Just over half a million Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live in Australia. Despite their pre-eminence as the continent's first inhabitants - or 'first Australians' - the Indigenous population has a lower life expectancy, higher rates of illness and imprisonment, and lower levels of education than the non-Indigenous Australian population. Caritas Australia is working with organisations and communities to close the gap by fostering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander led solutions.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website may contain images or names of people who have since passed away.

Indigenous artists wearing their artworks
Key facts:
  • Programs


  • Partners


  • Population

    POPULATION (indigenous):

  • Data sources 

Why do we work in Australia?

Australia is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. We are ranked in the top twenty nations in terms of GDP per capita. In 2011 we were ranked 2nd on the United Nations Human Development Index. We have an abundance of natural and human resources and an enviable lifestyle.

Yet national measures of Australia’s wealth and development often mask vast differences between the general population and the 2.5 percent of the population that identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people:

  • Indigenous Australians have a lower life expectancy than the overall Australian population.
  • The rate of death among Indigenous Australian babies in the first year of life is two times higher than other Australian babies.
  • In 2000-02, the maternal mortality rate for First Australian women was 46 per 100,000; a rate that is five times higher than other Australian women (8.7 per 100,000 births).
  • In 2004-5, Australia's Indigenous people were three times more likely to be living with diabetes or high blood sugar levels than non-Indigenous people.
  • The Indigenous juvenile incarceration rate was 31 times the non-Indigenous rate in 2012.
    (Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics)

Many of these differences are the result of Australia’s colonial history and formal policies that oppressed and divided Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. (See for example the timeline at Creative Spirits)

In recent years, Australia has begun to redress such injustices, and economic and social indicators on the First Australian population are showing signs of improvement. For example:

  • School retention rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children rose steadily between 2001 and 2011, though they are still well below non-Indigenous school retention rates.
  • Smoking rates among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people declined between 2002 and 2008.
  • There are signs of a growing pride in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identity: the census records a 20 percent increase in the Indigenous population between 2006 and 2011, a rise brought about not just by births, but also by a rise in the number of people identifying themselves as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
    (Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics)

A rising recognition and pride in the achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is testament to the resilience of First Australians and their communities. But there is still much to do. Caritas Australia’s First Australians program promotes economic development, education, health, and healing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities .

Our work in Australia

Caritas Australia’s Australian Indigenous program was established in 1972 and renamed the First Australians program in 2012. To learn more about the change of name, read our blog – Recognising First Australians.

Our approach is flexible, respectful and sensitive. We aim to empower rather than prescribe. We work in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to help them design and implement their own solutions.

In 2010/11 Caritas Australia supported 9 partner organisations in Australia. A total of $960,520  was spent on projects covering a variety of issues, including women’s empowerment, youth leadership, health, financial management, microenterprise development, advocacy, and after-school children’s activities and care.

Snapshot of our work in 2012

  1. 264 people attended 18 workshops run by Red Dust Healing, a cultural healing program that provides culturally meaningful tools to understand and overcome past and present hurt and rejection. In addition, 10 men and one woman were trained to be facilitators for workshops in WA. Evaluation forms were completed by 120 participants, with very positive feedback.
  2. The Tjanpi Desert Weavers program continues to grow from strength to strength, with the involvement of between 300 to 400 women living in 28 remote communities. In 2012 the program generated over $100,000 in artwork sales and provided casual employment for over 100 artists. The program is working on expanding its reach to younger women, who are traditionally considered too young to be weavers.
  3. Manage Your Income, Manage Your Life helped 891 people in remote communities build their financial capacity. Program materials are designed and delivered by a team of Aboriginal Financial Councillors.

  4. Caritas Australia initiated a partnership with the newly-formed Aboriginal Carbon Fund in 2011. Since then the Fund has been busy establishing key elements of its operations, such as employing a General Manager and establishing an office. Though still in its early stages, the Fund is showing significant promise for the future, establishing itself as a lead agency in facilitating dialogue and learning between organisations, researchers and communities .

Featured programs