Deakin Rural Health

Aboriginal Health – Definitions of Health and Key Points

Definitions of Health

Health is not just the physical wellbeing of an individual but the social, emotional and cultural wellbeing of the whole community. There are many different perceptions of health, some of which are illustrated below:


Western Societies

Aboriginal society

Concepts of health Physical, mental and social wellbeing-biomedical theory of health Good social relationships, taking part in rituals, sociomedical theory of health
Health maintenance Good food, good housing and environment, hygiene, immunisation checks, avoidance of alcohol, cigarettes Observing kinship responsibilities, and taking part in health rituals
Ways of communicating
about health
Home, school, health settings and public education Participation in social and religious activities

(Soong, cited in Reid & Trompf, 1991, The Health of Aboriginal Australia)

Some Key points about Aboriginal Health

  • Data suggest that Indigenous people may not be receiving the treatments that are available, suggesting that poor Indigenous health may be partly a result of how the Indigenous population accesses these treatments.
  • Health professionals may need to work with Indigenous groups to tailor services to be more culturally appropriate and accessible. For example, VACCHO lists Aboriginal-owned and directed health services, and consulting these agencies about how main-stream health services can work with them has been identified as a good place to start.
  • There is much to be done in addressing the social determinants of health with Indigenous populations and acknowledging the importance of the wellbeing of community in determining Indigenous wellbeing.
  • An issue to consider is the way we make health services available, rather than what health services we have available ie. We have a high standard of health care available in Australia, but it is not presented in a way that is user friendly to Indigenous people
  • “It is not merely a matter of the provision of doctors, hospitals, medicines. Health to Aboriginal peoples is a matter of determining all aspects of their life including control over their physical environment, of dignity, of community self-esteem, and of justice.” (National Aboriginal Health Strategy Working Party 1989)
  • There is no simple quick medical solution to Aboriginal health. All relevant enquires and studies have shown conclusively that culturally-appropriate and comprehensive primary-health care, based on maximum community participation, is the best way of addressing Aboriginal Health.


The following reference was used extensively in preparation of this material on Aboriginal health. Other references are cited as relevant within the text.  National Rural Health Alliance Inc. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers (Position Paper)

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