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Aboriginal people today 

Life in 21st century Australia is radically different to the life enjoyed by Indigenous people before European settlement in 1788.

While some Indigenous people still live in the traditional way, usually in remote areas, most inhabit urban areas around the country’s coastline.

Indigenous people, like people who have migrated here from every part of the world, now have to work to maintain their cultural identity while at the same time find a place to fit within the complex multicultural society Australia has become.

Australia, the world’s largest continent nation, now boasts a standard of living equal to the most sophisticated in the world and is home to world leaders in almost every aspect of life.

Indigenous people, however, generally do not share this standard of living. Many live in poverty equal to the worst in the world, acceptable education standards are reached by few, incarceration rates are higher than for non-Indigenous people, and alcohol and drug and substance abuse is widespread and is damaging the health of whole communities.

Domestic violence and sexual abuse in some communities is dangerously common, such as that revealed in the Gordon Report  on the Swan Valley Noongar Camp, near Perth, Western Australia.

Indigenous people generally suffer from more health problems and are more likely to suffer from diabetes, liver disease and glaucoma.

Indigenous people are likely to live in sub-standard housing, have lower incomes, shorter lives and are more likely to die while in jail than non-Indigenous people.

Their cultural and spiritual identity has been eroded by government policies and laws and by the unavoidable pressure to assimilate into the European way of life.

This is demonstrated in laws which until late in the 20th century did not give Indigenous people the same legal rights as non-Indigenous people (in areas such as land ownership, voting and the ability to bring up their children) and in restrictions (such as forbidding children from speaking their language).

Practices such as segregation, removing children, and ignoring Indigenous law and religion have now gone.

Awareness has grown at all levels, from schools and local governments to Federal politicians and mining companies, that Indigenous people have a special culture which needs to be maintained.

Special health, housing, arts, policing, youth work, education, arts, tourism and business policies and programs have been created to support Indigenous people and their heritage and culture.

Attempts are being made to resolve past injustices, such as that experienced by children of The Stolen Generations, and the whole Australian community has supported events like National Sorry Day which expresses sorrow and regret to Indigenous people.

Tourism ventures, such as art galleries and outback tours, are some other ways Indigenous culture is being highlighted and appreciated by people from around the world.

Indigenous people are also now amongst the nation’s leaders, represented in all levels of government and leading their own organisations to lobby for changes to benefit their people.

Indigenous people now have their own flag, in red, yellow and black, which Cathy Freeman first controversially draped around her body during her victory run at the Commonwealth Games.

Indigenous people are regaining their identity and their ability to show pride in their heritage and culture.

Last modified: 01 February 2011