Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have significantly poorer health and lower life expectancy than other Australians. For the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population born in 2010–2012, life expectancy was estimated to be 10.6 years lower than that of the non-Indigenous population for males (69.1 years compared with 79.7) and 9.5 years for females (73.7 compared with 83.1).

    Between 2005–2007 and 2010–2012, Indigenous life expectancy at birth for boys increased by 1.6 years and by 0.6 years for girls. Over the same period, the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous life expectancy narrowed by 0.8 years for males and 0.1 years for females (AIHW, 2017).

    While there have been improvements in the health and well-being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in recent years, some long-standing challenges remain. Many factors contribute to the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous health. Social disadvantage, such as lower education and employment rates, is a factor, as well as higher smoking rates, poor nutrition, physical inactivity and poor access to health services.

    PHAIWA works with many Aboriginal organisations and services to promote health and wellbeing, reduce stigma, upskill Aboriginal practitioners and produce community based outcomes.

    Advocacy Targets

    PHAIWA has established the health of Australian Indigenous peoples as a priority. PHAIWA’s advocacy targets for Indigenous Health are:

    • Linking housing and health 
      •    Advocating for improved training, employment, mentoring, support literacy/numeracy for the Indigenous workforce
      •    Supporting introduction of the Public Health Bill to bind the Crown
      •    Building on successful local models & disseminate information
      •    Provide leadership, coordination & accountability in Indigenous EH
      •    Addressing lifestyle risk factors for chronic disease can reduce the impact of chronic disease
      •    Promoting maternal health for mothers and their children

    PHAIWA coordinate a range of projects in the area of Indigenous health including:

    Aboriginal Health and the Mainstream News Media: A toolkit for journalists

    Curtin University, in association with Combined Universities Centre for Rural Health, Health Communications Resources Inc. and Healthway, has produced a toolkit for journalists entitled ‘Aboriginal Health and the Mainstream News Media’. To view this document please click here.

    PHAIWA Projects and Resources

    The WA Indigenous Storybook. PHAIWA has now produced eight WA Indigenous Storybooks, the most recent focusing on the Goldfields region of WA. To find out more click here.

    The Children’s Environment and Health Local Government Policy Awards. The Children’s Environment and Health Local Government Policy Awards has a category  on Indigenous health. To find out more click here.

    The Getting Your Messages Out to Remote Communities program was a joint initiative between Nirrumbuk Aboriginal Corporation, which is based in Broome, and the Public Health Advocacy Institute of WA (PHAIWA). You can read about the program here.

    Kalumburu – Ya got a wash your face to come to my place. (See Indigenous Health Kalumburu Environmental Health Community Event 2017 below).

    Squeaky Clean Kids. 

    This program aims to help reduce the incidence of trachoma in regional Western Australian (WA) Aboriginal communities. This program is supported by a range of organisations including PHAIWA, with technical input and evaluation provided by our Director, Melissa Stoneham.The WA Country Health Service coordinates the program which involves:

    • Providing over 200,000 bars of free soap to up to 63 Aboriginal communities in the Kimberley, Pilbara, Mid-West and Goldfields regions of WA;
    • Providing liquid soap for community public facilities such as schools and Women’s Centres
    • Providing health promotion messages and programs to school students and the adult population
    • Training Aboriginal Environmental health Workers on how to conduct bathroom audits and to disseminate messages to the adult populations
    • A bathroom audit of every house at least twice a year

    The soap for this program has been donated by SoapAid, an Australian not-for-profit organisation that collects, sorts, cleans and reprocesses soap from hotels into new bars.

    The WA Country Health Service has partners with SoapAid, the Department of Health’s Environmental Health Directorate, the Aboriginal Health Council of WA, PHAIWA, regional Aboriginal corporations, regional schools and local governments to deliver the program in the four health regions.

    Here are some pictures showing various components of the program including the statewide launch of the program in Kalgoorlie where Hon Roger Cook, Deputy Premier officially launched the program.










