Effect of Colonisation Indigenous Health

Effect of Colonisation Indigenous Health

Effects of colonisation on Australian Indigenous people using a single issue (such as health or education or loss of identity etc.)

The Impact of Colonisation the Health of the Indigenous Australians

The ongoing debates in the health of the Indigenous populations in Australia sprout from generations of neglect, absence of a well-organised public policy, and the unavailability of resources occasioned by the European colonisation over two centuries ago. Before colonisation, the Indigenous people owned the Australian continent and used the available resources to keep themselves free from health problems. After colonisation, however, the continent was invaded by Europeans, who gradually drove the Indigenous into becoming a minority in their own land (Sherwood, 2013). The European invasion led to poor Indigenous health, which has been largely attributed to poor housing, low income, poor sanitation, poor education, poor nutrition, and economic exclusion. The Indigenous health transitioned from good in the pre-colonial era to extremely poor in the colonial period, and even after colonisation, a century later, it has been difficult to restore the indigenous health into its original status.

Before European colonisation, the Indigenous Australians had a nomadic lifestyle and lived in close relationships with their own land. They were the only custodians of their own land, which afforded them free access to all land resources. They made traditional medicine from the land resources, which helped them to keep away health-related problems (Axelsson, Kukutai, & Kippen, 2016). Being the only custodians of the continent, the Indigenous populations enjoyed high levels of peace, which limited the occurrence of violence-related health conditions or deaths. The notion that the life expectancy of the Indigenous Australians before colonisation was forty years has been highly contested by literature (Blyton, 2009). Blyton (2009) asserts that longevity is much likely to have favoured the Indigenous Australians in the pre-colonial era compared to the European populations because the latter inhabited slum habitats. Before colonisation, the Indigenous populations had access to nutritious food from their land since it was less developed for commercial use. The food from the land kept them away from lifestyle-related illnesses (Shepherd, Li, & Zubrick, 2012). Overall, the Indigenous populations during the pre-colonial period enjoyed high levels of health due to their possession over their land, their nomadic lifestyle, and peaceful relationships.

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Following the European invasion in the continent, the Indigenous populations lost the power and control that they initially had over their land, a fact that would ultimately affect their health and general wellbeing. Since the beginning of the era of colonisation, Indigenous Australians became devastated health-wise not only because of the loss of their land and livelihoods but also because of the introduction of novel diseases in their continent (Blyton, 2009).  The dispossession of land orchestrated by the European settlement in the continent meant that the Indigenous populations did not have full control of their land resources, which were the main source of livelihood. They were often involved in confrontations with the settlers, which mostly resulted in violence against them or warfare. The occurrence of warfare led to pre-mature deaths among Indigenous people (Sherwood, 2013). The immediate impact of the introduction of highly contagious diseases, warfare, dispossession, exploitation, and warfare, was an increased rate of health problems and mortality. By the end of the 19th century, the number of Indigenous Australians had greatly decreased, and the remnants we living in missions or remote reserves (Sherwood, 2013). They were largely associated with illness hence their exclusion from the areas occupied by the Europeans. Despite the exposure to the numerous health-threatening factors, the Indigenous Australians had no access to advanced medical care, which was introduced to the continent by the Europeans (Blyton, 2009). They lacked the agency to influence public policy decisions, which would have afforded them access to health care services available on their continent. Colonisation ripped off the indigenous Australians the health that they had enjoyed since the habitation of the continent.

The impact of colonisation on the health of Indigenous Australians has had a long lasting impact on their health status, which is evident in the current health system. The indigenous populations in the country still continue to suffer the effects of poor health, which is evidenced by the existing gaps not only in healthcare access but also in mortality rates (AIHW, 2015). The statistics of health patterns show a significant difference between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations. The figures are higher in the Northern Territory, which is inhabited by more Indigenous Australians. Between 2010 and 2012, the estimated life expectancy at birth for the male Indigenous Australians was found to be over ten years lower than that of the non-Indigenous Australians- 69.1 years for the Indigenous males and 79.7 for the non-Indigenous males (AIHW, 2015). The expectancy gap for the females was 9.5 years- 73.7 years for the Indigenous females and 83.1 years for the non-Indigenous females. The mortality rates are still very incomparable between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations in Australia. For instance, the infant mortality rates between 1998 and 2012 were 4.2 per cent for the Indigenous populations and 0.8 for the non-Indigenous populations (AIHW, 2015). Even though the Indigenous populations have been in the past few decades empowered to take charge of their health, the historical injustices which have been institutionalised within the government system still inhibit their access to health and evasion of health risk factors.


The health of Indigenous Australians changed significantly following the colonisation of the continent. Over a decade since the continent gained her independence, the Indigenous Australians are yet to have their initial health status restored. Colonisation led to the dispossession of the land resources owned by the Indigenous populations, the introduction of new health problems, violence, and warfare. These new dynamics in the country affected the health levels of the Indigenous populations adversely. They experienced high mortality rates, which explain why they are currently a minority in the continent. Following the attainment of independence, the Indigenous populations started pursuing equal rights, which would enable them equal access to health care like the rest of the Australians. Although they have not attained equal rights, the Indigenous populations have made significant steps towards liberalising themselves from the historical injustices that they face. Even though the Indigenous Australians might not be able to restore the health levels enjoyed during the pre-colonial era, it is essential to push for equal health rights with the rest of the Australian populations.


AIHW. (2015). The health and welfare of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/getmedia/a5aa4dee-ee6d-4328-ad23-e05df01918b5/18175-chapter1.pdf.aspx

AIHW. (2015, June 9). The health and welfare of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples: 2015. Retrieved from Australian Institute of Health and Welfare: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/indigenous-health-welfare/indigenous-health-welfare-2015/contents/life-expectancy-and-mortality-key-points

Axelsson, P., Kukutai, T., & Kippen, R. (2016). The field of Indigenous health and the role of colonisation and history. Journal of Population Research, 33(1), 1-7.

Blyton, G. (2009). Reflections, Memories, and Sources: Healthier Times?: Revisiting Indigenous Australian Health History. Health and History, 11(2), 116-135.

Shepherd, C. C., Li, J., & Zubrick, S. R. (2012). Social Gradients in the Health of Indigenous Australians. American Journal of Public Health, 102(1), 1-10.

Sherwood, J. (2013). Colonisation – It’s Bad for Your Health: The Context of Aboriginal Health. Contemporary Nurse, 46(1), 28-40.

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