A month or so ago (following on from going to Palm Island), I visited the Aboriginal township at Yarrabah, as well as two small communities near Kuranda called Mona Mona and Kowrowa.
Yarrabah is in some beautiful rainforest country not far south of Cairns right on the coast looking out to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Among the people I met were some Councillors and local health and employment workers. There are a lot of positive things happening at this community, despite a serious problem of overcrowded housing. Federal government changes to the CDEP program also risk have a negative impact on this community, depending on how they are implemented, something I wasn’t properly aware of. Stolen Wages practices have had a big impact on many people in this place, so I was also keen to bring them up to date with the Senate Inquiry into the issue.
I then drove up to Kuranda, which is a beautiful place – labelled the village in the rainforest – which receives a huge number of tourist visitors – particularly since the Skyrail cable car ride to Kuranda was built, which complements the historic train journey down the range to Cairns. The main shopping strip through the town is full of Aboriginal artefacts, such as art, didgeridoos, boomerangs, t-shirts, etc, but many of the local indigenous people live in small settlements outside of Kuranda.
A local Aboriginal Elder was kind enough to accompany me to visit a couple of very small places where some of the local Aboriginal people live. Some of the housing conditions I witnessed at both of these places were simply terrible. Overcrowding and poor conditions were obvious, and one of the locals gave me a long story of new houses promised 4 or 5 years earlier, most of which had still not been built.
One of the places was a small settlement called Kowrowa. It was on a sealed road and had a shop. Some of the housing is overcrowded box units made out of besser bricks – many without windows. There had been a couple of new houses built a few years ago, but the other new houses which had been promised by the state government have yet to be built, and it appears the full number originally promised will now not be supplied, leaving the small community there to work out who gets to move into the new ones, and who has to stay in the old poorly maintained units.
The other place I went to is called Mona Mona. I’m not sure what best to call it – perhaps a small community is the best description. It is the site of former mission, and the Elder who took me there was raised there and lived there until the mission was closed in the 1960s to make way for a dam which was never built. Some people have moved back there over the years. While there are a few houses which have been built, there are families living there in what could perhaps best be described as large tin shacks. There is a water supply and a diesel power generator there, but no other services other than a phone box.
The Special Rapporteur on adequate housing who recently visited Australia described some of the conditions he saw as “amongst the worst in the world both in terms of overcrowding, severe overcrowding, and in terms of lack of access to civic services“. I noticed in the preliminary report he released that he visited both of these communities (I think in place of his intended original destination of Palm Island which had to be cancelled).
It is hard not to think about all the money spent in Kuranda by tourists, drawn there by the beautiful country, and wonder why some of the local indigenous people are living in crowded tin shacks just 30 minutes drive away (partly via some fairly dodgy dirt road). Despitethe local Tjapukai people recently being recognised as Native Title owners of the Barron Gorge and River which is at the heart of the natural attraction of the area, the prosperity derived from that natural environment still goes almost exclusively to others.