The aim of the documentary Birth Rites was to place the issue of remote aboriginal birthing into the public arena for the first time. While the legislative and medical systems are well organised and able to articulate their arguments for the present medical system – the people most affected are not.
Therefore, to reveal the extent of the problem, the weighting of “voice” needed to be indigenous. There exists many complex logistical and medical arguments justifying the present birthing policies and conversely there are tragic and wretched stories of the circumstances of suffering as a result of the system. It was a clear choice not to polarise the issue or overload content. Instead the audience are given the chance to stand alongside the mothers and develop some empathy for them – while at the same time becoming aware of the dilemma for the medical staff, who know that the system has serious flaws beyond their influence.
The policy of not providing culturally appropriate birth services in remote Australia is counterproductive. There are negative consequences for aboriginal people – financial, personal, cultural and social – associated with evacuations to a centralised system. It was necessary to use the successful Canadian/Inuit model in the documentary to circumvent the usual argument of “its impossible”, when proposing change. Without this model which demonstrates the blending the medical and cultural, the documentary could have been categorised as “fringe” and not based in reality because of the prevalent opinion that the medical model is paramount and indigenous people need “expert others” to make decisions for their benefit.
There is significant research in Australian on indigenous topics such as preventative health strategies, empowerment, self-determination, the enormous cost of chronic health problems and social disadvantage etc. It was deliberate to only touch lightly on these areas and to focus on the women’s stories. I felt it more important to allow the audience a chance relate to the women on a personal basis and to keep the focus on the gap between what is happening with indigenous birth in Australia and what is possible.
Taking birth away from the family is a serious intrusion into the well being of any family and community and there are serious repercussions. Often, we do not have the opportunity to examine the incremental steps that eat away at the fabric of an indigenous society – the slow, long-term erosion caused by such birth policies.
There have been valiant attempts by individuals from the Australian indigenous communities and the medical system to improve the system but without unilateral government support nothing will change.
This documentary intends to stimulate discussion and increase public awareness in the hope that the political motivation for change will occur.
My thanks to everyone who has contributed to this documentary and thanks to the people who still care so much.
Jennifer Gherardi (Director)