, Volume 4, Issue 4, pp 489–499 | Cite as

Ecohealth and Aboriginal Testimony of the Nexus Between Human Health and Place

  • Fay H. Johnston
  • Susan P. Jacups
  • Amy J. Vickery
  • David M. J. S. Bowman
Special Feature: Indigenous Perspectives Original Contribution


The spread of industrial civilizations has been particularly traumatic for the last remaining hunter-gatherer societies. Manifestations of this include expatriation from ancestral lands, sickness, poverty, and environmental degradation. Northern Australia has been no exception despite remaining a stronghold of Aboriginal cultures and still containing vast areas of relatively intact landscapes. Most Aboriginal people reside in remote settlements where they remain on the negative extreme of basic indicators such as life expectancy and educational attainment. In addition, biodiversity declines are being documented from loss of Aboriginal fire management and invasion by feral species. There has been little consideration of potential health, social, economic, or environmental benefits of routinely hunting, gathering or being on their land. This reflects a Western philosophical position that segregates land management and health policy, a view at odds with Aboriginal peoples’ testimony of the indivisibility of people and land. Here we report perspectives from Arnhemland gathered through observation and unstructured and semistructured interviews. Themes that emerged included the high level of detailed, complex knowledge of their traditionally owned lands, the perceived urgency about passing this on to younger people, and the need that both land and people have for each other for the well-being of both. Primary motivations for returning to traditional lands were gathering food, escaping from stresses, and educating young people. The many barriers included no transport, family problems, frequent funerals, and other cultural or family obligations. This work forms part of a larger transdisciplinary research program that aims to inform policy about sustainable futures in northern Australia.


Aboriginal health landscape ecology qualitative research natural resource management health policy 



This work was supported by grants from Land and Water Australia (NTU07) and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (G2004/6971). We thank all participants in this project for their time and expertise and acknowledge the support of several people and organizations, including Bawaninga Aboriginal Corporation, The Maningrida Health Board and Community Health Centre, Ian Munroe, Gavan Enever, Victor Rostron, Bevelyn Sithole, Paul Burgess, and Glenn Albrecht. Dorita Thomson and Museum Victoria kindly granted permission for reproduction of the photograph by Donald Thomson and we thank Melanie Raberts for her assistance with this.


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Copyright information

© Ecohealth Journal Consortium 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Fay H. Johnston
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Susan P. Jacups
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Amy J. Vickery
    • 1
  • David M. J. S. Bowman
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.School for Environmental Research, Institute of Advanced StudiesCharles Darwin UniversityDarwinAustralia
  2. 2.Menzies School of Health ResearchInstitute of Advanced Studies, Charles Darwin UniversityDarwinAustralia
  3. 3.University of TasmaniaTasmaniaAustralia

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