Why understanding needs to go deeper when it comes to Aboriginal Australians

Why understanding needs to go deeper when it comes to Aboriginal Australians

March 17, 2016

I’d like to think of myself as well-informed when it comes to the world and how it works.

I listened at high school and university and still take an interest in current affairs. I read, enjoy heated discussions about politics and care about the future of the planet and its people. I thought I had a good grasp on Australia’s history and how we got to where we are today. And then I spent a full day learning about Aboriginal culture and realised just how little I knew about the intricacies of the native people of my home country.

In a session run by the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO),  I was educated on various aspects of Aboriginal life. It wasn’t so much a history lesson, but awareness training that aimed to bridge gaps in knowledge I didn’t even know existed.

I went into the session unsure of what to expect, but confident I wouldn’t get too much out of it that I didn’t already know.  I wasn’t ignorant to the horrendous treatment inflicted on native Aboriginals and Terra Nulliuswasn’t a foreign concept to me. You wouldn’t find me bad mouthing Aboriginal people, labelling them as freeloaders, not being able to comprehend why they couldn’t just ‘get over it’ sooner and assuming they were hanging on to old wounds deliberately. I wasn’t ignorant, but I wasn’t nearly as informed as I was afterwards.

I learnt that Koorie is actually the word used to describe Aboriginal people living in Victoria and Aboriginal is a Latin word that simply means original person.

I wasn’t aware of the four types of spirits that exist in Aboriginal culture and that you could be a desert person, a freshwater person, a saltwater person or a bush person, depending on where your clan is from.

I certainly had no concept of sorry business, the cultural term for when there is a death or loss in an Aboriginal family, taken so seriously that any other family member with the same name as the deceased loved one is often renamed.

It never occurred to me that prior to white invasion, Aboriginal people were one of the healthiest populations in the world, before items such as salt, sugar and alcohol were introduced – And the fact that diabetes and heart disease are the leading causes of Aboriginal deaths today, is partly a result of their bodies still adapting.

I didn’t know that even defining health in Aboriginal culture is more holistic, taking into account social, physical, emotional, cultural and spiritual elements, or how interventions from health care services or police today can trigger flashbacks to similar situations during the stolen generation.

More than anything, I didn’t understand how transgenerational trauma perpetuates through families and how deep the effect is when a family structure has been disrupted. How the memories of a past generation weighs down the next, linking an immense desire to keep cultural practises alive, when so many have been lost.

I didn’t know any of these things, until an Aboriginal person sat down and explained them, in turn teaching me how to better understand, respect and assist Aboriginal people at large.

This map attempts to represent all the language, social or nation groups of the Indigenous people of Australia.
This map attempts to represent all the language, social or nation groups of the Indigenous people of Australia.


While school curriculums teach us the facts of what happened after the First Fleet and beyond, there often isn’t any deeper level knowledge provided that bridges context and gets to the real heart of the situation. Education usually isn’t delivered from a first hand perspective and in turn becomes distant and viewed with indifference.

In the space of a few hours at VACCHO, I understood not only the context and background to the issues facing Aboriginal people, but also why generalised perceptions exist and how easy it is for myths to keep on perpetuating.

I drew a link between the way that just as Aboriginal Australians face transgenerational issues, a similar sense of ignorance is passed on through non-Aboriginal Australians, simply through a lack of understanding.

I left that day with more questions than answers despite how much knowledge I had gained.

And now, when I read about a 10-year-old Aboriginal girl taking her own life, I will have more questions than assumptions, more sympathy than indifference and a better understanding of the complex issues surrounding her potential exposure to transgenerational traumas – because it matters.

Not only to policy makers or health professionals or case workers, but to every, single Australian.



To read more by Rachel go to https://rachelfurolo.wordpress.com

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