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.
Why do we work in Australia?
By many measures, Australia is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Yet measures of our national wealth can mask vast differences between the general population and the 3 percent of Australians who 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 2006-10, the maternal mortality rate for First Australian women was 16.4 deaths per 100,000 births; a rate that is three times higher than non-Indigenous Australian women (AIHW, 2014).
- In 2012-13, Australia's Indigenous people were more than three times as 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.
(Unless stated, 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.