The pristine Kimberley’s tourist mecca Broome is a sorry tale of ‘two cities’ – one of rampant affluence against one of incongruous grinding poverty. And it is racialised – shanty towns filled with the Kimberley’s First Peoples. Tourists fly in from all over the world to Broome to enjoy the Cable Beach resorts and the surrounding pristine environment but surely they must be stunned by the corrals of racialised poverty.
Native Title has failed many of the Kimberley’s people to adequately reclaim their land or in the very least some redress and hope – native title for far too many is a charade. Land Councils cannot seem to make any difference to the lives of the poorest among their peoples, and the Governments – Federal, State and Local are beyond a joke, indeed they are reprehensible.
The children of the red ochre earth of the Kimberley deserve better. But they are betrayed again and again.
Seven per cent of the Kimberley population is homeless, and ninety per cent of this homelessness is comprised by its First Peoples. It is more than just the product of apartheid, it is horrific ongoing inhumanity. There are no excuses for communities such as One Mile or Kennedy Hill. Australia, the world’s 12th largest economy can afford to do the right thing by One Mile, a large impoverished community of human tragedy and misery. Australia is economically well placed to do the right thing by Kennedy Hill, where many families languish in the only shelters they have known even if Governments have deemed them unfit for human habitation.
There are many who argue that people choose their lot. Many argue that there are abundant services available to assist each and every First Nations person. Many argue that native title has effectively restored much of the Kimberley to its First Peoples. Indeed one third of pastoral properties in the Kimberley have been bought with Indigenous Land Council grants by First Peoples. And there are groups of First Peoples beginning to thrive culturally. So why is there so much poverty in the Kimberley?
The shanty towns are not limited to Broome; they are a pernicious theme right throughout the Kimberley. Nearly half the Kimberley is comprised of First Peoples, with the majority doing it tough. The rest of the population – the majority with family histories in the Kimberley much less than a century-old – are doing extremely well. The Kimberley has a population of 42,000. A little over a century ago, most of the Kimberley was still relatively untouched by invasive colonialists.
Australia cannot hold its head up when it allows for the dire poverty of less than 18,000 First Peoples in its Kimberley. While tens of thousands languish impoverished in Western Australia and the Northern Territory, while the Kimberley has among the world’s highest suicide rates, then indeed Australia is racist, because only a racist can hold their head up and be proud of an Australia that lets children and families eke out Dickensian existences in shanties such as One Mile and Kennedy Hill.
There are hundreds of these shanties across the Kimberley, the Western Desert and the Northern Territory.
I have spent a decade highlighting the extensiveness of the despair within the Kimberley, and it only seems to get worse. Where Governments let down the people, there are good people who step up to try and make a difference. Locals, Clint and Deb Durham created Feed the Little Children and provide hundreds of meals to the children of some of the shanties every week. All power to the Durhams.
Broome-based international photojournalist, Ingetje Tadros has visited the shanties over several years and supports as many people as she and her husband can. Yesterday, I visited Kennedy Hill and One Mile Community with Ms Tadros and I witnessed her connection with the people. The trust they have in her is something that Governments could learn from. And trust is something in short supply among these souls for our Governments – Federal, State and Local.
The poverty of the Kimberley does not need a generation of ‘closing the gap’, it can be sorted out in a matter of months. Whole communities can be built to standards equivalent to what the rest of Australia enjoy. But justice is being held up, just like everywhere, by the laborious native title processes. Families and communities become so consumed with native title, that a Federal Court determination even if it has taken fifteen years and many lives, is believed to be some sort of victory, some sort of reclamation of the land and opportunity to spawn cultural revivals, language restoration and social empowerment. But then why do so many miss out, why do so many communities across this continent remain impoverished?
I took many photographs yesterday but I do not want to publish photos of the hovels, of their despair, of images that will be misrepresented in the minds of many who then hijack the truth. Instead I will publish only the images of the souls who deserve so much better from society. I will leave it to another day, with the expertise of Ms Tadros as a photojournalist at the fore to produce the photographic narrative that may well be part of our sustained coverage in our campaign to get Canberra, the often soulless heart of the nation, to listen and hopefully to simply rise to the occasion.
