• The current team at the Aboriginal Medical Service Redfern which has provided accessible health care since 1971. (Aboriginal Medical Service)Source: Aboriginal Medical Service
When the first Aboriginal Medical Service opened its doors in Redfern, Medicare did not yet exist and for many families living in the inner city it was the only affordable health care available.
Karina Marlow

6 Jul 2016 - 11:03 AM  UPDATED 6 Jul 2016 - 11:35 AM

What began as a ‘shop-front’ volunteer service in 1971 has become a model for community controlled health centres across Australia and continues to provide services to 55,000 patients a year.  

The centre was founded by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community activists led by ‘Mum Shirl’ Smith, Ken Brindle and Chicka and Elsa Dixon. Set up on land donated by the Catholic Church, the service was originally staffed by doctors, nurses, nuns and medical students.

Instrumental in setting up the clinic were Indigenous doctor Gordon Briscoe, Dr Ferry Grunseit and Dr Fred Hollows who were all seriously concerned about the availability of health care services to Aboriginal people living in and around Redfern.

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The service became so popular that the demand for quality health care outstripped the size of the clinic and within a year of opening Federal Government funding was granted to expand the service.

“Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experienced racism in the health system and wider community, and poverty was a major barrier to attending general practice or purchasing medicines,” said current National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) Chair Matthew Cooke.

“On behalf of the NACCHO Board and the 150 NACCHO members throughout Australia I thank the Redfern AMS for its 45 years of service and contribution to our Aboriginal community controlled health.”

The Redfern Aboriginal Medical Service now offers a multidisciplinary health service with a medical, eye and dental clinic, as well as public health and drug and alcohol outreach services.

They have also established links with local hospitals and specialists who provide bulk-billed services for patients and respond to urgent requests from AMS Redfern staff.

The community controlled health sector has also expanded with over 150 centres across urban, regional and remote Australia.