The Social, Cultural and Historical
Context of Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander Australians
To understand the contemporary life of Indigenous Australians, a historical and cultural background is essential. This chapter sets the context for further discussions about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and issues related to their social and emotional wellbeing and mental health. The history of colonisation is addressed, the subsequent devastation of Indigenous Australians, and their resilience and struggle to claim equality and cultural recognition, and to shape the present. Indigenous Australia is made up of two cultural groups who have shared the same struggle, yet often when using the term Indigenous, a Torres Strait
Islander history is absent. In this chapter both cultures are equally presented. Brief overviews are given of pre-contact times, colonisation, resistance and adaptation, shifting government policies, and the struggle for recognition. Indigenous identity and meanings of belonging in country, community and family are also briefly covered. Contemporary issues confronting
Indigenous people are included, with particular attention to racism.
ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER POPULATIONS
The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimated that in 2006 there were 517,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in Australia. Overall, Indigenous people make up
2.5% of the total Australian population. Among the Indigenous population in 2006, it is estimated that 463,700 (90%) were of Aboriginal origin, 33,300 (6%) were of Torres Strait
Islander origin only, and 20,100 (4%) were of both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander origin (ABS, 2008b).
In 2006, 32% of Indigenous people lived in major cities, with 21% in inner regional areas and 22% in outer regional areas, while 9% lived in remote areas and 15% lived in very
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