The state of Indigenous peoples, and their fundamental health and wellbeing as individuals and communities, includes their connection to each other, their heritage, land and seas, and their identity, economy, arts, story, performance and language.

Intergenerational trauma is prevalent in the lives of many Indigenous people in Australia. While there is increasing recognition that the ongoing effects of past injustices continue to cause much harm today, which compounds other barriers to wellbeing, there is still much work to be done in enacting healing. Healing Foundation Chief Executive Officer Fiona Cornforth, a Wuthathi/Torres Strait Islander woman, asserts the importance of truth-telling in enacting healing (Cornforth 2021):

Voice Treaty and Truth is considered fundamental to healing, and the absence of these are referred to as the reasons why survivors and their families are not heard and do not have power to influence urgent action, let alone benefit from any actions. Healing is also at the core of the work The Healing Foundation does with the Coalition of Peaks and our National Agreement with Governments on Closing the Gap. System reform is critical. And this new way of working closely with people in the know (our peak bodies), will help us bring about these reforms as quickly as possible.

Nationally, most attention to measuring Indigenous wellbeing has focused on indicators under the National Agreement on Closing the Gap (between Indigenous and non-Indigenous status), which – until 2020 – included only indicators of child mortality, education, employment and life expectancy. While progress has been made in closing the gap on some areas of education and employment, the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous child mortality rates has not narrowed. The goal of achieving equality in life expectancy and closing the gap in life expectancy within a generation is not on track to be met by 2031 (DPMC 2020).

But Indigenous wellbeing encompasses more than these basic measures. Most importantly, there is a direct and tangible connection between healthy Country and healthy people, which governments are beginning to recognise. The new National Agreement on Closing the Gap acknowledges the need to accelerate progress and adopt a strength-based approach that recognises the positive foundation that community and connections with kin and Country provide for Indigenous Australians (CoATSIPO & Australian governments 2020).

The agreement includes 4 priority reforms to move to a strength-based approach: shared decision-making, building the Indigenous community-controlled section, transforming government organisations, and sharing access to data and information at a regional level (CoATSIPO & Australian governments 2020). Importantly, for future state of the environment reports, a set of socio-economic outcomes and indicators have been agreed across 10 broad domains: education, employment, health and wellbeing, economic upliftment, justice, safety, housing, land and waters, culture and languages, and digital inclusion.

Wellbeing and connection with kin and Country

Country connects people to each other, to their culture and to the past, and there is a close relationship between Indigenous people and Country in wellbeing outcomes. For example, the Strong women on Country report (Country Needs People 2016) says:

There is a range of evidence available to governments about the positive impacts derived from expression of culture. In the Australian Government’s Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage Key Indicator Framework, for example, land and cultural activities have been identified as priority outcomes for a ‘safe, healthy and supportive family environment with strong communities and cultural identity’.

Indigenous people continuously attest to the connection between Country and community health.

When Country is healthy, people’s health picks up, family picks up, the community picks up. SoE Indigenous workshop participant, Australian Capital Territory (Murawin 2021b)

Our Country is like our garden – we need to look after it. There are trees, birds, waterways, fish, mammals and reptiles, and they are all important. We keep Country healthy and Country keeps us healthy. Fiona Yupunu Marika, senior ranger (Country Needs People 2016)

Case Study Canberra Nature Park

Source: EPSDD (2020)

Canberra Nature Park comprises 39 nature reserves covering approximately 11,400 hectares including the Aranda Bush Nature Reserve and the Goorooyarroo Nature Reserve in the environs of urban Canberra. More than 400,000 Canberrans have easy access to the Canberra Nature Park reserve. Within the area, there are several threatened species, including the superb parrot (Polytelis swainsonii).

The ACT Government’s Canberra Nature Park reserve management plan 2021 explicitly recognises the special connection of Indigenous people to land, and how access to Country can benefit Indigenous wellbeing and being actively engaged in managing land maintains Indigenous cultural identity.

The ACT Government acknowledges the Ngunnuwal people as Traditional Custodians and employs Indigenous rangers to care for ACT parks and reserves, including conducting cultural burns.

