Abstract Background This paper provides an overview of the long-term strategies that have been in place at the University of Western Australia, which aim to build the capacity and preparedness of the health-care workforce in Aboriginal health. In 1996, the Centre for Aboriginal Medical and Dental Health was established within the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences to implement a comprehensive approach to Aboriginal health. Methods The initial focus was on developing recruitment and retention strategies that meaningfully address the significant under-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the medical and broader health professions. At the same time, the Centre developed, implemented and evaluated a comprehensive vertically and horizontally integrated Aboriginal health curriculum initially in the Medicine course and subsequently in the Podiatry and Nursing courses within the faculty. Results The priority has been to ensure that all graduates will be better prepared to work effectively and safely with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities. Without effective alternative entry processes access to tertiary health courses and health careers would not have been an option for the majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and graduates. Conclusion This paper reflects on the partnerships, structures and approaches that have enabled the achievements to date and on the challenges that confront not only initial implementation but also sustaining the gains already made.