Established in late March 2020, Gayaa Dhuwi (Proud Spirit) Australia is the new national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (Indigenous) social and emotional wellbeing, mental health and suicide prevention leadership body. It is governed and controlled by Indigenous experts and peak bodies working in these areas, promoting collective excellence in mental health care.
Professor Tom Calma AO
Professor Tom Calma AO is an Elder from the Kungarakan tribal group and a member of the Iwaidja tribal group. He has been involved in Indigenous affairs at a local, community, state, national and international level for 45 years.
From 1995-2002, Tom served as a senior Australian diplomat in India and Vietnam. He served as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner from 2004-2010; and as Race Discrimination Commissioner from 2004-2009, both roles within the Australian Human Rights Commission.
Tom has a special interest in Indigenous health, social and emotional wellbeing, mental health, suicide prevention, social determinants theory and empowerment programs. He is an international public speaker, as well as being at the forefront of research and research-translation into government policy, in these areas. In particular, Tom led the Close the Gap for Indigenous Health Equality Campaign (2006 on) and has held the role of National Coordinator Tackling Indigenous Smoking since 2010. He chaired the ministerial committee that developed the inaugural National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Strategy in 2013 and is currently Chair and Patron of the Poche Indigenous Health Network and a Chair and/or member of a number of other boards and committees across Australia.
Appointed in 2014 as Chancellor of the University of Canberra, Professor Calma is the first Indigenous male chancellor of an Australian university. He is currently also Professor of Practice (Indigenous Engagement) in the Faculty of Medicine and Health at the University of Sydney.
In 2012, Tom was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for distinguished service to the Indigenous community as an advocate for human rights and social justice through contributions to government policy and reform, and through his work in supporting cross cultural understanding. In 2013, Tom was named the ACT Australian of the Year for his service and commitment to the Indigenous community as an advocate for human rights and social justice.
The organisation’s Board comprises members from the following national Indigenous peak bodies and organisations:
Chair – Professor Helen Milroy
Helen Milroy is a descendant of the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia but was born and educated in Perth. Currently Helen is the Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Perth Children’s Hospital and University of Western Australia; Commissioner with the National Mental Health Commission and Honorary Research Fellow at the Telethon Kids Institute. Helen has been on state and national mental health and research advisory committees and boards with a particular focus on Indigenous mental health as well as the wellbeing of children. Helen was one of the inaugural members of the International Initiative in Mental Health Leadership Wharerata Group. From 2013-2017 Helen was a Commissioner for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. In 2019, Helen was appointed as a Commissioner with the Australian Football League.
Helen is a member of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Leadership in Mental Health.
Director – Ms Donna Murray
Donna is a proud descendant of the Wiradjuri and Wonnarua peoples with kinship and family connections around the Murrumbidgee River and the Hunter Valley, NSW respectively. Donna is the Chief Executive Officer and Company Secretary of Indigenous Allied Health Australia (IAHA), a national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander allied health peak organisation.
Donna provides strong strategic leadership across Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs and the wider health sector. Donna brings over 25 years’ experience in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership and governance, Indigenous health, community development and engagement. Donna is also a member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.
Donna is actively involved in the education sector as an Adjunct Senior Lecturer position with the Centre for Rural and Remote Health, James Cook University and an honorary position with the University of Technology Sydney, Faculty of Health. Donna also sits on several other Australian University Advisory and Governance Committees.
Donna works closely with key stakeholders and community participating on several national and state allied health and Indigenous health committees focused on workforce development, cultural safety and policy development. She is currently the Chairperson of the National Health Leadership Forum (the national representative health forum for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak bodies) and Chair of the Australian Government Implementation Plan Working Group for the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan 2013-23.
She has a genuine commitment to working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples through supporting their aspirations and self-determination. Donna is also committed to leading and driving change in systems to support the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as determined by them.
Director – Mr Rob McPhee
Rob’s people hail from Derby in the West Kimberley and the Pilbara region of WA. He has held a number of roles including a lecturer at Curtin University and the University of Western Australia and has worked as a senior adviser in community relations and Indigenous Affairs to the oil and gas industry. He is passionate about social justice for Indigenous people and currently co-chairs the Commonwealth funded Kimberley Aboriginal Suicide Prevention Trial Working Group.
Rob is Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Kimberly Aboriginal Medical Services (KAMS) based in Broome WA, which includes a number of regional Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services.
Director – Dr Mark Wenitong
Dr Mark Wenitong is from the Kabi Kabi tribal group of south Queensland. He is currently working as a Medical Advisor at the Apunipima Cape York Health Council in Cairns. As Medical Advisor, Mark’s role is to provide strategic leadership, research translation into practice, support and advice to the Board, CEO and senior management team.
Mark completed his degree in medicine at the Newcastle University Medical School in 1995 and was the third Aboriginal male to become a doctor. After his basic clinical training in Newcastle, Mark began his medical career working in community development with World Vision and also spent time working in Central Australia.
Mark has worked as Senior Medical Officer at Wuchopperen Health Services in Cairns for nine years; acting CEO of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation in primary health care on Oekusi during the East Timor conflict; and as Medical Advisor for the Office of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health in Canberra. Dr Wenitong is a past President and founder of the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association and is a member of several state and national advisory committees.
