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Self-determination central message in keynote speech from nation’s first Indigenous ophthalmologist

Australia’s first Indigenous ophthalmologist has reiterated the critical importance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people being central to solving the disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people’s eye health, in an annual address hosted by Vision 2020 Australia.

Delivering the annual Barry Jones Vision Oration, Associate Professor Kris Rallah-Baker, a proud Yuggera and Biri-Gubba man, spoke about the goal of developing confidence and capacity among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to “realise the ability of people to determine their own futures”.

Due to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, Rallah-Baker’s oration was released as a pre-recorded video on 8 December and is available here.

Rallah-Baker is one of the founding members of the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association, a board director of the Royal Flying Doctors Service, technical advisor to the Fred Hollows Foundation and chair of the Vision 2020 Australia Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Committee. He runs a private ophthalmology service at Noosa Hospital.

In his speech, Rallah-Baker noted that preventing vision loss and restoring sight is important for the impact it can have on the ongoing vitality of Aboriginal and Torres Strait culture, enabling the ability to “pass on and transmit ancient cultures” and maintain the “endearing connection with country and with the eons of history that came before”.

He also wants to see more Indigenous eyecare professionals in the workforce.

“I’m proud to say that as of next year, we will have one Aboriginal [ophthalmology] trainee and one Torres Strait Islander trainee in the [RANZCO] college, and they’ll be the first Indigenous trainees since I entered the college in 2009,” he said in his address.

“In the not too distant future, we will have more than just one Indigenous ophthalmologist in this country, which is extremely exciting. But also it’s about increasing the numbers of Indigenous optometrists. And I work very, very closely with one of the universities in Brisbane on a project to do that, as well as increasing the number of healthcare workers and nurses and associated workforce to improve the number of Indigenous people in the eye health sector.”

Vison 2020 Australia established the Barry Jones Vision Oration in 2020 in honour of its inaugural chair, Professor Barry Jones AC, who has been a long-standing supporter of the eye health and vision care sector. He continues to support the sector in his role as a Patron of Vision 2020 Australia.

Speaking at the conclusion of the 2021 oration, Jones described Rallah-Baker as a “persuasive advocate” and welcomed his leadership in the sector.

Rallah-Baker’s keynote speech was the second Barry Jones Vision Oration; ophthalmologist Dr James Muecke delivered the inaugural Barry Jones Vision address to an online audience in October last year.

More reading

Vision 2020 Australia sets sights on future goals at 21st birthday

Eye surgeon James Muecke named Australian of the Year

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