Aboriginal men “yarn” about antenatal healthcare services (Australia)


A small Australian study has communicated the thoughts of Aboriginal men about antenatal care services. The study consisted of 10 conversations with men, in the form of a “yarn”, a culturally appropriate method of open-ended discussion and story-telling.

The study took place in Broome, a town of 16,000 people about 2000km north of Perth. Around 28% of the population is Aboriginal and, on average, this community experiences more social disadvantage and poorer health.

The researchers describe the Aboriginal experience thus:

“For Aboriginal people in Australia, their role as parents and caregivers has experienced significant and sustained disruption through colonisation, forced removal from cultural homelands, government policies of removing children and enduring policies of displacement and discrimination….It appears likely that the western shift from the father as the “moral teacher” and “disciplinarian” to the involved and nurturing “dad” has altered expectations for Aboriginal men about their role as contemporary and cultural fathers. Recent qualitative research findings have demonstrated that Aboriginal men aspire to assume responsibility for fatherhood early, embody the notion of complementary caregiver and promote cultural pride in their children.”

The researchers identified three key themes in their ‘yarns’ with the male participants:

  • A sense of responsibility to “be there” for their partner, providing support, financial stability and sometimes changing their own social and health behaviours to achieve that end.
  • Attendance at antenatal appointments, to show support for their partner, to get information and to feel fully involved. Around 2/3 of the men reported feeling supported in their engagement with clinic staff.
  • All participants reported multiple stressors during the pregnancy, for example, family issues, housing and money. Only one of the men was receiving formal help; the others reported help from family.

The researchers consider the particular issue of mental health support for Aboriginal men, given that this is not part of the ANC service at the moment – only mothers are screened for perinatal mental health disorders.

The researchers recommend a family system of antenatal care, co-designed with Aboriginal families. This could include male Aboriginal health workers embedded in the service to support males in the ANC period. In addition creating culturally specific programmes and resources inclusive of Aboriginal dads was identified as a priority.


Carlin E, Cox Z, Spry E, Monahan C, Marley JV & Atkinson D (2020), “When I got the news”: Aboriginal fathers in the Kimberley region yarning about their experience of the antenatal period, Health Promotion Journal of Australia

Header photo: Emma Carlin.