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Australian Midwifery History

Pregnancy, childbirth, motherhood, and midwifery have been happening on our country since time immemorial. The last 200 years have seen significant societal change in Australia, and the knowledge, tools and technology available to midwives has also brought about significant change to the profession.

But at its heart, midwifery is the same.

Midwives have always gone to extraordinary lengths to work ‘with woman’ and achieve the best possible outcome for her and her baby, and they still do today.

In December 2021, the ACM Australian Midwifery History Project Team launched the Australian Midwifery History website. Learn the histories of some of the incredible midwives helping women birth in this country, beginning thousands of years ago as well as the history of the Australian College of Midwives.


Hannah Jane ‘Grannie’ Watts outside Lynch Cottage, her home & private hospital in Melton Vic c.1910 © Watts, Burns, Tarleton & Hogg families

Hannah Jane ‘Grannie’ Watts outside Lynch Cottage, her home & private hospital in Melton Vic c.1910 © Watts, Burns, Tarleton & Hogg families

Birthing on Country

The main goal of the Birthing on Country (BoC) Project is to improve birth outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers and babies. The goal is to establish BoC models of maternity care, whether this be Aboriginal Midwifery Group Practices, birthing in hospital with a known Midwife or stand-alone Aboriginal birth centres. This can be achieved through collaboration with Community members, health services, health professionals and State and National Government.

Birthing on Country "…should be understood as a metaphor for the best start in life for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander babies and their families because it provides an integrated, holistic and culturally appropriate model of care; not only bio-physical outcomes … it’s much, much broader than just the labour and delivery … (it) deals with socio-cultural and spiritual risk that is not dealt with in the current systems.” -Birthing on Country Workshop Report 2013

In 2015, together with the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives (CATSINaM) and CRANAplus, ACM signed a joint position statement on “Birthing on Country” in support of establishing Birthing on Country models of care in Australia. The joint position statement took a heavy stance on providing continuity of care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers, increasing access for women in rural and remote locations, additional provisions in training Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander midwives and development and implementation of widespread cultural safety training for health professionals engaging with Aboriginal people. You can read the full statement here.

The Birthing on Country project was driven by ACM from 2017-2019 with a grant provided by Merk for Mothers and Merk Australia. The project raised the profile of Birthing on Country and several Birthing on Country trial sites and models were planned.

Upon completion of the project funding in 2019, leadership for Birthing on Country advocacy shifted from ACM to the newly established Molly Wardaguga Research Centre at Charles Darwin University. Dedicated to the late Molly Wardaguga, Burarra Elder, Aboriginal Midwife, Senior Aboriginal Health Worker and founding member of the Malabam Health Board in Maningrida, Arnhem Land, the centre honours Molly’s important contribution to the Australian discourse regarding the importance of Birthing on Country. You can read more about the centre here:

The Molly Wardaguga Research Centre is a key contributor to the BOOSt (Building On Our Strengths) project which has strong Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander governance, leadership and oversight. It is a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) funded partnership project.

The aim of the project is to implement and evaluate 'Birthing on Country' in urban (Queensland) and rural (New South Wales) settings. 

ACM has a FREE Birthing on Country e-Learning course for midwives.

PNG Midwifery Leadership Buddy Program

Maternal and Perinatal outcomes in PNG are amongst the worst in the world and there are currently not enough midwives. The Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) currently cited by the National Department of Health is 773 per 100,000 births, making it one of the highest in the world. In comparison, the rate in Australia in 2015 was 6 maternal deaths per 100,000 births.

The PNG Midwifery Society (PNGMS) identified the need for support and development in leadership both within the Society and across midwifery in PNG. In the past four years, more than 300 midwives have been educated in the four midwifery schools (accounting for about half of the current midwifery workforce in the whole country). Many of the midwives who have been educated are from rural areas and are going back to their communities. There is a need to provide professional support to these midwives through a buddy system in order that they remain in their roles and care the women and families in their community. This builds on their capacity and helps to ensure that the investment in this workforce is not wasted.

ACM, together with the Rotary Club of Morialta and the PNGMS launched the buddy program in 2018. Over the 3-year program, 6 midwife buddy pairs were to be formed and supported in each year. Two very successful workshops have been conducted, while the third has been placed on hold due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Australian and PNG Midwives volunteer their time to participate in the program and each participant is a member of their respective professional association. The buddy pairs receive training and support to build leadership capacity and have developed and maintained long-term professional relationships.

The Rotary Club of Morialta has secured funding for a three-year program. Make a Donation to support the longevity of the program here. ACM is committed to sustaining the program in the long term through the continued Tupela Twinning relationship.