The Australians who go hungry every week

Remote Indigenous community members pay an exorbitant amount of money for food as the cost of freight alone will often double the price of everyday items.

Indigenous families often run out of food days before their next pension cheque and are usually so hungry when they receive their money that they will spend a fair amount of their allowance on instant food and take-aways to relieve the cravings ....

Joshua Maule Eternity 10th September 2011

Indigenous Australians are going without food due to extremely high priced food in remote areas according to Christian leaders.



Until a crackdown on exploitation early in 2011, ATM and EFTPOS fees were swallowing up to a fifth of the welfare payments to indigenous customers, according to research by the Australian Financial Counselling and Credit Reform Association.

Grant Hay, a pastor to a community of 200 Indigenous people at Point Pearce in South Australia, says the vast majority of residents do not eat well. Large families and remote locations, coupled with inflated food prices and low incomes, mean people are going without food for days at a time. "Some Aboriginal families have roughly 10 in their family," says Hay, who grew up in an Indigenous community in the York Peninsula. "That's probably a thousand dollars a fortnight they need to spend on food. But they haven't got a thousand dollars. So they say: 'We'll buy about 400 dollars worth and if we run out we run out. We'll just starve for a week'."

Hay says a lack of education about income management compounds the problem. "A lot of people look lethargic, very tired. They've got a lot of fatigue. A lot of them get more sicknesses than what a white person would get." And he believes these problems are related to access to good food.
David Curtis, or "Flying Bibleman" from the Bible Society of Australia, often visits isolated towns in the Northern Territory. He recently photographed food selling at high prices in Arnhem Land. A cheaper store was nearby, but Curtis said the prices were due to the store's need to ship the items from Darwin. Some of the food was double the cost of equivalent food from Coles in Sydney, despite wages being much lower in Arnhem Land. Lettuces at the store were $6 each, carrots were $5.50 per kilo, while tomatoes came in at $8 a kilo.

Curtis says some stores - like the cheaper one nearby - ensure the cost of fresh produce is kept low. "Some of the better places try and subsidise the freight for fruit and vegies to encourage people." A good example said Curtis is a store at Lajamanu.

Grant Hay believes the cost of natural produce is a problem in Point Pearce. "Even though they want to eat healthy, if they can't they'll just go out and grab whatever's the cheapest for them," he says. "So if they want to get something like fruit, it's going to be a lot dearer than buying something like two minute noodles. So they'll buy the two minute noodles just to save money."

During last year's federal election, The Independent news website reported findings of a government inquiry and desperate pleas from child protection workers. Kathy Marks wrote: "Claims that children are starving, or 'failing to thrive', were contained in a submission to the inquiry in Darwin by child protection staff from the Northern Territory."

Child protection workers at the time had called for a Red Cross or Oxfam feeding program. A spokeswoman for the Red Cross said she did not think anything of the kind had been done prior to the most recent emergency feeding program in Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands of South Australia.

The Arnhem Land Progress Aboriginal Corporation (ALPA), is an Indigenous organisation tackling nutrition and affordable food in the remote Northern Territory. Born out of early Anglican mission in the area, the group is now a non-religious body which has seen good outcomes for the residents of Arnhem Land.

ALPA subsidises the freight costs of fruit and vegetables for the little stores it is connected with it. Even fast food in these stores is healthy, says Chris Hayward the Training Manager. Steamed sweet potato - one of the favourite take away items - is in the place of traditional deep-fried chips. "The price people pay out at Elcho Island - which is about 600 kilometers away from Darwin off the coast of remote Arnhem Land - will be the same as we pay in Darwin because we absorb those costs because it's a nutritional target," he said.

ALPA has also run a successful voluntary food card program where users can spend a proportion of their money only on healthy food. Hayward says more than 1000 people adopted the cards - which were first supported by women in the communities - as a way of ensuring money is spent on the right things. "When you see people's purchasing habits changing, it will indicate how they're going," he said.

Eternity is published by Australian Christian Pty Ltd, a company owned by John Sandeman, Eternity is not affiliated with any church or other organisation.

The Strategy targets for Closing the Gap in Indigenous disadvantage is a schedule to the National Indigenous Reform Agreement.

Food security, supply and access

• The ability of individuals, households and communities to acquire appropriate and nutritious food on a regular and reliable basis using socially acceptable means.

• The food supply chain and the capacity and resources to access and use that food.

• The availability, cost, quality, variety and promotion of foods for local population groups that will meet nutritional requirements.

• The range of physical and financial resources, supports, and knowledge, skills and preferences that people have to access and consume nutritious food.

pdf Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands Food Security Strategic Plan 2011 – 2016