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Double cigarette sales, more food vouchers: short stories from Katherine

Recently I went on a trip up to Katherine with Barbara, from Intervention Rollback Action Group, and a few other friends to record people’s experiences of living under the Federal Intervention. These are some of the brief stories we heard as we visited Katherine, Beswick and Barunga.

  • At Bindari, a small community about 20km west of Katherine, the Government allocated $10 000 to each house as part of their ‘make safe’ program. Many of the dwellings on the community are simple tin sheds with no running water, the $10 000 for each of these ‘houses’ was spent on a paint job and hosing out the inside of the shed. When the GBM asked if there was any work going to be done to the ablution blocks, the contractors employed told her that they are community assets and they were just there to fix houses. (This after the GBM had pointed out that none of the sheds have running water and these ablution blocks are the residents’ household toilets.) The GBM quit. As yet, no new house has been built at Bindari.

  • At Ngukurr, Sunrise Health Service has seen a doubling of cigarettes purchased since the Federal Intervention. They have put this down to a result of stress and depression.

  • The Jawoyn Association, based in Katherine, has a fund set aside for food vouchers and assistance for Jawoyn people who need support. When the Intervention rolled out, the board believed in – and budgeted for – less money in food vouchers. This has not been the case. Since the Intervention, Jawoyn records show that they have given twice as much in food vouchers as they did before the Intervention.

  • In spite of the Intervention having been in place for more than two years, it is still difficult for people who are travelling interstate to access Income Management. One group of people told us that when they travelled to South Australia and went to Centrelink, the staff there didn’t even know what Income Management was.

  • Just like in Alice Springs and Darwin, there has been a rise in long grassers (homelessness) since the Intervention took place. Houses are still overcrowded, with no new houses built in Kalano, Beswick or Barunga.

  • People are finding it hard to attend funerals, as there is not enough money to pay for buses back to remote communities. This can lead to inter-family problems as people aren’t attending family funerals.

  • There are more young kids on the streets of Katherine drinking and living on the streets.

  • People living in communities in Katherine feel that since the Intervention, the alcohol problem has gotten worse. There are more people in town drinking from communities to both the east and the west of Katherine.

These are just some of the stories we heard. More can be listened to at Rollback the Intervention.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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Scott Foyster lives in Mpartnwe/Alice Springs where he writes and collects stories to share. He is one of the editors of Wai, an independent quarterly national newspaper on social jusice and environmental issues around the country/region, and is also one half of Black Kite Press, an independent press that is currently working on it's first publication.

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