Indigenous Science Content – Health and Wellbeing

Traditional Health and Wellbeing explores the methods used in the prevention and treatment of physical and mental illnesses. Traditional healthcare adopts a holistic approach to improving the wellbeing of a person’s physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.

The content on this page is divided into

  • Bush medicine
  • Holistic medicine


Bush medicine

Bush medicine is a term that describes the traditional medicines that are used by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, harvested from the natural flora and fauna on the Australian continent. These medicines may aid in the soothing and curing of various ailments, from queasiness and cold-like symptoms, to the sterilisation of wounds, alleviation of aching pains, and contraceptives.

‘10 bush medicine that have been curing people for generations’ is a popular media article by Natalie Cromb of the SBS which provides an introduction to 10 native plants and their functions as traditional medicines. Although this is not a scholarly text, it is still an informed piece providing references to each item listed.
‘Aboriginal Bush Medicine’ is a short PDF article by the Australian National Botanic Garden Education Services which lists some of the chemicals present in bush medicine plants and what their function is.

‘An ethnopharmacological study of medicinal plants used by the Yaegl Aboriginal community in northern New South Wales, Australia’ is a paper in the Journal of ethnopharmacology that describes bush medicine practices and medicinal knowledge from the Yaegl community.

‘Bush Medicine’ is a factsheet created by the Wet Tropics Management Authority in Cairns QLD that gives insight into some of the Australian native ingredients that are used for their medicinal properties, and states how approximately three-quarters of plant-based drugs developed by pharmaceutical companies had already been known and used as traditional medicines.

‘Bush Medicine in Mamardawerre’ and ‘Bush Medicine in Wurrumiyanga’ are video documentaries created by Adam Thompson that share the living medicinal knowledges from Elders of the Mamardawerre and Wurrumiyanga communities. These documentaries are recorded largely in the languages of the two communities with caption descriptions of the plants being demonstrated. and

‘Bush Medicine: Aboriginal Remedies for Common Ills’ is an article by Dayman Steptoe and Jessie Passananti for Australian Geographic which describes a brief history and introduction into bush medicine practices, while listing examples of the medicines and their functions.

‘Curing Zika Virus with a native Australian Plant’ by Trudi Collet is a TedX talk for TedXBrisbane that presents Dr Collet’s early stage research for the application of a novel compound of a native bush plant to kill the Zika virus in host mammalian cells. This work has also led to the discovery of a novel plant-derived broad-spectrum antibiotic which is effective against four of the World Health Oranisation’s top 12 priority bacterial pathogens.

Emu Oil(s): A Source of Non-toxic Transdermal Anti-inflammatory Agents in Aboriginal Medicine’ by M. W. Whitehouse is a paper that explores the application of Emu Oils as an Anti-Inflammatory agent for chronic inflammation. This paper is blocked by a paywall that is bypassed for free for those with access rights from their institutions.

‘Indigenous medicine – a fusion of ritual and remedy’ is an article in the Conversation by Graham Jones that provides information surrounding aromatherapy practices in Indigenous medicine for the treatment of coughs, colds, nausea, and eczema. 

‘The art of healing: five medicinal plants used by Aboriginal Australians’ is an article in the Conversation by Beth Gott that provides a brief introduction to the field of bush medicines, and lists 5 native plants that are used in a medicinal context.

‘Top 10 Aboriginal bush medicines’ is an article by Marina Kamenev for Australian Geographic that provides a history and introduction into Aboriginal medicinal practices before listing 10 of the most common Aboriginal bush medicines and their respective applications.

Wattles in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures: Traditional uses’ is an article by Suzette Searle that aims to promote the traditional uses and properties of Australian acacias in a medicinal and culinary context.

Holistic medicine

Holistic medicine is a traditional approach to health that focuses on the wellness of a person’s total wellbeing, acknowledging that healing is a physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual process. Holistic healing may be used to treat acute, palliative, and mental maladies and aid in the rehabilitation process of injuries.

‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Programs’ is a literature review collated by Jane McKendrick et al. evaluates existing information on healing programs of Indigenous communities on the Australian continent. Pages 11-14 provide a background and introduction to the history of Indigenous Australia before and after invasion from a health and wellbeing perspective. Chapter 4 provides analysis of the healing programs related to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.‘Anangu Ngangkari Tjutaku Aboriginal Corporation (ANTAC)’ is a website dedicated to communicating the knowledges and services of the Ngangkari healers of Central Australia. ANTAC is the first organisation of Aboriginal traditional healers in Australia that has operates a not-for-profit social enterprise.
Their vision is to support the maintenance and practice of the 60,000 year-old Aboriginal traditional medical knowledge system in the XXI century by creating an evidence-based documentation on Ngangkaṟi interventions in the area of physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual health & well-being.‘Indigenous Conversations: How traditional Aboriginal healing is filling the gaps of Western medicine’ is a media article by Amy Chien-Yu Wang for SBS Hindi that introduces the work of the ANTAC Ngangkari healers as they are reintroduced into the Australian health system.

‘Indigenous healing practices in Australia’ is a paper by Pat Dudgeon and Abigail Bray for Women & Therapy that offers an overview of the social and emotional wellbeing of Indigenous women within neocolonial Australia and explores women’s relationship to traditional therapeutic practices.

‘Spirituality for Aboriginal People’s Social and Emotional Wellbeing: A Review’ by Nerelle Poroch et al. for the Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal Health is a comprehensive overview of the holistic nature of Aboriginal health and wellbeing practices, highlighting the role of spirituality in enhancing Aboriginal people’s social and emotional wellbeing.

‘The Healing Touch: Indigenous healers getting results’ is an informative video segment by The Feed SBS that introduces the work of the Ngangkari healers of ANTAC, playing alongside interviews from knowledge holders and testimonies of patients that have used this holistic method of spiritual healing to treat physical and mental ailments.