Oral Presentation Lowitja Institute International Indigenous Health and Wellbeing Conference 2016

Researching the ‘invisible infrastructure’ of support in Aboriginal families, communities and organisations: Reflections on findings and opportunities (#86)

Megan Williams 1 , Ilse Blignault 1 , Sally Fitzpatrick 1 , Rachelle Arkles 1
  1. Western Sydney University, Penrith, NSW, Australia

Aboriginal people hold the solutions to improving their health and wellbeing. Despite the right to self-determine these, many aspects of health and wellbeing, and their determinants, are worsening. If we are serious about making improvements, we must transform how we view practice, as well as how we undertake research to support practice.

In establishing a new Aboriginal Health and Wellbeing Research team at Western Sydney University, we reflected on our individual and collective experiences over several decades, across the areas of Aboriginal health and healing; justice health; ageing, caregiving, and wellbeing in Aboriginal families; and Indigenous health education. We identified an important cross-cutting theme: the ‘invisible infrastructure’ (1) of support that Aboriginal people provide in families, communities and organisations. Often undervalued by policymakers and service providers, this is expressed in the mixed formal and informal support roles Aboriginal people frequently have, the various types and timing of support they have provided, and the often reciprocal nature of support.

Insights from our research move us away from a binary between formal service provision and informal caring. In this presentation we explore the ‘invisible infrastructure’, and what it means for a holistic picture of Aboriginal health, including where research and practice inform each other. We also reflect on the challenges of caregiving many Aboriginal people experience, themselves often affected by multiple health issues and socio-economic disadvantage. In a contemporary and future-oriented health policy landscape, where the boundaries between formal and informal domains of caregiving are becoming less distinct, we consider implications for the ongoing research agenda and future professional practice.

(1) Newhouse, D. 2003, The invisible infrastructure: Urban Aboriginal institutions and organizations’, in D. Newhouse & E. Peters (eds), Not strangers in these parts: Urban Aboriginal Peoples, Government of Canada, Winnipeg, p. 243.