solution and what has been missing, so sorely, is a Voice from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”
Visit the Yes23 campaign here for more information
Access the Uluru Statement here
Visit the government’s information website on the Voice here