This post was originally published in Land Rights News (Northern Edition), published by the Northern Land Council.*
ELLIOTT, halfway between Darwin and Alice Springs, is a town forgotten.
From the Stuart Highway, the only obvious sign of activity these days is at the two remaining service stations.
“This used to be a thriving little town,” Ray Aylett, deputy president of Barkly Regional Council and member for the local Yapakurlangu Ward, told a meeting at Elliott attended by Northern Land Council (NLC) officers.
The NLC had called the meeting to apprise local residents of a new Town Plan which the NT Government wants to declare.
The meeting fast lapsed into a long lament about Elliott’s decline over recent years, especially since the creation of the Barkly Regional Council in July 2008, and about the sorry state of public housing in the town.
The town sits on the edge of Newcastle Waters Station and began life at the site of Number 8 bore as an Australian Army Camp during World War II (it’s named after an Army Captain). Its population is largely Aboriginal, who live in two “outstations” at either end of the town – Gurungu (North Camp) and Wilyuku (South Camp).
The Australian Bureau of Statistics 2011 (latest) census put the population at 348. Yet an NLC press release from mid-2009, when the Federal Court awarded exclusive Native Title over the town, put the population around 800.
That latter figure would seem much closer to the mark, given the reports by locals of gross overcrowding in the 59 houses in North and South camps.
“When Gurungu Community Council was there (before Barkly Regional Shire), they had money, machinery and jobs,” Cr Aylett said. “They (Barkly) took everything away. They’ve got nothing now. This is just bullshit; it’s all gone backwards.
“We go to a meeting and raise something about Elliott and we get shot down in flames.
“Everything goes to Tennant Creek (headquarters of Barkly Council). We want to get Elliott going again, but Tennant Creek just shoots us down in flames.”
But most anger at the meeting was reserved for the neglect of housing in Elliott. Not one new house has been built there for 15 years, and existing houses are run down.
“We’ve got health issues here because there’s no repairs and maintenance,” said Jeremy Jackson. “After Gurungu (Council) collapsed, everything just fell through the floor. The Shire Council should be much more active.”
Residents pay rent money to Barkly Regional council, but say they get little service in return.
“Money from rent should be spent here; It should stay here, not spent in another town,” Gordon Jackson told the meeting.
“If we pay rent why doesn’t government supply funding for us mob?” asked traditional owner Heather Wilson. “How are we expected to live in our camps? We don’t pay rent for nothing.”
Rent-paying residents don’t even have tenancy agreements such as exist for residents in other Aboriginal communities.
“Nobody wants to take responsibility,” said Suzie Jackson. “You’ve got to start standing up for your rights,” Kevin Neade, NLC senior project officer for the Barkly region, told the meeting.
“For too long people here have just gone with the flow. We’re in the 21st Century, not in tobacco and flour days.”
The meeting elected nine members to a new Housing Reference Group – which exists in other Aboriginal Communities where public housing is managed by the Northern Territory Government – to advocate for improved housing.
* The NLC has undertaken to help push their cause.Bob Gosford is an employed solicitor at the NLC.