Background: For Indigenous Australians, health transcends the absence of disease, and includes the health and wellbeing of their community and Country: their whole physical, cultural and spiritual environment. Stronger relationships with Country and greater involvement in cultural practices enhance the wellbeing of Indigenous Australians, and those in more remote regions have greater access to their Country and higher levels of wellbeing. However this does not translate into improvements in clinical indicators, and Indigenous Australians in more remote regions suffer higher levels of morbidity and mortality than Indigenous people in non-remote areas, and other Australians. The Interplay research project aimed to explore how Indigenous Australians in remote regions experience high levels of wellbeing despite poor health statistics, and how services could more effectively enhance both health and wellbeing.
Methods: Indigenous Australians in remote regions, together with researchers and government representatives developed a wellbeing framework, comprising government and community priorities: education, employment and health, and community, culture and empowerment respectively. To explore these priorities Indigenous community researchers recruited participants from diverse Indigenous organizations, including Indigenous land management, art, business development, education, employment, health and municipal services. Fourteen focus groups and seven interviews, involving 75 Indigenous and ten non-Indigenous service providers and users were conducted. These were recorded, transcribed and analyzed, using thematic analysis, based on the wellbeing framework.
Results: Research participants highlighted Indigenous land management as a source of wellbeing, through strengthened identity and empowerment, access to traditional food sources, enjoyable physical activity, and escape from communities where high levels of alcohol are consumed. Participants described how collaboration and partnerships between services, and recognition of Indigenous languages could enhance wellbeing, while competition between services undermines wellbeing. Indigenous land management programs work across different sectors and promote collaboration between services, serving as a source of comprehensive primary health care.
Conclusions: Developing primary health care to reflect distinctive health needs of Indigenous Australians will enhance their health and wellbeing, which includes their communities and Country. Indigenous land management consolidates aspects of comprehensive primary health care, providing both clinical benefits and wellbeing, and can provide a focus for service collaboration.