An outspoken advocate for the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples since 1968, Gracelyn Smallwood grew up in Townsville in Queensland. When 90% of Australia voted yes in the 1967 referendum, the Townsville population had voted 90% no. Gracelyn grew up consciously determined that she would break through the barriers of racism.
Despite being treated as a second class citizen and very few careers being available to Aboriginal school leavers, Gracelyn was a high achiever. She trained to become a nurse and later completed a midwifery certificate.
Gracelyn’s vocation as a Registered Nurse and Midwife took her to remote areas of Australia with the Remote Emergency Nursing Service, delivering babies in Western Australia, Northern Territory and South Australia.
In collaboration with other health workers throughout Queensland, Gracelyn helped develop a series of culturally-appropriate media materials to raise awareness of HIV-AIDS, sexually transmitted infections, the harms of alcohol and drug abuse and domestic violence.
In 1986, Gracelyn received an Order of Australia medal for her service to public health. In 1997, she was special guest of President Nelson Mandela in South Africa where she conducted a series of lectures on HIV-AIDS in various townships.
Last year, Gracelyn was formally recognised for her contribution of 45 years to health and human rights advocacy. This year, she became a member of the Queensland Mental Health and Drug Advisory Council.