Canberra Murrumbung ranger Jackson Taylor-Grant explains the positive impact of providing opportunities for Indigenous rangers to work on Country (Allen 2018):

It is a job that comes with having to have a lot of passion for what you do. And you can see it just bleed out of Aboriginal people when they come into this landscape. We take hold of that passion, and we use it to take care of this landscape. Working as professional rangers for Parks and Conservation is a really good way of capturing that passion and using it to the advantage of the management of these areas.

Impacts on wellbeing and cultural practices

Negative impacts on Country directly cause negative impacts on people and communities. Changes on Country affect individuals and communities through their intimate connection to Country, plants and animals. There are many adverse effects on individuals and communities because of the degradation of Country caused by mismanagement by non-Indigenous persons (e.g. in government, farming and mining).

Mining, fracking and digging up of Country is killing us physically and spiritually. SoE Indigenous workshop participant, Northern Territory (Murawin 2021b)

In recent times we’ve seen a speeding up of exploitation, degradation, damage, destruction, extraction of our land and waters and our natural resources. It’s been happening for a long time, but I’ve noticed it in recent times, particularly the last decade and then even the last 5 years there’s been a real increase in damage to our Country and to our people, to our history, and to our future. It’s a form of killing Country. SoE Indigenous workshop participant, New South Wales (Murawin 2021b)

Encroaching development and tourism, as well as noticeable shifts in coastlines, waterways, key indicator species, patterns for seasons, flora and fauna as a direct result of climate change, are causing worry and deep distress in Indigenous communities. Indigenous communities across Australia report significant changes in vegetation and water quality in both freshwater and saltwater systems, with vegetation changes resulting in decreases in wildlife (Murawin 2021c). These changes are causing detrimental impacts on culture, food procurement and lifestyle, particularly in remote communities.

We are seeing extensive, thoughtless residential development eating up remnants of what’s left of a really beautiful part of the world, whether it’s temperate rainforest or other ecosystems. Communities are deeply worried about overuse around river systems and the endless sprawl of residential development. It’s affecting the last remaining south-east Queensland koala habitats and many other plants and animals. SoE Indigenous workshop participant, Queensland (Murawin 2021b)

A new layer of mental health stressors on young Indigenous people and children is emerging, which is directly influenced by loss of connection to Country.

Changes in the way young people are today – more building, less Country. Kids becoming urbanised – losing their cultural identity and connection. Difference in growing up in the bush. SoE Indigenous workshop participant, New South Wales (Murawin 2021b)

People have connection and if it’s taken away, we are left with nothing … I lose my wellbeing. SoE Indigenous workshop participant (Murawin 2021c)

The ongoing damage caused by colonisation and disconnection is evidenced in the health inequity, and rates of incarceration, suicide and employment related to Australia’s Indigenous people (Sherwood 2013) (see Impacts of colonisation, frontier violence, dispossession and family disruption).

Suicide is a red flag that is popping up because youth are disconnected from culture. SoE Indigenous workshop participant, Queensland (Murawin 2021b)

The degradation of Country also has many adverse effects on Indigenous communities, including significant threats to sustainable livelihood, as is the case for the many people who live along the catastrophically degraded Baaka/Barka – Darling River. As explained by Barkandji Elder Uncle Badger Bates (Bates 2018):

In Wilcannia we would like to have some businesses that depend on water in the river. One is tourism. My people already run a successful tourism business at Mutawintji National Park which is a range of hills 150 km from the river, but we can’t do it at Wilcannia now because most of the time the river is dry, or has pools of toxic water with signs up everywhere warning people not to go near the water, or catch fish or yabbies. We would like to do some other business such as bush tucker and bush medicine but we need just a little bit of water to get the plants started to do that. We have a farm just near the town and it has a small water license, but there is no water to pump. It has all been pumped out up past Bourke. This lack of employment has huge social effects on the people of Wilcannia, people turn to grog and drugs because they are so depressed having no work and seeing the river the way it is and not even able to go fishing or swimming. Our elders are passing away and young people committing suicide because they are so sad.

Working in Indigenous land management allows communities to actively care for their Country, helping to reduce feelings of hopelessness and loss, and has proven wellbeing benefits for Indigenous people (see Wellbeing and cultural revitalisation).

