Over half a million Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live in Australia. Despite their pre-eminence as our continent's first inhabitants – or 'first Australians' – too many of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples live with ongoing and extensive injustices and poverty. Caritas Australia is working in partnership with our First Australians to support self-determination and foster Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander led solutions.

Indigenous artists wearing their artworks
Key facts:
  • Programs


  • Partners


  • Population

    POPULATION (indigenous):

  • Data sources 

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: [1]

  • First Australians have a lower life expectancy than the overall Australian population.
  • The death rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australian babies in their 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 deaths per 100,000 births; a rate that is three times higher than non-Indigenous Australian women (AIHW, 2014).
  • In 2012-13, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were more than three times as likely to be living with diabetes or high blood sugar levels than non-Indigenous people.
  • The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander juvenile incarceration rate was 31 times the non-Indigenous rate in 2012, and nearly a third of adult prisoners were Indigenous.

These inequalities are direct consequences of Australia’s colonial history, which has included violence and warfare, discriminatory and unjust policies and imposed governing structures that oppress and divide Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. (See for example the timeline at Creative Spirits)

Despite these multiple challenges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities all around Australia are developing their own solutions and striving forward to realise the changes they want to see for themselves. Caritas Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander partner organisations offer us some great examples of such initiatives. See the examples below and for more detail, the featured programs at the bottom of this page.

Our work in Australia

We have 13 partner-led First Australian programs. Here are some examples of how, through these programs, First Australians are driving their own change:

  1. Red Dust Healing is a cultural healing program, developed from an Aboriginal perspective that provides culturally meaningful tools to overcome past and present hurt and rejection. The program leads participants on a personal journey to understand the connections between Australia’s history and the trauma that many families experience, and empowers participants to take ownership of a brighter future.

  2. Kinchela Boys Home Aboriginal Corporation has been formed by survivors of the Kinchela Boys Home to reconnect with one another and re-establish their brotherhood for healing and truth telling.


The story of our work in Australia.

  1. The Tjanpi Desert Weavers program provides meaningful and culturally important work for women living in 28 remote communities across the NPY Lands (Central Australia). An initiative of NPY Women’s Council, the project provides income and skills development while also enabling opportunities for women to connect deeply with their cultural stories and traditional lands, and pass on their knowledge to younger generations.

  2. Djilpin Arts Aboriginal Corporation involves Elders and young people from the community of Beswick (Wugularr) in the development of cultural enterprises. Over several years Djilpin Arts have built a Cultural Centre for the sale and exhibition of locally produced artworks (managed by young people from the community), trained young people in digital media, developed weaving, bush medicine and jewellery businesses, and established award-winning tourist accommodation facilities (also managed by young people from the community).

Our approach: valuing partnership

Our 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 are guided by the right to self-determination. We work in partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples towards the common cause of strengthening Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander initiatives and solutions. 

The projects we support are shaped by the priority to strengthen cultural identity and spirituality, and centred around the importance of strong inter-generational relationships and healing. Our partners work in many various ways that include supporting health and wellbeing, developing culturally meaningful enterprises, re-establishing community leadership structures, fostering healing and understanding of intergenerational trauma, training families in financial management, and developing youth leadership and connection to culture.

[1] Unless otherwise stated, data on this page come from the Australian Bureau of Statistics

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

Featured programs