In the Fitzroy Valley region, there are a further 36 communities who identify in the Kimberley’s central cultural bloc, their total population is approximately 2,000 residents. The six largest communities and their outstations account for approximately 80 per cent of permanent residents in this sub-region. We believe two communities are occupied seasonally and nine are no longer used as permanent living areas.
The majority of residents living on remote Aboriginal communities in the Fitzroy Valley are traditional owners living on country. Community members explained the importance of connection to country for their social and emotional wellbeing, healing purposes and to maintain cultural practices. They emphasised the need for government to consider the significance of country and culture when developing services. Community leaders told us that they want to be drivers of community change and that solutions to issues in the Valley should be identified at a community level, stressing that government makes uninformed decisions resulting in programs that fail to improve outcomes for remote residents.
Community members told us about several successful family-centred programs, developed and implemented in the Fitzroy Valley with community leadership. They also told us of their future aspirations to embed culture in a range of youth-based programs to strengthen families and engage youth in the region. Several communities identified facilities that were built to house these programs but are underutilised or in need of repair. With funding support from government, residents said these community programs could be delivered on community, making them more easily accessible compared to programs delivered in town.
Community members in the Fitzroy Valley told us about the need to build community capacity and develop community-based training pathways focusing on governance, leadership and business development skills. Community members also highlighted the need to build positive partnerships with government, prescribed bodies corporate, larger remote Aboriginal communities and other organisations to make long-term change for their people, highlighting the need to do business differently and in collaboration, rather than in isolation.
Fitzroy Valley community members told us that since the transition from the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) to CDP, there is a lack of funding for community projects and an overall reduction in community influence on CDP priorities. Residents told us that CDEP had given ownership and control to the community, and a sense of purpose for participants, and that they would like to see CDP do the same. Many expressed the view that CDP in its current form would not lead to real jobs.
With limited employment opportunities in the Fitzroy Valley, remote Aboriginal communities are looking towards business and enterprise to sustain their community and provide employment for young people. Some community members told us about their desire to diversify traditional pastoral ventures and become active in tourism. Others told us about their community’s aspirations to become service hubs from where they could manage essential, municipal and housing services contracts for themselves and nearby outstations. Some communities indicated art centres provided avenues to develop a sustainable economic base. Community leaders saw the biggest barrier to these aspirations as being start-up funding and training. They argued that government funding agreements should be negotiated directly with communities, rather than larger corporations that are perceived as lacking effective communication and transparency.
Some communities in the Fitzroy Valley raised concerns about debt in their community, including rent arrears and overdue utility bills. In terms of power debt, community members emphasised the need move away from community billing in favour of individual meters, to ensure households are accountable for electricity consumption and payments. Further, they suggested looking to renewable energy to reduce electricity costs.
Community leaders in the Fitzroy Valley were keen to discuss improvements to housing services and infrastructure as well as local roads, highlighting that both issues have a significant impact on resident’s health and wellbeing.
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