The following is a personal reflection by Ngardarb Francine Riches, a Bardi Jawi women, artist, community worker and church leader from One Arm Point (Ardyaloon or Bardi) in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Francine currently lives and ministers in Melbourne’s Inner West through the Melbourne Indigenous Church Fellowship which is affiliated with the Churches of Christ in Vic/Tas. Francine was recently recognized publicly by her addition this year to the Victorian Women’s Honour Role, she was also the Maribyrnong Citizen of the Year for 2014.
As a family (off country) affected by this issue, we are very concerned that our people are still being talked about and not talked to by the Barnett State Government of Western Australia. There are lives at stake and the plan to further reduce people’s rights is appalling while at the same time, mining, exploration and tourism is carried out throughout the State on Aboriginal lands. The local people have fought long and hard to establish homes and businesses in most of the communities threatened by forced closure and it seems to be forgotten that these are not new places to Aboriginal people — I certainly reject the idea that it is a lifestyle choice to live in these communities — these communities are our homes and have been for thousands of years.
If we are away from our country, it's impossible to get a 'traditional' education. No new resources are being committed to resolving problems and disadvantage, instead the very opposite is happening! Oombulguri and Coonana are already closed. Having personally been through the years of exile as fringe dwellers in the nearby town of Derby I was one of the first Aboriginal people to resettle and get the One Arm Point community going and growing, starting from nothing. It was a real struggle but it is now a successful, thriving community—a thriving community that is threatened with immanent closure.
Both the Western Australian and Federal Governments of Australia are playing games with the lives of our people who are unsure of their future. This is setting back race relations 40 yrs. Imagine if they tried to stop providing essential services to every non-viable farm in WA—there would be a national uproar!
Among the threatened 274 communities there is uncertainty and fear as the Barnett Government plans to cut off water and power to the most vulnerable in our nation. The claims of unacceptable financial burden to the State since withdrawal of Federal funds is hard to accept in one of the richest state's in the world. This is nothing short of a breach of the United Nations convention on the rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Please stay informed and stand with us against the forced closure of our communities.
—Ngardarb Francine Riches