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Access To Recreation Within Australian Aboriginal Communities

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For close to 38,000 years before European settlement, Australian Indigenous and Torres Strait people had no leisure and no rest time (Lynch R & Veal A 2006). This is not to say that they worked all the time. In fact, many anthropologists suggest that an Indigenous person could collect the day's food in between 3 and 5 hours (Lynch R & Veal A 2006). The difference is that, suggested by (Lynch R & Veal A 2006), traditional Indigenous society didn't separate 'work' and 'other things' like the post-Christian Europeans did. Activities like food gathering and hunting were fun, social and educational activities, not something to be 'escaped' from at the end of each day (Lynch R & Veal A 2006). It has been observed that Indigenous people could have increased the amount of food collected each day, but chose to 'work' everyday rather than stockpile resources. When the Europeans colonised Australia, the local population had to change in many ways, including how leisure was carried out. Employed Indigenous people could now longer work whenever they wanted, or have socialise during. Unemployed Indigenous people were reliant on government handouts to survive now that their food sources were removed. Many took to drugs and alcohol in an attempt to entertain themselves (Lynch R & Veal A 2006).

The days of government-sanctioned oppression are gone now and today Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples comprise 2.4% of the total Australian

Population. Torres Strait Islanders comprised 11% of the Indigenous population of Australia.

A significant share of the Indigenous population (69%) lives outside the major urban centres. In 2001, around one in four Indigenous Australians lived in remote areas compared with only one in fifty non-Indigenous Australians.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are a young population with a median age of 20.5 years compared to 36.1 years for the non-Indigenous population. Because such a large percentage (25%) of Indigenous people live in declared 'Remote' areas of Australia (ABS 2002), it's interesting to compare their statistics to those living in non-remote areas. Indigenous people living in remote areas had a slightly higher rate of participation in sport over a 12-month period than those in non-remote areas (52% compared with 48%), and men were more likely to have participated than women (57% and 42% respectively). A direct comparison shows that Indigenous people generally, actually have a higher rate of sports participation than the national average of 31.4% (ABS 2002). 90.0% of Indigenous people were involved in social activities in the last 3 months, while 68.1% attended a cultural event, similar to the national average. It is interesting to note that the remote area population had a cultural event attendance of 87.1%, far exceeding the national average, especially in remote areas.

In 2001, the mean (average) gross household income for Indigenous persons was $364 per week, or 62% of the corresponding income for non-Indigenous persons

($585 per week) (ABS 2001). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are less likely than non-Indigenous Australians to consume alcohol; those who do so are more likely to drink at hazardous levels (ABS 2005). After adjusting for age differences, Indigenous people aged 18 years or over were twice as likely as non-Indigenous people to be current smokers (ABS 2005).

Australian Indigenous people do have, in many areas, fair and reasonable access to a variety of leisure opportunities. The higher rate of sports participation shows that, not only are playing areas and facilities accessible, they are being used by a large percentage of the Indigenous population. This enthusiasm for sport may stem from the higher than proportional amount of Indigenous players in the Australian Football League. In the 2005 season, there were 42 Indigenous players in the league (Hallinan C & Jankovic L 2005). However, Hallinan and Jankovic suggest that these players are being racially profiled into their positions on the field, especially non-leadership, non-key roles. It's also interesting to note that remote areas have a slightly higher rate of sports participation than non-remote. This could be attributed to a more sports-centric attitude or perhaps to unavailability of diverse leisure opportunities.

Indigenous people attend more Cultural events than the national average, especially those living in remote areas because many Indigenous people identify with the Indigenous backgrounds and traditions and participate in Indigenous culture. It would be an interesting to see more detailed statistics on what sort of events that were participated in, as I would assume that if it wasn't for the traditional events, many remote areas would have very few or no cultural events.

The data compiled by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2002) shows that the mean household income of Indigenous people was 62% of the mean household income of non-Indigenous people. The ABS suggests that this is because Indigenous homes have, on average, more people in them, not all of who may work. A lower average income means that more hours may have to be worked to keep up with costs, reducing the amount of time available for leisure, and expenses could be reduced starting with luxuries like expensive hobbies and leisure activities.

Despite uninformed popular opinion, Indigenous people are less likely to consume alcohol than the national average but unfortunately, those who do consume, are more likely to consume alcohol at a dangerous level. Altman, cited in Lynch and Veal (2006), suggests that these communal drinking sessions have become another way to pool resources as their ancestors did with food. These very social activities are exciting and entertaining but many reasons for alcohol abuse have darker connotations. It could be escapism from a decimated traditional culture, stress and tension relief, or it could have, as Lynch and Veal suggest, a more political meaning of rebellion and deliberate non-conformity. Alcohol abuse can result in increases in aggressive behavior, domestic violence, family disruption, and reduced productivity.

According to the World Leisure Organization Charter, the Australian government has an obligation to provide "recreational opportunities of the highest quality". A more realistic interpretation would be "recreational opportunities of the highest feasible quality". While the leisure facilities in urban and regional areas are of a high standard, it is unrealistic to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars installing a competition level, grassed football oval in a desert community of 100 people. Due to the remoteness of many communities, and 25% of Australia's

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