Yarrabah, Kowrowa and Mona Mona

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.

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  1. Andrew,
    Your article begs certain questions.
    Is the hold up with infrastructure due to inadequate federal funding or revenue monies flowing to Quensland?
    Or is it down to state government inability too prder priorities and general inertia?
    Is there a mixture and if so where does one or the other stand out or fail?
    Is Hansonism involved. Relevent federal, state or local authoriites are unenthusiastic in commencing projects in case local populists start up carping campaigns alleging favoritism towards the aboriginal communities?

  2. Hi Paul W.
    I would like to hear Andrew’s answer to your question as he has visited more commuities than I have and he probably has a better understanding of the workings of the bureacracy than me.

    However from my own perspective I see the problem, in general terms, no specific community, as the following.

    1/The Qld government does not seem to be acting on housing as a priority despite there being heaps of money available, federal and state.

    e.g. The state government has had $4,000,000 in the bank for Palm Island housing for two years with no significant housing developments on the Island. However there is a huge Qbuild camp on the Island with heaps of workers.(probably spending the $4mil on beauracracy.

    The Palm Island council, via a private company, applied for federal funding from the “Fixing houses for better health” program which could have funneled $1.5 million into Palm to spend up to $5000 on each house for repairs and maintenence.

    The state government stopped this federal money from flowing as it considered housing to be it’s business, so the houses are still unmaintained.

    I believe the reasons for this is a combination of incompetence and lack of will in the bureacracy to execute the state’s plans.

    2/ Since ATSIC was abolished (and maybe even before that) there has been no serious political campaign from Aboriginal Australia to force the hand of the government on housing issues. In the past ATSIC would have been in constant contact with local communities and the government and would pressure and negotiate with the government to achieve some housing outcomes. There is no such pressure on the bureacracy to act now so it moves by its own priorities and agendas only.

    3/Issues such as land title and private home ownership are very much on the agenda at present, but there is no clarity as to what this might mean. Within the paradigms of the past, welfare housing on Aboriginal reserve land, governments just put houses onto deed of grant in trust (dogit) land as the houses and the land were all social property.

    However with the big push to rearrange land title on Aboriginal land there is no suitable land title framework for new housing developments, especially as the state now seems to reject it’s own local government housing programs and is moving away from local government management of aboriginal housing, but their is no management or maintenance structures to do this.
    Many local councils do not have the staff or resources to maintain their houses, let alone lobby for a better deal.

    so as long as all the cards are still in the air on land title there is a reluctance to move on housing developments.

    the resolution of land title issues is not difficult but it will take some political will and organisation to make it happen, neither of which exists in the state bureacracy.

    I do see the hanson factor as relevent, though not very. The state government has to maintain it’s conservative votes in Qld. and in so doing it must pander to racist steretypes such as Aboriginal communities are drunk, dysfunctional and full of family violence. To this end the government must be seen (by conservatives) to be coming down hard on issues of law and order and alcoholism at the expense of development programs which, ironically, are the only way to deal with such things as alcoholism and family violence. But I feel this is a matter of public image to cover up inactivity rather than a real attempt to enact a Hansonist agenda.

    This link, which I never tire of distributing, gives an insight into the workings of the Qld. government in indigenous issues. It is specifically about grog but it shows that the government has not seriously pursued it’s own agenda but simply focused on media releases about the principles of it’s agenda. I can’t refer you to the whole report as it has been buried.

    I also have a few conspiricy theories about why department of works (including Qbuild) money seems to stay in the bank instead of being spent but I have no smoking guns to prove that so I shouldn’t go too far at this stage. However, there was a huge stuff up with Qfleet a couple of years ago that saw much of the on-paper assetts of Qbuild were really a massive fleet of vehicles that were stored but could not be sold. The vehicles could not be sold as there were so many of them, to do so would have destroyed the Queensland used car market so they were stockpiled.
    Though, in theory the Department of works had millions of dollars through resale of the vehicles, but in real terms there is nothing until the vehicles have been sold, causing cash in other areas (such as housing) to stay in the bank to cover the paper losses of the vehicles and other big stuff ups.

  3. Well!
    If I was depressed before, how I feel now after reading the contribution from John Tracy I can’t begin to describe. Thanks for making that effort though, John.
    Can hardly be happy either given my own general voting preferences, but will console myself with probably peevish thought that “other mob” probably wouldn’t/hasn’t done much better.
    Elsewhere, folk have begun to comment on the rut the electorate has got itself into, given the “System’s” limitations against divisions of responsibility and power. Howard is repeatedly landslided back into power in Canberra, and time after time electorates seem to feel obliged to vote in equally smug state Labor in the deluded notion that one will keep the other “honest”.
    Thought the comment concerning Native Title and uncertainty was revealing.

  4. Paul,
    Perhaps it may not be so bleak (but perhaps it is?) As the grog law link indicates, the bureacrats in the govt are able to identify the truth of the matter and productive strategies. But these strategies do not get beyond reports.

