Objective: To report Aboriginal communities' views of how prolonged drought in rural NSW has affected their social and emotional well-being, and of possible adaptive strategies.
Design: Content analysis of issues, priorities and adaptive strategies raised in semistructured community forums.
Setting: Rural centres across NSW.
Participants: Aboriginal people, service providers and other stakeholders. Voluntary participation by invitation with consent to record discussions.
Results: Three themes (containing six issues) emerged: (i) impacts on culture (harm to traditional family structure, culture and place; bringing shame to culture); (ii) sociodemographic and economic impacts (skewing of the population profile; loss of livelihood and participation; aggravation of existing socioeconomic disadvantage); and (iii) loss. In addition to continuing well-being programs that were already successful, proposed adaptive strategies were: capturing the spirit of Aboriginal knowledge and traditions; knowing your land; and Aboriginal arts.
Conclusion: Prolonged drought presented substantial and unique adversity for rural NSW Aboriginal communities, compounding existing, underlying disadvantage. Drought-induced degradation of and, sometimes, the necessity to leave traditional land drove people apart and disrupted Caring for Country activities. Some people reported despair at not being able to discharge cultural obligations. At the same time, the drought prompted increased love of and concern for land and a renewed enthusiasm for expressing connectedness to land through all forms of art. Modern Aboriginal and wider community well-being programs helped frame a response to drought alongside traditional Aboriginal dreaming and cultural approaches to emotional health and well-being.