Borroloola: Federal and NT governments promise action on housing, where residents live in ‘tin shack’ shelters
Some Borroloola residents are living in caravans and overcrowded shelters (ABC News: Jane Bardon)
Maria Pyro feels like her hometown is a forgotten place.
- Borroloola residents living in “tin houses” built as temporary shelters after Cyclone Kathy
- $15m allocation to fix community’s 4 town camps yet to be spent
- Federal, NT governments promise new initiatives to tackle housing woes
“Sometimes we have hopes, sometimes we just give up and think no-one is going to help us,” she said.
About 700 kilometres south-east of Darwin, Borroloola is home to almost 1,000 people, many of them living in housing conditions considered to be among the worst in the Northern Territory — if not Australia.
“Borroloola is situated in the Gulf of Carpentaria and it’s somewhere out in the corner that nobody wants to know about us,” the 51-year-old said.
It’s been almost 10 years since the Commonwealth allocated $15 million to fix the rundown homes in Borroloola’s four town camps.
But the money has never been spent and some residents continue to live in overcrowded shelters, some of which were built as temporary shelters after Cyclone Kathy in 1984.
“We do have tin houses still here with no power and water going through, dirt floors with the tin shacks,” said Ms Pyro, who doesn’t live in a town camp herself, but has family members who do.
“My sister’s house now, the white ants [have] gone through the timbers and if we get a cyclone here they’ll all be down because they’re all falling apart.”
But after years of political rhetoric, the federal and Northern Territory governments are both promising action.
The special envoy on Indigenous affairs, Tony Abbott, who visited Borroloola last month, said a new housing initiative was in the pipeline.
“Certainly when I was in Borroloola as part of my first remote trip, they were very anxious, understandably anxious about housing,” Mr Abbott said.
“Because the housing in Borroloola is appalling, the worst I’ve seen anywhere in remote Australia.
“And I’m pleased to say there is a new initiative in preparation for housing in Borroloola.”
Mr Abbott was yet to outline the specific details of his new plan, which he said would be jointly announced with Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion “in the very near future”.
‘It’s hard to believe until I see action’
For its part, the Northern Territory Government said a tender would be released next month to build 38 new or replacement homes in the town camps, as well as refurbishments for the remainder of the 84 properties.
“This work, which is all based on our sound and acknowledged local decision-making policy, will be delivered by the NT Government after unacceptable delays from the Federal Government, which has not yet delivered on $15 million in funding for housing at Borroloola, promised 10 years ago as part of the Strategic Indigenous Housing Infrastructure Project,” NT Housing Minister Gerry McCarthy said in a statement.
Mr McCarthy welcomed any additional support from the Commonwealth, but added: “We are also waiting on Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion to release the $550 million funding for remote area housing which was approved by Prime Minister Scott Morrison during his time as treasurer.”
Senator Scullion’s spokesman said the Federal Government was “absolutely committed to working with the NT Government” to deliver investments in remote housing.
The NT Government said a tender would be released next month to build 30 new or replacement homes (ABC News: Jane Bardon)
But he said some issues between the two governments were yet to be resolved.
“Minister Scullion is keen to see the Gunner Government step up and match his commitment to local employment and procurement as well as the involvement of Aboriginal people in the decision-making process,” the spokesman said.
“The Minister had a positive meeting with all four land councils last week to progress these priorities and hopes to see the Gunner Government come to the table as soon as possible.”
Daphne Mawson, who lives in Garawa Camp Two, said she remained sceptical about the promises of improvements.
“It’s all talk,” she said.
“We’re up to the stage that when we see builders in town, that’s when we believe.
“We’ve been put through this past many a times … we’ve been sitting here waiting for 10 years.”
It is a sentiment echoed by Ms Pyro, who said after years of false dawns, she remained cautious about the housing promises.
“I feel hopeful but it’s hard to believe it until I see action happening and until I see people building houses and doing it,” she said.
“It will mean so much, especially with the children down at the camps.
“They’ll be able to sleep better and eat better in their own homes instead of sharing with so many people.”