A KELMSCOTT artist and midwife has donated a painting to Armadale Hospital’s maternity ward.
At 41, Valerie Ah Chee was raising six boys, including two AFL stars, when she decided to become a midwife.
A Nyoongar woman like her mother and grandmother before her, Mrs Ah Chee and her family moved to Kelmscott from Derby in 2000.
While volunteering for Minnawarra House she was asked to promote antenatal care to women at Boodjari yorgas, an Aboriginal women’s health service run out of Armadale Hospital.
“One of the midwives said ‘you’re really good at this, have you considered becoming a midwife because we need more Aboriginal women?’ ” she said.
She graduated from Curtin University with a Bachelors degree in 2015 and finished honing her clinical skills at Armadale this year.
Mrs Ah Chee said being a mother did not help her in her studies.
“I walked in there like, ‘I’ve had six kids, I know everything,’ but I had no idea about the emotional toll and empathy that’s required, plus the science and maths.”
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done – bringing up six kids was easy compared to that course.”
Mrs Ah Chee returned to art when she joined a mothers group.
“I did art in school, it was my favourite subject but I hadn’t done it in years,” she said.
Her teacher encouraged her to explore her Aboriginal heritage through her art.
“I began to tell my story as a woman and then other stories, of daughters and sisters and my Mum, who they were, going back generations,” she said.
She painted a family portrait for a co-worker and was soon taking commissions.
“I’d ask them their stories and try to put that onto canvas,” she said, “They’re always individual, we’ve all got a story to tell but also common things we share as women.”
BreastScreen WA commissioned Mrs Ah Chee to illustrate their pamphlet on women’s health.
She also designed the Guernsey for son Brendon’s AFL team Port Adelaide, for the 2014 indigenous round.
Despite being proud of all her sons’ achievements Mrs Ah Chee said it was more important they loved what they were doing.
“All that training and commitment, it was a proud moment for all of us to see them finally get what they wanted.”
Mrs Ah Chee said her parting gift to Armadale Hospital represented more than a painting.
“I was born at the old Armadale Hospital on Church Avenue, the only girl in a room full of boys – the story of my life,” she said
Her daughter and granddaughter were also born at Armadale.
“I thought it’d be nice for women to have something colourful instead of all that white, but also something that represents culture for Aboriginal women giving birth that says you’re not alone, there have been women like you here before you.”
“Having my painting hanging there, it’s like a continuous investment, a part of me into our daughters’ futures.”