Traditional healing and medicine

Traditional medicine practice (TMP) within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures in Australia encompasses a holistic world view. This reflects that of the World Health Organization which defines health as ‘physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’ [19416]. Most traditional health care practices believe that the mind and body are inseparable and that to prevent ill health there is a need to maintain a balance between the physical and spiritual selves [5238].

Prior to colonisation, traditional forms of healing such as the use of traditional healers, healing songs, and bush medicines were the only form of primary health care. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians the impact of colonisation and the removal and disconnection of people both from their land and from their traditional families has had a major effect on the use of traditional practices including traditional medicine [19416].

Present day practitioners of bush medicine offer a wealth of knowledge that can be used to improve our understanding of the process of healing [5238]. Traditional healers have extensive knowledge and are able to interpret symptoms and provide traditional healing treatments including bush rubs and medicines. Their knowledge is passed down from generation to generation. They are also able to provide an alternative to the high cost of Western-style medicine and hospital stays by using plants that grow in their local areas. Plants play an important role in all bush medicine practices – certain plants have proven results in healing or preventing disease over generations by many practitioners. However there is no official publication or listing of Aboriginal bush medicines and plant remedies as they vary between different tribes and locations.

Some healing centres offer TMP and bush medicines. For example, the Akeyulerre Healing Centre in Alice Springs in the NT offers stand-alone TMP, traditional healers and bush medicines  [19416]. The Ngangkari Healers Program also have Anangu traditional healers, who have received special tools and training from their grandparents.


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Communities Gathering to Live as One by Melanie Robinson

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