NT’s largest Aboriginal community, Maningrida, takes control of local health service – ABC News

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The Northern Territory’s largest remote community has taken full control of its health service after 45 years under government oversight.

The new Mala’la Health Service Aboriginal Corporation will oversee primary health care in Maningrida — also known as Manayingkarírra — and its surrounding homelands, which have about 3,500 residents.

Mala’la Health chairman Charlie Gunabarra said there had been too many recent deaths and he hoped locally focused and culturally appropriate care would help change this pattern.

“We’re celebrating a special day. It took us a long, long time,” Mr Gunabarra told a large crowd at the handover ceremony.

“Many people from homelands passed away, I’ve seen many, many friends passing on — now something has changed.”

Mr Gunabarra said the word Mala’la described the mangroves that line the nearby Arnhem Land coast and river estuaries.

“The roots of that mangrove represents many stories, culture, the land we’re sitting on,” he said.

A group dances with one man clapping sticks at a ceremony at the Maningrida health clinic.
Maningrida residents say they have waited at least 20 years to take control of their health service.(

ABC News: Felicity James

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Mala’la Health chief executive Ray Matthews said the community first pushed for the transition decades ago but there was a lack of support from “some quarters”.

He said the community’s Aboriginal corporation also had to overcome some organisational difficulties.

“There wasn’t funding available, government principles often didn’t align with what we wanted to do, there was an element of ambivalence,” he said.

“Years and years of getting things together, working tirelessly with the board of management, the wider community, the Top End Health Service and the Commonwealth.”

Mr Matthews said the Maningrida health clinic had around 40,000 client contacts last year and was reputed to be “the busiest in the Territory”.

A patient receives a blood pressure test at the Maningrida health clinic.
The Manayingkarirra Primary Health Centre in Maningrida is now in Aboriginal hands.(

ABC News: Felicity James

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The ceremony marked the last stage of the Mala’la Health transition, with funding for 10 nurses to oversee acute and emergency care finalised in February.

Primary health care programs for outstations, men’s health, children’s health and rheumatic heart disease have been under community control since 2019 and remaining programs were handed over last year.

The community also took control of managing its local morgue in February.

“We’re actually looking at upgrading that in the future.”

In a video message during the ceremony, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt hailed a “wonderful day for Maningrida” and said he hoped the shift would inspire future Aboriginal doctors, nurses and health care workers.

Before the 2016 NT election, Labor promised it would give remote community residents more control over decision-making and service delivery.

So far, only a handful of clinics have fully transitioned from NT Health Department oversight to a community-managed model.

Members of the Maningrida community sit on the ground in the town's streets.
The Arnhem Land community is situated about 500 kilometres east of Darwin.(

ABC News: Felicity James

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Miwatj Health Aboriginal Corporation took control of two health clinics in the small Arnhem Land communities of Ramingining and Gapuwiyak in 2018.

Other partially transitioned services include Danila Dilba’s youth justice health program at the Don Dale detention centre and Red Lili Health’s oversight of some primary health care programs at Jabiru.

NT Health Minister Natasha Fyles said there were other clinics “in the pipeline” but none confirmed at this stage.

“Mala’la took on a lot of leadership and put in place the structures around their board,” Ms Fyles said.

“It’s not just something you can say and it will happen, it is a long road.”

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