Challenge: Eat healthy food in communities
Many Aboriginal meals are unhealthy because remote community stores charge up to 3 times the price of food in cities.
Solutions include licensing stores, making sure children eat their healthy food—or setting up a pool.
Everyone knows about Indigenous dance, art and the didgeridoo, but not about our food.—Dale Chapman, owner-operator of Coolamon Food Creations 
Healthy food out of reach for many
Food prices in remote communities can be more than triple the price of food in cities. Aboriginal Australians’ income is also well below that of non-Aboriginal people.
Consequently, Aboriginal households either buy cheap (and unhealthy) food or run out of food before the next pay day. From October 2009 to October 2010, 15% of Victorian Aboriginal people had run out of food at some time .
Many find it easier to give their children money for fast foods, instead of cooking themselves , encouraging them to make unhealthy choices.
Historically, Aboriginal genes are programmed to store fat in the body because food was scarce, especially in arid areas. “We have come from a desert country with genes that preserve everything we eat, but we are not burning the calories we once did in the hunt for food,” says Joan Winch, director of the Marr Mooditj (Good Hands) Aboriginal Health Worker’s Training College .
In remote communities Aboriginal families often buy food only once a fortnight or occasionally so they pick food they can keep in the freezer, which again encourages unhealthy food choices. Providing subsidised fresh fruits can greatly improve Aboriginal health .
Community gardens, food shares and hunting and gathering of traditional foods are some things that can contribute to better health .
Other options include community cooking classes where participants take home the meals they prepared, so that families sit together to eat them.
Bush tucker comeback
You might have heard about ‘bush tucker’, an Australian expression for food from the bush. Often associated with Aboriginal culture prior to invasion, bush tucker is increasingly seeing a comeback.
It is recognised for its healthy properties that help fight modern illnesses such as heart disease or diabetes, which is at crisis levels in Aboriginal communities.
Bush tucker food includes fruit, nuts, seeds and sea-food besides the commonly known meats such as kangaroo, emu and crocodile.
The “Black Olive” chef
Mark Olive is an Aboriginal chef who has been working in the food business for more than 25 years .
Early in his career he developed a strong desire to raise the profile of native Australian foods. His Melbourne-based catering company Black Olive Catering now showcases the best Australian native foods to national and international audiences.
He is hosting his own TV show The Outback Café where he shows his creative approach to food.
Store licensing helps improve food quality
An independent report in 2011 found stores licensing in the Northern Territory has helped Aboriginal people in remote communities get better access to healthy, affordable food .
During the second half of 2010, 86% of stores were selling at least 13 varieties of fresh vegetables and 91% sold at least 7 varieties of fresh fruit, the report found. In urban areas, the average grocery store carries 200 different kinds of fruits and vegetables .
Store management had also improved, including financial management. Many customers appreciated that ‘book-up’ had been abolished and that there was now more consistent pricing and labeling of goods on shelves.
Problem: “Motorcar Dreaming” drains store profits
Store profits in some communities are not used to bring down prices, but instead finance cars for a chosen few, an administrative device called ‘‘Motorcar Dreaming’’ .
Spending store funds on vehicles seems permitted under Northern Territory legislation, provided the vehicles are designated for community rather than personal use—a constraint that is easily bypassed by assigning the cars to “family heads” and not documenting who owns which car.
Governments, both national and local, turn a blind eye on the phenomenon because it reduces their pressure to provide public transport to remote communities.
Problem: Book up
‘Book up’ is informal credit offered by stores. It allows people to get goods or services and pay the store later. Book up is also known as ‘book down’, ‘on the tick’ or ‘on the slate’.
The system is easy to use, but also causes a few problems, such as too much debt, high fees or passive welfare dependency, and carries the risk of theft or fraud .
Some communities therefore decided not to allow book up at all, or have limited its use.
A little control helps kids stay healthy
A stunningly simple recipe improved the children’s health at Baryulgil Public School, 80km from Grafton, NSW . Health officers discovered that all children were deficient in iron and vitamin C and had developed ear (50%) or skin (25%) infections as a consequence.
The simple remedy was fresh fruit and vegetables and a strict regimen to ensure they were eaten. Six months later the skin infections were gone and the hearing loss caused by the infection was drastically reduced.
Under a Shared Responsibility Agreement families contribute some dollars to the food packages which are now delivered to their communities. “Health problems are way down. The savings in health costs far outweigh the outlay for the scheme,” says a campaign leader.
Fact You can only eat two of the more than 100 wattles, the black and green wattle seeds.
Swimming pools boost more than just health
Another way to alleviate several common medical conditions is setting up a swimming pool. “Swimming pools are one of the simplest and most beneficial infrastructure initiatives that can be provided to Aboriginal communities,” says Jay Weatherill when he was South Australian Affairs and Reconciliation Minister .
People who use the pool avoid bronchial, skin and ear infections, the latter often leading to hearing and learning difficulties.
When a pool opened in the Aboriginal community of Jigalong, 350km south-east of Port Hedland, Western Australia, a subsequent 6-year study found that it had reduced middle-ear infections by 61% and skin infections by 68% .
Pools are also a positive, fun and physical outlet for young people, taking them off the streets where they might be vulnerable to substance abuse and crime.
Some communities implement a ‘no school, no pool’ policy [6, 9] and have seen significant improvements in school attendance.
A song about healthy traditional food
This is a song written by the students of Galiwink’u community school on Elcho Island, about 550 kms north-east of Darwin in north Australia, about the importance of eating traditional bush foods, hunting and living off the land.
Last updated: 22 January 2013 | Out of respect for Aboriginal culture I use Indigenous sources as much as possible.
 'Traditional returns to the menu', Koori Mail 487 p.41
 'NT stores regime 'working'', Koori Mail 502 p.62
 'An apple a day...', Koori Mail 385, p.36
 'More power to APY people', Koori Mail 404 p.56
 'Passionate about slow bush foods', Koori Mail 514 p.21
 'Olive has recipe for talking recognition', Koori Mail 524 p.17
 'Focus on threat to children', Koori Mail 435 p.19
 'Doctors think inside the box for fresh ideas on health', SMH 7/5/2011
 'Bush tucker back on Aboriginal menu', The Australian 18/8/1994
 'Hell on four wheels in 'betrayed' Papunya', SMH 6/11/2010
 'Dealing with book up: key facts', booklet, Australian Securities and Investments Commission 6/2006