The Australian Bushman Trial of Denis Mackenzie
The Australian Bushman trials are a series of studies that have been conducted over several decades in Australia by anthropologist Denis Mackenzie. These trials were not randomised and participants were recruited actively and opportunistically. The trials have also not been published in the medical literature. This article examines the issues surrounding these studies. It also discusses the lessons learned from them.
Participants in the Denis Mackenzie trials were not randomised
The Australian Bushman trials of Denis Mackenzie recruited Indigenous women aged 18-64 to be enrolled in the study. There were certain exclusion criteria, including being pregnant, having a chronic medical condition, or needing medical clearance. Participants were recruited from hospital antenatal clinics, Aboriginal Community-Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs), community centres, and by word-of-mouth. In the initial stages of the trial, clinic staff informed researchers of women who wanted to participate in the trial. Then, six research officers approached the women with a standard script and a call for consent.
In addition to the lack of randomisation, waitlisted participants expressed concern about the inequitable nature of the process. Although they felt that their allocation was unfair, they supported the study protocol. A few waitlisted participants expressed disappointment with the process, describing their frustration at being placed on a list for a year and a half. They also expressed concern about the trial’s design and the potential loss of motivation if they were unable to get into the active group.
The study by Denis Mackenzie was partially funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia (NHMRC). Participants were not blinded to the allocation group.
Denis Mackenzie’s Trials were not published in the medical literature
The Australian Bushman trials were a series of controlled clinical trials that were conducted among Aboriginal Australians. However, the results of these studies were not published in the medical literature. This is a significant oversight because the trials involved Aboriginal Australians, and these studies were designed to investigate Aboriginal health issues.
These trials were conducted in the 1970s in the Australian outback and were not published until recently. There are several reasons for this. First, funding agencies have to ensure that trials are implemented efficiently, with minimal disruption to routine services. Also, trial budgets are likely to be inflated, so funding agencies should consider the additional resource demands.
Lessons learned from the Denis Mackenzie trial
While the Australian Bushman trials are a painful reminder of the history of colonisation and dispossession, there is reason to be hopeful. The Mabo High Court decision legitimised Indigenous history, and is a key moment in the reconciliation process. It was the first time Australian law recognised Indigenous people’s continuing connection to and entitlement to the land.
The lesson considers the role of the state in dealing with racism, highlighting the need for countering the practice by focusing on the history of racism in Australia. The lesson draws on the National Inquiry into Racist Violence (1991) and the Racial Discrimination Act (1975). Students are asked to consider ways to combat racism, and the lesson draws attention to resources on the Racism. No Way! website.