    For media coverage of the event on GWN News, watch it here.

    Indigenous Smoking Project

    Literature Review

    This PHAIWA project, commissioned by the Department of Health and Ageing (DoHA), is now complete. The project recognised the various organisations working in the area of Indigenous tobacco control and aimed to complement their work by linking tobacco control and advocacy expertise with stakeholder engagement and community involvement.

    Specifically, the project aimed to contribute to capacity building in skills-based tobacco advocacy strategies for the Aboriginal Health Council of WA (AHCWA) and Aboriginal Medical Services (AMS) staff members. By working closely with peak bodies such as AHCWA, AMSs, other Indigenous leaders, experts in tobacco control and key public health organisations, the project sought to develop innovative approaches and provide future policy options to reduce the prevalence of Indigenous tobacco use in Western Australia and Australia. These are highlighted in the final report.

    A Project Advisory Committee (PAC) was established to guide the process and advise on appropriate consultation procedures and final recommendations.  Thanks are offered to every PAC member for their time, advice and commitment to the project. The PAC Members included:

    • Glenda Humes (South West Aboriginal Medical Service Aboriginal Corporation (SWAMS)), Terry Brennan (Geraldton Regional Aboriginal Medical Service)
    • Juli Coffin (Combined Universities Centre for Rural health (CUCRH)),
    • Tim O’Brien (Kimberley Population Health Unit (KPHU)),
    • Associate Professor Lyn Henderson-Yates (Centre for Indigenous Studies),
    • Lyn Dimer (Heart Foundation),
    • Stephen Hall (Australian Council on Smoking and Health (ACOSH)),
    • David Waters (Office of Aboriginal Health)
    • Wendy Creech (Department of Health and Ageing (OATSIH)
    • Michael Fowlie (Department of Health and Ageing (Primary Health)
    • Professor Mike Daube (Public Health Advocacy Institute of WA (PHAIWA)
    • Dr Melissa Stoneham (Public Health Advocacy Institute of WA (PHAIWA)
    • Laura Bond (Public Health Advocacy Institute of WA (PHAIWA)
    • Ms Jodie Goodman (PHAIWA)

    The project team would also like to thank Shane Bradbrook, Director of Te Reo Marama, for his commitment to and assistance with this project. Shane’s primary role is to advocate change at a political and policy level on tobacco control issues from a Maori perspective.

    The final report outlines the key finding from the literature review, documents the main themes from the community consultation and documents the project strategies. More importantly the final report provides some direction for the future funding directions for Indigenous tobacco control in Western Australia.

    To read a copy of the report, please follow this link.

    For further information please contact Dr Melissa Stoneham at

    The Marulu Strategy – A Story of Dedication, Passion and Commitment (Melissa Stoneham).

    Bad news: Negative Indigenous health coverage reinforces stigma (Melissa Stoneham). This article identifies the results of a media analysis to gauge negativity around Indigenous health reporting.

    The Portrayal of Indigenous Health in Selected Australian Media (Mel Stoneham, Jodie Goodman & Mike Daube)

    Driving licences: why they are key to many Aboriginal health, justice and job issues (Mel Stoneham)

    Where is the “roadmap” leading, for remote Aboriginal communities in Western Australia? (Mel Stoneham)

    The cost of eating well in Australia’s remote Indigenous Communities (Mel Stoneham)

    Future Directions for Indigenous Environmental Health in Western Australia (Mel Stoneham & Mike Daube)

    Interesting facts, data, articles or blogs from others

    The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Plan 2013-2023 adopts a strengths-based approach to ensure policies and programs improve health, social and emotional wellbeing, and resilience and promote positive health behaviours. It emphasises the centrality of culture in the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the rights of individuals to a safe, healthy and empowered life.

    The Health Plan also builds on existing strategies and planning approaches to improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health. You can access it here.

