Growing up in an Aboriginal family in Perth in the ’60s and ’70s, Helen Milroy reflects that it was like living two worlds – an Aboriginal world at home and a Western world at school and trying to bridge the two worlds together and make sense of it.

But makes sense of it she did. Doing well at school and well supported at home by her mum and grandmother, Helen was able to follow her interest in health and her desire to make a difference and study at the UWA Medical School.

“It was so important we had our own medical school here. Certainly for people like me, who wouldn’t have been able to afford to travel, I wouldn’t have been able to do medicine if UWA hadn’t given me that opportunity.”

Helen Milroy, Australia's first Indigenous doctor.

Helen didn’t realise it at the time but when she graduated in 1983, she became Australia’s first Indigenous doctor.

“There weren’t any other Indigenous medical students, there was no-one really to give me any guidance from that perspective. I really just had to forge my own path.”

After finishing medical school, Helen worked for several years in general practice and also as a forensic medical officer in the Child Sexual Abuse Clinic at PMH.

“Seeing that children who were traumatised were not being dealt with well by the system; no-one understood what to do with them, so I was determined to get the training in order to do that and I did that.”

Helen then completed her training in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and is a highly regarded specialist in her field.

In 2013, Helen was appointed as one of six Commissioners to The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which is investigating how institutions like schools, churches, sports clubs and government organisations have responded to allegations and instances of child sexual abuse. The Royal Commission is about uncovering where systems have failed to protect children to make recommendation on how to improve laws, policies and practices. It can look at any private, public or non-government organisation that is, or was in the past, involved with children.

Since 2013, almost 6000 private sessions have been held and around 1500 people are currently waiting for a private session. Private sessions allowed survivors to share their stories in person with a Commissioner.

Helen is also Winthrop Professor at the University of Western Australia. She has served on State and national mental health advisory committees and boards with a particular focus on the wellbeing of children.

“What I’d really like is for Australia being the safest place to grow up.  We have a wonderful country here, we really do.”

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