Narungga Kaurna woman and Indigenous health leader Janine Mohamed has been named Victoria’s 2024 Australian of the Year.
The Gisborne resident is committed to dismantling racism and expanding opportunities for the Indigenous health workforce.
She is also working to close the gap in Indigenous health outcomes through the systemic integration of cultural safety.
“It’s a humble place where this comes from. This is just the work that needs to be done,” she said.
Janine may joke about being an “accidental CEO”, after being head-hunted for the role, but she has certainly found her calling as a leader and changemaker.
In her nearly five years leading the Lowitja Institute in Melbourne, and before that as CEO of the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives, she has created important platforms for Indigenous peoples and championed culturally safe healthcare.
Janine initially studied nursing at the University of South Australia, where she’s now an Adjunct Professor and a celebrated Alumni of the Year.
For the next 25 years, she worked in nursing, health policy and research in the Indigenous Community Controlled Health sector. In 2020, she was awarded an honorary doctorate in nursing by Edith Cowan University.
Growing up at Point Pearce mission, Janine said her interest in healthcare was inspired by her nana’s health struggles.
“My journey starts with my mum and nan, and community,” she said.
“I saw inequity and saw how it could be bridged with great vision. I saw the devastating work of healthcare professionals and the missed opportunities. I really noticed the blind spots.”
Other important influences were a neighbour – a local director of nursing – who encouraged her interest in healthcare, and renowned trailblazer in nursing and Ingenious healthcare Lowitja O’Donoghue, who was named Australian of the Year nearly 40 years ago.
Janine said it was important to see Indigenous-led work for the Indigenous communities.
Getting people to talk about cultural safety and racism, and how it impacts health outcomes, has been huge step.
“It’s my honour and my obligation to continue that work,” she said.
“I don’t think that my work will ever be done… Looking down the barrel of what statistics say, I haven’t got much time left, but the ultimate goal is to not leave work to the next generation.”
Janine is also proud to have been a mentor and inspirations to others over the years.
She moved to Gisborne about three years ago for the region’s diversity and natural beauty.
“Macedon Ranges felt right to be on that country – my spirit and soul told me it was definitely the place for me,” she said.