    Important Resources

    Assimilation and the Push to Close Communities

    Solidarity Online has published an excellent article about the forced closure of Aboriginal communities. You can read it here.

    June Oscar’s Presentation at Kings College London, 2015

    June Oscar, the well-known Indigenous advocate and Chief Executive Officer of Marninwarntikura Fitzroy Women’s Resource Centre at Fitzroy Crossing, presented at Kings College London on the 29 April 2015.

    In 2011, in an article appearing in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald June was named as one of the 50 most influential women in the world for her work in improving the lives of those living in remote Aboriginal communities. Her presentation was titled ‘Encountering Truth: The Real Life Stories of Objects from Empire’s Frontier and Beyond’.

    June Oscar’s Presentation at the National Suicide Prevention Conference, 2017

    June Oscar’s latest presentation titled “Cultural Strength is Key to Suicide Prevention” which she delivered at the National Suicide Prevention Conference on 27 July 2017 can be read here.

    Environmental Health Needs of Aboriginal Communities in WA

    This report outlines the findings from a survey of discrete Aboriginal communities during late 2007 and through 2008, funded by the Environmental Health Coordinating Committee (EHNCC), the peak coordinating body in Aboriginal environmental health in WA. The survey was coordinated by the Environmental Health Needs Coordinating Committee and conducted by environmental health practitioners who work with, and in, discrete Aboriginal communities. Each of the participating communities was visited by environmental health practitioners in order to survey the infrastructure and collect information from community members. This information included levels of community satisfaction and concern with the provision of essential, municipal and allied services influencing and affecting environmental health.

    The Report provides analysis on the 8 core environmental health indicators of:

    Water, electricity, housing, solid waste disposal, sanitation,dust dog health programs, emergency management

    To read the full report, click here.

    To read press coverage of this report from The West Australian on May 15, please download from this link.

    Important Partners


    The Aboriginal Health Council of Western Australia (AHCWA) replaced the Western Australian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (WAACCHO) as the peak body representing 21 Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHSs) in Western Australia (WA).

    It aims to:

    • Lead the development of Aboriginal health policy
    • Influence and monitor performance across the health sector
    • Advocate for and support community development and capacity building in Aboriginal communities
    • Support the continued development of ACCHSs
    • Build the workforce capacity to improve the health, social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal people in WA.

    You can access their website here.

    Kalumburu Environmental Health Community Event 2017

    One of PHAIWA’s jobs is to travel to remote Aboriginal communities and provide training to Aboriginal Environmental Health Workers on how to better deliver messages to their communities. These Workers, who are at the coal face of their community are critical in ensuring basic levels of public and environmental health. The courses we deliver are skills based and run for two days. As there are often some issues with literacy, the courses are more about yarning and demonstrating than the more traditional and didactic styles. In each course, the AEHWs work in groups to develop a community program based on need, come up with their key message and then develop a basic plan to address the issue. For more information on these courses read this article.

    At the Halls Creek workshop, we had a group of AEHWs from Kununurra come up with a brilliant key message – You gotta wash your face to come to my place. The idea of this program was to target young adults who are looking for a partner or a bit of romance. The key aim was to increase personal hygiene and provide sexual health education. It was considered that if the young people looked clean and healthy, they would be more likely to get a date.

    The community that was targeted for program was Kalumburu. Now you can’t get much more remote that this community which is the northernmost settlement in Western Australia, located off the Gibb River Road, 550 kilometres from Kununurra. There are about 450 people living there.

    The AEHWs who had come up with the idea, led by Tim Bond and Clayton Bell, went back to Kalumburu and had a number of conversations about the idea. The community accepted this and the planning commenced. Often when you run a workshop and the participants head home with an idea, you don’t hear anything more. But not this project. Although the basic concept was developed at the workshop, it evolved further with the assistance of Kimberley Population Health Unit team and the Shire of Derby, and was worked up into a full proposal and submitted to, and successfully funded by the West Australian Primary Health Alliance.

