The West Kimberley spans 159,609 square kilometres and includes 127 remote Aboriginal communities. The total estimated population of the 127 communities is 4,200 people, making the West Kimberley the region with the highest number of communities and largest total population.
For the purpose of this report the West Kimberley region consists of 75 remote Aboriginal communities on the Dampier Peninsula, 10 remote Aboriginal communities near the coast south of Broome and communities in and surrounding Broome and Derby townships.
Eight communities in this region have populations of more than 100 permanent residents, including Bidyadanga, which is the largest remote Aboriginal community in Western Australia and has approximately 600 permanent residents. We believe 23 communities in this region do not have permanent residents.
The Fitzroy valley has been excluded from the West Kimberley and has been treated as a sub-region for this report.
Community members in the West Kimberley region emphasised the importance of country and its significance to community life, explaining that remote communities provided a place of healing and are vital to the social and emotional wellbeing of residents. They said that culture was fundamental and as leaders, they have a responsibility to see this cultural knowledge transferred, with aspirations to embed culture in education, tourism and caring for country programs such as ranger groups. Cultural knowledge, artefacts and practices were viewed as a valuable asset for both the Aboriginal community and the broader population, with many raising a desire for activities that enable culture and country to be protected and shared.
Many community members in the region discussed land tenure arrangements and how those arrangements impact on community planning and aspirations. Community members were well informed about land tenure processes, highlighting that inconsistencies and a lack of clarity about options for changes in tenure, along with lengthy processing times, creates a major barrier for economic development. Some leaders expressed frustration that some freehold land is vested in with non-Aboriginal entities, such as the Catholic Church, rather than with traditional owners or with community corporations. Leaders also expressed concern about families investing in housing and infrastructure on communities with no security for those investments, due to the existing tenure.
Community members shared concerns about changes in both housing maintenance contracts and essential and municipal services contracts. Community members told us that the outsourcing of these contracts has impacted on community sustainability, with the removal of earning potential and loss of local jobs. Further, residents said they are not getting value for money, with claims the outside contractors are delivering poor workmanship after communities faced extensive wait times for works to be carried out.
A significant number of residents also advised that they felt unable to raise complaints about service providers for fear that it might affect their level of future service or stop future contracts or employment from being provided to Aboriginal people in the region. Community members suggested that government needs to consider how contracts are reviewed and the repercussions for a client if they are perceived as the source of criticism. Community members also told us they would like to see the contract structure reviewed, with larger communities given the opportunity to coordinate and deliver maintenance contracts for themselves, in partnership with surrounding outstations.
Community leaders told us that current child-centred services are failing their young people and that they would like to see more community-driven solutions, focused on empowerment of families. Communities across the region told us of aspirations for family-centred services, with a greater emphasis to prevention rather than treatment.
Community leaders acknowledged the low number of Aboriginal students graduating high school and stressed that their children are not being equipped to succeed. A common concern was that many parents feel disempowered and unable to exert parental authority or set appropriate boundaries and discipline for children, meaning they felt unable to address non-attendance. In more remote communities, residents said that the condition of local roads (particularly in the wet season) made it difficult to always get kids to school.
Community members also told us that many children heading away to boarding school for high school did not have sufficient academic preparation, leading them to have to repeat a year of high school or drop out of the boarding school. The key to educational success was commonly attributed to a strong family and community connection to the school, particularly with the principal (both inside and outside the school gate).
Community leaders from the Dampier Peninsula were keen to discuss the potential opportunities that the proposed sealing of the Broome - Cape Leveque road would bring with it. They told us that improved access would support service delivery and increase economic opportunities. However, they want to make sure that government understood that the project planning and implementation needed to be done in partnership with Aboriginal people. Community leaders explained they had an obligation to country to ensure that social, cultural and environmental impacts were minimised. They also said that more work was required to translate the road sealing into broader job and economic opportunities for local residents and communities.
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