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Aunty Pamela Mam, a pioneer and trailblazer

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that this article contains the name and photos of a deceased person.

Aunty Pamela Mam was a co-founder and Life Member of AICHS, a pioneer in nursing and a trailblazer for First Nations health services. Born in Richmond in the 1930s, she was a descendant of the KuKu Yalanji nation in Cooktown. Growing up on Palm Island, Aunty Pam started working as a Nurse Aid at Palm Island Hospital and continued to work there for four years. She completed her general training at Townsville Hospital between 1954 and 1959, becoming one of Queensland’s first Aboriginal nurses when she graduated. She then went on to become a midwife at the Royal Women’s Hospital.

During her lifetime, Aunty Pam was instrumental in establishing AICHS in 1973 and supported the establishment and expansion of other community-controlled health services across South East Queensland, including the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health (IUIH) in 2009. Aunty Pam was inducted into the Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council (QAIHC) Hall of Fame in 2008 in recognition of her leadership and commitment to improving First Nations health.

She also played a key role in supporting the operation of Jimbelunga Nursing Home at Eagleby operated by AICHS. Her vision was to establish a ‘home’ for the elderly, a place of friendship, with all the support needed, rather than a ‘nursing home’. Aunty Pam advocated for the health and wellbeing of all residents at Jimbelunga and while working in management, her mantra was ‘once a nurse always a nurse’.

After an initial six-month management role, Aunty Pam was at the helm of Jimbelunga for 14 years as facility manager.

Over the following decades, Aunty Pam’s wisdom and dedication to healthcare was admired by all staff, and she quickly became a mentor to younger staff members.

This spirit of mentorship led to the establishment of the Aunty Pamela Mam Indigenous Nursing Scholarship in 2013. The program honours Aunty Pam’s lifelong commitment to First Nations health and provides financial support to a deserving First Nations student commencing a Bachelor of Nursing program at Griffith each year. In the past 10 years, the scholarship has assisted 13 nursing students with financial assistance for a nursing degree and travel to the annual Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives (CATSINAM) conference.

In 2018 Aunty Pamela was awarded an honorary doctorate from Griffith University for her service to her people and the community in health services. Aunty Pamela Mam was an inspirational figure who created an ongoing legacy of compassion and commitment for the health care of First Nations Queenslanders.

In August 2019, his Excellency General the Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Retd) Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia and Her Excellency Mrs Hurley officially opened the Uncle Steve and Aunty Pamela Mam Wing at Jimbelunga in their honour.

Later, in January 2020, Aunty Pam passed away and is survived by her sons, daughter, son-in-law, daughters-in-law, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren. 

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