Date: 14 Mar 2012

The Politics of Suffering: Aboriginal Health in Contemporary Australia

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Public discourse on the notorious health gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians has long been politicised. Exercises in blame have distracted too much attention from the scientifically honest search for causation. The role played by quasi-traditional hygiene practices, for example, in causing high rates of early death from heart disease and kidney failure, is often downplayed or ignored. Instead, post-colonial collapse and its inter-generational perpetuation, while real, are given over-privileged places in causal theories. A taboo on discussing and acting on the need for cultural change is a major obstacle to closing the health gap. Serious changes in the Indigenous health profile require more than better service access. Without shifts in child socialisation leading to modernisation of Indigenous health cultures, more successful health practices and a major reduction of suffering are likely to remain elusive.

This chapter draws on material included in Chap. 5 of Peter Sutton (2009), The Politics of Suffering: Indigenous Australia and the End of the Liberal Consensus (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press).