Issues Magazine

Articles about Indigenous Health

Pharmaceutical Supply and Storage in Remote Indigenous Communities

By Chris Thompson and Kym Thomas

There is a stark contrast between a visit to the doctor by a person of European descent and by an indigenous Australian from a remote community.

You are a person of European descent living in the city and are feeling unwell. You decide that you need to visit your general practitioner (GP). The following events take place:

  1. You ring your GP’s surgery, and are told that an appointment can be made for you that afternoon.
  2. You drive to the GP’s surgery, report to the receptionist and sit down to wait with all of the other patients.
  3. Your GP calls your name and takes you to the consulting room.

Outback Medicine

By Jacinta Spry and Claire Seiffert

Two young women share their experiences as medical students in the Northern Territory.

Becoming a Bush Doctor

When I was a secondary school student in northern Queensland I really got the travel bug. I did a 6-month exchange program to Canada, but that just made my travel bug worse! I discovered that I loved to explore new places, new people and new ideas. When travelling I am never bored, always challenged and often inspired by this amazing planet. And, although I’m not one to get homesick easily, going away does make me appreciate where I come from a little bit more.

Closing the Life Expectancy Gap

By Yuejen Zhao and Rosalyn Malyon

Why is there a difference in the life expectancies of indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, and how can this life expectancy gap be eliminated?

Our challenge for the future is … to embrace a new partnership between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians … the core of this partnership for the future is to close the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians on life expectancy, educational achievement and employment opportunities.

The Hon. Kevin Michael Rudd, Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia, Apology to Australia’s indigenous Peoples, House of Representatives, Parliament House, Canberra, 13 February 2008

Freight and Health in Remote Indigenous Communities

By Ian Lovell

The role of the food supply chain in the health and well-being of remote indigenous communities is often overlooked. Ian Lovell describes this situation in terms of supply chain performance and what needs to be done to improve it.

No health and well-being issue in Australia … is worse or more urgent than the appalling health … of indigenous people. The challenge … is to improve access to good food and nutrition … and for those … in remote areas this poses particular … transport, economic and management issues.

“Food security for indigenous people in remote areas” information paper, National Rural Health Alliance, 2006

Australia 2020: The “National Conversation”

The following submissions on rural, remote and indigenous health come from the Australia 2020 “national conversation”, a continuation of the Federal government’s 2020 Summit in April.*

For many Australians living in rural and remote areas, a lack of access to primary health care services represents a major barrier to their full and effective contribution to their community’s prosperity. This lack of access is evidenced by data indicating fewer numbers of General Practitioners, nurses and allied health professionals on a per capita basis.

This lack of access to primary health care is evidenced in a number of different ways.

*Submissions will be reviewed as part of the government’s final response to summit recommendations. Visit for more information.

Culture and Country: Improving Aboriginal Health

By Jan Ferguson

Work at the Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre is informed by the importance of ownership and control to Aboriginal people, and their culture of “country”.

Little more than 100 years ago, an anthropologist and a policeman photographed Aboriginal people at a very early stage in the history of their contact with European settlers. In the 1890s and the early 1900s, Walter Baldwin Spencer extensively documented the lives of the peoples of Central Australia and Constable Paul Foelsche photographed the Larrakia people of Darwin.

Ultra-Broadband Internet Use in Critical Care

By Patrick Cregan

Ultra-broadband technology has critical health applications in remote locations.

“Critical care” is the term applied to the care given to patients whose life or well-being is in immediate danger. This can be due to problems with breathing such as severe asthma, heart problems such as heart attacks, blood loss due to severe injuries, and low blood pressure from severe infections such as meningococcal disease and many other problems. In these situations, time is of the essence and patients need highly specialised teams of doctors and nurses to look after them.

Tackling Depression in Deadly Style

By Julie Foster

A unique team of artists has been promoting self-expression through movement, music and art in Aboriginal communities around Australia.

