Australia is one of the wealthiest nations in the world, yet Aboriginal peoples in its borders have among the highest poverty rates (Lahn 2012, p. 293). Australia’s wealth has been built largely on resources taken from Aboriginal peoples whose poverty is a result of colonization (Cornell 2006, p. 199). There are significant hurdles in defining and measuring Aboriginal poverty, but little seems to have changed since a 2004 Senate committee report declared Aboriginal peoples “the most disadvantaged and marginalised group in Australia.”

Material Poverty for Aboriginal people

Income is often used as the main indicator of poverty. However, income distribution is a culturally specific method of measuring poverty, usually leading to the assumption of the nuclear family as the unit of shared income and resources, whereas Aboriginal culture places considerable emphasis on the extended rather than the nuclear family and that there are cultural obligations to share resources (Senate 2004, p. 301).  

It is well-documented that Aboriginal peoples have higher income poverty rates than non-Aboriginal Australians (Venn and Hunter 2018, p. 22). The income poverty rate for Aboriginal peoples is estimated to be 31%, with poverty being twice as high in very remote communities (54%) compared with major cities (24%) (Davidson et al. 2020, p. 53). Furthermore, Aboriginal peoples may be more likely to enter and remain in income poverty than non-Aboriginal populations (Venn and Hunter 2018, p. 23).

Non-Material Poverty 

While material poverty is not to be ignored, non-material poverty has had an even more devastating impact on Aboriginal peoples. Non-material poverty must be considered in the context of collective and transgenerational deprivation. It encompasses and the loss of land, cultural practices, and languages that stem from colonisation, racism, and oppression (Choo 1990, pp. 11, 32). Additionally, the structural injustices that have led to a breakdown of Aboriginal law and traditions have created a “culture of poverty” since colonisation (Choo 1990, p. 32). Non-material poverty has contributed to multiple traumatic losses and a deterioration of social and emotional wellbeing experienced by generations of Aboriginal peoples.


Further reading:

Fogarty, W., Lovell, M., Langenberg, J. and Heron, M-J. (2018). Deficit Discourse and Strengths-based

Approaches: Changing the Narrative of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health and Wellbeing. Lowitja Institute. Retrieved from:

Lowitja Institute (2022). Close the Gap. Transforming Power: Voices for Generational Change. Lowitja 

Institute. Retrieved from:

Senate Community Affairs References Committee Secretariat (2004). A hand up not a hand out: