A Text Book of Australian Rural Health (2008)

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Objectives and purpose
Australia is a highly urbanised society with about 70% of its population living in capital
or major cities. Of the remaining 30%, 45% live in regional cities or large country or
coastal towns and surrounding areas, 45% in small country or coastal towns and
surrounding areas and about 10% in remote areas (AIHW 2002). Australian society has
evolved in line with the environmental, infrastructural, economic and political changes
over the decades. However, rural Australians, especially Indigenous Australians, have not
gained as many benefits as their urban counterparts. While Australians enjoy one of the
highest living standards in the developed world (AIHW 2005a), there are health
differentials between metropolitan and rural Australia. The reasons for these differentials
are multifactorial, but key factors are distance from health services, the fact that
two-thirds of Indigenous Australians live in rural Australia, and the 20-year difference in
average life expectancy between non-Indigenous (80 years) and Indigenous Australians
(60 years).
Rural health in Australia is defined by the shared experiences, understandings and actions
of rural health professionals in a range of service settings and in social and physical
The primary objective of rural health and rural health professionals is to facilitate the
transformation of rural society towards vibrant healthy communities, which will form an
integral part of an urban–rural continuum of healthy Australian communities. The urban–
rural continuum in all sectors of society, from commerce to education to health, should be
supported by reliable and sustained infrastructure such as transport and
telecommunications. There will be little difference between rural and urban communities
in terms of social capital and built environment. Like any health service, rural health
services should match the needs of their communities, with community development and
sustainability as key principles.
In this book, ‘rural’ is defined very generally as non-metropolitan. Case studies will flesh
out this general meaning with more specific details. These cases are selected to highlight
the uniqueness and large variety of individual rural communities in rural Australia and
reflect the range of physical, economic, social and cultural environments. Indigenous is
defined as including Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islanders. When ‘Aboriginal’ is used,
it is usually in a local context, in specific situations or as a proper noun in names such as
Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations.
To prosper, rural communities require resources, services and people. While rural
communities differ, they all share similar issues of geographical and social isolation,