Objective: To draw historical parallels between inequalities in South Africa and Australia and their implications for public health, and especially Aboriginal health, in the latter.

Methods: To use the work of Terreblanche in South Africa and Houston in Australia to demonstrate the relevance of past inequalities to some of today's health problems.

Results: Economic structural issues remain crucial to the development of and the future health of these two countries. There are more grounds for hope for a more equal society in South Africa than there are in Australia.

Conclusions: South Africa has made some attempt to face its past while Australia has not. Attempts to kill off Aboriginal culture continue. Aboriginal health will only improve when white Australia is prepared to face its ‘black’ past and move beyond the racism and indifference that surround Aboriginal affairs. The neo liberalism of both countries serves their disadvantaged populations ill.