We will be damned by the future if we sit quiet on any dispossession of Homelands – ‘remote communities’ – just as we damn the past for similar brutal dispossessions, for the evil of the Stolen Generations, the Stolen Wages, en masse indenture, apartheid, the lot. The dispossession of hundreds of Homelands, loosely referred to as remote communities, has been in the mix for a long while. The bent of Governments for assimilation has not died, it is still their way. But assimilation is not their end all; it is a tool, a means to the end. Exploitation is the driver, and assimilation is the servant.
Whether true or not, there is word of electricity shutdowns in communities – we are yet to properly confirm these rumours, but they have come out of Warralong and Yandeyarra, both in the Pilbara, and Coonana, a community between Kalgoorlie and Laverton. But you know even if these rumours are unfounded maybe there is something in the air. The State and Federal Governments have kept to the line that communities will not be closed, that there will be consultations. The State Government is carrying on that all that is happening at this time are that ‘auditors’ are visiting communities to assess their ‘viability.’ Premier Colin Barnett is pleading to the First Peoples of Western Australia, “step in my shoes” while the Federal Government shuffles its cards and finishes up washing its hands of the shemozzle.
But you know I have every reason to disbelieve them. Two years ago I first wrote of the threat of closure to 180 remote communities. I had the inside word of government plans but what I wrote was dismissed as fanciful and conspiratorial. Well, here we are two years later with now up to 250 communities under the threat of closure – 150 thereabouts in Western Australia and 100 thereabouts on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands.
More than two years ago, a Federal Government insider, and then again last year a State Government insider, told me that the Western Australian Government was bent on closing down the majority of Homelands – ‘remote communities’. The agenda for this was not necessarily spruiked by assimilation, though this would be its tool, but by a bent to take possession of the vast interior of Western Australia and its top end for resources extraction, various development, for commercial interests, for ‘food bowl’ and agribusiness economics. They want no hindrance. The near total erosion of Western Australia’s Aboriginal Heritage Act is a clear indicator of the fact that they want to make it easier for developers, commercial interests and miners. In the last year more than 70 per cent of the State’s sacred and ceremonial sites have been deregistered.
The threat to close down Homeland communities is not about a municipal bill, not about ‘viability’. Once again, what is happening is not about assimilation, it is about exploitation. Assimilation is being used cruelly and evilly used to allow for the plan to exploit the vast interior and the top end.
The shutting down of services in communities is nothing new – in 2013, the Western Australian Education Department closed a school in a community near the Northern Territory border suggesting that there were not enough children to justify a school. But there were, when compared to other schools. They could have replaced the on ground school with a school of the air program, but they did not. That speaks for itself. The Education Department and State Government told the community that they could send their children to the next closest school – 194km afar in Warburton. The majority refused to leave their community. But one family did – journeying thereabouts 2,000 kilometres to Perth – to educate the six children. To their shock they found no available public housing. They had thought they would be able to secure a home in the big city, but little did they know. For six months they lived homeless in bush outskirts off a Perth highway. Each day the grandmother and the father drove their six children to school. Not a single government and non-government agency was able to assist them. In the end myself and my colleague at The Stringer, Jennifer Kaeshagen, found them interim accommodation. In the last seven years the State Government has built only 700 public houses on average per year but 48,000 people are on the waiting list. For First Peoples the average is less than 100 houses, mostly third rate, per year. So then, should we believe that all of a sudden they are going to build a couple of thousand houses for those they will evict or starve out of their Homelands?
The Western Australian Government has a long history of neglect of the Homelands, refusing to do their bit for them in terms of social health. They refused again and again to improve, upgrade electricity and power transmissions, to ensure clean water supplies, to ensure repairs and upgrades to water tanks – this has gone on for decades but particularly so in the last decade. Therefore they have allowed for the degradation of water supplies.
Homeland communities which the State Government has racialised and neglected that are under threat include, Burringurrah in the Pilbara, Beagle Bay in the Kimberley, Blackstone in the Goldfields. The Goldfieds’ Warburton will come under a lot of scrutiny. With the Kimberley, where lay the highest concentration of Homeland communities, One Arm Point is under scrutiny, Yakanarra may well be starved of services, Biridu too. Surprisingly, the Pilbara’s Jigalong which fought a long battle for clean water may be hit.
Other Kimberley Homeland communities under threat include Bayulu, Bow River, Dodnun, Galuroo Gorge, Guda Guda, Jarlmadangah, the beautiful Kalumburu, Koorabye, Mindibungu, Mowanjum, Ngurtawarta and Woolah. There are many more. I am surprised by the threat to Jarlmadangah and Kalumuru but this another story.
Other Pilbara Homeland communities facing looming threat include Barrel Well, Cheeditha, Chirrata, Jinparinya, Karalundi, Kikwirrkurra, Parngurr, Pia Wadjari, Punju Njamal, Marta Marta, Mingulathandoo, Wandanooka and Yandeyarra. There are other communities to be targeted too.
Other Goldfields Homeland communities include Jameson, Tjuntjuntjarra, Wannan and Warakurna. Many more communities to be targeted.
If my sources are ‘wrong’, then it is up to the State Government to come out and say so, to put to rest once and for all who is safe and who is not, who is being audited and who is not, to tell it as it is. I was concerned about publishing this story because I do not want to create hysteria, I do not wish to unsettle people, but for goodness sake hysteria has been smacked in by the Western Australian Government, by the Premier, by the Prime Minister.
The Kimberley has the highest concentration of Homeland communities in the nation and was presumed as the region that would be most heavily impacted but at this time it appears urgent for Government to ‘clear’ as much of the Pilbara as possible – the Pilbara is the engine room of the nation’s mining ‘boom’.
The Government keeps on saying it will not push people off their lands but at the same time is sending in ‘auditors’. One minute the Government is saying they are not going to close communities and the next minute they are saying that many of the communities are ‘not viable’. One minute they are saying the auditors will identify what assistance the communities need and the next minute they are saying they cannot provide services to all of them. The Premier of Western Australia, Colin Barnett fronted the Perth leg of the national rallies on March 19, and galled the 1000 protesters with “step into my shoes” inherently signifying that the ‘audit’ will lead to closures.
There is huge respect in facing the people, and it was the right thing by Premier Barnett to do on March 19, but for him to get it right altogether he needs to just tell it as it is from the Government standpoint. Without the whole of the truth there will be hysteria whereas with the truth, there will be an us verse them campaign and if this is the best democracy can offer well then it should not be denied to the residents of Homeland communities.
Two videos worth listening to:
A nation shamed when child sees suicide as the solution – The Australian