Ironbark: Developing a Healthy Community Program for older Aboriginal people

Rona Mcniven, Aaron Simon, Roland Wilson, Adam Howie, Georgia Stewart, Tracey Ma, Norma Jean Turner, Sallie Cairnduff, julianne Coombs

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Issue addressed
Programs by, with and for Aboriginal older people must be culturally safe and relevant. Successful elements include being Aboriginal specific and group based. Co-design with Aboriginal people and stakeholders is essential. We describe the co-design process of developing the Ironbark: Healthy Community program.

Aboriginal ways of knowing, being and doing and yarning conversational methods guided the development process, during 2018. A desktop review provided details of current group characteristics and key community stakeholders. Stakeholder engagement regarding views about group operations, participants and benefits also occurred. Aboriginal Elders views of their groups were gathered through yarning circles in New South Wales (NSW). Grounded theory approach was used to ascertain key themes.

Initial engagement occurred with 13 different community stakeholders and organisations in three Australian states (NSW, South Australia (SA), Western Australia (WA)). Three yarning circles occurred with Elders from urban (N = 10), regional coastal (N = 10) and regional country (N = 4) groups. Six key themes were organised in three groups according to an Aboriginal ontology. 1. Knowing: groups provide opportunities to share knowledge and connect socially. Adequate program resourcing and sustainability are valued. 2. Being: groups strengthen culture, providing important social, emotional and other forms of support to age well. 3. Doing: previous program experiences inform perceptions for new program operations. Group venues and operational aspects should be culturally safe, acknowledging diversity among Elders, their preferences and community control. Themes were used to develop the program and its resource manual that were finalised with stakeholders, including steering committee approval.

Stakeholder feedback at multiple stages and Aboriginal Elders’ perspectives resulted in a new co-designed community program involving weekly yarning circles and social activities.

So what?: Co-design, guided by Aboriginal ways of knowing, being and doing, can develop programs relevant for Aboriginal people.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages6
JournalHealth Promotion Journal of Australia
Early online date11 Feb 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 11 Feb 2022


  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders
  • ageing
  • community-based intervention
  • older people
  • participatory action research
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders


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