Before European settlement Indigenous people survived with good health for more than 60,000 years on a diet based on food hunted and gathered from the land, and by following their own health regimes. Food was minimally processed and western products, such as alcohol, were yet to arrive.
Since European settlement the Indigenous population has experienced considerable ill health, caused by introduced diseases, Western foods, drugs and alcohol.
Now Indigenous people live (on average) 20 years less than other Australians. Infant deaths are four times higher; hospitalisation three times higher; and adult death rates four times higher. Heart and liver diseases are more common and diabetes and hepatitis B are widespread. Indigenous babies are born smaller and have less chance of survival, and tend to have more health problems than other babies.
The eye disease, glaucoma, is a serious health problem in many communities, and social diseases including alcoholism, petrol sniffing and drug abuse are threatening the physical, emotional, mental and social well-being of Indigenous people throughout the continent.
Before European settlement, Indigenous people moved around the country to find food and were lean, tough, fit and free of disease.
The reasons for this are complex but poverty, poor water and housing, despair and lack of education have all contributed to the downturn in Indigenous health.
The quest for solutions is the source of ongoing study and public debate. Indigenous lobby groups, academics, politicians and community Elders continue to work with non-Indigenous bureaucracy to overcome Indigenous health problems.
With the introduction of the Aborigines Act 1905, Indigenous people were sent into overcrowded reserves with poor water supplies and housing. They were fed rations dominated by flour and sugar that caused them to become overweight and ill. The distribution of blankets in the early settlement days also inadvertently spread disease....