    Similarly, this link is to the Queensland Parliamentary select committee on Palm Island which is pretty good, as much as I hate to admit it. http://www.parliament.qld.gov.au/view/committees/documents/PISC/reports/report.pdf

    But good reports can be corrupted. The Devil is always in the detail e.g. one of the recomendations was for an community centre on the Island, but this came to justify the illegally built and unpopular Police youth centre that now dominates community life. It is the only large meeting space on the Island. The community radio station studio is in the building and the radio license is owned by the police.

    So a good idea in a report to facilitate the community has been turned around to be police control of the community,far from the stated objectives of the report self determination for the community.

    It is not a lack of insight, expertise or resources that is the problem, it is a simple lack of will that can be remedied by a political campaign. To this end I think the stuff Andrew is doing is powerful, even though he is a fed and can do little in the senate.

    As long as Aboriginal communities are out of sight and out of mind, the propaganda produced by govenmnets is accepted as the way it is. By raising the profile of Aboriginal issues and supporting Aboriginal communities in their agendas, the government may well change is tack. As you say, this is more hopeful than a National Party government.

    There are no big unresolvable, unaffordable issues, only millions of smaller, untended problems that fester in the bureacracy.

    Itis just a case of political will.

  5. Paul
    If people just did things because it was the right thing to do then they would get somewhere.

    I think we should throw it open to the general public to get thins cracking.
    Trouble is they need work.
    ATSIC had plenty of time and thats half the trouble.

    Also many of those need to move off Palm Island and come towards work areas.

    What annoys me too is nothing gets done for these people.
    out of site out of mind.
    Does anybody know where we can mind a sponser to run some TV adds?

    Put those up at prime time.

    These people have been left for years.
    The biggest mistake we made was to let them operate as seperate to the rest of Australia.
    Clearly we are all responsible and the Government should get out of the way and stop holding up progress.
    That goes for a few others as well..
    Lets call on fellow Aussies to donate and lets just fix this housing problem.
    Although i dont think building new houses without jobs is practicle.

  6. john with the gratest respect and the knowlage that i agree with you 100% i must ask you.
    at what point dose a man accept that they cant change the past and take the respnsobility of there own future.

  7. Red
    right now, moment by moment, existential reality.

    My last comment seems to be suggesting a political strategy for change in Qld. indigenous affairs. There is no point analysing past and present injustices unless we are seeking understandings to develop ways of change.

    conversley, we cannot bring about change unless we understand history and the present.

    my persistance in discussing Aboriginal issues on this forum, including discussion of the past, is in line with a strategy of raising the profile of indigenous stuff in order to bring about change for the future.

    Many people have put Aboriginal business into the too hard basket, including the Qld govt. and have turned away because they can see no real way to change the situation. However Aboriginal people and their colleagues can not turn away as it is a total reality in their life, not a political issue in public debate.

    I suppose the question of at what point we give up is relative to how closeley involved we are.

    This is the essential problem, Aboriginal Australia has lost many of the links and connections to non-Aboriginal people and organisations and the recent violence media hysteria is making non-Aboriginal Australia scared and dissaproving of Aboriginality, further marginalising it.

    So, yes we must look to the future.

    and to look at the question (red’s) from another angle – the past and the future are just illusions of the present

  8. and another angle to red’s question, the “dreaming” which, as I understand the theory, the past present and future all exist at once in the existential moment.

  9. and…………..

    May 2006
    “Yarrabah Mayor Vince Mundraby said his community needed 150 more houses but had a 10-year waiting list for homes. Its 3000 residents were squashed in 334 three-bedroom houses.”

    this stuf is not history, it is now (whatever “now” and “history” might mean)

    we can’t change the past but the present is the only opportunity we have to do anything to make the future better.

  10. good question red, I have to remind myself of these things sometimes or I get lost in the depression of the present situation. I feel a bit better having tried to answer your question – thanx.

