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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Is Aboriginal Intervention Working?

Abraham Cook and family

The community of Yuendumu sits on the edge of the Tanami Desert and has a population of approximately 800 people. It’s a long way from anywhere and its a dry area - no alcohol is allowed here and you must have a permit to visit.

Catfish Waterhole

In 1948 the Native Affairs Branch of the Federal Government needed to establish another Aboriginal Reserve because Yuendumu was suffering a severe drought and becoming overcrowded as more people from outlying areas came into the settlement. They decided on Catfish, around 600 miles north of Yuendumu, because it had a permanent waterhole. The government ordered that 25 Warlpiri be taken by truck to Catfish but they camped for the night at Hooker Creek, about 35 miles from Catfish, and when they discovered that the creek was flowing and there was a bore, they decided to settle there instead.

Hooker Creek in the wet

Over the years as more people arrived at the new settlement, they began to miss their relatives and their country so much, they decided to walk the 600 kms back to Yuendumu. Welfare rounded them up and trucked them back to Hooker Creek again but they walked back to Yuendumu a second time. As time went on, another attempt was made and even though their spiritual homeland remained to the south, the people decided to stay and when children were born, they started to call the place home. Hooker creek ceased to be a welfare settlement in the 1970s and the Lajamanu Council was the first community Government council to be formed in the Northern Territory.

Abraham Cook and his family live in Yuendumu today and say the government's intervention is working for them. Welfare cards and income management has resulted in people spending more money on food from the local well-stocked store. Abraham 21 has a maintenance job with the local council but more jobs are needed and there's talk of a bakery being opened in the near future. But Abraham’s house is in urgent need of repair, the windows are boarded up against the cold desert night and other major repairs are needed. Yesterday, Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin announced that $8.7 million would be spent on improving the town’s housing.

Local elder Jerry Jangalad said “It is the alcohol that has been breaking our families for a long time now, this is a true story for all of us. If the government can do something because it is killing our people too much and separating husbands from wives and kids.” Even though there are ‘no alcohol’ signs everywhere, Abraham says people still manage to bring grog into the community.

The wheels of change grind ever so slowly.