Normanton, Northern Territory, Australia – June 2009
By Chris Roach
While cycling throughout outback Australia the expedition dropped into the Normanton Oxfam field office to hear about the Close the Gap campaign led by Oxfam Australia.
Together with government supported initiatives, Oxfam have been working in the Gulf Region over the last few years to close the gap on indigenous health. For a first world country, the 20 year life expectancy gap between non indigenous Australians and indigenous Australians is nothing short of shocking! I briefly spoke to Caroline from the Oxfam Office about some of the â€˜on the groundâ€™ efforts to change habits and empower the local community through education and partnership programs.
Small scale school based projects were educating kids about healthy eating along with other small scale programs like the â€œsay no to drugs â€“ respect my choiceâ€ campaign aimed at empowering mothers and supporting households to become drug free zones.
The sheer size of some of the problems in these remote communities was astounding. Drugs, alcohol, employment, crime, education, bridging the cultural divide…. I often found myself walking away from similar conversations with more questions than when I started. I have to admit I lived in Newcastle oblivious to the enormous problems these communities face â€“ out of sight out of mind. Sure I heard about the 2008 intervention in the media like most other Australians, but I never took the time to appreciate the problem in the larger context.
Itâ€™s only when you travel to some of these communities, speak to others and start asking questions that you realise how big the problem is. I started scratching my head, racking the brain and asking where do you start? Itâ€™s cultural, historical, and educational and from the brief exposure to these communities I realised that will take an enormous sustained effort to bring about change.
The chat with Caroline highlighted the need for community based sustainable solutions. Solving this monumental â€˜Close the Gapâ€™ challenge isnâ€™t going to happen over a few years but over generations. Caroline pointed out that the key to the success of these projects is to form long term, stable relationships while working with the local community. She also pointed out the difficulty in measuring and quantifying the outcomes/results of these projects in such a short space of time. I
t was really inspiring to hear how these initiatives were helping these remote communities. I walked away from the chat with Caroline with an enormous amount of respect for those on the ground with the fortitude to tackle such a large scale problem. You can help the expedition support Oxfamâ€™s work by making an online donation through the expedition website.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can expect to live substantially shorter lives than other Australians â€“ up to 20 years less in some cases. Babies born to Aboriginal mothers die at twice the rate of other Australian babies. And they experience higher rates of preventable illness such as heart disease, kidney disease and diabetes.
Itâ€™s a health crisis youâ€™d associate with an impoverished nation, but itâ€™s happening right here in our own backyard.
Oxfam are part of the Close the Gap coalition calling on governments to take action to achieve Indigenous health equality within 25 years by:
- Increasing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders’ access to health services
- Addressing critical social issues such as poor housing, nutrition, employment and education
- Building Indigenous control and participation in the delivery of health and other services
- Getting governments at state and national level to work in partnership with Indigenous communities and Indigenous health organisations and expert to develop and monitor a plan to tackle the Indigenous health crisis