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(L-R) Murray Smith, Lee Baumwol, Lyn Brodie attending the 2022
National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Eye Health Conference

More than 40 optometrists attended the 2022 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Eye Health Conference (NATSIEHC22) that took place on Larrakia country in Darwin from Tuesday 24 to Thursday 26 May.

Co-hosted by Indigenous Eye Health (IEH) at the University of Melbourne and Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory (AMSANT), the annual conference provided delegates with a great opportunity to come together to discuss ways to achieve equitable eye health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

National conferences for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander eye health sector have been held since 2017, making 2022 the sixth event. Over 220 delegates from all states and territories attended the event, including over 40 optometrists and Optometry Australia and state division staff.

The theme of the conference was ‘Our Vision in Our Hands’, establishing the importance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander determination of eye health and inviting consideration of the best approaches to close the gap for vision and end avoidable vision loss and blindness. It called for greater leadership and ownership of eye health by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people along with the shift in power that is necessary to produce improved outcomes. The conference was led by an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership group and the first day of the event provided opportunity for a First Nations only workshop on futures thinking – planning towards 2030 from an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspective.

Mitchell Anjou from Indigenous Eye Health (Associate Professor and Deputy Director) said he was delighted to see the growing involvement of optometrists in Indigenous eye health initiatives.

‘The First Nations leadership group for the conference put together an outstanding program of speakers and activities and we ‘white fella’ delegates were privileged to share the space and stories with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander colleagues. I was also delighted to see so many of my optometry colleagues in attendance,’ he said.

‘‘Our vision in our hands’ calls out for the significant shift in leadership and ownership of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander eye health necessary to end avoidable vision loss and blindness and optometry, optometrists and Optometry Australia are well positioned to act as effective allies in support and strengthening this transition of power.’

Optometry Australia was a supporting partner of the conference with Vision 2020 Australia and Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO). Representatives from Optometry Australia included CEO Lyn Brodie, General Manager – Member Support and Optometry Advancement Skye Cappuccio and Optometry Development Manager Ben Hamlyn.

Ben said the conference was an amazing event that brought together people who have all contributed to closing the gap for vision for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

‘It’s rare to bring all these groups together to talk through genuine improvements that can be made at a systemic level, a clinical level and at an individual patient level. The conference allowed this dialogue to take place, and allowed for each of us to learn from each other on how to improve health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

‘There were inspiring speakers from within the eye health sector, and also outside the sector too. With the majority of visual impairment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people being refractive error, it’s clear that optometry plays a vital role in helping to improve vision outcomes for this community.’

Optometry Australia also provided bursaries to members Alexandra Coffey and Eleanor Yang to attend

(L-R) Alexandra Coffey, Ben Hamlyn

Alexandra said it was a special event to be involved in, and it offered the opportunity to reflect on what she could do as an optometrist to support her First Nations colleagues and communities.

‘The vast majority of talks were led by our inspiring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander colleagues working in eye health. There was an emphasis on discussion and collaboration to work out how best to make change, which was so different to any clinical conference I have been involved in.

‘One particular highlight for me, and for many other delegates, was listening to Thomas Mayor, a Kaurareg Aboriginal and Kalkalgal, Erubamle Torres Strait Islander man. His presentation was so moving and inspiring, and was a timely reminder of the importance of the Uluru Statement from the Heart which he passionately campaigned for.’

Eleanor said the conference was a very helpful learning experience – from a clinical perspective, as well as from hearing the many incredible stories that were shared across the duration of the event.

‘It allowed me to think more about culturally safe practices. A key thing I took away from the conference was that in order to reduce the gap in vision for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, we need to show greater understanding, respect and dignity.

‘It was also wonderful to celebrate the achievements of what the other colleagues have done and the remarkable services that have been provided for Indigenous people, particularly in the remote communities. While some of the data are showing improvements, there is still a lot to do!

‘Attending the conference has definitely given me a new perspective on how optometrists can play a role in Indigenous eye health.’

Optometry Australia also backed Gunditjmara, Wotjobaluk, Ngarrindjeri and Buandig woman Kylie Clarke with a sponsorship grant to attend the conference as a future optometry student.

‘It was such an honour to connect with delegates at the 2022 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Eye Health Conference,’ Kylie said.

‘I appreciated the collaborations, services, initiatives and reforms across the Nations and felt empowered by the leadership of champions, especially our mob.

This experience has strengthened my career aspirations in optometry and broadened my understandings of the possibilities. 

Recognised for contributions to eye health

(L-R) Murray Smith, Mitchell Anjou, Lauren Hutchinson


The 2022 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Eye Health Awards were presented during the second day at the Conference Dinner.

Optometry Australia congratulates optometrists Mitchell Anjou, Lauren Hutchinson and Will Chin who were celebrated with the following awards in recognition for their work in improving eye care for First Nations people:

Contribution to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander eye health (Individual): Lauren Hutchinson. 

Allyship in contribution to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander eye health: Will Chin.

Special allyship award for contribution to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander eye health sector: Mitchell Anjou. 

Awards were also presented to the Orange Aboriginal Medical Service and the Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia for their contributions to Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander eye health.

Members of the Conference Leadership Group (L-R): Lesley Martin, Nicole Turner, Tania McLeod, Shaun Tatipata, Anne-Marie Banfield and Nick Wilson (missing from the photo Walter Bathern, Lauren Hutchinson, Tanya Morris, Makkaillah Ridgeway and Emma Robertson)


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Acknowledgement of Country

In the spirit of reconciliation Optometry Australia acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to their Elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.