  11. Have been elsewhere and not followed up links yet, John. Thanks, will get round to them shortly.
    As you say, It’s something with thousands of factors contributing to create an intractable mess over time/ space/ motion (yes, I know that sounds B-S ).Its something still being worked through as in the sense of it as a historical process as something real considered in the abstract (“actually occuring history”?). Kant or Hegel could probably explain it better, sadly am not as bright.
    The outcomes include despair, apathy, bewilderment and indifference from both uside and inside the communities and the wider community.
    Unemployment and redundancy create despair, as parallel problems involving abuse, depression, alcoholism etc in white blue collar communities also demonstrate. So there must be a morale or even “spiritual” aspect at work that defies a quick solution(s).
    PALE astutely notes the role of employment. But this is itself difficult if the work ethic is a culturally-inscribed factor. Don’t forget, bfore colonisation the work ethic was as well entrenched in indigenous culture as any. You would not learn to read the land, find bush tucker or know where water and food were at a given time in a season without orienting cultural inscription from birth, and the resultant will to teach and learn complex bush craft, for example.
    I imagine the thinking behind “autonomy” was a sense of weaning off of subjects from apathy- creating dependence, to recreate decision making skills. But then the people involved have to learn straightaway what it took the original culture 40,000 years to accumulate and assemble, when the original self affirmation came exclusively from the “doing” of things like stalking game etc in a community setting of shared knowledge, meaning and skills.
    Work is part of the solution, but unskilled labour is plentiful and job training has become unfashionable the last ten or fifteen years.
    Same with white working class rust-belt communites with high unemployment. You can hand people a pick and shovel and have them move mounds of soil back and forth for six months, but what then?
    The entire Australian community is under stress as galloping technology rapidly impacts on social relations. Men no longer act as bread winners, for example and are baffled. Women become baffled at the clash between their new role as breadwinners and the old nurturing role.
    Hence the post modernist questioning of the very notion of “community” or “society”.
    Difficult to know where to go if the roadmap is redundant. Subtle ingredients like “caring” are ignored- and this is the lesson our culture should learn before any other from the downfall of indigenous culture, when our own faces such an uncertain future.
    We don’t ask why we are not offended at the fate of indigenous people because they are not “us”. Would we tolerate “Australians” living like it? More people have to start realising that indigenous people are also “us”.
    From that point, any person in strife should be offered a hand, because that’s “Australian”. Not everyone, white or black will be able to, or even want to make the effort to accept that hand, and that’s life too. Humbling isn’t it?.

  12. Paul, I disagree that the mess is intractible, it only appears to be by those that do not properly understand what is happening, especially governments.

    I think that a computer problem is intractible when I get them and I give up. But then I hand the problem to someone who knows about computers, and learn a bit about computers watching how the problem is fixed.

    If Aboriginal authorities were able to create and control their own programs, outside of mainstream service delivery guidelines, then great changes could happen quickly.

    You know the thing that really frustrates me the most and is the most severe cause of depression when that happens? it is the knowledge that the best solutions are most simple but never chosen. We could work it all out if we just looked at things from a different angle and opened up a bit to new possibilities, not much work or pain, mainly reorganising what we already have.
    But we stay entrenched in dysfunction,

    excerpt from “Heaven for everyone”
    Written by Roger Taylor.
    Sung by Freddie Mercury.

    Yeah, this could be heaven for everyone
    This world could be fed, (yeah) this world could be fun
    This should be love for everyone, yeah
    This world should be free, (yeah) this world could be one
    We should bring love to our daughters and sons
    Love, love, love, this could be heaven for everyone
    You know that
    This could be heaven for everyone yes
    Ha ha haa
    This could be heaven for everyone, yea he he he – woh
    Heaven for everyone

    Listen – what people do to other souls
    They take their lives – destroy their goals
    Their basic pride and dignity
    Is stripped and torn and shown no pity
    When this should be heaven for everyone

  13. john
    i spent time with a friend of mine today who i think is very knowlegable in the fact that he was in the police dept in country western australia for a lond time.
    i asked him why he thought there was a problem.
    his one word answer was
    “education ”
    “Yarrabah Mayor Vince Mundraby said his community needed 150 more houses but had a 10-year waiting list for homes. Its 3000 residents were squashed in 334 three-bedroom houses.”
    what is the reasion for a 10 yr wait.
    or the lack of commitment to there own future.

  14. In response to the question at #1, I believe the main answer is that it is the consequence of severe underfunding (and even redirecting of money away from infrastructure) over many years. This is mainly the fault of state governments, although the federal level could have done more than it has in recent times.

    Because the underfunding has gone on for so long, even a significant injection of extra funds now spread across a range of communities will have the effect of maintaining the status quo (i.e. preventing things getting worse), particularly given that natural population growth is higher in many Aboriginal communities than amongst non-Indigenous people.

    In my view, there needs to be a major increase maintained for a number of years in housing funding to really break the back of the overcrowding crisis.

    In response to Red at #15, the reason for the wait is basically just severe lack of money/funding. There are plenty of tradespeople and other skilled people in most Indigneous communities.

    It is certainly not \”a lack of commitment to their own future\” that is the problem, especially in Yarrabah.

    I was remiss in not mentioning in the initial post that Yarrabah is in many ways a model Council – it is one of the 8 finalists in this year\’s Indigenous Governance awards, which are sponsored by BHP Billiton and Reconciliation Australia.

    According to the awards website, the finalists were determined based on their \”vision, commitment and capacity to deliver.\”

  15. i have a hypothetical question if for some reasion out of the govts control dew to conflict or natural forces .
    the funding (money) stopped.
    what would thease ppl do then .

  16. Wonder exactly how and when the vandalism by a mob of kids at Woorabinda the other night will be used to “prove” that Blackfellas can’t look after themselves …. and that putting money into such communities is “a waste of time”

    Cynical? You bet I am.

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