    The campaign message remained the same as was developed in the workshop. “You gotta wash your face to come to my place” aimed to encourage sex appeal and personal grooming to the young men, in order to attract female attention. The Kimberley Public Health Unit came up with a range of activities to take place over the course of a week, including pampering sessions, makeover classes, school competition for poster design and the No Germs on Me jumping castle, a local fishing expedition with the men to provide informal environment and health education, and a final community dinner that celebrates the week, with live music, food and dance.

    PHAIWA’s specific role leading up to the week long program was to organise clothes to be donated to enable the community members to wear a smart casual outfit to the community dinner. We were overwhelmed by the donations including a gift card donation from Target.

    After many months of planning and the allocation of tasks, a collaborative team from PHAIWA, Kimberley Population Health Unit (Broome and Kununurra) and Nirrumbuk Aboriginal Corporation, along with some Broome hairdressers, Kununurra musicians and Ningali Lawford-Wolf (Bran Nue Day, Rabbit Proof Fence, Last Cab to Darwin) all headed to Kalumburu for a week long program.

    Rather than tell the story from here, I thought I would use photos instead. I think you will get the general idea.














    There is a PowerPoint presentation of this event, click on the link below to access it.

    Where is the “roadmap” leading, for remote Aboriginal communities in Western Australia?

    The Western Australian Government recently released a “roadmap” for the future of the State’s regional and estimated 274 remote communities. This follows widespread concerns over the past 18 months about the threatened closure of some remote communities in WA.

    The report, Resilient Families, Strong Communities, flags the WA Government’s intention to improve support and services to towns and larger communities, but that it “expects to support fewer communities over time, particularly as migration away from small outstations continues”.

    It notes there are about 274 remote Aboriginal communities in WA, with an estimated total population of 12,000 Aboriginal residents. “By contrast, in Queensland there are only 18 remote communities with about 20,000 residents.”

    The National Congress of Australia’s First People has raised concerns about the potential for the roadmap’s approach to cause harm to communities, families and cultures, as have others.

    An online petition calls on the WA Premier to ensure Aboriginal communities are not forcibly closed and that Aboriginal people are not deterred from living in their communities due to inadequate provision of municipal and essential services. Robin Chapple, a Greens MLC, has introduced a Prevention of Forced Closure of Remote Aboriginal Communities Bill 2016 (available here).

    In her article, Dr Melissa Stoneham, Deputy Director of the Public Health Advocacy Institute WA, gives an overview of the report and raises questions about the lack of representation of health expertise in the WA Government processes.

    PHAIWA gets involved

    The sun was shining. It was a beautiful Autumn day in Perth. A crew of five left PHAIWA on the train, headed for the SOSBLAKAUSTRALIA march to protest against the Barnett Government’s decision to close up to 150 remote Aboriginal communities. PHAIWA had been instrumental in drafting the Open Letter inviting health organisations to attend the rallies around Australia and the world, supported through Melissa Sweet at Croakey.

    You can read the letter here.

    We estimate that around 1500 people marched from Forrest Place to Parliament House. The largely calm but vocal crowd briefly stopped in the Perth Mall to hear a couple of speeches but then marched up St George’s Terrace to Parliament House.

    When we arrived at Parliament house, Beds are Burning (Midnight Oil) was playing providing a great atmosphere for the speeches. Many passionate addresses were given with highlights for us being Tammy Solmenec from Amnesty Australia and Alannah MacTiernan MP, Member for Perth. A poignant moment was the raising of four Aboriginal flags at Parliament House as seen below.

    It was a privilege for the PHAWA staff members to be at the rally, standing up for what we believe is a very important public health issue for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. For an overview of the tweets from rallies across the world, click here.

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    Indigenous Health Resources


    Aboriginal Health Council of WA

    Healthy For Life

    WA Office of Aboriginal Health