Brothers combine to improve Indigenous health outcomes

15 March 2021

Two Indigenous brothers set to study medicine at UQ will draw on their cultural knowledge and life experiences with one shared goal – improving health outcomes in their communities.

- By Joel Gould

Brothers Injarra and Unngoorra Harbour, who are both set to study medicine at UQ.

Unngoorra Harbour, 22, completed a Bachelor of Biomedical Science at QUT before starting his post-graduate Doctor of Medicine degree at UQ this year.

His 17-year-old brother Injarra Harbour, who received his QTAC provisional entry offer to study medicine in January, began his Bachelor of Biomedical Science degree at UQ in February. He will transfer into the postgraduate program and commence his Doctor of Medicine degree in 2023 or 2024.

Both brothers are motivated by their own life journeys to make a difference in their community.

“Our family doesn’t have a medical background but our culture is very important to us, and we are aware of the issues our people face,” Unngoorra said.

“We’ve experienced those issues. We’ve attended way too many funerals at a young age and have lost close family members way too early from chronic conditions.

“We’ve grown up learning from the experiences of our elders and, after speaking with them, we've realised that improving Indigenous health is a good starting point.”

The brothers are proud Warluwarra, Yirendali, Eastern Arrernte and Alyawarre descendants, and grew up in North West Queensland where there are few Indigenous doctors.

"After listening to the community elders, it seemed some health professionals lacked understanding, which resulted in discomfort and insecurity among our people when navigating the health system," Unngoorra said.

Injarra, who was school captain at St Joseph’s Nudgee College in 2020, said growing up in rural Queensland helped him understand how the health system works in regional areas. He hopes this knowledge will help him to advise on future health policy and to interact with patients.

“From a young age, I always knew that I wanted to help people. Once my older brother began his journey to becoming a medical doctor, it refined my views and what I wanted to achieve.

“I'm grateful for his support, and his leadership has influenced me greatly.”

Like his older brother, Injarra said improving Indigenous health and life expectancy was important to him.

“I have been fortunate enough to experience first-hand how culture holds communities together,” he said.

“Unfortunately, illness and disease are ravaging Indigenous communities and we are dying at alarming rates – not only at high frequencies but often at a very young age.

“Our elders harbour so much culture, knowledge and wisdom, but because they are dying at such a young age, the structure and leadership within our communities is diluting.

“I think that many of the social and political issues that Indigenous people face could be a result of the shorter life expectancy of our elders.”

The brothers are currently living together in Brisbane’s north, but plan to return to their community after graduation.

“The plan is to play a role in making our community a place for Indigenous people to access healthcare and achieve healthy outcomes,” Unngoorra said.

“My brother has always looked up to me and it’s great to go down the same pathway together. I will be a few years ahead of him, so I will hopefully be able to give him tips for when he begins his medical degree.”

- This article was originally published in UQ Contact Magazine.