Skip to content
Ms Gracelyn Smallwood
AO, MSc, RN
Ms Gracelyn Smallwood has been a tireless advocate for improved outcomes in Indigenous Health for over forty years. Since qualifying as a registered nurse - one of the few employment options open to Aboriginal women in Townsville in the early 1970s - Gracelyn has championed the improvement of health, in particular Indigenous Health and HIV- AIDS prevention and has gained national and international recognition in both mainstream and cultural public health spheres.
Gracelyn grew up on the fringes of Townsville with little opportunity but much support to complete her education. In 1972 Gracelyn completed her nurse training at Townsville General Hospital, followed by a post-graduate degree in midwifery and a Diploma in Mental Health.
Gracelyn was one of the founders, and the first registered nurse to work at the Townsville Aboriginal and Islanders' Health Service, working for a year in a voluntary capacity. The following year Gracelyn received an Aboriginal Overseas Study Award in which she studied cross-cultural comparative health of Maori and First Nations in New Mexico and Arizona, and then Polynesian disadvantage in Hawaii.
Gracelyn has worked on the National Trachoma and Eye Health Program in remote communities with the late Fred Hollows, been Director of the Hetti Perkins Nursing Home in Alice Springs, and practised remote nursing in Western Australian, South Australian, northern Territory and Queensland communities. She was part of the 'Barefoot Doctor Scheme' practicing primary and preventative health in Inner Mongolia, and comparing health systems in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou with the Australia-China Council.
Gracelyn has lectured in cross-cultural studies at the East-West Centre in Hawaii and was Associate Professor and Director of the University of Southern Queensland's Kumbari/Ngurpai Lag Higher Education Centre for Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders from 1995 to 1999. She has lectured at Thursday Island, the University of Honolulu, and participated as a speaker at a W.H.O conference in public health.
The emergence of HIV-AIDS as a threat to Australians was met decisively by the Australian government, but education campaigns of Grim Reapers were alien to Indigenous communities. Gracelyn was co-ordinator of the outstanding 'Condoman' HIV-AIDS prevention campaign. Condoman is now a mainstream campaign in the fight against the spread of HIV-AIDS. Gracelyn was appointed as consultant in AIDS prevention to the WHO, and received a scholarship to study for Masters in Science in AIDS education at James Cook University. She toured remote communities assessing and giving HIV-AIDS education.
Gracelyn was appointed as Special Advisor on Aboriginal Health to Queensland Health Minister Ken McElliot, and as consultant in to the Federal Health Minister Brian Howe on Domestic and Family Violence. In 1997 she was invited to South Africa by President Nelson Mandela and conducted a series of lectures on HIV-AIDS.
Gracelyn was awarded Queensland Aboriginal of the Year in 1986; an Order of Australia medal in 1992 for service to public health, particularly HIV-AIDS education; and in 1994 was the first woman, Indigenous person and non-paediatrician to receive the Henry Kemp Memorial Award at the International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect.
Gracelyn currently works at the largely Indigenous Cleveland Youth Detention Centre as nurse and mentor, and at Townsville Hospital as a nurse and midwife. She is an Associate Professor and Indigenous Advisor to the Vice-Chancellor at James Cook University and has been a driving person behind James Cook University's progressive Reconciliation Statement.