Taking Charge of Our Health
Despite numerous surveys, promotions and programs, the state of Aboriginal health is well below that of the general population, and remains a curiously elusive commodity. It is well known that:
- Aborigines suffer a child mortality rate of around four times that of the rest of Australia;
- The vast majority of Aborigines suffer a quality of health well below that of the majority of Australians;
- Aborigines have an average life span of 17 years less than the rest of Australia.
- Many remote Aborigines are living in squalid conditions that should never be experienced in a developed economy, and are more in keeping with the poorest inhabitants of an undeveloped and financially impoverished third world country.
- In addition to suffering many of the so-called third world diseases, remote Aborigines suffer to an even more greater extent from what may be called first world diseases, otherwise known as diseases of civilisation.
- The health of urban Aborigines appears to be not be very much better than their remote counter-parts, and are also well below that of the rest of the Australian population.
- Aborigines appear to be particularly unresponsive to mainstream western medical modalities. Far too often, when a serious disease is contracted, cure is out of the question, and the best that is hoped for is to stabilise the disease, or to slow its progression.
Aborigines enjoyed an environmentally gentle, materially minimalist lifestyle that enabled free movement to travel to where the food was plentiful, or to places of ceremonial gatherings. They had refined their way of living to the point that they were able to maintain their way of life for at least tens of thousands of years, whilst enhancing the food content of the environment, so that it would continue to provide for them. They were able to maintain their Garden of Eden lifestyle over the entire continent, including the deserts, for tens of thousands of years.
The Australian Aborigine successfully practiced the ideal of preventative medicine. They lived a healthy lifestyle, wherein every aspect of their lives was health promoting and completely free from those elements that could cause deterioration of health. Their food was concentrated and highly nutritious. Their comprehensive knowledge of medicinal properties of food plants and herbs enabled them to treat illnesses whenever they arose.
If Aboriginal communities are to improve the health of their people today, they need to look again to preventative medicine to invigorate Aboriginal health. This is where the greatest gains can be made, and can be made most easily, and for the least cost.
Aboriginal Missions and Reserves
After western settlement, missions, and later, reserves were created by concentrating highly mobile, and widely spread-out diverse tribal peoples, into small, permanent, densely populated settlements, of mixed tribes and language groups. This artificial grouping of peoples was highly taxing on the surrounding land, and before long they could no longer support their hunting, collecting and firewood requirements, resulting in an enforced dependency on continued supply of rations.
Creating permanent settlements also brought with it a number of health problems. Nutrition became a problem because Aboriginal people, who were only ever orientated to eating natural, highly nutritious food, were suddenly placed on a refined (low in nutritional qualities), and adulterated (high in preservatives, additives and other harmful chemicals) diet. Today, this is known as “junk” food, which extends well beyond fast food outlets, and includes most packaged and tinned processed foods. Having had no previous exposure to de-natured and de-nourished processed ‘food’, recipients found it especially difficult to understand the reason for ensuing health problems, and were thus unable to address those problems when they arose.
Hygiene soon became problematic, because the clustering of people into small, permanent locations meant sanitation would have to become a serious issue. The toxicity and low nutrition of the junk ‘food’ diet virtually guaranteed that the problem would become overwhelming.
Unfortunately it is always difficult to ensure these environments are sterile, as there is always much dust and dirt. Sealing the ground by forming lawns is difficult in places where water is scarce. Concrete paths and sealed roads, adequate for health needs can be very costly. People often live in very close proximity to each other, and houses are usually very overcrowded, increases susceptibility to contracting and spreading diseases.
Most of the diseases that Aboriginal people suffer from today have been introduced one way or another by western civilisation and its lifestyle. It is a sad fact that these illnesses and diseases affect Aboriginal people far more profoundly than Caucasians, or white people, both in proportions of people infected, and in the intensity that an individual is likely to be affected. This is, in some measure, through having less genetic immunity, from having had only more recent exposure to these diseases.
Our original inhabitants in their traditional living focussed far more on nutrition. All food consumed was highly nutritious, some of it highly concentrated, and always beneficial to maintaining health. Refined, or “junk”, foods were unknown. So the Aboriginal physical constitution is far more attuned to natural food than the white Caucasian, and is highly susceptible to harm from refined and junk ‘foods’, to which it reacts with correspondingly greater intensity. This means it is even more important for Aboriginal people to look to natural food than it is for white people.
White (Caucasian) people, as a group, do not enjoy particularly good levels of health, either. The Doctor crisis, more expensive treatment, increasing numbers of “incurable” diseases, and increasing lengths of hospital waiting lists amply demonstrate this. As treatment continues to become more expensive, more hospital wards will close, resulting in even longer waiting lists.
Asthmatic, diabetic and obesity epidemics amongst young white children today, means that many Aboriginal children, being agile, fit and mobile, enjoy better standards of health than many white children, who are becoming increasingly sedentary. A recent study found that remote children have a greater resistance to many diseases because of their contact with the dirt.