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Caring for Mum on Country

Caring for Mum on Country is a participatory action research project working in collaboration with Yolŋu (Aboriginal) women in North East Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia

The Pandanus Childbirth Mat

Photograph: Pat Josse

Caring for Mum on Country

Nhaltjan limurr dhu djäka miyalkku galŋa-ŋonuŋgu limurruŋgiyingal wäŋaŋur

Caring for Mum on Country is a participatory-action-research project working in collaboration with Yolŋu (Aboriginal) women in North East Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, Australia. Our project is guided by best-practice ‘Birthing on Country’ RISE principles: Redesign health service; Invest in the maternal, newborn and child health workforce; Strengthen Indigenous families; and Embed Indigenous governance and control. 

Under senior Yolŋu leadership the project is engaging with women, Yolŋu Cultural Knowledge Authorities and other stakeholders to explore reproductive health. Our emphasis is on building capacity and mutual understanding through integrating Yolŋu and Western medical pregnancy and childbirth knowledge systems. We are using a decolonising research approach that seeks to privilege and embrace Yolŋu ways of knowing, being and doing. We have ethics clearance from the Charles Darwin University Human Research Ethics Committee (application # HI8031) and a Northern Land Council Research Permit.

Our three project objectives are:

  1. Develop  a community-based cohort of Indigenous doulas-childbirth companions who are able to strengthen community support systems and reinvigorate sociocultrual care practices.

  2. Explore strategies to increase reproductive health literacy at individual and community levels.

  3. Empower the community to participate and negotiate in the shaping of future reproductive healthcare that is healthy and culturally appropriate. This includes documenting local maternity care changes and future aspirations.


Djäkamirr training participants and trainers (L-R)- Associate Professsor Elaine Ḻäwurrpa Maypilama, Ms Helen Guyupul, Australian Doula College Director Ms Renee Adair, Ms Evelyn Djotja, Ms Dorothy Yungirrŋga, and Dr Sarah Ireland.

Photograph P.Josse.

Mums on Country, ABCSarah Ireland & Elaine Maypilama
00:00 / 13:23

Mums on Country Podcast, ABC

With Sarah Ireland & Elaine Maypilama

The NITV Podcast - Hopes for birthing ceSarah Ireland & Elaine Maypilama
00:00 / 13:59

The NITV Podcast - Hopes for birthing centre at Galiwinku Elcho Island NT

With Sarah Ireland & Elaine Maypilama

Organise a Djäkamirr video

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Charles Darwin University and the Australian Doula College have proudly partnered to deliver Yolŋu djäkamirr training in Galiwinku. A djäkamirr is an Indigenous Doula- childbirth companion. A Yolŋu djäkamirr is skilled in providing cultural, emotional and spiritual support to Yolŋu women during childbirth. They are like an escort but with so much more value!



The Caring for Mum on Country project is a collaboration between the Northern Institute and the Molly Wardaguga Research Centre, Charles Darwin University (CDU).  CDU has partnered with the Australian Doula College to pilot the delivery of childbirth companion training.

The role of a childbirth companion is being explored and developed through the Yolŋu cultural concept of being a caretaker- known in the locally dominant Djämbarrpuyŋu language as djäkamirr. Our innovative djäkamirr training is combining delivery of a Yolŋu knowledge curriculum, alongside the nationally accredited unit 'Promote Positive Birthing Outcomes'.  

doula college.png


Chief Investigators on the project are Associate Professor Elaine Ḻäwurrpa Maypilama; Dr Sarah Ireland; and Professor Ruth Wallace.

They are supported by skilled team including:

  • Ms Rachel Baker: Yolŋu Matha Interpretation and translation; and data analysis

  • Yolŋu Cultural Knowledge Teachers: Ms Evelyn Djotja, Ms Dorothy Yungirrŋga, Ms Helen Guyupul, Ms Duwalatji Garrawurra, and Ms Glenda Goŋdjälk.

  • Mr Patrick Josse: film and sound production; data collection and resource development.

  • The Research Reference Backbone Group - Marŋgithinyaraw Ŋaraka Ḏälkunhamirr Mala - hosted by Yalu Aboriginal Corporation.

"Being a researcher in the Northern Territory of Australia is one of the most unique opportunities that I can think of, I get to swap the office for being on country."

Dr Sarah Ireland talks about her work as a Medical Anthropologist



DJÄKAMIRR: caretaker of pregnancy and birth.

Classified: G. 41 mins. Released 2021.

Languages: Djämbarrpuyŋu & English

Best Indigenous Film - Fort Smith International Film Festival 2021

Gold Award - Spotlight Documentary Film Awards 2022

Best Feature - CKF International Film Festival October 2021

Official Selection - The Impact DOCS Awards 2022

Official Selection - Garifuna International Indigenous Film Festival 2021

Official Selection - 26th Red Nation International Film Festival 2021

Official Selection - 13th Native Women in Film & Television in all Media                                            Film Festival 2022

Ḻäwurrpa Maypilama - Co-Director & Co-Writer
Sarah Ireland - Co-Writer, Interviewer, Project Manager
Patrick Josse - Co-Director, Videography & Post-Production
Shellie Morris – Narration
Rachel Baker - Translation


News & Media


First Nations doulas: Training needs and industry support in the Top End, Northern Territory, Australia. Women and Birth, Available online 24 November 2022 

Ireland, S., Kildea, S., Roe, Y., Moore, S., & Adair, R. (2022)

Caring for Mum On Country: Exploring the transferability of the Birthing On Country RISE framework in a remote multilingual Northern Australian context. Women and Birth, 34(5): 487-492.

Ireland, S., Maypilama, E.L., Roe, Y., Lowell, A, & Kildea, S. (2020)
“We are sacred”: An intercultural and multilingual approach to understanding reproductive health literacy for Yolŋu girls and women in remote Northern Australia. Health Promotion Journal of Australia, 32(S1): 192-202.
Ireland, S. & Maypilama, E.L. (2020)

Indigenous Doulas: A literature review exploring their role and practice in western maternity care (2019). Midwifery, 75: 52-58.

Ireland, S. Montgomery-Andersen, R & Geraghty, S. (2019)

Caring for Mum on Country: A participatory-action-research project building capacity and reproductive health literacy. 
Darwin, NT: Charles Darwin University; 2018.


Ireland, S. & Wallace, R. (2018)

Indigenous Doula Workshop: Summary of industry scoping in the Northern Territory 30 November 2018. 
Darwin: Charles Darwin University; 2018.

Ireland, S. (2018)


The Pandanus Childbirth Mat, a metaphor that guides the Caring for Mum on Country project’s two-way decolonising approach in research, teaching and learning processes. Photograph P.Josse

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