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Midwife graduate returns to paint Moorditj Yorga design

03/09/21. By Daniel Jauk. 5 min read.


Yorgas Barloonginy represents the transference and continuity of knowledge between generations of Aboriginal women since creation. Credit: Valerie Ah Chee, 2021.

Valerie Ah Chee was the only Aboriginal woman in her cohort. Now, she has returned to Curtin to foster a sense of belonging for other Aboriginal women by designing the artwork for the University’s Moorditj Yorga (‘strong woman’) Scholarship.

Valerie hadn’t always considered going to university but in 2011, just two years after the premature birth of her youngest son Raf, she took the plunge to study midwifery.

The time felt right for the then-41-year-old as her other children – Jordan, Brendon, Jakob, Callum and Truan – were getting older and didn’t require as much of her support.

“I thought it was time to do something for me. I remember the way the midwives cared for Raf and I wanted to become a midwife to help young Aboriginal mums.”

Studying at university was difficult at first. But over time, Valerie’s confidence and belief in herself grew.

“I didn’t have a science or maths brain at all. Being also quite introverted, it was difficult to ask pregnant women to let me support them. By the end [of the course], I was really enjoying providing continuity of care. I got 20 women to follow through on their antenatal and postnatal appointments and I was on-call for their births.

“If I can graduate from university, I truly believe anyone can do it.”

Valerie Ah Chee with husband Brendon Snr. on her graduation night (image: supplied).

Drawing on intergenerational strength

Valerie, who is also an accomplished artist, was commissioned this year by Curtin University to paint the artwork for the Moorditj Yorga Scholarship Program.

The scholarship awards an annual stipend of $10,000 for up to five years to mature-aged Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women aged 25 years or older. It includes structured support from a dedicated coordinator to help them feel more connected to the Centre for Aboriginal Studies and to the faculty delivering their course.

Valerie’s acrylic on canvas painting, titled Yorgas Barloonginy (Women Rising), draws on the collective strength of the Nyungar women in her own life.

“My biggest inspiration and role model is my mum, Dr Rosemary van den Berg, who was the first Nyungar woman to graduate with a PhD from Curtin. Mum’s strength, resilience and perseverance inspired me to start my own degree – and finish it.”

“The painting is about this intergenerational support. You see this knowledge going around in circles and back and forwards, which shows that our journey of learning is never ending.”

Alumni and Community Relations Manager Jysae Hooper says Valerie is the type of student Curtin would have supported with the scholarship had it been available when she enrolled.

“We are incredibly honoured that Valerie agreed to paint this artwork. She is absolutely committed to helping and empowering other women through her work and her art,” Jysae says.

The significance of the moorditj term

Moorditj is a common term that means ‘strong,’ ‘good,’ ‘solid’ or ‘healthy’ in the Nyungar language. Valerie often uses the term to describe members of her family.

“I call lots of strong Aboriginal women that [moorditj] all the time! I call my mum that, I call my sisters that, I call my nieces that. I’ve also called my sons that. Jordan’s got a physics degree, Brendon and Callum are playing AFL, Jakob and Truan are studying at uni, and Raf’s now studying in high school – I’m really proud of all my family for their resilience.”

Members of Valerie’s family have also called her a moorditj woman.

“Mum raised us to be strong and proud Aboriginal people, was always supportive of any path that we chose to take in life, and showed us what dedication and hard work can achieve,” says Valerie’s oldest son Jordan.

“She gave us anything and everything we needed to have successful and happy lives. Mum still is a big part of who I am, and I am very proud to call her my mother. I know she will be someone my own daughters will look up to as a strong Aboriginal woman.”

Valerie Ah Chee (left) with her family in their Kelmscott home several years ago (image: supplied).

Valerie’s journey since graduating

After graduating, Valerie worked in hospital care in Perth and Adelaide, and through a Rhodanthe Lipsett scholarship, had the opportunity to attend the 2017 International Confederation of Midwives Congress in Canada.

She is now a Senior Project Officer at Ngangk Yira (Research Centre for Aboriginal Health and Social Equity at Murdoch University) for Baby Coming You Ready?, an online assessment that evaluates and enhances the wellbeing of pregnant Aboriginal women.

Valerie’s dream is to establish culturally appropriate Aboriginal birthing centres in Western Australia to improve pregnancy and birth experiences.

“It’s about meeting a person’s needs, whether it’s needing their families with them, doing ceremonies around their health or choosing between a male or female doctor or nurse.

“Hopefully it’s something the community can get behind.”

Explore more information featured in this article

Moorditj Yorga Scholarship

Moorditj Yorga Scholarship

Support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, like Valerie, to enter and succeed at Curtin University so they can return to their communities as strong, qualified leaders and role models.

Connect with Midwifery graduates

Connect with Midwifery graduates

Want to connect with other midwifery graduates and friends? Find out more about our Nursing, Midwifery & Paramedicine Alumni Chapter.

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