Community services questioned at suicide inquest

Peter De KruijffThe West Australian
The inquest hearing in Fitzroy Crossing continues.
Camera IconThe inquest hearing in Fitzroy Crossing continues. Credit: Peter De Kruijff

Service provision for remote Kimberley communities was the sticking point on the first day of hearings for the WA Coroner’s Inquest into the suicides of 13 young Aboriginal people in Fitzroy Crossing.

The bulk of the session yesterday was dedicated to general evidence from the boss of a prominent women’s resource centre in the town.

Marninwarntikura chief executive Emily Carter, who took over the role from June Oscar in March, told the court policy changes by governments had impacted Aboriginal people time and time again.

She said police didn’t have enough resources to combat the sly grogging occurring in Fitzroy Crossing and there was a lack of housing preventing business growth and contributing to overcrowding.

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The remote work for the dole initiative, Community Development Program, was criticised by Ms Carter for being “individualised” and not recognising the familial approach to communities of Aboriginal people.

Ms Carter said non-government-organisations like Marninwarntikura were competing for resources with larger NGOs which were preferred by governments.

“What that means for communities like Fitzroy is we have to rely on these services that come in from the outside,” she said.

Tensions rose in the courtroom after a line of questioning from the solicitor representing State government agencies, Carolyn Thatcher, with Ms Carter about the expense of providing services in remote locations.

Ms Thatcher asked Ms Carter to acknowledge services provided in Perth were different to those which could be offered in places like Broome and Fitzroy Crossing and people made a choice to live in those towns.

Ms Carter said people may have a choice to move but they didn’t want to move.

“If they wanted to move we would have seen that movement already,” she said.

“When the homelands movement happened, government allowed people to live on their traditional country.

“Wherever it might have been services were delivered to those people and now the government is saying not to deliver services there when they were encouraged to live in their homelands and not missions and towns.”

Ms Carter said there hadn’t been any research into the prevalence of foetal alcohol spectrum disorder in adults in the Fitzroy Crossing community.

“We’ve seen the devastation of 45 years of alcohol in our community, its more than likely there are adults,” she said.

Fitzroy Crossing has led the way when it comes to addressing FASD in Australia.

The disorder, brought about when women drink during pregnancy, has been spoken about in depth during the inquest in regards to whether it could be a contributing factor to the suicides.

The aunt and carer of a 17-year-old boy who hung himself at Broome Oval two years ago was the final person to give evidence on Wednesday.

She told the inquest the boy displayed the symptoms of FASD during her time caring for him from ages eight to 14 in the Wangkatjungka community.

The aunt felt the response from the Department of Community Development when she informed them the boy had FASD was not adequate.

She said the boy loved going to school but later fell in with a bad crowd.

The aunt said the government had failed in its duties to care for remote communities.

“We’re just struggling alone by ourselves sometimes,” she said.

The aunt said she wasn’t offered any counselling when her nephew died.

“All I have is the memories of a very wonderful kid who should have grown up to be a wonderful leader,” she said.

“I don’t have a headstone for him at the grave he is buried, all that’s there is a mound, there was no help for that.”

Court documents say the boy was sexually abused by other adolescents from the age of 7.

When he was 15 he was admitted to Broome hospital after a traditional circumcision became infected.

The treating doctor thought the procedure had been done against his will.

The aunt told the inquest traditional law was no longer being practiced in the community.

The inquest continues today.

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