Getting messages about depression and anxiety to young people is a challenge being met by combining these messages with engaging activities. beyondblue, through its youth arm, Youthbeyondblue, is proactively engaging and informing indigenous communities about depression and anxiety by staging “hip hop” workshops and other events in partnership with communities and health services (see box, p.42).

About Indigenous Hip Hop Projects

Indigenous Health – Alcohol Harming Indigenous Unborn

Issues 83: Indigenous Health

Issues 83: Indigenous Health

By Sally Woollett

A campaign to raise awareness among Aboriginal women about the risks of drug and alcohol consumption during pregnancy was launched earlier this year by NSW Minister for Mental Health and Healthy Lifestyles, Kevin Humphries.

Humphries said the Aboriginal Prenatal Mental Health and Drug and Alcohol Campaign emphasises the role partners, families and communities can play in supporting pregnant Aboriginal women in making healthy lifestyle choices. “The shame, stigma and often a lack of knowledge about mental health and drug and alcohol issues during and after pregnancy are often a major barrier preventing people seeking professional help,” Mr Humphries said.

With National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation

Cultural and Historical Factors in Aboriginal Women’s Sexual Health

By Janelle Trees

Understanding the culture and history of Aboriginal women in Australia throws light on their unique relationship with and attitudes to the medical profession.

Apart from the intimate and confronting nature of gynaecological examinations, including the Pap test, many historical, cultural and societal factors impact on Aboriginal women that are very likely to contribute to a hostile or non-trusting attitude towards medical personnel regarding sexual health.

© Janelle Trees 2008. Reproduced with permission. Reference details are available from the author upon request. Email

Indigenous Knowledge and Students Neglected by Science

By Diana Day

Universities need to be more committed to attracting Indigenous students to science and incorporating Indigenous knowledge in curricula.

Time is up for Australian universities in their tentative attempts to increase the number of indigenous science students. Western science is shy of the richness of traditional indigenous knowledge. Why does tertiary science ignore 45,000 years of the longest cumulative knowledge base on Earth?

The dearth of indigenous science students starts at school. In NSW, 149 indigenous and 36,543 non-indigenous students completed HSC science and technology courses in 2003, a stark illustration of the shrinking pipeline of students who might get to university.

Improving Health in East Arnhem Land

By Eddie Mulholland

Why do health problems seem so difficult when it comes to Aboriginal health? Listening and asking the right questions can be part of the solution.

As a regional provider of primary health care services in north-eastern Arnhem Land, Miwatj Health Aboriginal Corporation is on the frontline of some of Australia’s most difficult health problems. Or so it seems when the media and politicians describe the situation.

Quality and Continuity in Remote Medical Services

By Carmen Morgan

A trial primary health care service to a remote Western Australian community showed positive outcomes for both patients and other remote health teams.

Shark Bay is a community spanning some 25,000 square kilometres. It is located on a peninsula midway along the Western Australian coast and is aptly named Shark Bay due to the prolific presence of a number of shark species. It also has World Heritage status and is a tourism mecca for recreational fishermen and dolphin lovers.

In June 2006 an agreement between Silver Chain’s Shark Bay remote health centre (see box, p.29), Midwest Aero Medical Service (MAMS) and the Shire of Shark Bay was initiated to trial an alternative medical service to the small, isolated community.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service: A Ripple Effect in Remote Mental Health

By Elissa Roberts

The Royal Flying Doctor Service (Queensland Section) has introduced an indigenous program with the aim of improving social and emotional well-being services for Cape York communities.

Like various other services, many mental health providers are infrequent visitors to Cape York communities and operate on a fly-in, fly-out basis, which means there are limited permanent services available. However, at the completion of the Royal Flying Doctor Service’s (RFDS) Drop the Rock program, RFDS-trained local mental health workers will permanently reside in numerous Cape York communities, providing a range of skills including community work, advocacy, family violence and suicide prevention.


By Sally Woollett

Editor, Issues

An overview of what's in this edition of Issues.

The first item of business for Australia’s 42nd Parliament was the National Apology. Prime Minister Rudd concluded his “We apologise” statements with these words:

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.