Plans to shut Aboriginal communities driving people out

Aboriginal leaders say the WA government plan to close communities is already driving people out of some of the most remote parts of Australia.

Mulan Aboriginal community
Mulan, which sits at the top of the Tanami Desert, is home to about 100 people.
(Source: ABC Indigenous)

People 'preparing themselves for the inevitable'.

Caitlyn Gribbin ABC Indigenous 18 February 2015

Aboriginal leaders say a government plan to close communities is already driving people out of some of the most remote parts of Australia.

The West Australian Government last year announced as many as 150 of the state's 274 communities would be closed in the next three years because of a funding shortfall.

No decisions have been made on which communities will shut, but the announcement is already causing fear.

The remote Aboriginal community of Mulan, home to about 100 people, sits at the top of the Tanami Desert.

An artists meeting in the Mulan store includes a linguist/interpreter that speaks english and 7 other languages.
(Source: Mandy Martin Artist Blog)

Mobiles do not work and phones at the local post office are used to communicate with the rest of the world, but it has not taken long for the word to spread to locals that some Aboriginal communities may be closed.

"The stories I'm getting back from the Government is just frightening, really," Mulan chairman Steven Kopp said.

Mr Kopp said some people were so worried about the community's future that up to 20 had already moved away.

"It makes me sad too, that's all my family too, all moving away from their country," he said.

"They're gone, they've just taken off. People are just looking for another place to move on to because they're just frightened."

Western Australia's Aboriginal Affairs Minister Peter Collier stressed no decision had been made on which communities would close.

In a statement, he said the absence of the economic and social opportunities that other West Australians took for granted may be the cause of people leaving communities.

Mulan Desert Saints
The Mulan Desert Saints AFL Football Team with their team name and colours on a car bonnet sign post
(Source: St Kilda Football Club

But the Aboriginal Legal Service's Dennis Eggington said the uncertainty was driving people away.

"People are panicking; they're really getting quite upset and there's a lot of anxiety among our mobs out there," he said.

"I think people are just preparing themselves for what the inevitable is.

"That is the history of this country, that's the experience of Aboriginal people.

"If [the] government has said they're going to come and move you, then they're going to come and move you."

The West Australian Government said it would consult with Aboriginal people, particularly those in remote communities.

Proud Grandfather at Mulan
Grandfather and Grandson (Source: ABC AM)

Mr Eggington said they were still waiting for that to happen.

"I find it really distasteful that the inability for government to get down and talk to our communities about this particular issue is causing so much distress," he said.

"People are not just feeling let down, but feeling like they're not viable, they're not worthy, they're worthless.

"It's a terrible situation to make people feel like that."

Mr Kopp said he would continue fighting to keep the community of Mulan open.

He said moving people to bigger towns was not always a good idea.

"When they go to town they just drink and live anywhere, on the street, they just camp out anywhere," he said.

"It's really just making me sad really because they grew up here all their life and now they don't really know what to do."