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2018 Australian of the Year exhibition

Dr Tracy Westerman


2018 Australian of the Year for Western Australia


Psychologist Dr Tracy Westerman is a trailblazer in the field of Aboriginal mental health, developing a series of psychological tests to identify Aboriginal people at risk of suicide and mental illness. Tracy has trained more than 22,000 clinicians and professionals in culturally appropriate psychological approaches, and her methods have been adopted internationally.

Pilbara dirt and citizenship certificate

Dr Tracy Westerman is in the business of changing minds. Her work has shifted the way practitioners and clinicians approach mental health assessments in Indigenous communities. Her focus on a shared language enables individuals from different worlds to communicate more easily across cultural boundaries.

This bottle contains dirt from the Pilbara region of Western Australia where Tracy, a proud Njamal woman, grew up. It has travelled with her for years – a little piece of country, her spiritual home. The certificate also speaks directly to her family history.

1964 ‘Certificate of Citizenship’, on loan from Tracy Westerman.


Bottle of Pilbara dirt, on loan from Tracy Westerman.

My mother’s certificate

‘My mother, Mavis Westerman, was granted this certificate by attending Port Hedland court in 1964. It was a requirement of Aboriginal people under the Western Australian Natives (Citizenship Rights) Act of 1944. To be eligible you had to prove you had severed ties with Aboriginal family, were free of disease, could speak English and were “civilized” in your behaviour. The government actively sought to assimilate Aboriginal people into white culture.’

Aiming high

‘Working in Indigenous mental health and suicide prevention I have seen the impacts of a self-fulfilling prophecy on my people. My mother was not a citizen of her own country, classified as flora and fauna, excluded from education. In one generation her child has completed a PhD in psychology. Anything is possible.’

Observing protocols

‘We need to ensure that people working with Indigenous communities on issues of mental ill health go through the appropriate protocols, respect the role culture and traditional healing play. It is important that the risk factors are identified and that therapies and counselling skills are adapted to specific cultures.’

This exhibition was developed by the National Museum of Australia in collaboration with the National Australia Day Council. Portrait images courtesy National Australia Day Council.


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