“The status of Indigenous health in contemporary Australia is a result of historic factors as well as contemporary socio-economic issues” (Hampton & Toombs, 2013, p. 1).
The poor health position of Indigenous Australians is a contemporary reflection of their historical treatment as Australia’s traditional owners. This treatment has led to Indigenous Australians experiencing social disadvantages, significantly low socio-economic status, dispossession, poverty and powerlessness as a direct result of the institutionalised racism inherent in contemporary Australian society.
Indigenous populations have been the carers and custodians of Australia and the Torres Strait for a period in excess of 60,000 years before being invaded/colonialised by the British on January 26, 1788 (Hampton & Toombs, Racism, colonisation/colonialism and impacts on indigenous people, 2013). Before this time, it is suggested that Indigenous Australians lived relatively affluent lives and enjoyed generally better health than most people living in Europe (Hampton & Toombs, Indigenous Australian concepts of health and well-being, 2013). The arrival of introduced diseases, especially smallpox, caused considerable loss of life among Indigenous Australians. The impact of this is loss extended far beyond the immediate victims of disease, affecting the very fabric of Indigenous societies through depopulation and social disruption (MacRae, et al., 2012). Whilst introduced diseases were the most substantial part of the Indigenous Australians mortality, death caused by direct conflict also contributed significantly (Elder, 2003).
Traditionally, Indigenous Australians had complete autonomy over all parts of their lives such as, ceremonies, spiritual practices, medicine, social relationships, management of land and law and economic undertakings (Saggers & Gray, 1991). In addition to the impacts of introduced diseases and conflict, Indigenous Australians also experienced ill effects related to disconnection from Country due to the spread of colonists and their subsequent political policies. For an Indigenous Australian, Country is not just physical territory but the central aspect of their identity (Hampton & Toombs, Racism, colonisation/colonialism and impacts on indigenous people, 2013). Occupation and colonialism impacted far beyond the physical, as Indigenous Australians had their culture devalued, traditional food sources destroyed, and were separated from their families and in some cases entire communities were dispossessed. This led to disruption or loss of languages, beliefs and social structures which form the underlying basis of Indigenous cultures.
These impacts, prompted British colonists to develop several different political policies of institutionalised racism to address the real and perceived issues regarding Indigenous Australians. The first of these policies was Protectionism (1788 – 1890’s). Prior to Protectionism British colonies practiced exclusion as they assumed ‘Terra Nullius’ and seized control of the land, evicting Indigenous Australians from their traditional Country. The negative impacts this had on Indigenous Australians eventually forced colonial authorities to establish “Aboriginal 'protection' boards” (Hampton & Toombs, Racism, colonisation/colonialism and impacts on indigenous people, 2013). The first was established in Victoria by the Aboriginal Protection Act of 1869, with the other colonies following with similar legislation, to 'protect' Indigenous populations within their boundaries (Parliament of Victoria, 1869).
The 'protection' provided under the various Acts imposed enormous restrictions on the lives of many Indigenous Australians. These restrictions included dictating where Indigenous Australians could live and not live, and set out limitations on movement, marriage, employment, earnings and ownership of property. The child welfare provisions of the Acts underpinned the removal of Aboriginal children from...
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