Knowing when to listen

An image of Rhana Gelens, a speech and language pathologist in the Therapy Pro team

Rhana grew up in Cairns, without a connection or link to her Torres Strait Islander culture. Now older, and working as a speech and language pathologist for Therapy Pro in Townsville, Rhana is discovering more about what it means to be a descendant of First Nations people and how working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to preserve home languages is so important to language development in early childhood.


Oddly enough, my passion for working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians stems from my own disconnection from culture.

Despite not having strong, first-hand exposure to culture or identity, I still feel that I have a connection and a duty to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, their communication and swallowing outcomes and their general wellbeing.

I am very much invested in learning about the history, traditions, and the journey of our people – not only to grow as a person but as a health professional as well.

I have found that studying and working in the speech pathology field has definitely given me this opportunity.

A huge learning curve for me was realising the importance of acknowledging language diversity in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and how this can impact speech and language development in early childhood. I enjoy and am grateful to be able to work with these families and tailor speech therapy to ensure that their home language isn’t lost.

‘In This Together’ which is the theme of Reconciliation Week in 2020, I am sure resonates with many people, in different ways.

For me, when I think of this, I think of reciprocity and recognition of one another – much like a communication exchange between two people (can you tell I am a speechie? 😉).

However, just as important to communication is knowing when to listen. I believe listening is learning, one cannot occur without the other. Listening to the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is learning the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

As a whole, I hope that the we can always remember to listen so that we never miss an opportunity to learn.

Rhana Gelens
Torres Strait Islander background
Speech and Language Pathologist
Member of Speech Pathology Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Committee (2020-2021)

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