'Kennedy Hill is a shanty town in the tourist mecca of the Kimberley. The Kimberley has one of the nation’s worst homelessness rates. Derelict homes, deemed unfit for human habitation, are the only homes many families with nowhere else to go have. But the Broome Shire wants the residents evicted and the houses demolished.
There is no plan for where the homeless will go, who the Broome Shire and State Government refer to as “squatters” and “itinerants”. According to Western Australia’s Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Peter Collier, the community will be bulldozed.
It is a theme with the Western Australian Government - evicting First Nations people from communities and stranding them homeless. They evicted them from the Kimberley town of Oombulgarri - 62 homes now lay vacant to be bulldozed in November while many of the former Oombulgarri residents are homeless, sleeping in tents on the outskirts of Wyndham.
In Perth, the Swan Valley Nyungah Community was evicted from its 20 hectares of land and earlier this year its eleven homes were demolished. Many of the former residents finished up homeless, some dying on the streets.
The Broome Shire launched legal action a couple of months ago to coerce the State Government to demolish the properties at the Mallingbar community, also known as Kennedy Hill. Kennedy Hill is near the Chinatown district. Kennedy Hill is a dustbowl shanty but it is all the families who live there have.
Seven per cent of the Kimberley population is homeless and ninety per cent of this homeless is comprised of First Nations people.
“The removal of the houses is imminent through the Aboriginal Lands Trust (ALT). I think the ALT will be making an announcement on that in the very near future,” said Mr Collier.
The ALT has a new Chair, with outgoing Clinton Wolf replaced by Shane Hamilton who headed the Community Housing Coalition of Western Australia. It is not a good start for Mr Hamilton, unless he can genuinely transition the Kennedy Hill residents safely to reasonable accommodation somewhere else. Western Australia has the highest homeless rate in Australia and endures an affordable and public housing shortage, with more than 20,000 applications for public housing - 44,000 people.
The ALT is a significant landholder with responsibility for approximately 24 million hectares, or at least ten per cent of Western Australia’s land mass.
“The ALT, through its board and the chairperson, are charged with the management of the ALT estate for the benefit of Aboriginal people across the State, and provide a committed, strong and independent voice on issues of importance,” said Mr Collier.
“Mr Hamilton is eminently qualified to act as the chairperson of the ALT. He has extensive experience in the Aboriginal housing areas, having filled senior positions within Government often working in conjunction with the Aboriginal Lands Trust for the release of land for construction of housing in remote communities.”
Mr Collier referred to Mr Hamilton’s work as the State Manager for Community Housing Limited “which manages over 400 properties across WA including East Kimberley…”
“The ALT has a clear mandate to better utilise the Aboriginal Lands Trust estate to achieve economic outcomes for Aboriginal people. This includes continuing work towards land divestment, the transfer of land to Aboriginal organisations to build their capacity and secure an economic return from assets.”
The Kennedy Hill houses are on land owned by the ALT and leased to the Mallingbarr Aboriginal Corporation.
In 2010, three of the properties were boarded up by the Department of Housing after being condemned. For several years The National Indigenous Times and The Stringer have campaigned for ways forward for the homeless of the Kimberley - we have visited Kennedy Hill, One Mile, the shanty towns and squats in and around Broome and throughout the Kimberley.
The residents do not want to go, they have nowhere else to go. Government responses for housing and hostels have not been lived up to despite the mining boom. Mallingbar Aboriginal Corporation has not assisted in any repairs or refurbishments to the homes.
The Broome Shire, despite half its council made up of First Nations councillors seem bent on demolishing the community. They served writs on the ALT and the Mallingbar Aboriginal Corporation. On July 15, Broome Magistrates Court first heard the matter. In the past, Mallingbar Aboriginal Corporation stated it did not have $100,000 to spend on demolishing the community.
Mr Collier’s Department of Aboriginal Affairs is seeking quotes for the demolition.
The residents continue on at Kennedy Hill. But their days in the shanty town are numbered.
How is it, this deplorably extensive homelessness races through the Kimberley? The Kimberley rests next to the nation’s mining boom engine room - the Pilbara.
Kimberley MLA, Kija woman Josie Farrer said the State Government is responsible for neglecting the crises in her electorate.
“The Barnett Government moved the people on from Ombulgarri, made our people homeless. It is a white man’s world, the conservatives running roughshod,” said Ms Farrer.
“We have a huge homelessness problem in the Kimberley.”
“We have a suicides crisis in the Kimberley.”
When the residents of Oombulgarri were moved on many of them slept in nearby marshes - and became known as the Marsh people. The rest were ‘trucked’ to Wyndham, dumped on its outskirts to live in tents - a tent city of sorts.
Ms Farrer said that she wondered how one day Premier Colin Barnett will explain to his grandchildren that when he was Premier of the nation’s wealthiest State - mining boom and all - why then did Western Australia’s First Nations people endure the highest suicide and homelessness rates in the nation?
Broome Shire president, Graeme Campbell has said the Kennedy Hill dwellings “are not fit for human habitation.”
Mr Campbell, Minister Collier and Premier Barnett, where are the families, the young families, the children, the elderly supposed to go? Where?
The Broome Regional Aboriginal Medical Service CEO, Henry Councillor said that the children are at risk of chronic diseases, including hookworm and ringworm. But on the streets they are at risk of much more. More needs to be done for them while at Kennedy Hill.
A couple of years ago I interviewed Broome-based First Nations filmmaker, Mitch Torres who said that homelessness is rife throughout the Kimberley – and getting worse.
“The homelessness is getting worse and no-one is doing anything about it. The Shire and Government have let it slide along.”
“Hostels and housing had been promised but forgotten in squabbles between the Shire and the Government.”
“I can take you into the heart of Broome, its Chinatown, to Dora Street and you will see homelessness you have never seen before,” said Ms Torres.
“I can take you to One Mile, to Kennedy Hill and the horror of it is right throughout the Kimberley region - in and around Derby, Fitzroy, Kununurra, everywhere.”
“It is unbelievable that such a rich part of Australia has this horrific homelessness and nothing is being done to reduce it.”
A Broome resident from one of its First Nation old families, who did not want to be named said, “Nothing is being done for our people.”
“We are held to ransom that the mining companies will give us something in return for access to the resources on our lands because for most of the time Governments let us rot and die.”
“We just do not matter. What does it take for us to be finally included in some of the hope and beauty in this world?”
Mowanjum CEO, Steve Austin sums it up, “We get no help.”