"The history of Aboriginal dispossession is central to understanding contemporary Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal relations.” Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody
The history of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal relations, while complex, has had the following phases:

  • The 60,000+ years before the arrival of Europeans
  • Initial invasion and colonisation (1788 to 1890)
  • Protection and segregation (1890s to the 1950s)
  • Assimilation (1940s to the 1960s)
  • Integration, self-determination and self-management (1967 to mid 1990s)
  • Reconciliation (1991 to the end of 2000)


For Aboriginal people living today, their experience of living in Australian society with this historical legacy has many significant impacts on their lives. Three impacts with implications for service delivery are:

  • The emotional impact on Aboriginal people of their experiences and their families experiences
  • The barriers to gaining living skills (for example being separated from their family)
  • The lack of trust of institutions




Implications for service delivery

All staff working with Aboriginal clients need to have a general understanding of the story of Aboriginal history and the impacts of this on Aboriginal people.

The service provider will dialogue with the local Aboriginal community to gain an understanding of developing appropriate ways to make the service provider more friendly, welcoming and appropriate for Aboriginal people.

The following practical tips and suggestions could be developed further in dialogue with Aboriginal people and the local Aboriginal community.

Emotional impact

1. Service providers need a meaningful understanding of the history and story of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and how it impacts on their lives today, the story will be different in every community particularly in the communities they are servicing.

2. Service providers need to develop culturally appropriate programs and ways of servicing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. Service provision needs to be flexible enough to acknowledge and support different cultural values and beliefs.

3.Encourage Service providers to understand the clients’ needs holistically by considering all aspects of their lives, cultural traditions and commitments so that better outcomes can be achieved.

4. Ensure that your case management process is culturally appropriate. This may include; –

  • Using appropriate language that can be easily understood by the client.
  • Providing a relaxed and comfortable environment for the interview e.g. meeting outside or a home visit.
  • Developing an understanding of the client’s family network and the responsibilities and obligations that this entails.
  • Gaining professional support from an Aboriginal worker in your Service, where relevant.
  • Where possible encourage the client to bring a support person with them when they initially access a Service.

5. Do not expect all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to be a spokesperson or share information regarding their families and culture or local history.

6. If an Aboriginal Worker is available at the Service, ask the client if they would prefer to discuss their concerns with this person but remember, not all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people may want to work with an Aboriginal Worker.

7. Ensure that your Service maintains accurate and up-to-date information on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander services available in your area, to ensure appropriate referrals.

8. Maintain networks with Aboriginal Workers within Government and non-government services in your area.

Living skills

1. Do not make assumptions of what knowledge or skills Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples may have, based on stereotypes. Every client will present with different needs and expectations and should be assessed accordingly.

2. When working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples it is important to understand the effects of the ‘Stolen Generation’ and how their experiences may impact on their living skills i.e. skills in cooking and other domestic duties. Aboriginal adults, who were removed from their families as children, were often deprived of effective parenting. These children were institutionalized, fostered or adopted. They were often raised in living conditions that were inadequate and received a poor education.

3. It may be useful to offer Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples support of a practical type. This can be achieved through a home visiting service where workers and volunteers can offer support to help parents develop their living skills. When planning a home visit you may need to consider;

  • Asking an Aboriginal Worker in the community to accompany you on the first
  • Make appointments in advance and follow up with a reminder;
  • Be flexible and prepared for unexpected occurrences e.g. cancellation, new situations;
  • Be prepared when visitors call in. Remember confidentiality and rearrange appointment if necessary;
  • Sharing some personal information can put the client at ease. Observing and listening can lead to insights;
  • If offered a cuppa always accept. (If you don’t drink tea or coffee ask for water).

4. Workers need to be aware that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are not able to read or write well. Be sensitive when asking questions about literacy levels and consider the way you present service information. Written information may not always be appropriate. Provide opportunities for the client to clarify their understanding of the information you are giving them.

Trust of institutions

1. The lack of trust in institutions can often mean that Aboriginal people may not approach or use services that are available; to make use of these services they may need to have a support person with them until they get to know the service.

2. When working with Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander peoples it may be useful to share personal information about yourself. e.g. Where you come from and other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities you may have worked in.

3. Be sensitive when gaining information and remember that some questions may not be answered.

4. Reassure your client that the information they share with you will be confidential and will not be shared with other family members. An Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person can experience shame, discrimination as well as the added burden of alienation and rejection from family and community if confidentiality is broken.

5. Within the workplace, raise worker awareness of Aboriginal culture, its history and the resulting ‘trust’ issues by supporting on-going training.

6. Service providers need to make services welcoming for Aboriginal people. Consider how you organize your office space to show that the Service values and welcomes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples e.g. Aboriginal flag, artwork, enough space to accommodate more than one person and posters.

7. Service providers need to foster genuine relationships with Aboriginal organisations. Consider inviting representatives from Aboriginal organizations to participate in your Service planning days and other relevant meetings.

8. Talk to local Aboriginal organisations about days of significance to them. Ask how you can support them by having these days recognised and acknowledged.

9. Accept invitations and attend events that are significant to the Aboriginal Community such as National Reconciliation Week, NAIDOC Week, Sorry and National Apology Day.

10. Be aware that sometimes Community Members might give you the answer that you want, allow time for discussion and build trust between you and the person and conclusions will be reached.

11.Allow time for individuals and family members to share their experiences, good and difficult.