Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Indigenous Card Gambler Profiles in North Queensland

Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Indigenous Card Gambler Profiles in North Queensland

Article excerpt

Abstract: Card gambling has been engaged in by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in northern parts of Australia for centuries but limited information is available explaining the games and the gamblers. To deepen our understanding of card gambling, this paper uses a public health approach to analyse card gambler profiles in north Queensland. Three typical profiles emerged from the results and have been labelled social, binge and committed gamblers. They have also been identified as being positioned along a public health continuum of gambling from healthy at one end (gambling in low-risk situations) to unhealthy (gambling in high-risk situations) at the opposite end. A model of these gambler profiles explains the gambler's participation, behaviour, motivations and outcomes on the continuum. Potentially, and in consultation with local communities, these findings could help to inform the development of culturally appropriate public health strategies for specific groups of card gamblers.


Gambling on games of chance such as cards is a very old pastime and exchange system best understood within the culture in which the gambling takes place. In northern parts of Australia, Indigenous card gambling has been a leisure and resource exchange activity for a very long time (Berndt and Berndt 1946-47; Blainey 1975; Christie et al. 2010; Macknight 1976). However, apart from mostly ethnographies of single, remote communities (Altman 1985; Goodale 1987; Martin, D 1993; Phillips 2003), Indigenous card gambling has attracted little research attention. There is very limited information about who typically participates in card gambling, their gambling behaviours and motivations, and the consequences experienced by gamblers and others. To make a contribution to knowledge on this topic, the aim of this paper is to identify and explain selected aspects of Indigenous Australian card gambling by taking a public health approach. Specifically, the purpose is to explore and analyse card gambling participation and outcomes in several locations in north Queensland.

This paper first reviews Indigenous Australian card gambling literature and a public health model useful for investigating gambling. It is followed by a detailed description of the research methods and analysis used in this research. The results are presented and themes summarised in a table. The results are analysed and discussed concurrently. The paper ends with conclusions and implications.

Indigenous card gambling background

'Some Aboriginal groups of northern Australia gambled at cards at the first time of contact with Europeans, a practice introduced by Asian traders' (Binde 2005:6).

The widely held view that gambling was introduced into Australia by British colonists in the late 1770s is in contest. In fact, there was long and repeated contact in the north between Indigenous Australians, Melanesians and Asian traders and fishermen, especially those from Macassar in south Sulawesi (Christie et al. 2010; Macknight 1976). Based on shipping records and sea captains' letters, from at least the 1670s, the Macassans sailed annually to settle in northern Australia during monsoon season and returned home in the dry. While here, they gathered trepang (edible sea slugs) for Chinese markets and traded with local Indigenous Australians (Macknight 1976). Some Indigenous Australians visited Macassar (Harney 1969) and returned with new ideas, carvings, songs and even myths (Blainey 1975). One introduced activity was card games and gambling on cards. Cards were played with Indigenous Australians for gain, where the winnings were used to pay for resources and workers (Macknight 1976). Cards were also played for recreation (Berndt and Berndt 1987). Sociability was as important as commodity exchanges. The Macassan enterprise ended in 1907 when the South Australian Government (then with legal control of the Northern Territory) increased taxes and fees for trepang collection (Rolls 1992). …

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