Like most colonized countries in the Western world, Australia has a history of natural medicine use that dates back to the first settlement (by the British in 1788). The Government physician on the first fleet was quick to cultivate a physick or medicinal plant garden to provide medicines for all manner of ailments experienced by the government authorities as well as the convicts who established the first settlement. Of course, the original inhabitants of the country, the aborigines, had their own unique natural healing methods that included herbal treatments, food therapy and shamanic practice. Over the first one hundred years of settlement in Australia, herbal medicine, homeopathy and traditional Chinese medicine formed the greater part of early health care for the inhabitants. “Naturopathy” as such, didn’t really become an entity until the late 1960s to early 1970s, although nature cure practitioners did exist during the early part of the 20th century. Today, naturopathic medicine is second only to chiropractic as the most popular form of natural medicine health care in Australia. It is estimated that around 64% of Australians currently use natural medicine health care, whether that is through consultations with natural medicine practitioners or self-medication. They spend over AUS$2 billion annually on natural medicine treatments. This is more than the amount spent on over-the-counter pharmaceutical drugs in Australia each year. Growth of natural medicine usage has been quite significant, increasing from around 22% in 1986 to 50% in 1995, through to more than 60% in 1998. A study conducted in 1997 suggested that there were three main reasons why Australians were turning to natural medicine health care. These were:

  • Dissatisfaction with the service received from conventional medical practitioners
  • Desire for a better understanding of one’s own health condition and participation in the process of improving that condition of well being and health
  • An increasing distrust in science and technology and a desire to return to a way of life (including treatment of illness) that is more simple, natural and safe.
  • Unlike North America, naturopathic practitioners are not registered or licensed by State legislation. Statutory regulation exists for chiropractic and osteopathy and, in one state of Australia, for Chinese medicine. The naturopathic profession is self-regulated, meaning that professional associations monitor the practice and training of practitioners. In reality this means that anyone, regardless of their level of education or training can use the title “naturopath” and practice as a naturopathic physician. As more Australians use natural medicine treatments for the maintenance and improvement of their health (often in conjunction with prescribed or over-thecounter pharmaceutical drugs), there is an increasing level of concern by the medical profession and Government about drug interactions and safety of natural therapies. This has raised the question about the need for closer monitoring and regulation by Government, of natural medicine. Currently an enquiry is underway, in one Australian state (Victoria), into the safety of naturopathy and Western herbal Medicine, and the need for statutory legislation to regulate these practices.