Free cultural shawls for Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander women to wear and keep have encouraged more women to undergo potentially lifesaving breast screening

Posted by VACCHO & BreastScreen Victoria Communications Teams on 8 October 2020

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Image credit (l-r): Charmaine Clarke, Georgie Taylor, Tanya Geier from Gunditjmara Aboriginal Cooperative


Free cultural shawls for Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander women to wear and keep have encouraged more women to undergo potentially lifesaving breast screening. 

The Beautiful Shawl Project is a collaborative, Community-led initiative that provides a safe and empowering breast screening experience for Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander women.

The project is captured in a powerful, short documentary, released to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October. 

Working with eight Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs) across the state and local Community artists, this project produced and provided customised screening shawls to Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander women that are culturally appropriate, familiar, and beautiful to wear during their screening.

The success of the project led to it being rolled out to other ACCO sites across Victoria.

Late last year, BreastScreen Victoria’s two mobile screening vans travelled to each Aboriginal community health hub to provide the free and accessible screens.

The experience was very positive with 82 per cent of women agreeing that the shawl made them feel culturally safe. 

And 95 per cent of women agreed that they felt more comfortable screening because the mobile screening service was located at their local Aboriginal health service.

The results have been impressive.

To date, more than 160 Aboriginal women have been screened, including more than 80 per cent of women who screened for the first time or had been overdue for their regular screen.

VACCHO Manager of public health and research Susan Forrester said the shawl project was the culmination of 18 months of hard work and planning between Breastscreen Victoria, the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO), the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS), and eight Aboriginal health organisations.

“The shawls have made a very strong impact both locally, and regionally,” Ms Forrester said.

“It’s something that’s vibrant, culturally driven with incredible artwork, and amazing stories, I think that has been the key.

“I think this model can be leant to refugee and migrant communities and other unscreened communities.

“And the model in a different adaption could even be leant to Aboriginal men’s health.”

BreastScreen Victoria’s CEO Terri Smith said: “Aboriginal women have told us the shawls provide a culturally inclusive and positive breast screening experience. It is important we can reduce barriers to screening wherever possible because early detection saves lives."

"We’re proud our mobile screening van is reaching communities across Victoria and look forward to welcoming more people to screen.”

The original shawl used in the project trial featured detailed artwork by respected Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta artist Lynnette Briggs. 

She was inspired by the many stories of women and their personal journeys they shared in yarning circles.

Other local Aboriginal artists were then asked to design shawls for each of their communities.

The Aboriginal Breast Screening Shawl Trial won a 2019 VicHealth Award in the category of Improving health equity. 

VACCHO and BreastScreen Victoria have released a short documentary about The Beautiful Shawl Project in partnership with Federation Square. 

This heart-warming 12-minute documentary follows this innovative project on Country, and captures the reactions and feelings of Communities, staff, and the clients. 

You can watch the documentary here.



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VACCHO is the leading advocate for the health of Aboriginal peoples in Victoria and a peak organisation to its membership of 32 ACCOs. VACCHO also works closely with partner organisations, Government, non-Government community sector organisations across Victoria and nationally.

BreastScreen Victoria aims to reduce the impact of a breast cancer diagnosis by ensuring the best health outcomes through early detection. 

We invite eligible Victorians aged 50−74 to have a free mammogram every two years as they are the group most at risk of developing the disease. 

Breast screens are with a female radiographer in a safe and friendly environment and take only 10 minutes to complete. Breast screens are for those with no symptoms and you do not need a doctor’s referral or Medicare card.