Factors of holistic wellbeing for members of the Aboriginal health and community workforce

Clinton Schultz

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


The following thesis is an explanation of a lore and culture informed perspective of worker wellbeing for the Aboriginal health and community workforce derived from the lived experiences of such workers. The entirety of this perspective required the furthering of current understandings or explanations of social and emotional wellbeing that were further removed from western understandings of being, particularly organisational wellbeing and more inclusive of notions of lore and culture. For the modelling to blossom a bricolage Indigenist methodology was required. A qualitative methodology incorporating elements of Indigenous standpoint theory, grounded theory, critical theory, autobiographical ethnicity and yarning was used to form a bricolage for this study. This bricolage was developed after acknowledging that none of the above-mentioned approaches on their own quite fit the purposes of the current study however elements of each were considered integral. For the purposes of this study, this bricolage was labelled: Critical Aboriginal Bricolage (CAB). Critical Aboriginal Bricolage (CAB) offers a culturally responsive research methodology that fits with the need to protect Aboriginal knowledge production and to meet academic rigour. It is an approach that promotes the active search for pieces of methodology that most fit the situation under investigation and for those for whom the investigation is occurring. The aim of CAB is to empower the voice of the subject from the culturally informed and involved perspective of the investigator. For the knowledge produced to be most relevant to those it was produced for and from whom the knowledge came, the importance of Aboriginal ways of sharing knowledge had to be respected and used. This leads to more weight being applied to knowledge transfer through story rather than strict Western academic expectation. The author of this thesis is unforgiving in this pursuit and considers relevance to the target audience and acceptance of the themes from Aboriginal Elders to be of more value than Western academic ‘excellence’. The author questions the status of power and authority of and over knowledge by western institutions and the legitimacy of such claims particularly with reference to Indigenist knowledges. Australia has both an internationally recognised (through being a signatory to the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)) and a moral obligation to ensure the wellbeing of Australia’s Aboriginal populations is improved as a national priority. Improvements in health outcomes and well–being are dependent on providing self-determination and sovereignty for Aboriginal peoples. This requires allowing Aboriginal people to utilise their own ontologies and epistemologies at all levels of the lived experience, be those education, work, healing, policy, child rearing, living and even dying. It also requires opportunity for Aboriginal peoples to know and to practice their own law as law is intrinsically linked to self–determination. Lore and culture have always provided Aboriginal peoples with the frameworks required to live well with each other and with place on the Australian continent. Looking at lore and culture to inform future policy and procedure is likely to lead to positive outcomes for Aboriginal peoples. Aboriginal people as a population group experience far greater burden of disease than other Australians. This is the case across all physical and mental health indicators. There is therefore a greater need for service provision for Aboriginal peoples and communities yet engagement and adherence remain low. Access to culturally informed and appropriate health provision is often mentioned as a barrier to Aboriginal health. One identified effective strategy for increasing engagement with health and community services and further improving adherence to health and community service interventions has been to increase the number of Aboriginal workers within the fields of health and community service work. Increasing the workforce is only a viable strategy if the workforce is stable. Aboriginal health and community service workers experience high levels of stress driven by multiple and at times unique stressors associated with the work they undertake and the communities in which they live or are from. This culminative stress impacts on the overall wellbeing of workers. Negatively impacted wellbeing is likely to be a factor influencing the high turnover and burnout rates experienced by Aboriginal people employed in health and community service work. Given the unique mix of cultural, historical, professional and social influences of wellbeing present for Aboriginal health and community service providers it is unlikely that western explanations of workplace stress and worker wellbeing such as those offered around burnout or compassion fatigue for instance will be a true and complete fit for this workforce. Currently there is little work investigating the wellbeing of this particular workforce from a culturally rooted standpoint. As Aboriginal workers are themselves Aboriginal people and community members, if we are to be guided by the UN Declaration then culturally informed and appropriate strategies should be developed to assist with the maintenance of their wellbeing. It is therefore pertinent that strategies are developed to better maintain the wellbeing of Aboriginal workers that are developed from Aboriginal ontologies and epistemologies. The theories offered in this thesis have come from the knowledge and experience of the workers themselves and may support this important work force in staying strong, supported, resilient and empowered in their work. Notions of lore and culture are prominent and are the basis for the theories offered as they have since the beginning of time kept us strong while caring for each other and caring for country. A new model of holistic being, highlighting the importance of spirit is offered. This model incorporates lore as paramount in the wellbeing experience for Aboriginal people. It is further suggested that this model could be utilised with any population group as humans, in our great diversity of understandings of well-being and healthcare, all share the same basic structure of being. This involves spirit as core; mind, body and soul (as genetic memory) as a basic framework; and multiple connections influencing our story of self and other. This is all surrounded by a constant flow of positive and negative experiences that influence the choices we make and the expressions of being we create at any given time.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Griffith University
  • Sebar, Bernadette, Principal Supervisor
  • West, Roianne, Supervisor, External person
Publication statusPublished - 17 Feb 2020
Externally publishedYes


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