Yued Whadjuk woman Danielle Headland is hoping to inspire Aboriginal children to get excited about STEM and set goals outside their comfort zone.

Headland is one of several Aboriginal medical researchers working for the Telethon Kids Institute, and she says it’s often fear that keeps us from following our dreams.

“A lot of the time when we want to do stuff we’ll be like, ‘Oh no, that’s shame — I don’t want to do that because I’ll be on my own’,” Headland told NIT.

“Don’t be shame to take up these opportunities.”

A high achiever, Headland has worked in several fields of Aboriginal health research and currently chairs the Telethon Kids Institute’s Aboriginal Staff Network.

At the moment Headland is working on a project researching hearing issues in Aboriginal children and working to expand the Institute’s ear health clinic.

Her role involves immense community engagement, and Headland regularly works on the ground to check hearing in babies all the way up to older children.

The Telethon Kids Institute wants to tackle the issue early, finding that almost 50 per cent of Indigenous children go on to have quite serious ear health problems.

The project aims to provide continuity of care, a factor that Headland said is often missing in Aboriginal health.

“The great thing about this program is it’s not just research, we’re also hoping to provide a service, which isn’t something that would traditionally happen with a research institute,” she said.

“We don’t want to have a great program and then not be able to do it anymore.”

The clinic is the first stage of the program, and Headland says the project will be moving towards lab work in the future. Researchers hope to isolate what is causing the high rates of poor ear health in Indigenous communities.

Headland has been working at the Telethon Kids Institute since 2018, studying various aspects of Aboriginal health.

She graduated from her undergraduate degree in 2018 as a mature age student, after undertaking part time study for 11 years.

A period of bereavement put the brakes on her studies, but Headland said taking the time to recover allowed her to come back stronger.

“Just day-to-day stuff becomes difficult; keeping healthy eating and other stuff becomes quite challenging,” she said.

“You aren’t really worried about study or your job. You know it’s a priority, and it’s there, but right now, this grief is the priority.

“But if you give yourself enough time, you can get back on it — I’m really glad I never gave up.”

Mentoring and networking are close to Headland’s heart. She believes collaboration and connection are key, and she actively seeks more senior people as mentors.

“For me half of the value is in the yarn,” she said.

“It’s not even that they told me about an opportunity or taught me a skill, some people do inspire you just from what the words they say.

“I find that just having a cuppa and then having a yarn with that person — it might not be a big deal but a few years down the track, there might be something that they said that day that I’ll keep with me.”

Headland has a passion for young people; she hopes to become a high school mentor through the Aurora Education Foundation and volunteers at the Telethon Kids Institute’s Discovery Centre.

“[I want to] take the mentoring thing seriously, because I really believe in it. It’s not just teaching someone a skill, that’s not what mentoring is for me,” she said.

Headland likens the Discovery Centre to WA’s interactive science museum SciTech.

The Centre gives children the opportunity to see what lab work is like, and runs activities like extracting DNA from strawberries, and demonstrating with slime how bacteria can infect the ear canal.

Headland said she hopes to be an example of what an Aboriginal person can do.

“I think the difficulty with our mob is that sometimes they find it really difficult [to achieve], whether that’s because they’re lacking inspiration or don’t have support,” she said

“It takes a lot of courage to do something a bit different, to stand up and make a decision that you’re wanting to go to uni one day, or leave the country and move to the city.

“I think if you can help someone or show them that I did that too, and even though it seems scary, it’s okay, you can do it.”

By Sarah Smit