Established in 1999 with five years of core funding from the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation and the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing (now Department of Health), Onemda was originally named the VicHealth Koori Health Research and Community Development Unit, and was located in the Centre for Health and Society in the University of Melbourne's Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences (MDHS). In 2014 it was renamed the VicHealth Koori Health Group, and re-located in the Indigenous Health Equity Unit in the Centre for Health Equity within the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health.

The decision to fund this new initiative followed a period of consultation with the Victorian Aboriginal community and community organisations. From its inception, the Unit has focused on developing an integrated approach to research and teaching on Koori health issues for south-east Australia. One of the challenges in setting up the Unit was dealing with the historical problems in the relationship between research academics and Aboriginal people and Communities. To address this issue, our teaching and research activities have been framed around Community development principles and practices.

Since the Unit began, we have established a number of important partnerships. In Victoria we have developed close working relationships with the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, the Koorie Heritage Trust and the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service. These partnerships have been based around particular teaching, research and/or community development projects.

Nationally, we have had a productive relationship with the Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal Health (CRCAH), subsequently the Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health (CRCATSIH) and hosted by The Lowitja Institute – Australia's National Institute for Aboriginal and Torress Srait Islander Health Research. The University of Melbourne has been a core partner with the CRCAH and then the Lowitja Institute since 2003, and is one of 21 national partners with the current The Lowitja Institute Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health CRC. We have also partnered with other national bodies on particular projects, such as the LIME Network curriculum development initiative with the Medical Deans of Australia and New Zealand (formerly CDAMS), now located in the Melbourne Poche Centre for Indigenous Health in the Faculty of MDHS.

In 2003 a review recommended that the Unit be funded for a further five years. During that time we developed a strategic plan that built on our successes to date and consolidated our program. A new research plan was then developed, along with innovative teaching and learning initiatives. In 2004 we became an integral part of the MDHS Faculty's newly formed Melbourne School of Population Health.

Reflecting the Aboriginal focus of our work, in 2005 we approached Aunty Joy Murphy Wandin, AO, a Wurundjeri Elder of the Woiworrung Kulin, for an appropriate local Indigenous name for the Unit. We subsequently became the Onemda VicHealth Koori Health Unit. Onemda is a Woiwurrung language word for love. It expresses a lot of our way of thinking about wellbeing. In the same year we were honoured to have Aunty Joy, along with Koori Elders Aunty Joan Vickery, AO, and Uncle Kevin Coombs, OAM, agree to act as Patrons of Onemda. Onemda values and appreciates the contributions of our patrons.

Back in 1999 when we held research workshops, they were called 'We don't like research. but in Koori hands it could make a difference'. Since then, among other areas, we have explored Koori health history, health economics, health policy and systems, and research practices. Our Community development approach has meant this is done in consultation with local and national Indigenous peoples. We have also made an important contribution to integrating Indigenous health into the teaching of medicine and health sciences both at the University of Melbourne and nationally.

Our work has been recognised with staff promotions, successful research grants, state and national awards, and invitations to further contribute within our areas of expertise. We are proud to have been able to contribute towards a changed view of research in the Koori community. This was reflected in the research workshops we held in 2007, the results of which have been written into a report entitled We can like research...in Koori hands, which is available from our publications page.