Liz Rix

Residual trauma from ‘Stolen Generation’ experiences, cultural insensitivity in parts of the healthcare system, and memories of discrimination against family members* - broadly linked as ‘institutional racism’ - continues to impact on the effectiveness of renal care for rural Aboriginal people.

This is a key finding in research for a PhD thesis undertaken by University of Sydney doctoral candidate Liz Rix who held lengthy discussions with Aboriginal renal patients in the Northern Rivers region.

Ms Rix, a non-Indigenous person, has been invited to present a paper on her research at the October conference of the American Indigenous Research Association in Pablo, Montana USA


The paper, “Can a white Aussie woman ‘get it’? Using an Indigenist paradigm to inform culturally sensitive mainstream renal services for Aboriginal peoples in rural Australia”, focuses on her role working as a renal nurse and a researcher in an Indigenous setting.

Her research was assisted greatly by a number of local Aboriginal people who helped her gain the confidence and cooperation of renal patients. They included Elders Patsy Nagus, who has since passed away, Russell Kapeen, and Charles Moran.

Ms Rix believes similar views would be held by many Indigenous renal patients across Australia, despite the unique cultural characteristics of each Aboriginal community.

No previous studies in rural Australia have explored the experience of Aboriginal patients with haemodialysis or renal services delivery, and of those providing their care.

Ms Rix said she had found “minimal racism at the individual level, with both participant groups demonstrating the motivation and goodwill for improved relationships and better understanding between them.”

However, institutional racism continues to impact on effective renal service delivery, especially in-centre haemodialysis, she found.

Among the findings in her thesis, which has now been accepted, was that ‘Family’ is a key motivator for persevering with haemodialysis, a demanding process that lasts up to six hours and must usually be undertaken three times a week if done in-centre.

University Centre for Rural Health North Coast director Professor Lesley Barclay AO, one of her supervisors, said, “Liz Rix’s research is a significant contribution to the body of knowledge about one of the major diseases affecting Aboriginal people, not just on the North Coast but Australia-wide.

“She has done brilliant research in a field that is clinically and culturally complex, and the future beneficiaries will include renal patients and the health professionals who help care for them.”


* A participant recounted being born in the mortuary at Casino Hospital in the 1950s because her mother was not allowed to birth in the Maternity Unit with the white mothers: this impacted throughout her life and negatively influenced her ability to trust mainstream services

*Another interviewee reported that her older sister was taken from her mother (Stolen Generation) in the 1960s. The mother had taken the child to the doctor with an infection, but she was deemed an unfit mother and the child was removed. When the interviewee got a kidney infection at the age of 8 her mother was too scared to take her to the doctor. All she needed was some antibiotics, however she now has kidney failure in her early 50s.