Gloria Chula lives in a three-bedroom house of 16 people in Wadeye, one of the Northern Territory’s poorest and most troubled Indigenous communities.
The 38-year-old health clinic worker moved with her husband, child and mother out of a three-bedroom house with 23 people in 2011 but, as tends to happen in Aboriginal communities, her home has since filled up with relatives.
“There are five kids that we shower and get to school each day,” she told AAP.
“We have registered on the government waiting list (for a new home) to spread out the people, we have been waiting a long time.”
Wadeye was found to be the second-most disadvantaged region in Australia and most disadvantaged around housing according to the socio-economic index compiled at the last Census.
The situation is actually worse as the Census underestimated Wadeye’s population by several hundred, says the local Wadeye indigenous-owned Thamarrurr Development Corporation (TDC) chief executive Scott McIntyre.
He estimates the town is 150 houses – and $75 million – short of what it needs to deal with overcrowding and the social problems it causes, with current plans to build 80 and expand and renovate other existing houses.
Wadeye is Australia’s largest indigenous community with about 2600 residents and has a notorious history of gang violence, with the division partly caused by the 20 clans and seven language groups that live there.
Local resident Eddie Weekend, 36, who is employed by TDC in construction, says he, his partner and all of their six children sleep in the living room of their two-bedroom house because they fear people breaking in and stealing their possessions.
“Out here in Wadeye you have got people moving from their houses, because of fighting among families,” he told AAP.
“It makes them feel scared, they want to go into another family’s house and stay there for months, a year whatever, which makes it hard for them.”
A population survey last year found massive overcrowding in Wadeye, with the worst examples being two separate houses that had 26 people living in them.
There were 57 out of nearly 400 houses in Wadeye with “serious overcrowding” and that was taking a flexible approach with the standards.
Some 30 per cent of Wadeye’s population was chronically ill with rheumatic hearty fever high and scabies was “through the roof”, the survey found.
While Wadeye is arguably the worst example, there are about 73 indigenous communities across the Territory with housing shortages plus many town camps.
Among the many complex disadvantages and gaps to be closed: from life expectancy to child mortality, health, education and employment outcomes, there is a valid argument that dealing with where indigenous people rest their heads at night is the most important of all.
“Housing underpins improved community development, you have got to have a base to support your family,” the NT Housing Minister Gerry McCarthy told AAP.
“It is hard to get up and go to school if you haven’t had breakfast, it is hard to go to work if you haven’t had a good night’s sleep.
“Healthier living and reducing serious chronic illnesses like rheumatic heart disease relate to improving housing.”
The NT Labor Government has a $1.1 billion 10-year indigenous remote housing policy, although that could be dumped as the Country Liberals have not committed to it ahead of the August election.
The federal government has a five-year $550 million commitment whereas Labor under Bill Shorten had committed to match the $1.1 billion if they won last year’s election.
That figure of $1.65 billion is still only half of the $3.3 billion, Chief Minister Michael Gunner says is needed.
So far, 1600 houses have been either newly built or extended and improved since the Gunner government was elected in 2016, he said at a recent annual Year Ahead speech earlier this month in Darwin.
While the NT Labor Government has not had the scandals of the previous CLP Government, it has its problems such as record budget debt and the controversial $12 million grant to build a new grandstand with the tender won by a company co-owned by Turf Club chairman Brett Dixon.
However one thing many Labor staffers told AAP they are proud of is their government’s work on indigenous housing since being elected in 2016.
Mr McCarthy says even if enough houses are built over the next decade, nothing much would change unless Aboriginal people were engaged and had jobs in every layer of the housing sector.
The Local Decision Making agreements the NT Government has begun to sign with communities are supposed to aid this by giving indigenous groups control over government-funded bilingual schools, health clinics and numerous other government services.
The NT has been notorious for years of inefficiencies, neglect and waste in which white tradespeople have gotten rich off indigenous communities by charging taxpayers massive sums to travel to remote areas to do repairs and maintenance
“The main game is to create local business entities that will deliver this for everybody, so if you’re in the store and got a leaking tap you won’t be ringing Katherine for a tradie,” Mr McCarthy said.
“The (indigenous) tradie will be in the town.
“For a town like Wadeye it will underpin the economy because it will deliver a pipeline of work for every year over our 10-year program growing the workforce and addressing the critical need in infrastructure as well.”
One of those indigenous workers Mr Weekend said he wished more local guys would join him in getting licences to operate the big construction machines rather than just “working for their Centrelink pay”.
Half of TDC’s employees are indigenous.
“I need more boys from Wadeye, the local fellas to join in with us and start the building of houses, learn something from the whitefellas too,” he told AAP.
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