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This content is taken from the Griffith University's online course, Safer Healthcare for Australia's First Peoples. Join the course to learn more.
A group of young Aboriginal boys, dressed in traditional costume are dancing on the grass.

First Peoples health before and after

Aboriginal peoples had better levels of health before 1788, living on diets rich in vitamins and minerals.

The arrival of the First Fleet, loaded up with foreign livestock, directly contributed to the rapid deterioration of traditional ways of living and the health of Aboriginal peoples.

Health status pre-colonisation

Prior to colonisation, there was no processed food and Aboriginal people were generally fit and healthy. First Peoples only came into contact with the chronic diseases they continue to face today, because of the British invasion.

While the exact number of Indigenous deaths is unknown, many Indigenous men, women and children died of introduced diseases to which they had no resistance such as smallpox, influenza and measles (Australian Human Rights Commission, N.D).

Health status today

Overall, Indigenous Australians have the poorest health of all Australians. In relation to some health outcomes, they are some of the poorest in the world.

Did you know….

  • Young Aboriginal people are four times more likely to commit suicide than non-Indigenous Australians?

  • Indigenous Australians die approximately 10 years earlier than non-Indigenous Australians?

  • Chronic disease accounts for about 80% of the disease burden?

The reality is First Peoples have an earlier onset and more severe progression for many chronic diseases. Compared to non-Indigenous Australians, the morbidity and mortality levels for Australia’s First Peoples is unacceptably high. Medicare Item number 715 was specifically designed for Australia’s First Peoples in recognition of our continued higher risk of chronic disease. You can read more about the aim of Item number 715 here.

The complexity of First Peoples’ poor health status is compounded by social factors such as:

  • poverty
  • racial discrimination
  • educational disadvantage
  • high unemployment rates
  • limited access to quality health care

To overcome these inequities, each of these underlying factors must be addressed.

Further reading?

If you’d like to learn more about life in Australia, prior to Colonisation, download the reading available at the bottom of this step.

You may also wish to investigate Bruce Pascoe’s seminal book, Dark Emu. Ask for it at your library or purchase online. The ISBN reference is: 9781921248016


Australian Human Rights Commission. (N.D.) Face the Facts: Questions and Answers about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

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This article is from the free online course:

Safer Healthcare for Australia's First Peoples

Griffith University