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Aborigines died of hopelessness

25th February 2008

An enquiry into the deaths of 22 aborigines in the West Australian region of Kimberley has concluded that they died amid massive alcohol problems in a bleak and hopeless social setting.

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Coroner Alastair Hope published a 212-page report into the deaths of 21 men and women and one 11-year-old boy. In it, he said billions of dollars in government money had been wasted as a result of confused government policy, a lack of leadership in indigenous affairs and "seriously flawed" health and education services to remote communities.

Hope described aboriginal communities engulfed in rubbish, with small and dirty houses with little furniture and kitchens containing little or no food.

He said often as many as 20 people slept in a single tiny house in temperatures over 40 degrees celsius in summer alongside diseased dogs. He described the future of the Kimberley's aboriginal children as bleak, saying their situation was 'especially pathetic'.

The 21 suicides in 2006 led to a doubling in aboriginal suicides in the Kimberley compared with the previous year. In spite of considerable government funding, conditions among aborigines were getting steadily worse in the region, Hope said, pointing to 'a vast gulf' between the lives of aboriginal and non-aboriginal Australians.

The report detailed horrific social conditions in outback towns in the state that were fuelling a soaring suicide rate, widespread alcohol abuse and leaving aboriginal children prey to sexual abuse.

Alcohol abuse was so entrenched among Aborigines in the Kimberley that "foetal alcohol syndrome" was 21.5 times higher than the rest of the Western Australia state.

Deaths due to alcohol in the Kimberly between 2000 and 2004 was double that of urban centres and hospitalisation due to alcohol was 5.5 times higher.

Hope said there was little or nothing for people in such places to do all day, and that alcohol and drugs provided an escape, with aborigines becoming excessively drunk and mixing beer and wine with no apparent social enjoyment.

A medical officer told the inquiry that there were so many "stuporous bodies on the ground" at Fitzroy Crossing at night, and drunks staggering in the dark, that if was hard to find the patient she had been called out to assist.

"The plight of the little children was especially pathetic," said Hope. "Unless major changes occur ... they are likely to suffer poorer health and die younger than other Western Australians".

 

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