Dr Alana Gall is a proud ‘Pakana’ Tasmanian Aboriginal woman whose ancestral heritage links to the north-east coast of Lutruwita (Tasmania), and more recently, the Bass Strait Islands of Cape Barren and Flinders Island. 

Alana has a background in nutritional medicine and has more than 10 years’ experience in research, research translation, community engagement, health education and clinical consultation. 

Alana earned her PhD from Charles Darwin University in 2022 for her thesis titled ‘Exploring Wellbeing from Indigenous perspectives’, which centres primarily on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ wellbeing but also includes a focus on the domains of wellbeing for Indigenous peoples in Canada, Aotearoa (New Zealand) and the United States.   

For Indigenous populations, many consider good health to be more than the absence of disease, and instead, embrace a holistic view of health and wellbeing. Alana’s research looked to address ways to measure wellbeing in Indigenous populations, as current measures are largely based on Western biomedical models of health.

Her findings are key in supporting numerous aspects of health and healthcare and need to be considered when developing individual healthcare plans, informing services, programs, and policies, that include or impact Indigenous peoples.

In her own words, Alana’s PhD journey has been an “unconventional” one. Her story told in the following Q&A format, is as inspiring, as it is emotionally powerful.    

When did you decide to embark on this path? 
“Back in 2008 when I was studying to be a Naturopath, I first learnt about health research and how to look at it with a critical lens from one of my lecturers. I really liked the idea of being able to help more than one person at a time, as my degree was clinically focussed working with one patient at a time. As I wasn’t able to continue my studies in Naturopathy due to a change in my financial circumstances, I decided I would try and get into this world of health research with the aim to do what I could to help my people.” 

What inspired you? 
“I was inspired to work in health research aimed at ‘closing the gap’ for my people after learning about just how significant this ‘gap’ actually was.” 

Where did the journey begin? 
“I first got a job at the Lowitja Institute, working as an administration assistant for a program manager that looked after funding for other projects. As my boss and I were located in Brisbane, and Lowitja was/is in Melbourne, we sat inside the offices of Menzies School of Health Research in Brisbane. It was here I met Jenny Brands, who offered me a position half-time admin, and half-time research assistant, only if I did a mini review for her of some of her authored papers. I passed the test and landed my first research role in 2011 at Menzies. It was from there that I caught the eye of Professor Gail Garvey, who then took me under her wing, supporting me through scholarships and part-time work to then be financially stable and able to gain a Bachelor of Health Science (Nutritional Medicine), a Masters by Research and now my PhD.” 

What obstacles did you face? 
“I didn’t finish grade 12 at high school as I didn’t see the point. My teachers were openly verbal about their distaste of me, as I was “just a dumb Aboriginal” so they didn’t see the point in helping me at school. I then married young, had my daughter, and was kicked out by my husband, so a single Mum, all by the age of 19. I went from job to job, as I had to be the bread winner for my daughter and I, so privileges like “choosing a career” were just a fantasy to me.” 

How did you navigate through? 
“I could not have made it to where I am without the support of my parents. They taught me to be resilient, stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves, work hard, and always be honest. These morals and their constant mental and physical support is what got me through. I also have a strong spiritual connection to the Creator, who guides me and keeps my spirit strong. Lastly, the support of other family, friends and eventually my supervisors have helped me to navigate different parts/times of my life.”

What kept you going? 
“My daughter and my connection to my Creator is what kept me going. Wanting to provide for my daughter so she did not feel like she went without as a child of a single Mum.”

What are you especially proud of? 
“I am most proud that despite all the racism, despite all the struggles, pain and heartache, that I have lived up to what my parents taught me and I have made them proud… I know they were proud of me no matter what, as that’s the kind of awesome they are, but I am especially proud that I have finally been able to be the person they believed I could be.” 

What are your plans for the future? 
“From here, I want to continue working in health research, with an ultimate aim of embedding holistic concepts of health the norm in Australia. Health equity is important, but in order to achieve true health, all aspects of life need to be in balance.” 

What advice would you give to others thinking of a similar career? 
“If you are considering doing a HDR, while it may put stars in your eyes getting a fancy big-wig supervisor, ensure you have minimum one supervisor who is able to actually help you with the small stuff – the stuff that you will struggle with, the stuff that makes you want to quit. A supervisor who has not long ago done their PhD so they know exactly what it is like and the support you need. Also, no matter where you are or what you are doing right now, if you want to be a researcher in ANY field, get curious and stay curious! Asking questions and trying to find the answers is what research is all about.” 
Alana joined Menzies in 2011 and completed her Masters by Research in 2018.

She is currently the Project Manager of the What Matters 2 Adults Study Implementation (WM2A-I) project, based at the University of Queensland.

We look forward to following Alana’s career, as she continues her work towards achieving better health through research.