Jobs and livelihoods – ways forward for ‘being on country’

Jobs and livelihoods – ways forward for ‘being on country’ Conference Paper

Desert Knowledge Symposium 2008 - Developing Desert Directions: Rethinking the Future

  • Author(s): Davies, J, Douglas, J, Hueneke, H, LaFlamme, M, Preuss, K, Walker, J, Walsh, F
  • Published: 2008

Abstract: In a policy framework, jobs are seen as an outcome, or else as a proxy indicator of the outcome of ‘a good life’ that can be readily measured. Employment is used as a key indicator for Aboriginal wellbeing and social justice. The jobs focus does not in itself offer a very good framework to think about or understand all the many factors that affect the ‘good life’ for desert Aboriginal people - that affect health, well-being, culture, care of family as well as income. Nor does it help us think about the interrelationships between the many factors that affect whether someone gets a job, stays in a job or doesn’t stay in a job. Our main message from this paper is that Livelihoods thinking provides a strong mental framework for understanding these many factors. It is useful because it provides a systems view of how policy and local contexts interact. (Meg Wheatley, Monday workshop at this symposium, said) When a system is in trouble we need to look for and connect up the missing pieces in order to create health and well being. Livelihoods thinking helps us to do this connecting up. Livelihoods view is people centred. It is concerned with ‘capability’. Amartya Sen’s concept of ‘capability’ refers to people’s ability to ‘live the life they want to live, be the people they want to be’. Considerable research shows there is a fundamental relationship between this ability – people’s sense of control over their life – and people’s health and well-being. Capability is a powerful social determinant of health. In a livelihoods way of thinking, working in a job is a strategy someone uses to pursue their goals for living the life they want to live. It is not an outcome in itself. Livelihoods thinking provides a framework to engage with people’s motivations and aspirations and capability. In work on ‘closing the gap’ it is really important to use a framework that takes account of the links between health and people’s ability to live the life they want to live. Aboriginal people’s aspirations drove the shape of the settlement pattern of desert Australia. Often we only remember this for the problems that the settlement pattern causes for policy - lots of small settlements, expensive to service, and most with a mismatch between available jobs and local skills. It is important to also remember that people can do amazing things (such as setting up these hundreds of outstations in remote Australia) when they know it is a pathway to them getting what they want. The outstation or homelands movement of the 1970s and 1980s was driven by the aspirations of desert Aboriginal people to live on or close to their traditional country in places they choose – to live the life they wanted to live. These same motivations carry through now into Aboriginal land management, which is the context of our research. A livelihoods approach is valuable because it keeps a focus on people’s aspirations and motivations – and these are powerful forces for change.

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Suggested Citation
Davies, J, Douglas, J, Hueneke, H, LaFlamme, M, Preuss, K, Walker, J, Walsh, F, 2008, Jobs and livelihoods – ways forward for ‘being on country’, Conference Paper, viewed 09 December 2023,

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