Relatively few Indigenous Australians work as nurses, midwives, doctors or other health professionals yet they face the poorest health outcomes of any population group in Australia, with significantly reduced life expectancy. This paper places these two issues within their historical context tracing the history of nursing in Australia, from its earliest days when six nurses trained by Florence Nightingale arrived in the colony. It compares the training of non-Indigenous nurses and the emerging professionalisation of nursing with training received by ‘native nurses’ living on government-run settlements in Queensland. ‘Native nurses’ were trained to work under supervision of white nurses but confined to working with Indigenous patients on settlements and reserves rather than within the wider hospital system. This chapter argues that Australia differed from other British colonies in its treatment and recruitment of Indigenous nurses, by ignoring British recommendations to train them, and instead relying upon nurses brought in from overseas or recruited amongst the white settlers. This historical perspective helps to inform an understanding of the health issues that currently face Indigenous Australians.
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