Health, illness and behaviour
: Walpiri men's experience in a Central Australian community

  • Colin Watson

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    The Warlpiri, an Aboriginal people of Central Australia, like other Aboriginal Australians face considerable health challenges. This research project examined the factors that impede Warlpiri men's use of health services. It is known that the indicators of poor health status in Aboriginal men are many times greater than that of other Australian men. Despite these health deficits, the utilization of health services and the reporting of illness by Warlpiri men tend to be low.

    The research was undertaken at Nyirrpi, a Warlpiri community located in the western deserts of Central Australia. A critical ethnographic methodology that included qualitative and quantitative inquiry was used to conduct this research. Multiple strategies of inquiry including health record analysis, interviews, reflective field diary and observations enabled an understanding of Nyirrpi men's experience to be developed.

    A descriptive analysis of the health status of Nyirrpi men was undertaken using clinic records. This revealed high levels of chronic disease in both men and women. Analysis of clinic attendance revealed markedly lower rates of clinic utilization for men. In-depth semi-structured interviews were used to investigate the knowledge and beliefs about health and illness and health service issues pertinent to Aboriginal men.

    The welfare of young Warlpiri men was identified as an area of concern. The path that men take to treatment was examined in order to understand delays in help-seeking. Nyirrpi men universally reported shame as inhibiting access to health services. The causes of this shame are complex and are reported here in detail. Language emerged as a profound factor in the conduct of this research. This has implications well beyond the research arena.

    Whilst the behaviors demonstrated by Warlpiri men are similar to those reported by men in the Australian community, generally the mechanisms behind them are different. The concepts of homosociality and homophobia are used to explain these differences.
    Date of Award2005
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorJohn Wakerman (Supervisor)

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