Indicators of Indigenous wellbeing

Indigenous people and communities have been saying for a long time that health and wellbeing are linked to connection to Country, cultural practices, cultural safety, spirituality and language use (Mayi Kuwayu Study 2021). Nine domains of Indigenous Australians’ wellbeing, including many cultural aspects, were identified through a recent systematic literature review (Butler et al. 2019):

  • autonomy, empowerment and recognition
  • family and community
  • culture, spirituality and identity
  • Country
  • basic needs (food, money, housing, access to services)
  • work, roles and responsibilities
  • education
  • physical health
  • mental health.

However, until recently, indicators of wellbeing that capture these understandings have been poorly developed, with many studies addressing only a few of the necessary indicators to show the vital culture–wellbeing linkages. Greater attention is required to measure all these aspects to understand the status and trends of Indigenous wellbeing (see the Overview chapter). Excitingly, a new national Indigenous-led study, Mayi Kuwayu, is underway using novel cultural indicators, developed through extensive consultation processes, to understand the role culture and Country play in wellbeing, and their interaction with standard health risk and protective factors (Lovett et al. 2020). This longitudinal study will follow many Indigenous people and ask them to take the same survey every few years about their culture and wellbeing.

Indigenous-led wellbeing assessments using novel indicators developed with extensive Indigenous community consultation have already been made in some regions (see case study: Traditional Owner–led integrated monitoring and reporting using the Strong Peoples–Strong Country framework, in the Management and data agreements with Traditional Custodians section in the Marine chapter). In central Australia, Indigenous and non-Indigenous researchers and public servants worked together on the Interplay Wellbeing Framework, which is a statistically valid approach that includes Indigenous cultural worldviews, values and practices (Cairney et al. 2017). Their analyses highlighted the importance of mental health, cultural practice, Indigenous language literacy and empowerment for Indigenous wellbeing (Schultz et al. 2019a, Schultz et al. 2019b).

There is also a need to highlight the importance of connection to Country and the wellbeing of Indigenous communities in urban areas (see also Urban areas). Governments often struggle to recognise Indigenous urban communities due to the ‘abstract and non-geographically clustered nature of the community’ (Langeveldt & Smallacombe 2010) and because there is a persistent assumption that ‘real’ Indigenous people live only in rural regions. For urban Indigenous people, ‘Indigenous invisibility’ often has negative policy implications and causes service misdirection. This has significant ramifications for funding allocation and service mainstreaming. It is critical that researchers and policy-makers move to work with urban Indigenous communities to deepen their understanding of urban Indigenous populations (Brand et al. 2016).

Knowledge, languages and practices

Connection to kin and Country is kept alive through Indigenous knowledge and actions on Country. Many Indigenous people perceive that failures in obligations to keep Country healthy and to keep knowledge strong will lead to failures in individual and community health and wellbeing (Poelina 2020). The health of people and Country rely on Indigenous people continuing to (Fletcher 2020b, Hunter 2020):

  • sing and dance
  • make paintings, artefacts and other art forms
  • tell stories and write books
  • walk on Country
  • listen and talk with Country
  • take photos
  • speak Indigenous languages.

Knowledge for keeping Country strong

Wiradjuri man and Associate Professor Michael-Shawn Fletcher explains the importance of empowering Indigenous knowledge that is specific to place (see Environmental benefits) (Fletcher 2020b):

I would argue that a large part of the problem – environmental and social – that modern Australia faces, stem from our inability to connect properly with the country we live in. The importation of European ideas, the attempt to convert this country into another place, the inability to embrace and accept where we are and what it means to be on Country in Australia, on Country in this country. Today, as we face many catastrophic climactic and environmental pressures, it is becoming more pronounced that the sustainable use of natural resources, informed by Indigenous ecological knowledge of Country, will be crucial in responding to the multiple challenges we face.

The Indigenous-led Our Knowledge Our Way in caring for Country best-practice guidelines (Woodward et al. 2020) reveal some of the ways in which Indigenous people are keeping their connection to Country strong through practices and activities that support land and sea management. The guidelines are founded on 23 nationwide case studies submitted by Indigenous people and their partners as examples of best practice in engaging with Indigenous knowledge in land and sea management.

