In the Pilbara, there are 23 remote Aboriginal communities, spread over 502,000 square kilometres. The total remote Aboriginal community population is approximately 1,300 people, half of whom live in the two largest communities, Jigalong and Punmu. We believe six communities are not used as permanent living areas, while the remaining 14 have between 30 and 100 permanent residents.
Community leaders in the Pilbara raised issues relating to housing maintenance, expressing a desire to see maintenance-related jobs return to community and maintenance issues addressed more quickly. Some community leaders told us that they had felt pressured into signing a HMA to receive much-needed refurbishment works or on the hope of receiving new housing to reduce overcrowding issues. Several leaders explained that overcrowding was a barrier for community aspirations to have more family members return to live on-country.
Community leaders told us that there is no one-size-fits all solution to land tenure issues in communities. In several communities, leaders explained that while some residents were traditional owners for the land on which the community sits, others were traditional owners for other parts of the Pilbara or not traditional owners at all. We were told that this demographic reality would complicate tenure changes or transfers, and mean that the community council or its community members would not support such changes or transfers.
Leaders expressed concerns about the education of children in communities and the lack of opportunities for young people, saying that as a result, many families are moving off-country. We were told about a range of challenges to educational access, from a school with a lone teacher who does not have the resources to properly embed culture into the school curriculum, to the closure of a school due to low numbers, which meant students had to attend a school in a town over an hour away, to which there is no bus service.
Health issues and services were a common topic of conversation. Many residents raised concerns about the lack of community-based services. A common concern was that services were delivered on a drive-in/drive-out basis, with questions raised about whether government was getting value-for-money for services delivered to community in this way. Many communities identified the need for better services to tackle kidney disease, diabetes, and drugs and alcohol. Some leaders spoke about the need to be able to better support people who want to live on-country to escape the temptations in town, particularly alcohol and other drugs.
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