Kennedy Hill’s 88-year-old Elder Roy Hunter Wiggin said, “I want my children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren to grow up here. We have been here 30 years, this is our home. Many of our people have nowhere else to go. If they demolish the community then we are homeless.”
“What they should do is rebuild the community, build good quality houses and provide the services that we too have a right to. This is our land, our community,” said Mr Wiggin.
“Canberra has forgotten us, everyone has forgotten us. I worry everyday about this community. I walk into town and speak to the lawyers, to the Government, to the land council, but no-one does anything.”
“I will not leave the community. I will die here, and I will do this for the sake of this community.”
Mr Wiggin is originally from One Arm Point, his patrilineal Country but Kennedy Hill has a connection through his wife, and therefore his daughter can claim a matrilineal connection.
Mr Wiggin’s daughter, Elaine has lived in the community for 30 years, since she was 12 years old. Her children and grandchildren were born into the community. Kennedy Hill is the only home they have known.
“Everything is nearby. The schools are walking distance.”
But Elaine laments for a fairer society, one in which her children and grandchildren did not have to start life from a point of disadvantage.
The critics argue that the majority of residents are squatters and that Kennedy Hill, on Yawuru Country, is not their Country. Historically, many First Peoples were removed from their Country and dumped into corrals – the missions and the ferment of small dustbowl townships on other people’s Country. In these missions and dustbowls the eugenics of the day tried to beat the ‘Black’ out of them, prohibiting the practice of their cultural ways and even prohibiting them from speaking their mother languages.
Ms Tadros said, “I have been doing what I can for as many of the people but I am only one person. What we need is to make sure these sad places make the national and international stage. It is my duty as a human being to make sure that their stories do not go unheard and unknown.”
The word is that Kennedy Hill will slowly but surely be completely demolished. It is now seven dwellings left. When all the dwellings are gone, where will all the people moved on by the Mallingbar Aboriginal Corporation go? The land may either be sold or in some sort of joint venture developed.
In the midst of the deplorable living conditions at Kennedy Hill, which much of Broome wants out of sight, there are homes well maintained. One property is home to a Torres Strait Islander family and it is beautifully kept. There is a lush garden patch at the front of their property in the midst of the dishevelled community. Whether Mallingbar Aboriginal Corporation and the Shire would like to see the precinct sold off or developed, their civic failure has been in not coordinating any contingencies for the suitable rehousing of the families.
Kennedy Hill resident, Nykiina man, ‘Billy’ Stuart Ah Choo said, “Okay, many of the houses are not in good condition, many are terrible, but where are the people supposed to go as they knock down our houses?”
The community of One Mile, only a five minute drive from Kennedy Hill, reminds me of the thousands of town camps from apartheid South Africa. And Australia is home to hundreds of town camps, born of its own brand of apartheid.
I spoke with a gentleman at One Mile named Martin.
“We are the forgotten people. We do not want life like this but there is no place for us on our own lands that others have taken from us.”
Another gentleman named William said, “We do our best with the nothing we have. Fortunately, there are only so many days in this life.”
“For us, we started our lives in the fire of racism, for our children we hope that their lives will be a little better and with a little more hope than ours.”
Some residents of Broome argue that One Mile should be left as it is, a large community of poverty and dysfunction. They argue that it is a perfect squat for the itinerants. This thinking effectively supports the corralling of people. One Mile could continue on but it should have every rightful upgrade, services provided and the stoic social support that the community is entitled to from Governments and Land Councils. It should not be a corral but a suburb – a suburb equivalent in social wealth and standing to the rest of the Broome community.
The children of One Mile deserve better than what they are getting. The children of the Kimberley deserve equality.
Australia, the world’s second wealthiest nation per capita, has 20,000 children under the age of twelve living homeless. Three-quarters of these homeless children are Aboriginal. This is the Australia that many of you do not know about.