Examples include the efforts of Ngadju people, custodians of much of the Great Western Woodlands in the south-east of Western Australia, who are reintroducing Ngadju knowledge into contemporary land management practices. In the past, Ngadju people actively burnt in a considered fine-scale mosaic pattern to:

  • maintain open hunting grounds and camping areas
  • encourage green pick
  • facilitate travel
  • prevent wildfires that might threaten people, important places (such as caves and sacred sites) and resources including water trees.

Following the success of Ngadju native title claims to Country, Ngadju people have entered into collaborative partnership arrangements with the Western Australian Government in a move towards a new era of Ngadju leadership in environmental management of Country (Prober et al. 2013, Woodward et al. 2020).

The Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations (MLDRIN), a confederation of 10 Aboriginal nations in the southern part of the Murray–Darling Basin, assert that Indigenous science and western science have their own value and role in caring for Country. MLDRIN makes the important observation that knowledge and management work together – caring for Country creates new knowledge and knowledge helps us better care for Country (Weir 2016).

Currently, it is difficult to secure resources to facilitate engagement between Elders and young people to support intergenerational teaching and learning of language, culture and maintaining connection to Country (Woodward et al. 2020). Many Traditional Custodians hold grave concerns for the loss of their knowledge, as senior knowledge holders pass away before young people can benefit from their teachings (Woodward & McTaggart 2016, Woodward & McTaggart 2019). Strengthening and protection of Indigenous cultural and intellectual property through community-led arts and language projects, programs and organisations are one way to support this intergenerational knowledge transfer and the legal recognition of native title rights and interests (DITRDC 2021).

Plants and Indigenous knowledge

Before colonisation first began, Australian plants were managed by Indigenous people for at least 60,000 years (Rhea & Russell 2012, Perkins 2021b). The knowledge and use of plants in Australia is a fundamental aspect of the longevity of Indigenous peoples and culture. Ecological knowledges have been refined and handed down over many millennia and are the backbone of our interactions with Country and our ability, over the longest time imaginable, to survive and thrive in one of the harshest environments on Earth (Olsen & Russell 2019).

Until only relatively recently, it has been common for Indigenous people to be portrayed as passive managers in land management and agricultural practice (Fletcher 2020a). But more and more, the available scientific, historical and living heritage (e.g. songlines, stories, cultural practice) of Indigenous people attests to active manipulation of, and nuanced scientific expertise in, managing our environments (Gammage 2012, Pascoe 2014). Our vast ecological knowledge and cultural practice have allowed us to innovate and develop practices and processes that use plants for nutrition, medicine, economies (trade), technologies (e.g. weapons, shelters, eel traps and hunting nets) and cultural outputs (e.g. painting, carving and ceremony) (Cumpston 2020b).


Ethnobiology is the study of plant and animal knowledge in relationship to people and culture, to understand the use of this knowledge for medicinal, nutritional, technological and spiritual purposes. Listening to and respecting long-term environmental histories and knowledge is a way to begin to use all the tools at our disposal in answering questions and meeting environmental challenges (Hamilton et al. 2020). The potential benefits of ethnobiological projects are demonstrated by work being undertaken at the Tropical Indigenous Ethnobotany Centre, a partnership between James Cook University, Traditional Owners, the Queensland Government, CSIRO and the Australian Tropical Herbarium. Led by Mbabaram ethnobotanist Gerry Turpin, this centre undertakes collaborative projects using ethnobotanical research to (TIEC 2021):

  • marry traditional ecological knowledge and western plant science
  • record and preserve cultural plant knowledge
  • promote knowledge and understanding of traditional plant knowledge within the broader Australian community
  • develop partnerships and projects with reciprocal benefit for the scientific community and Traditional Owner groups across northern Australia and neighbouring countries.

While ethnobiological research aimed at preserving and promoting Indigenous plant and animal knowledge is undertaken on Country with wide community support and involvement, this significant field of research is not widely employed in ecological projects, adequately resourced or taught in the tertiary sector in Australia.

