Whilst this article is about my own experiences and observations, I am certain these situations are the same in many places around Australia. It goes a long way to explaining why there are still high unemployment levels and extreme inequality not expected in a first world country, which ensures many Indigenous people are forced to live a life stuck in the cycle of poverty. This then leads to substance abuse in most cases, despite the amount of money that goes into employment and support programs.

I lived in Broome for 23 years. It was an idealistic lifestyle of fishing, camping, fun in the sun and a close-knit, multi-cultural, friendly community. I know the community and dynamics of the area very well.

Over the last 14 years of returning to Broome, the gradual changes have now become glaringly obvious.

Last weekend, we landed with a plane full of tourists. Not one single hire car was available until October. All hotels booked out until then also. I managed to get the only tiny room left out of 75 hotels. We found it hard to get lunch or dinner anywhere because the tourists had swarmed every place. When we did find a place, every meal was close to $100 for a couple of people. In one way it was good to see the beautiful town was booming, in comparison to the rest of the Country. On the other hand, this has a detrimental effect on the locals, who are ostracised from the tourism and hospitality industry for some reason.

Why that would be so, given the local knowledge about tidal movements, bait tips for fishing, where the best places to eat are, where the best fishing places are, where to find the best art and artifacts, where to get the best coffee, when the Staircase to Moon occurs, what time is best to see the most amazing sunset and every single other detail about the town can give the visitors to the town a better experience, is beyond me! Tourists would give anything to have that kind of information given to them during a conversation with the taxi drivers or waitresses.

Instead, try looking for a local. They hide away, probably because the cost of living there is so exorbitant they can’t afford to leave the front door. Especially if they’re on Centrelink. Besides Govt or Aboriginal Organisations, you won’t find local people employed anywhere. From McDonald’s to the petrol stations, housekeepers, bar staff, taxi drivers…everything…were all foreign backpackers. You’d be forgiven if you thought you had landed in France. Whereas, locals used to be employed across much of the town and the positivity that radiated from the community was hard to miss. There were many happy, proud Aboriginal people back then with well maintained tropical gardens, kids going to school everyday and life was good.

Drive through the back streets of Broome now and the abject poverty will hit you in the face like a brick. A town of two faces. Obscenely beautiful and worth every cent the tourists complain about paying to come and experience such natural beauty. 32 degree winter days in the shimmering sun, with no schedules to stick to except the famous Broometime, which means anytime. The energy that resonates from the ground as soon as you get off the plane, has an instant effect. You can feel it, it’s hard to explain but it’s part of the reason that brings returning visitors back to the town every year.

But at what price? The locals, who can’t get a job, live in extreme poverty on Centrelink benefits in what must be the most expensive town in Australia, which is now geared to capitalise on the tourist dollar. Take a wrong turn down any of the back streets and see how the people, who have lived in Broome all of their lives, are living in extreme poverty and neglect by the local authorities. You won’t find the Shire workers on these streets pruning verges, planting new garden beds or cleaning the streets. If the Shire doesn’t want to clean those parts of the town up, then create the jobs for the residents to do it themselves. Pay them properly, not with CDEP or Work for the Dole. Give them the same pay as the other Shire workers.

All of the other jobs are going to backpackers, only for them to move on to the next town within weeks. The poverty-stricken, local Aboriginal people can’t see a way out of their position in their own town. They start feeling obsolete, worthless and end up depressed, under a cloud of hopelessness. Depression leads to substance abuse, which then leads to the breakdown of a whole society. The breakdown and disintegration of the local community is extremely sad, especially because I know how good-natured the locals are. They’d be the first people to help you in any way they could without wanting anything back in return. Not so long ago Broome had a strong, multicultural social fabric that was the perfect environment to raise a family. I can’t even recall the word ‘racist’ being used, to be honest.

The poverty and social problems of Broome have been escalating over the last few years with the much-celebrated alcohol restrictions applied in Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing. The alcohol restrictions in these towns didn’t fix the overconsumption of alcohol, dysfunction, social and health problems, violence, neglected kids etc, all it did was move the problems to Broome. The mass exodus of people from the East Kimberley descended on Broome in the hundreds. As a result, there are now hundreds of homeless, chronic alcoholics that live out in the open in full view of the wealthy tourists that look on in horror. They definitely never saw this part of Broome in the glossy tourist brochures. Whilst horrified at the site of Aboriginal people living in conditions worse than any slum in Africa, they turn around and continue on their way back to their $700 a night hotel room without a view. Most likely having thoughts and conversations about how people can choose to live in such conditions, they should get a job, stop being bludgers, have a shower or whatever their first reactions would be after seeing what they just saw. Again, another opportunity to create jobs for the locals to help the homeless. Help them with rehab, cook meals, collect donations, drive them to the health centres, mentorship, guidance, teach them life skills, translators, educators, cultural advisors…the needs are never-ending.

Those camps of homeless Aboriginal people have prams amongst the adults who sit around in groups on the hot ground. There is no shelter except for the shade of a tree, no running water, no power, no toilets….absolutely nothing but red dirt, a few trees and rubbish. Up until a few years ago, there were a couple of Aboriginal Corporations that had clusters of dwellings where the itinerant people would be welcome. Someone made the decision, I have no idea why, that those two town communities should be bulldozed, probably hoping the demolition of those dwellings would make the visual Aboriginal ‘problem’ disappear. A few years on, those decisions now look somewhat racist and heartless and definitely didn’t make the problem disappear, in fact, it is now more visual than ever.

Clearly, there are babies who are living in these conditions. How are the babies being washed? Do they have nappies? What are the babies and kids being fed? And who is responsible for this situation. Broome Shire? The Welfare Dept? Rehabilitation Services? TO Groups from Broome and the East Kimberley? Who exactly? These homeless people desperately need help but there doesn’t seem to be any forthcoming. When we talk about Closing the Gap, BLM and Ending Disparity apparently those slogans don’t apply to these people. The famous $36 Billion a year that gets spent on Indigenous issues clearly hasn’t touched any of these Indigenous people.

From what I can see, no Organisation or Department wants to be responsible. Yet, these people are the first Australians, actual Australian citizens that are meant to have the same access to services and support just like every other Australian citizen. The tourists who come to Broome seek out Aboriginal art to purchase as souvenirs of their visit to Broome, yet don’t seem to join the dots about who created those artworks. They look down on the very people who are providing the pieces of art that will be the topic of many dinner parties to come. It’s ironic!

The refugees and immigrants who board our shores illegally and even those extremists who carry out acts of terrorism on our soil, against our citizens are treated with more humanity and respect than what our first Australians receive. They have advocacy groups, politicians, well-meaning human rights lawyers and more, on stand-by to fight for their rights. How many lawyers jump in to act pro bono for Indigenous people, such as Gene Gibson, who was wrongfully convicted of murder and had to spend almost 5 years in prison before the victim’s own mother had to advocate to get Mr Gibson’s conviction overturned. Blind Freddy could see he didn’t commit the murder from the start. Did the justice system care? No. If it wasn’t for the victims’ mother, Mr Gibson would still be in prison for absolutely no other reason except being a full-blood Aboriginal man from the desert, who speaks in his native tongue and was easy to push through the court system to land on a guilty verdict.

Unfortunately, Broome is almost like the mini version of what Australia as a whole, seems to be doing. A country that is turning a blind eye to Aboriginal issues, injustices, inhumane treatment, inequality and oppression whilst proclaiming we are one of the best countries in the world to live…which is probably true but only if you’re not an impoverished Aboriginal person.

#unemployment #injustice #closingthegap #blm