Celebrating NAIDOC week

It’s NAIDOC week and the Australian Drug Foundation acknowledges the traditional owners of this land by paying our respect to all elders past and present.  NAIDOC is a celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and an opportunity to recognise the contributions of Indigenous Australians in various fields.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders currently experience more illness, disability and injury than other Australians.  They also die at younger ages compared with non-indigenous Australians.  Alcohol is one of 11 risk factors that are linked to poor health.1

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians were 1.4 times more likely to abstain from drinking alcohol than non-Indigenous Australians.   At the same time, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians were about 1.5 times more likely to drink alcohol at risky levels than non-Indigenous Australians.2

We know that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people draw strength from a range of factors such as connectedness to family, culture and identity.  For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, health is not just about the physical wellbeing of the individual, but also the social, emotional and cultural wellbeing of the whole community1.

Whilst there is significant diversity between Aboriginal and Islander communities throughout Australia, one of the biggest common threads is people’s passion for sport.  People travel huge distances to participate in sports and are prepared to play in extreme conditions.  Leaders encourage involvement in sport as a way of bringing people together and strengthening family and cultural bonds, value it as a diversionary activity and for the opportunities it provides some for travel or employment, and for its focus on gradual achievement, leadership and team endeavours.

So it is timely to note and celebrate the work that the Good Sports program is leading in the Northern Territory.

The Central Australian Pilot Project ran from mid 2012 to June 2013 in two communities: Papunya and Santa Teresa. Traditional Owners and respected people were consulted about how the national Good Sports program could be adapted to meet their specific needs.

  • Approximately 95% of remote populations and sporting teams are Aboriginal people
  • Most communities have less than 200 residents
  • There are long distances of travel required to play sport
  • Club governance and administration is less developed
  • There are fewer resources to enable participation.

Community leaders identified strong potential for Good Sports to support efforts to sustain diversionary activities such as creating and maintaining remote AFL or softball leagues which played in participating remote communities, rather than Alice Springs or other regional centres.  Leaders in both communities also had concrete ideas about other harm reduction strategies linked to sports and were keen for support and additional resources in implementing these as voluntary measures.

Good Sports helps address four of the seven Closing the Gap targets:

  • safer communities (e.g. reduced alcohol fuelled violence; higher participation in family and community life)
  • governance & leadership (e.g. functioning sports club also acting as positive role model and encouraging new leaders)
  • health (e.g. active participation in sports, sports fitness and nutrition,)
  • economic participation (e.g. people returning to work or school as planned, increased opportunities for employment in community sports and recreation programs).

Do you know of other programs that are working to reduce the health gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians?

Other places of interest:

  • To close the gap in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander disadvantage, the Council Of Australian Governments (COAG) has committed to making significant reforms in order to address six specific targets.
  • NACCHO is the national peak body representing over 150 Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHSs) across the country on Aboriginal health and wellbeing issues.


1. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social and emotional wellbeing framework, 2012.
2. The health and welfare of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, 2011.