How can Aboriginal housing be more culturally responsive?
To answer this question I undertook fieldwork in the very remote north-western Queensland town of Dajarra, locally known as ‘DJ’, where the effects of housing policy over the past forty years demonstrate that there has been little understanding of the ways in which Aboriginal people relate to each other and, to their environment, and especially little understanding of the demands of an arid zone climate.
As an Aboriginal researcher with an understanding of the holistic approaches in Aboriginal health and of the significance of dwelling, I explore the ways in which the people of Dajarra live. My findings reveal that Aboriginal people use their domiciliary space in ways that do not follow the conventions of Western housing designs and that Aboriginal residents adapt and modify living spaces in response to their environment, and according to their particular worldview.
The research aims are underpinned by my standpoint as an Aboriginal researcher and my desire to address the status and inequalities of Aboriginal housing provision. These motivations have influenced my aims.
My research primarily aimed to investigate the relationships between the housing and health experiences of Aboriginal people in the western Queensland town of Dajarra. By tracing the history of government housing policy my study identified how housing has affected the health of Aboriginal people in Dajarra. My study also explored the differences and similarities between Aboriginal and Western worldviews with respect to housing and the holistic approaches to health, in order to highlight what constitutes Aboriginal wellbeing. It also identified health stressors experienced by the Dajarra people in their houses, day-to-day lives and environment, and documented examples of how Dajarra people adapted their living practices inside and outside the houses.
My thesis is that a holistic and integrated approach to Aboriginal health and housing is required in order to achieve culturally responsive housing design and that this approach must take into account the particular worldview as well as social, cultural and environmental conditions of Aboriginal people in their particular place, including their relation to Country. I draw on the Aboriginal participants’ perspective on housing service provision. The people of Dajarra make living and lifestyle choices (within the confines of available housing) to promote their sense of wellbeing. Often their choices are counter-intuitive from the point of view of bio-medical health. From a phenomenological point of view, residents’ behaviours reflect their cultural worldview in their approach to adaptive living spaces. These behaviours include communal living, re-creating the camp setting with self-constructed architecture, and modifying living areas. My findings reveal that this cultural worldview framework is significant for identifying design that promotes individual, family and community health and wellbeing: that is, culturally responsive housing.
Besides presenting the history of inappropriate housing policy, my thesis reveals that while these policies have constrained an Aboriginal worldview, the residents nevertheless demonstrate a dynamic and resilient blend of behaviours and practices responsive to the architectural styles that combine their worldview with aspects of contemporary Australian ways of living.
Chapter One introduces the reader to the research site and to the aims of the research, discusses housing provision for Aboriginal populations, and argues the possibilities for linking Aboriginal health and housing by analysing people–environment relations and attachment to place.
In Chapter Two I describe the approaches and methods used to undertake the research. I discuss how I have used dual methodologies from Indigenous and Western research paradigms to undertake the study. The following two chapters set the foundation of the thesis. Chapter Three explores Aboriginal worldview in the study region, describing how Aboriginal living practices shape people–environment relations and housing, and vice versa. Chapter Four discusses past and current legislation and policy decisions that have affected Indigenous housing and Aboriginal living experiences.
Chapter Five and Chapter Six incorporate my research findings and highlight its significance. Chapter Five documents the housing layouts provided in Dajarra and the living spaces used by the residents. It illustrates how Aboriginal people in Dajarra experience and use these living spaces. The second findings chapter (Chapter Six) continues the discussion and analysis of specific types of behaviours within the housing layouts provided compared to the living spaces used. Within this context, I apply Rapoport’s (2005) theoretical framework based on a two–way environment and behaviour interaction to illustrate the relationship between the residents’ adapted living areas and their culturally motivated behaviours.
In the concluding chapter, the research journey is summarised by answering the questions ‘Where have we come from? And where to from here?’ The chapter concludes with a summary of the thesis findings and with recommendations on ways to improve housing design, together with strategies for service provision that complement and support these living practices.