Health Issues of Indigenous Australians – A Modern Day Tragedy

For many years I have wanted to write about the health status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in modern Australia and what we, as a society, can, should and have not done to remedy the health problems a modern lifestyle has brought upon the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations.

Many of my readers will not be aware that I have Aboriginal ancestry. I can trace my lineage back to the Drew mob, a very prominent Dhungutti family in the Macleay River region, around what is now Kempsey in New South Wales, from the early 1800’s. The Drew mob were well-known throughout the majority of the language groups that existed in Australia at the time and through travel and marriage, resulted in the Drew’s having strong connections to the majority of the tribes.

My personal journey of discovery, of my ancestral links and identifying with Dhungutti culture, has exposed the horrifying reality that is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health in 21st Century Australia. I believe it is up to all of us, Indigenous and Non-Indigenous, to implement the strategies, provide the support and do whatever it is we need to do to reverse the devastation that has been wrought on my people.

Before I take this discussion any further though, I want to make it abundantly clear that this must be a “no blame” process. Attributing blame and attempting to exact retribution for past wrongs is not the way forward for improving the health of the First Australians. There is a veritable minefield of political, social and racial issues that must be played out on the National and International stage in order for past, and present, injustices to be resolved but Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health must be absolutely independent of that process.

The major health issues facing Indigenous populations today are diseases of excess and are symptomatic of the modern lifestyle. They are:

• Obesity

• Cardiovascular Disease

• Type 2 Diabetes

• Stroke

There are dozens more serious and chronic conditions, like glaucoma, that have debilitating impacts on the victim’s health but these four are the big ticket items when it comes to declining health and premature death.

The most frustrating thing about all of these chronic conditions is the fact that they are all preventable and reversible. A quality diet, regular exercise and sound mental health are all the ingredients needed to eliminate these killers.

This is the part where many readers will be thinking to themselves, “yeah, that’s a great idea but the Government has pumped billions of dollars into fixing Indigenous health and nothing has changed. Why should it change now?” If you are thinking along these lines, you would be justified in doing so but let’s look at the total picture and put all of this “Aid” into context.

Conventional wisdom, from the late 1800’s onwards, said that Aboriginal people were too primitive to understand contemporary society and needed to be treated and cared for like pets or young children. I’m not trying to stir up a debate, simply stating what was the reality. It even came to pass that the Governments of the day appointed Aboriginal Protectors, who were white Public Servants, to “look after” the Aboriginal people and their affairs. This level of protection also included providing “civilised” food to the Aboriginals in their care. The ‘civilised’ food has morphed into Maccas, KFC and other nutritionally bankrupt fast foods.