Amery, R1. and Wunungmurra, J.G2.

1Charles Darwin University, Darwin, Australia

2MJD Foundation, Darwin, Australia 


The cultural and linguistic diversity of Australia is one of our greatest assets. It will also be one of the biggest drivers of change for health professionals over the coming years. Providing allied health services that are responsive and appropriate to our increasingly diverse and changing population is a challenge we must overcome in order to provide effective services to all Australians.

In 2018, more than 300 different languages are spoken by Australians. Nearly 50% of Australians identify as first or second-generation migrants, and more than 25% of Australians speak more than one language. A significant part of our multicultural landscape is the rich and diverse cultures and languages of nearly 650,000 first Australians. English or Aboriginal English is a first language for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who live in urban or rural settings in Australia. However, many others living in more remote regions of Australia grow up speaking one or several Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander languages and acquire English as a last rather than a first language. Alongside linguistic difference comes different worldviews, and different ways of conceptualising meaning and transmitting knowledge.

Appropriately, cultural and linguistic differences in conceptualising and transmitting knowledge are also stimulating changes in the research landscape. Students and early career researchers face diverse and emerging methodologies, participatory research practices and partnerships that aim to improve culturally responsive research practice, particularly with Aboriginal and Torres strait Islander communities. But what does all of this look like in situ? And what relevance does it have for our clinical practice?

For the last two years, Rebecca (speech pathologist and PhD student) and Julie (Yolŋu Health and Community Worker and Co-Researcher) have worked together on a PhD communication research project with Yolŋu families from northeast Arnhem Land living with Machado-Joseph Disease. Together they will share some of their early experiences and learnings of working together, through language and worldview differences, and putting principles of culturally responsive research into practice.


Rebecca Amery
PhD Student | Speech Pathologist, Charles Sturt University

Rebecca Amery is a doctoral Candidate at Charles Darwin University (CDU). Her research aims to build understanding about communication difficulties for Yolŋu living with Machado Joseph Disease and their families, and to improve communication opportunities through the development and use of bilingual Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) systems.

Rebecca grew up in the Northern Territory, in Yirrkala, Arnhem Land and in Darwin. She completed a Bachelor of Speech Pathology at the University of Newcastle with Honours (Class I) in 2011. Rebecca started her PhD in partnership with the MJD Foundation in 2016 and is also enrolled in a Graduate Certificate of Yolŋu Studies at CDU.

Rebecca has a personal and professional interest in working in intercultural partnerships in varied community contexts, using AAC to improve communication access for people who experience communication vulnerability. Rebecca has practiced as a speech pathologist in early intervention, schools and adult contexts with culturally and linguistically diverse families in Darwin, Melbourne, Vietnam and Indonesia. Her work often involves the use of interpreters, cultural brokers and partnering with local staff to deliver speech pathology services, facilitate workshops and develop communication resources in languages other than English.


Julie Gungunbuy Wunungmurra
Yolgnu researcher

Julie Gungunbuy Wunungmurra has worked for the MJD Foundation as an Aboriginal Health Community Worker since 2013. Julie is the primary contact and support person for Yolŋu clients with MJD and their families in Darwin, Galiwin’ku and Yirrkala. Julie provides support to MJD Foundation community services, research and education programs and projects, and provides cultural advice and support, as well as translation and interpreter support with research, medical and genetic concepts. She has been the primary Yolŋu researcher for the Communication PhD project and is also involved in genetics and sleep research studies with the MJD Foundation.

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