Indigenous grasses and other traditional food sources

Australian indigenous plants have not been used in industry or agriculture to their full potential in the past and the protections afforded to them as a vital resource have been insufficient (Sultanbawa & Sultanbawa 2016). The agricultural industry will continue to be threatened by changes in the environment, and many of the introduced grains that the Australian food industry is heavily reliant on, such as wheat, are likely to be significantly compromised as a result of the pressures of climate change (Korte et al. 2019).

Indigenous grasses are highly adaptable and resilient to the multiple pressures of climate change, most especially drought and fire. Indigenous grasses, such as panicum (Panicum decompositum) and kangaroo grass (Themeda triandra), have been used extensively and effectively for food by Australia’s Indigenous people for many millennia. Further, unlike many introduced food crops, native grasses offer dual environmental and economic benefits (Cahir 2012). They are highly nutritious, require little water, sequester carbon and support biodiversity, and their production does not require the use of herbicides and petrochemicals that many introduced crops rely on (see case study: The importance of remnant grasslands in urban areas for maintaining and reinvigorating Indigenous knowledge and agricultural practice, in the Urban biodiversity section in the Urban chapter).

Expanded opportunities to understand, produce and reincorporate native grasses into the Australian diet has the potential to substantially benefit Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, biodiversity and the environment in general (Allam 2020). Further research and incorporation of these crops into our current agricultural systems may be an important factor in ensuring future food security in Australia. While they remain unproven as viable large-scale crops, existing large-scale agriculture and monocultures have proven highly damaging to the environment, and it is therefore salient to consider indigenous plant foods as an alternative mode of farming. These crops also have the potential to provide expanded opportunities for Indigenous Australians and their knowledge and land management practices in food production and farming (Allam & Moore). The health and wellbeing of Indigenous Australians has been shown to substantially improve when access to traditional foods is possible (Ferguson et al. 2017, Browne et al. 2020).

Indigenous languages

Indigenous languages are part of the heritage that defines communities and their relationship to Country. For Indigenous people, language and culture are intrinsically connected – language is the verbal expression of culture. Importantly, language is at the core of the continued transmission of intergenerational Indigenous knowledge.

Recognition of the power of language in the maintenance of culture and heritage has grown in recent years. For example, the United Nations declared 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages, and 2022–2032 as the International Decade of Indigenous Languages (UNESCO 2018):

It is through language that we communicate with the world, define our identity, express our history and culture, learn, defend our human rights and participate in all aspects of society, to name but a few.

Through language, people preserve their community’s history, customs and traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking, meaning and expression. They also use it to construct their future. Language is pivotal in the areas of human rights protection, good governance, peace building, reconciliation, and sustainable development.

Before colonisation, between 250 and 750 distinct languages were spoken around Australia. In Australia today there are 250 distinct traditional languages and around 800 dialects. Around 14 of these are still spoken by children every day. The 2016 Census showed that 9 languages have more than 1,000 speakers (Figure 1) (Arthur & Morphy 2019).

Figure 1 Nine languages with more than 1,000 speakers in 2016

Indigenous languages are considered critically endangered (Battin et al. 2020). The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) National Indigenous Languages Survey (NILS) in 2014 indicated that there were 13 traditional languages considered ‘strong’. The subsequent NILS in 2018–19 showed that the number of languages considered ‘strong’ had dropped to 12 (Battin et al. 2020). Multiple economic, identity, social and mental health benefits are derived from speaking Indigenous languages (Battin et al. 2020).

However, many Indigenous languages are in a state of revival and revitalisation. Many Indigenous organisations and knowledge holders in Australia are working hard to strengthen or revive language in their communities. In 2020, the National Indigenous languages report (Battin et al. 2020) identified at least 31 language varieties being reawakened by communities in Australia. Currently, there are 22 Indigenous language centres around Australia dedicated to strengthening and maintaining languages (Figure 2) (AIATSIS 2021). These centres and the programs and resources they develop are incredibly valuable and many have made huge impacts in reinvigoration in a short time, proving that ongoing investment from decision-makers and the strength and determination of Indigenous communities can produce substantial gains. The interactive Gambay – First Languages Map by First Languages Australia is an example of using digital platforms to support language centres and communities to share resources and video stories about their language. Also, the Indigenous-led Miromaa Aboriginal Language and Technology Centre provides software to make language dictionaries and apps.