Mark is committed to improving the health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across Australia through community control. He is interested in primordial prevention, social and emotional well-being, early childhood, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander chronic disease, microbiome, epigenetics, refugee health and prison health.
Mark is a director of the National Indigenous Postvention Service.
Director - Professor Pat Dudgeon
Professor Pat Dudgeon is from the Bardi people of the Kimberly area in Western Australia. She is a psychologist and Fellow of the Australian Psychological Society. Pat is a Professor and Poche Research Fellow at the School of Indigenous Studies at the University of Western Australia in Perth, Western Australia.
Pat’s areas of research include Indigenous social and emotional wellbeing and suicide prevention. Amongst her many commitments, she is a former Commissioner of the Australian National Mental Health Commission (completed 5 year term July 2017), inaugural chair and now member of the Australian Indigenous Psychologist’s Association, former chair and now member of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Leaders Mental Health, and co-chair of the ministerial Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Advisory Group.
Pat is the director of the Centre for Best Practice in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention and is the lead Chief Investigator of a Million Minds Research Fund Grant: Transforming Indigenous Mental Health and Wellbeing.
Director – Ms Monica Barolits-McCabe
Monica is a Kungarakan woman from Darwin and is the current CEO of The Australian Indigenous Doctors Association (AIDA).
Monica has a Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Canberra, and has extensive accounting, policy and management experience in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health. Her previous roles include Corporate Services Manager, Danila Dilba Aboriginal Medical Service; Business Development Manager, Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory; and Assistant Director with the Commonwealth Department of Health. Her most recent role was Manager of Flinders University Northern Territory.
Monica has worked in a wide range of roles with the police, health services, and the Department of Health, but when she recognised the impact of the shortage of Indigenous doctors in holding back treatment and health improvement, she chose to join the Flinders University Northern Territory Medical Program in 2013, determined to make a difference.
Joining AIDA as the CEO was a natural and logical progression in following her career goals in making a difference to Indigenous health outcomes in Australia.
Director – Ms Vanessa Edwige
Vanessa Edwige is a Ngarabal woman from Emmaville, NSW. Vanessa is a registered psychologist and the Chair of the Australian Indigenous Psychologists Association.
Vanessa has worked in Redfern, NSW for the last 23 years working predominantly with Aboriginal children, young people, families and community providing culturally responsive psychological support for adverse childhood experiences, intergenerational trauma and supporting cultural resilience.
Vanessa currently works as a practicing psychologist with a particular emphasis on conducting assessments and writing reports for people facing or involved in the justice system. Vanessa has worked as a senior psychologist for the NSW Department of Education, a practising psychologist on the dual diagnosis team for Weave Youth and Community Services, a consultant and trainer for the NSW Institute of Psychiatry, NSW Co-ordinator for Aboriginal victims of crime with the NSW Attorney General’s Department and as the Senior Researcher for the NSW Aboriginal Child Sexual assault report with NSW Attorney Generals Department.
Vanessa is a member of the independent advisory panel for the NSW Public Defenders Bugmy Bar Book project and the Bugmy Justice Project with Deadly Connections.
Our Chief Executive Officer
Mr Tom Brideson
Tom is a Kamilaroi/Gomeroi man born in Gunnedah north-west NSW and a member of the Red Chief Local Aboriginal Land Council.
In April 2020, Tom was appointed Chief Executive Officer of Gayaa Dhuwi (Proud Spirit) Australia – the culmination of more than 25-years’ work in Indigenous mental health and health policy; social and emotional wellbeing; clinical mental health care; suicide prevention; education and mental health leadership.
Between 2007 and 2020, Tom was the State-wide Coordinator for the NSW Aboriginal Mental Health Workforce Program, a ground-breaking program that has embedded a new discipline into the mental health space in NSW. This Program uses a traineeship model for Indigenous students to undertake a 3-year program of placed-based workplace training alongside a tertiary degree obtained through Charles Sturt University’s Bachelor of Health Science (Mental Health).
Tom sits on multiple committees under the Fifth National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan to improve the health and mental health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and holds the following positions:
- Chair, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Leadership in Mental Health
- Co-Chair, National Mental Health Workforce Strategy Taskforce
- Co-Chair, Wharerata International Indigenous Mental Health Leadership Group
- Deputy Commissioner, Mental Health Commission of NSW
- Member, National Health Leadership Forum
- Member, Indigenous Allied Health Australia (IAHA) and recipient of an IAHA Lifetime Achievement Award
- Member, The Mental Health Services (TheMHS) Learning Network.
Tom has many published articles regarding the mental health and related area workforces and advocates for the broad emerging mental health professional workforces across all health and human services. Tom believes that to build solutions to the wellbeing and mental health challenges facing many Indigenous people in Australia, the country needs effective jurisdictional cooperation, an improved evidence base, and a fit for purpose workforce to meet their unique cultural and other needs.
He writes: ‘I look forward to the role of CEO and working with those that wish to genuinely walk with us on this journey to overcome the culture-blind approaches needed to address the mental health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’.