June 2009 - MSAND
Feature Article Not a drop to drink With such a complex, global issue like water rights, it is easy for us to say ‘that’s not relevant to me, it’s happening too far away’. But as you have seen tonight the issue couldn’t be closer to home. In particular, issues of water quality and availability significantly affect the Australian Indigenous community, and perpetuate poor environmental health standards and gaps in life expectancy. EXAMPLE (NINGA MIA) A Heartfelt Plea from Associate Editor Katy Algie On Tuesday 12 th May some Notre Dame students held a Rally on campus. They titled the event “What Water? – Tap into water rights” and its aim was to raise awareness of the current global water shortage. They also screened a student made film called 'five' where 5 students challenged themselves to live like many in developing nations and survive off 5 Litres of water for 5 day. The results were obvious- an increase in awareness of the value of water and a deeper understanding of the plight of over 2 billion people worldwide. Printed below is an abridged version of the talk given by one of the evening’s guest speakers, Peter Dawson. Access to safe drinking water is recognised by the UN as a fundamental human right, and Peter has organised a petition for Parliament requesting that the current inequalities in access to sanitary drinking water in Western Australia be addressed. The petitions will be circulating around PBLS so get on board... One day, hopefully, we’ll all be able to ‘drink that shit’. I recently visited a community called Ninga Mia, it is known as a ‘town based reserve’ as it sits just outside Kalgoorlie. For many of the residents and visitors, shelter in Ninga Mia ends up being blue tarpaulins strung between trees because the houses are either too small or in complete disrepair. In the sub-zero temperatures of the desert winter the entire community’s heating system is a fire in a 44 gallon drum. This Aboriginal community is blighted by poverty, inadequate infrastructure and unsanitary facilities. The irony is that Ninga Mia literally sits in the shadow of one of the biggest gold mines in the world, the framework of the enormous Kalgoorlie ‘superpit’ is an ever-present reminder of the extreme wealth and privilege the Ninga Mia community will never be a part of. The Wongkutha Aboriginal people in this area in fact, first led the white settlers to the gold, but although 26,000 tonnes are mined every year, totaling $360 million on the world markets, no contribution goes back into the Ninga Mia community. In 1985 the residents were provided with the bare necessities to survive, but have since been forgotten and left alone to get on with a life to which they are not accustomed, unable to cope with the massive changes. In addition to the enormous 'Superpit', the lime kilns that loom over Ninga Mia create dusty, unhygienic conditions that cause respiratory problems, especially in the children aged 0-5 who make up over 30% of Ninga Mia’s population.
Add to this an unreliable water supply, antique and inappropriate sewerage systems, and water that doesn’t meet quality standards, is it any wonder that Indigenous people h a v e s i g n i f i c a n t l y h i g h e r hospitalization rates for diseases related to poor environmental health, and death rates over 4 times higher. It seems fitting for the wider community that Ninga Mia is situated out of sight and does not even appear on the tourist maps; it is truly an 'invisible' community. RIGHT TO TRADITIONAL LAND Aboriginal people have a right to choose to live on their traditional land because of cultural connections to their country, and should not have to accept sub-standard essential utility services as a reality of that choice. The people of Ninga Mia are a proud and passionate community, their ancestors have lived there for thousands of years, and this land they choose to live on is at the heart of their culture, all their stories, history, dreaming, song and dance is a part of that land. Supporting Aboriginal people to live on country is important because living on country in a traditional lifestyle has been shown to be VERY beneficial for tens of thousands of years prior to colonisation – good health, good nutrition, natural water supply, good wellbeing – thousands of years as the oldest living culture just didn’t happen accidentally... Australia has signed up to the ‘Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People’ and its implications - that is the right to maintain culture; to live on country; to receive services (I.E. WATER). So, in fact, the government has a responsibility to provide the basic living requirements that are so desperately needed in these communities, so that culture can be reignited and connections to land restored. PETITION Feature Article In response to the issue, we have put together a petition to be presented to the lower house of Parliament, which calls for the implementation of a large-scale program to normalise Water Services across Western Australia, ensuring that all citizens, including Indigenous Australians living in remote communities, receive the same standard of Water quality and availability. There are copies of the petition at the door and I would ask that all of you consider signing it, because you would be signing for real change and a move towards ‘closing the gap’.