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Out of sight, out of mind--2. Social and historical contexts of self-harmful behaviour among aborigines of remote Australia

By Ernest Hunter


Statements regarding the absence of suicidal and other self-harmful behaviour among Australian Aborigines are now untenable. The preceding paper presented the wider context of suicides in custody by examining suicide and other self-harmful behaviour in the Aboriginal population of the Kimberley region of Western Australia. The emergence of suicide in that population was further located within an increase in deaths from non-natural causes over the last two decades. Following a brief history of the region, this paper develops an even wider context--suicidal behaviour among indigeneous groups elsewhere. The relevance of these findings to the trends among Kimberley Aborigines is explored, leading to the central theme of the paper, the importance of an understanding of the socio-historical context in evaluating emerging patterns of harmful behaviour, and their relationship to alcohol use. Results obtained during a survey of the patterns and consequences of alcohol use from a stratified random sample of 516 Kimberley Aborigines are presented. The author concludes by using the behaviours described in this and the preceding paper to examine the way in which Aboriginal 'problems' are constructed by the wider society, and 'solutions' defined.

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