By any measure, Australia’s remote communities are a very long way from the bright lights and buzz of our big cities. There’s not a lot in the way of entertainment options, or employment for that matter. People haven’t got enough to do. So they play a lot of cards, and have done, for decades. Card games have been a ubiquitous activity in Aboriginal
communities for over 60 years.
But now, the stakes have changed. There’s growing anecdotal evidence that the incidence of problem gambling is escalating out of control in remote communities. Large pots of money, delivered via mining royalties, are won and lost, and precious little of it stays in communities for any positive social end. It’s the opposite in fact. In houses where gambling is an issue, it’s correlated with poor child health, including higher rates of skin infections and ear disease. It co-occurs with compounding stressors such as alcohol and drug misuse, trouble with the police, witnessing violence, and being the victim of physical and verbal abuse. Like everywhere, when gamblers lose, it’s their families that pay the price.
Problem gambling is adding a layer of disadvantage and dysfunction to communities already characterised by poor health, poverty and low educational attainment. The problem for policy makers however, and agencies like Menzies attempting to understand the social determinants of Aboriginal health, is that we really have very little knowledge about what exactly is going on.
Because gambling is a sensitive topic in remote communities, Menzies requires support over three years, to enable a PhD candidate to invest the time required to build relationships in communities, to ensure that accurate information is being collected. Funds are also required for travel and accommodation costs, supervision and project administration.