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Understanding Indigenous Health in Australia

Rollo Manning
A Special Report on Indigenous Health from Northern Australia

Issue 79: February 2009
Page: 1 of 1 Author's Profile | Send to a Friend | Printer Version

Editor's Note: Currently there is a greater focus in repect of Indigenous health. And about time, some would say. Only very small pockets of the pharmacy profession have attempted to come to terms with this major problem, and they genuinely need your management assistance. Rollo Manning could well be regarded as the pharmacy expert in indigenous health, and he vigorously defends the rights of indigenous people to enjoy good health - just like the rest of the Australian community. Rollo's sympathetic insights reflect his long association with, and understanding of, the issues surrounding indigenous health.


By Rollo Manning PhC MPRIA GradDipPR
Consultant to Aboriginal communities and organisations in economic and social development.

Aboriginal towns stark contrast to mainstream
Governments must open their eyes and do something to create the infrastructure needed to have a thriving economy in remote Aboriginal towns across the north of Australia. There is no need to keep thinking that one store, a couple of takeaways and a fuel outlet is all that is needed and then say the people must move to the jobs if they want to work for a living!
There is no reason to believe that Aboriginal people do not need the retail outlets and service facilities that the rest of Australia takes for granted. Regrettably that is all many people know because that is all they have seen living in isolation to the rest of the population.

A comparison of an Australian country town, Boorowa in NSW, with Galiwin’ku on Elcho Island shows up some sharp contrasts

Population of both places 2,000 people
Boorowa, NSW
Galiwin’ku, Elcho Island

Population of both places 2,000 people
If it looks as though Boorowa is the bigger of the two – it is - in terms of number of houses. 950 for 2,000 people compared to Galiwin’ku with 152 houses.
Then you really know what “over crowding” means! 8.5 persons per house at Galiwin’ku compared with 2.4 in Boorowa.

The biggest contrast in terms of retail opportunities is the number of businesses. Galiwin’ku has just five retail outlets. One store, three takeaways and a fuel bowser.
Boorowa on the other hand has 15 retail outlets as well as three hotels (none at Elcho), three motels (none at Elcho), eight café/restaurants (none at Elcho) and the gathering of service clubs, special interest groups and supporting organisations mainstream Australians take for granted.
Overall the strength of social capital in Boorowa is huge compared with Galiwin’ku where it has been decimated over the past 100 years as a result of colonisation. There were people living in North East Arnhem Land in the 1930s who did not know the “south” had been settled by the British. They thought Japanese (from pearling) and Asians (from trepang) were the only other people on the planet.(1)
The people of Galiwin’ku are from 15 different clan groups that were at loggerheads years ago and have been thrust together in a “community” with no help in developing their alternative social networks, activities or sporting opportunities. There is football club run by a group under the auspice of
the Council but with little opportunity for the player to have a say in how it is run.
The clan groups are the focus of social gatherings.
The 24 page booklet (pictured left) lists all the shops, services, clubs, festivals, history and attractions of Boorowa.
Galiwin’ku does not have ONE motel. Only a “guest house” that many walk away from on first sight. (Pictured right)

The following table gives a comparison of other indicators (2) :





Children under 15 years of age




Speaks English at home








Total number of houses




Houses fully owned or being purchased




Number of people per house




Number of persons per bedroom




Median individual income per week




Median household income




It does not have to be this way and yet for some reason governments over the past 30 years have believed remote living Aboriginal people only need the most fundamental of services to make their communities thrive.

It is shameful that in 2009 these towns have chronic unemployment, illiteracy among children, poor health through overcrowded houses and phenomenal amounts of boredom that leads to domestic violence, drug abuse and general anti social behaviour. This is the profile of a town where only 10% of the population has reached Year 10 level at school.

It is hard to expect a child to want to go to school when all they see is chronic unemployment and no industries that attract their desire as a future career path. As Noel Pearson put it in an article in The Australian in August 2008:

The answer lies in developing enterprises which the people themselves want to see happen and where they are responsible for that development.
In the world of “Enterprise Facilitation”, and as promoted by Ernesto Sirolli through his Sirolli Institute (3) based in Canada, the facilitator has no original ideas of their own – they all come from the people – and – only work with people who want to be helped. It remains to be seen whether this approach will work in remote Aboriginal towns but it is worth a try. Let’s face it – nothing else has worked over the past 100 years so why not ENTERPRISE FACILITATION a la Sirolli.
Remote living Aboriginals need some dreams. The dreams they had have been destroyed by Governments with a passion to have them be like us. It will not happen – they are people too – and they do have a conscience, a love for their children and a desire to move ahead. What needs to be done is foster and facilitate their dreams so success can come and by example the children will at last see a reason to want to go to school.

The Enterprise Facilitator helps people to live their dreams and provide them with the answers they need to achieve their goals.
Aboriginal people in the main have been to Darwin, they spend a lot of money at stores of all types and sizes. K-Mart and Target are popular as is The Good Guys and Harvey Norman. The amount of money being spent is mind boggling for people who are allegedly living in a state of poverty. For the ones that do not waste their money on grog, gunja and drugs there is plenty of disposable income left for clothing, electrical goods and gadgets, sporting accessories and music.
The big retailers are benefiting but there is no reason why a wider variety of shops back in the town would not succeed given the obvious demand.

A concerted effort on the part of the Australian society (including government) is needed to bring these Aboriginal towns up to the same level of services as the towns mainstream Australians call home. This has to happen so the playing field is level when a comparison is made between the two cultures.
For further information contact the author
Rollo Manning, PO Box 98 Parap NT 0804
Tel: 08 8942 2101 or 0411 049 872

1. Mcintosh, I., & Burrumarra, D. (1994). The whale and the cross: conversation with David Burrumarra MBE. Darwin, Historical Society of the Northern Territory.
2. Australian Bureau of Statistics: 2006 Census QuickStats. Boorowa and Galiwin’ku
3. Ernesto Sirolli: Ripples from the Zambezi: Passion, Entrepreneurship, and the Rebirth of Local Economies. New Society Publishing, British Columbia, Canada


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