For 15 years, expectant mothers in Bourke have had to travel off-country to give birth.
(min cost $8)
Login or signup to continue reading
But an award-nominated initiative is helping young Indigenous families stay culturally connected to country.
Pat Canty, who manages Aboriginal partnerships at the Western NSW Local Health District (WNSWLHD), said the Welcome Baby Back to Bourke ceremony started in 2021 as a response to concerns about cultural disconnect from country after the closure of Bourke's maternity service.
In only three years, the ceremony has already welcomed 97 babies and 137 older children.
"[The ceremony] is incredibly important for our babies, especially for Aboriginal babies, as they can be born away from Bourke and that can impact their cultural ties to the land," Ms Canty said.
"Introducing our babies to the community is a traditional practice that has been implemented through generations and it dates back thousands of years.
"By having the Welcome Baby Back to Country, it just gives our kids and babies a sense of identity and belonging."
Due to a shortage of midwives, the WNSWLHD suspended Bourke's maternity unit 15 years ago and it eventually closed for good. Since then, expectant mothers from Bourke have had to travel to Dubbo and Orange to give birth.
The ceremony is held annually and open to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous babies up to two years old from Bourke and surrounding villages.
It includes a traditional welcome followed by a formal ceremony facilitated by Aboriginal Elders.
"I see it as encouraging Aboriginal children to connect to their culture and non-Indigenous children to understand our culture," Aboriginal health worker Kelly Leinesch said.
During the first ceremony in 2021, 32 babies were welcomed at the ceremony and this number increased to 35 the following year.
A special ceremony was also held where 137 older children and youth between the ages of three and 21 years were welcomed to Bourke
The 2023 ceremony was held on Tuesday, September 26 and 30 babies were welcomed.
"Having everyone here on the day and everybody mingling and yarning - those small things mean a really big thing to our community," Ms Canty said.
The Welcome Baby Back to Bourke ceremony team is among the 36 finalists of the NSW Health Awards. Now in its 25th year, the awards recognise programs that contribute to the wellbeing of patients and the community.
WNSWLHD chief executive Mark Spittal said the Welcome Baby Back to Bourke team were "highly deserving" local finalists for the awards.
NSW Health secretary Susan Pearce extended her congratulations to this year's finalists.
"These awards recognise our amazing staff and volunteers across the health system," Ms Pearce said.
"I continue to be in awe of the achievements of NSW Health staff, who display such incredible innovation and compassion as they care for their communities.
"I congratulate the finalists, but I also want to acknowledge the vital work being done across the system every day, by doctors, nurses, allied health, volunteers and all other support staff."
Finalists and winners will be celebrated at the NSW Health Awards ceremony, which will be held on Tuesday, October 24 at the Sydney International Convention Centre.
Reading this on mobile web? Download our news app. It's faster, easier to read and we'll send you alerts for breaking news as it happens. Download in the Apple Store or Google Play.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.