In 2017, the New South Wales Parliament enacted the first Australian law to recognise the importance of First Nations languages. Effective from 5 March 2020, the Aboriginal Languages Act 2017 established an Aboriginal Languages Trust, which is charged with setting the strategic direction for the reawakening, growing and nurturing of Aboriginal languages in New South Wales. The Trust will also liaise with the Geographical Names Board of New South Wales on the use of Aboriginal languages in naming of geographic places. The importance of language for wellbeing has been recognised through its inclusion in the new targets under the National Agreement on Closing the Gap (2020) (AIATSIS 2021).

Figure 2 Indigenous language centres and programs

Languages and Country

Country is interconnected with cultural expressions and knowledge, including languages. These forms of expression contain deep knowledge about Country, like a database (GA NSW 2020). This is because, through an Indigenous lens, language comes from Country. Indigenous placenames describe geographical features or reflect the sounds and the stories that come from that Country (Schultz et al. 2019a).

‘Keriba gesep agiakar dikwarda keriba mir. Ableglam keriba Mir pako Tonar nole atakemurkak.’ – ‘The land with all its wisdom gave birth to our language. Language and culture are inseparable.’ Bua Benjamin Mabo, Meriam linguist (pers. comm., 7 August 2021)

Complex ecological knowledge is embedded in Indigenous language. Western biological science uses one unique name for each species, while Indigenous languages encode deeper understandings and detailed knowledge of the species. For example, names in Indigenous languages can specifically relate to a species’ purpose or relationship to people, other animals or plants, cultural aspects, information about when the species is best used, who is allowed to engage with it according to law and totemic obligations, whether it is male or female, young or old, fruiting or flowering, or best eaten fresh or processed.

UNESCO highlights the link between languages and biodiversity (UNESCO 2017):

There is a fundamental linkage between language and traditional knowledge related to biodiversity. Local and indigenous communities have elaborated complex classification systems for the natural world, reflecting a deep understanding of their local environment. This environmental knowledge is embedded in Indigenous names, oral traditions and taxonomies, and can be lost when a community shifts to another language.

Environmental initiatives that meaningfully partner with Indigenous communities often produce greatly enhanced outcomes. Such alliances incorporate Indigenous ecological knowledge that is encoded in language. For example, a growing number of Indigenous communities and organisations have partnered with research institutions, including CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology, to co-produce Indigenous seasonal calendars (see Seasonal understanding). These calendars serve to illuminate Indigenous knowledge and perspectives of Country but, importantly, also serve to clearly illustrate the ecological knowledge embedded in languages.

The Atlas of Living Australia’s Indigenous Ecological Knowledge project is a step towards recognising and respecting Indigenous language names. The project is working to make Indigenous names more prominent alongside western scientific descriptors, including taxonomic classifications and English common names.

Better health and wellbeing through language

There is a positive relationship between Indigenous language use and participation in land-based activities. Language speakers are more likely to participate in hunting, fishing and gathering, and caring for Country. Such activities are known to markedly improve health outcomes in Indigenous communities (ABS 2017a).

In addition, speakers of Indigenous languages are more likely to report social connectedness and social efficacy. The health and wellbeing of Australia’s Indigenous people has been shown to be greatly enhanced in those who have use of, and access to, their mother tongue. This promotes resilience, a stronger sense of identity and cultural connection, and various significant social, cognitive, emotional, employment and health advantages.

Language is part of our songlines, stories, spirituality, law, culture, identity and connection. Language transfers important knowledge passed down from our ancestors and Elders that guides us. Lynnice Church, Ngunnawal (AIATSIS 2021)

The AIATSIS ‘Living languages’ website explains how language is embedded in cultural belonging and strength (AIATSIS 2021):

Language is more than just a means to communicate, it is what makes us unique and plays a central role in our sense of identity. Language also carries meaning beyond the words themselves. It is a platform which allows us to pass on cultural knowledge and heritage. Speaking and learning first languages provides a sense of belonging and empowerment.

