Aboriginal people happier in remote areas

By AAP with AG Staff 30 September 2010
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Aboriginal people living in remote, outback areas are happier than those living in the city, says a study.

ABORIGINES IN REMOTE PARTS Australia are happier than their city counterparts despite being more disadvantaged, a new report shows.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released a series of social trends reports on Wednesday, including one which showed that the report showed Aborigines make up just three per cent of Australia’s total population and are 12 times more likely to live remotely. In remote areas, 79 per cent of Aborigines aged 15 years or older reported feeling happy, some or most of the time. In the major cities, however, the report showed 68 per cent were happy and in regional areas 73 per cent were happy at least some of the time.

“Indigenous people living in remote areas are more likely to report higher levels of attachment to their culture as measured by their language spoken, participation in cultural events and identification with clan, tribe or language group,” the report says.

Images from a remote Arnhem Land community

Cultural ties

In 2008, 42 per cent of Aborigines above the age of 15 in remote areas spoke an Aboriginal or Torres Strait language at home, compared to just two per cent in major cities and regional areas.

The most commonly attended cultural activities among Aborigines in remote areas were funerals, or sorry business, and sporting events, while those living the regional areas and cities were more likely to attend NAIDOC (National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee) Week celebrations.

The report says there had been improvements in wellbeing for indigenous Australians over the past decade, but that inequality still existed between remote, regional and metropolitan parts of Australia. It said the income disparity between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians was most apparent in remote areas, where more than half of the households were at the bottom end of the scale in income distribution nationally.

While there was a five per cent decrease between 2002 and 2008 in the number of remotely-based Aborigines living in overcrowded conditions, more than half of them – or about 66,000 people – continue to live in houses with an insufficient number of bedrooms. In contrast, 16 per cent of indigenous people in major cities lived in overcrowded conditions, while in regional areas the figure was 23 per cent. The report says overcrowding often led to structural problems in the building and a lack of basic kitchen and bathroom facilities.

“At best, such inadequacies may make conditions uncomfortable, but they may also pose significant risks to health or safety,” it says. “Overcrowded housing presents a number of risks such as increasing the chances of spreading infectious diseases and interpersonal conflict.” Overcrowding may also impair childrens’ education through decreased opportunities to study or get sufficient sleep.

Education on the increase

The proportion of Aborigines aged between 15 and 24 who are fully engaged in either study or employment increased between 2002 and 2008 from 47 per cent to 54 per cent. More than 70 per cent of young indigenous Australians living in a major city had completed year 10 or higher, compared to 64 per cent in regional areas and 59 per cent in remote areas. Remotely-based Aborigines aged between 25 and 34 were the least likely to have a non-school qualification.

“This may be in part due to young people having to move out of remote areas to study, or to use their qualification in employment,” the report says.

Although smoking was more prevalent among Aborigines in remote communities, indigenous Australians in the major cities were less likely to describe their health as good or better. In remote areas, fewer people consumed alcohol but a high portion of those who did drink, drank at high risk levels. Aborigines in major cities were more likely to report feeling unsafe after dark.

The report partly attributes this attitude the fact that in 95 per cent of violent assaults in remote areas, the perpetrator was known to the victim, compared with 73 per cent in the cities.