The introduction of white flour, sugar and refined foods to Aboriginal communities many decades ago, triggered the onset of the health and welfare crisis being experienced across Far North Queensland today.
A seminar for health professionals at Atherton hosted by the Petford Wellness Association on Sunday heard indigenous health expert Adjunct Professor Ernest Hunter of the Public Health and Tropical Medicine faculty at James Cook University discussing the generational effect of alcohol and illicit drugs on unborn babies.
While the government is looking at removing or refining Alcohol Management Plans put in place by the previous Labor Government, Prof Hunter said any alcohol consumption in communities is dangerous especially for pregnant mothers.
“Alcohol was introduced by the state government years ago to solve financial problems for communities which were partly funded by the sales of alcohol through community social clubs,” Prof Hunter said.
“At the end of the day communities have to make their own decisions about alcohol.
“But the community must be separated from the economics of alcohol use if the promotion of a healthier lifestyle results in a spin-off from alcohol sales. ”
He said there was no silver bullet to remedy the decades of alcohol and now substance abuse but proper nutrition and removal of sugar from diets was necessary for a long term solution.
“At one particular community the average cost per person of marijuana purchases is $7000 a year,” he said.
Prof Hunter said there were similar problems on the Tablelands with disengaged youth, and diet programs should be developed to enable the large numbers of unemployed school leavers to become fit for work.
“Originally the introduction of flour and processed food took Aboriginal Australia from relying on traditional hunting to becoming a ration and welfare dependent society.”
Vegetable gardens that were once the norm at all communities had since vanished making them entirely dependent on supermarket food.
He stressed the need for highly skilled food trainers to begin a home visit program to provide the necessary food sourcing and meal preparation skills.
Responding to a question about the recent job losses and upheaval in communities due to the state government shut-down of two proposed major mining projects on the Peninsula, he said making proper jobs available is a great motivator which gave people much incentive to improve their lot.
“Loss of jobs is a loss of freedom,” he said.
Some welfare initiatives had begun to show results but had been undermined by well-intentioned government programs in the past.
“The solution is not more government funding,” he added
Petford Wellness Association nutrition advisor Rebecca Bell and chairman Geoff Guest OAM discuss preventative methods for alcohol and substance abuse in indigenous communities with Adjunct Professor Ernest Hunter of the Public Health and Tropical Medicine faculty, JCU.