Dodging responsibility


Kathy Newnam, Darwin

Support for the One Mile Dam Aboriginal community, just outside Darwin's CBD, has been growing since the launch of the Kumbutjil Association in early 2004.

But this support has not been matched by action from the NT government or the leaseholder, the Aboriginal Development Foundation. "We've been telling the ministers what we want and they've written back to us to acknowledge our letters", community leader David Timber told Green Left Weekly. However, the community is yet to receive confirmation of the tenure of the lease - a prime concern given rumours circulating about a proposed redevelopment of the area.

The Kumbutjil Association is also awaiting action on urgent electrical problems in the community. In one month, two residents suffered electrical shocks, yet Power and Water failed to respond. This is consistent with a record of neglect.

The powerlines running through and surrounding the community are too close together. Timber said: "You should see the fireworks when there's wind and rain." At least one fire in a community house has been started this way.

Powerlines run directly over the dam, but despite the dangers, the authorities have done nothing. According to Timber there is a history of the wires falling into the dam. "God only knows, I've seen them there twice myself."

"Can you imagine that situation lasting for three seconds in a white community - if the wires were falling into the swimming pool?", asked Kumbutjil Association project officer Mick Lambe.

One house in the community has been without power since Christmas Eve 2003. The Kumbutjil Association has contacted Power and Water and the relevant government departments, but to date has not received an adequate response. There are not even grates to stop rubbish from the stormwater drains from flowing into the dam. "That's what's done everywhere else <107> there are plenty of other lakes and dams in Darwin that get that treatment", said Lambe.

Lambe believes that the government just doesn't want to "do anything that helps this community ... It is hard to believe that a community is being allowed to suffer such deprivations so close to the CBD." He added: "It is easier to believe that successive state governments do not want a viable Aboriginal community to exist on or near prime development land."

However, Timber declared, "we know we're not going to move". The Kumbutjil Association has requested that it become the leaseholder, which Timber believes would make a lot of difference. The Aboriginal Development Foundation has held the lease since it was granted in 1979. On October 6, the Kumbutjil Association unanimously passed a motion of no confidence in the foundation and its manager, Bernie Valadian. According to Timber, "We just didn't have any confidence in [Valadian] any more because of the neglect that we've suffered for a long, long time".

Having certainty of tenure and control of the lease would strengthen the community projects that are already underway. The Kumbutjil Association is calling for support for these projects, which include fixing the electrical wiring, securing a demountable office and cleaning up the dam.

The association has been successful in gathering support for their projects but, as Lambe pointed out, there has been "no response from people who are supposed to decide whether we get these things".

The association is urging people to write to the federal and NT governments in support of the community's right to stay and determine its own affairs and for immediate action to uphold the basic human rights of residents.

[Write to Indigenous affairs minister Amanda Vanstone, NT Chief Minister Clare Martin and NT lands and planning minister Chris Burns. Send copies to the Kumbutjil Association, 16 Dinah Beach Road, Darwin, 0800, NT, or email . For more information visit .]

From Green Left Weekly, November 3, 2004.
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