Place naming and Indigenous languages

The use of traditional place names is an increasing practice that acknowledges and shows respect for Indigenous people as Traditional Custodians of Country and their deep relationship with the land. Dual naming recognises that geographical features and places were originally named by Indigenous people long before colonisation and the renaming of Country. Traditional place names are not random, but rather demonstrate the intrinsic connection between local Indigenous groups and the history, culture, rights and custodial responsibility to care for and manage Country (Schultz et al. 2019a). The preservation of Indigenous names for places and land features helps to ensure the continuance of traditional knowledge and language, and allows for the understanding of Indigenous language and culture as living and dynamic.

First Languages Australia has produced many resources in the past 5 years, including the national place names project, Nangun wruk: Our earth, which aims to improve involvement of language communities in the renaming of their Country.

There have also been changes to the names of well-known natural heritage and cultural sites such as Uluru–Kata Tjuta National Park (1993) and Budj Bim National Park (2017) and, most recently, K’gari (2021).

The 2020 Australian Government report Dhawura Ngilan: a vision for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage in Australia and the Best Practice Standards in Indigenous cultural heritage management and legislation (see the Heritage chapter) recommended the dual or sole naming of Indigenous places to be adopted across Australia. Some states have developed active policies or a framework for the naming of Australian geographical features and places with Indigenous names. Examples are Aboriginal and dual naming: a guideline for naming Western Australian geographic features and places (2020), the Aboriginal and dual naming policy: a policy for the naming of Tasmanian geographic places and features (2019) and the Place Names Act 2020 (Tas).

Assessment Wellbeing of Indigenous people
2021 Assessment graphic showing the environment is in very poor condition, resulting in heavily degraded environmental values, but the situation is improving.
Somewhat adequate confidence

Overall, the state of Indigenous people’s wellbeing scored very poor to poor, with an overall trend of improving, although with substantial numbers of experts assessing the trend as deteriorating. Recognition of Indigenous peoples as First Nations with responsibilities for Country is increasing, but wellbeing outcomes aligned with the inseparable Country–people connection continue to be affected by barriers to being on Country. Intergenerational trauma from colonisation and policies such as the Stolen Generations continue. Indigenous languages and cultures are resurging, but there is limited external support for relevant activities. Regional variation is high, with great disparities between urban, rural and remote populations.
Measurement of wellbeing is preliminary, as Indigenous-led wellbeing assessments are at an early stage of development. Further support is needed to better align criteria and methods with Indigenous people’s own values and practices.
Related to United Nations Sustainable Development Goal targets 1.4, 2.3, 8.3, 15.6

Assessment Indigenous peoples’ cultures and languages
2021 Assessment graphic showing the environment is in poor condition, resulting in diminished environmental values, but the situation is improving.
Somewhat adequate confidence

Key gaps exist between the strength of language and culture, and the support for language and culture. Limited external support is available, and strength and vitality has been self-generated against the odds.
Regionally variable, with some communities much stronger than their neighbours.

Assessment Ability of Indigenous people to fulfil their caring for Country activities and obligations
2021 Assessment graphic showing the environment is in very poor condition, resulting in heavily degraded environmental values, but the situation is improving.
Somewhat adequate confidence

Indigenous people’s ability to care for Country is affected by their health and wellbeing, and vice versa: the two are inseparable. Being on and reconnecting with Country improves health and wellbeing. Trauma from colonisation, from losing Elders, from ongoing discrimination and disadvantage, continues to have negative impacts on people’s ability to care for Country.
Regionally variable, with great disparities between urban, rural and remote areas.

Assessment Recognition and support for Indigenous peoples’ identities as cohesive communities of First Peoples and their associated connections to Australia’s land and seas
2021 Assessment graphic showing the environment is in very poor condition, resulting in heavily degraded environmental values, but the situation is improving.
Somewhat adequate confidence

Recognition of identities is increasing, but support for identity, culture, community and connection is lagging. The broader community lacks understanding of what identity means for Indigenous people in terms of cultural, spiritual connection to Country. People in regions where legal recognition and associated support is increasing are experiencing associated positive wellbeing outcomes (e.g. northern Australia), whereas others still have lack of recognition and support (e.g. people in urban areas).
Regionally variable, with great disparities between urban and rural areas.