Housing and community

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people need to live in healthy and safe environments and communities with adequate housing and suitable services and facilities. Unfortunately, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people do not experience these conditions. Issues of concern are:

  • that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been moved from their homelands
  • generally they have a lower income available for housing than non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and
  • they may experience racism and discrimination in obtaining housing.

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people housing and communities must be suitable for social, cultural and special needs, and be adaptable for various life stages. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people often travel among different communities for social and cultural reasons which impacts on the demand for accommodation and facilities. In communities there should be access to services: medical services; shops; fire and emergency services; sport and recreation facilities. It is important for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be consulted about housing and community issues to ensure their needs are met.

What types of housing do Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live in?

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live in a range of accommodation types: privately owned homes; rented properties; transportable buildings; hostels; temporary homes such as camps, and prisons. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population is increasingly living in urban areas.

In 2007-2008 about a third of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander households were home owners or purchasers, a third rented privately, a fifth rented from state or territory housing authorities, and a tenth rented from mainstream or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community housing organisations. Almost 2 out of every 100 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were homeless.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live in either permanent or improvised dwellings. Permanent dwellings have fixed walls, doors and roof, and usually have kitchen and bathroom facilities. These dwellings are made from regular building materials and are intended for long term residential use. An improvised dwelling is a structure used as a place of residence that does not meet the building requirements to be considered as a permanent dwelling; including caravans, tin sheds without internal walls, humpies and dongas.

What is the role of environmental health practitioners in housing and communities?

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander environmental health practitioners provide a wide range of services to their communities including repairs and maintenance, hygiene and resource management (such as water supply), risk management, pest control, and waste and rubbish disposal including hazardous material. They are often involved in community education about these matters and work closely with workers in other professions and with government and non government agencies. Their duties include performing environmental checks on houses and communities and recording the information. They are involved in talks about what needs to be done, they often perform maintenance work on fixtures and fittings that aren’t working properly and arrange tasks for tradespeople.
The role of an Indigenous Environmental Health Practitioner varies according to location. In rural and remote areas for example, they would be more involved in maintenance. Housing problems vary according to location. In urban areas access to housing can be difficult. In rural and remote areas standards of housing can be poor.
Indigenous Environmental Health Practitioners need an understanding of housing and community issues such as planning, building construction, maintenance and energy efficiency. Homes need to have a safe structure. Indigenous Environmental Health Practitioners need to be aware of building codes and standards, including:

  • The Building Code of Australia (if the house is built on non-crown land, the code does not always apply)
  • State and Territory Building Acts and Regulations
  • Australian Standards
  • State and Territory housing and environmental health standards and guidelines
  • The National Indigenous Housing Guide
  • Local government building regulations

A house needs to be adequate for the amount of people living in it. Often in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities there can be 10 or more people living in a house. This places pressure on fixtures and fittings, for example, septic tanks need to be able to cope with higher use from the large number of people living in a house. The kitchen and wet areas of a house are often where there are hazards for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and these areas need to be regularly checked and maintained. Homes also need suitable storage facilities.
Energy efficiency is important. Houses need to be designed and situated to suit the environment, particularly where there are extreme weather conditions. Temperature control facilities are needed for heating and cooling; and lighting is needed inside and outside buildings. Homes also need hot water, refrigeration, and facilities for cooking and washing clothing. Power sources for homes can be electrical, solar, gas, diesel, and with modern technology hybrid sources such as solar/diesel are also available.

What are healthy living practices?

Indigenous Environmental Health Practitioners promote and educate community members about Healthy living practices.
These include:

  • washing people
  • washing clothes and bedding
  • removing waste water safely
  • improving nutrition – the ability to store, prepare and cook food
  • reducing the impacts of over-crowding
  • reducing the negative effects of animals, insects and vermin
  • reducing the health impacts of dust
  • controlling the temperature of the living environment
  • reducing risk situations
  • reducing hazards that cause minor injury (trauma).

These practices help to improve the environment and reduce infections such as diarrhoeal diseases, respiratory infections, skin infections, eye infections and other transmissible diseases.


Key resources



Seven sisters by Josie Boyle

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