In the East Kimberley, there are 94 remote Aboriginal communities with a total population of approximately 3,200 residents. The region spans some 263,908 square kilometres, with communities spread from the northern coastal community of Kalumburu to the most southern community of Yarramurral in the Great Sandy Desert. The seven largest remote Aboriginal communities in the East Kimberley (Balgo, Bililuna, Kalumburu, Mulan, Ringer Soak, Warmun and Woolah) are home to 60 per cent of the population. Of the smaller communities, 19 were found to be unoccupied, four are not permanent living areas, and a further 15 could not be accessed, with local Aboriginal people and organisations unable to provide any information on occupancy status.
Community members in the East Kimberley explained that distance to services was a key contributing factor to outcomes for their people. Most communities within 50 kilometres of a regional town said they were happy with the services they accessed in nearby towns, including economic opportunities. At this distance, they were able to benefit both from town-based opportunities such as schools and work, and from community living, with connection to country and culture, free from the humbug of town and able to control alcohol and drug consumption on community.
Conversely, community members of the most remote communities said that their biggest challenges are access to services, affordable healthy food and economic opportunities.
Many community members told us they rely heavily on Telstra pay phones, expressing their frustration with a lack of mobile coverage and services faults on the pay phones, resulting in community isolation and difficulties in emergencies. Lack of essential communication services also jeopardised reporting obligations with social services such as Centrelink, exposing residents to possible financial penalties.
Community members across the region voiced strong criticism of CDP, saying that the implementation by external providers had robbed local communities of the chance to enhance their community through community projects.
They were also concerned at the difficulty in communicating with Centrelink, CDP disciplinary measures, and the fact that there were now people in remote communities with no income, putting huge pressure on family members.
Community members in the East Kimberley sought clarity and resolution of housing issues, with housing supply, and housing repair and maintenance raised in many communities. Residents reported wait times of up to three months to fix simple maintenance issues. Some larger communities told us they faced extra housing pressure because family members from nearby outstations had relocated to their community as the outstation houses had become unsafe to live in.
Community leaders raised concerns about the future of their communities, noting the lack of jobs and economic opportunities for their young people. As a result, and given reliance on CDP, community leaders told us it was critical that any jobs in the community should be taken up by local people, rather than external contractors. They felt they could provide better housing maintenance service by engaging local people, instead of bringing in externally-based contractors and paying high travel costs. They wondered why some State-delivered services could not be more effectively delivered by employing local people where they had appropriate skills.
Many communities, particularly more remote communities, raised with us the condition of the road network. Residents told us that during the wet season, roads into the communities can be impassable, with some communities cut off from services for weeks at a time or residents being unable to return to community from visits elsewhere. There residents highlighted that road conditions coupled with distance make for high fuel and vehicle maintenance costs. For example, residents in Balgo (Wirrimanu) told us they travel 500 kilometres in a round trip to Halls Creek on an unsealed road to access health services, shop for goods or visit for funerals, family and sporting events.
A number of community members talked to us about community demographics, highlighting that they have a very young population. Some community leaders and parents expressed concerns about the level of engagement and attendance of children in the remote community school, and the barriers and struggles parents have in getting children to boarding school for further education. Many communities in the East Kimberley are working on ways to get the wider community involved in the education system, with aspirations to better support their children’s learning through culture and art programs. Most community members spoke about the lack of organised programs and activities for their young people, linking boredom in remote communities to mischief.
Community leaders of remote communities surrounding Kununurra expressed frustration that individual land tenure was not available for them to purchase their own home, or realise an economic opportunity.
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