Because of her, we can: Perth nurse fights back against racism to take out national prize

Gail Yarran was awarded the 2018 Nurse of the Year award from HESTA. Photo: Andrew Ritchie
Gail Yarran was awarded the 2018 Nurse of the Year award from HESTA. Photo: Andrew Ritchie

EIGHT-year-old Gail Yarran was told she could never be a nurse because of her skin colour.

She went on to graduate from university with a Bachelor of Science, become a registered nurse, and in May was awarded national HESTA Nurse of the Year.

Ms Yarran has spent over 50 years advocating for better health care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across WA; she is on the King Edward Memorial Hospital (KEMH) Community Advisory Council and works in maternal and child health at Derbarl Yerrigan in East Perth.

The Noongar woman from the Whadjuk and Ballardong people grew up in Quairading as one of nine children.

“When I was at school as a primary kid, the teacher said ‘put up your hand everyone and tell me what you want to be when you leave school’,” Ms Yarran said.

“They went all around the room and came to me, everybody wasn’t paying too much attention to me – ‘Gail Yarran, what would you like to be?’

“‘I want to be a nurse,’ and the whole class laughed.

“‘You can’t be a nurse, you’re only a Noongar girl.’”

Ms Yarran started her training in 1970 as an enrolled nurse in Manjimup, before moving to work in the big city.

She went to James Cook University in Townsville and got a degree in public health, moved back to Perth to do a nursing degree at Curtin University, and later attended Edith Cowan University to study midwifery.

Ms Yarran will be attending a number of NAIDOC Week events this week.

This week’s theme ‘Because of her, we can’ had a special meaning to Ms Yarran.

“My family thinks of me, and that’s okay, but I think of my mum – she’s inspired me, and because of her, I can,” Ms Yarran said.

“She was there the day I started my training, and she’s still with me here.”

Unknown to Ms Yarran at the time, her mum, family, friends and co-workers were able to watch her receive her nursing award live online.

“I couldn’t have wished for anything to beat that,” she said.

Ms Yarran said there were lots of things to do in the future, including helping her mob with her advisory council work, and speaking out about racism.

“There’s a lot of people who have been in situations with racism, but nobody talks about it, it’s hushed up,” she said.

“Maybe I was like that 20 years ago, but now I can tell my story, a little bit more and a little bit more.”