Helen Milroy isn’t your average children’s author. Not only was she the first Aboriginal person in Australia to become a doctor, she’s also an illustrator, psychiatrist and university professor.
Helen is a descendant of the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia, and her first children’s book, Wombat, Mudlark and Other Stories, is a collection of traditional Indigenous teaching stories with accompanying illustrations.
Helen says storytelling is an ‘absolutely vital part of childhood’ that is paramount to children building good relationships as they grow up.
‘Storytelling gives children an increased vocabulary, teaches them necessary language skills and gives them the ability to understand more complex ideas and relationships.
‘It also gives them the important life skill of being able to tell a story and communicate with other people that way, which is a big part of human relationships.’
She says that for girls looking for a career in medicine, there’s much more support available now than there was when she was studying. ‘Be determined. Be courageous. Be bold. Make sure to surround yourself with people who support you and who don’t knock you down every time you try to rise up. Look for support from institutions and organisations, as well as from family and community.’
Helen also says that despite improvements, there’s still a distinct gender gap in society, ‘The issue here is that it’s not the kind of problem that can be solved in a day, it will take time before we have equity.’
Her creative side is apparent in the beautiful illustrations and stories in Wombat, Mudlark and Other Stories. But the big question is, with such a hectic schedule, how does she find time to write?
‘I write in spaces that I can’t utilise for anything else,’ she says. ‘I travel a lot, so I use all of those moments in time that I can’t devote to anything else to write or paint. Sometimes I’ll set aside a whole day at the weekend to be creative.
‘When you’re extremely busy and travelling a lot it’s almost impossible to bring an easel and paints along, so digital art platforms have been amazing in allowing me to still be creative on the move.’