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Monday
Feb252008

Life Is Black Downunder

dor%20painting.jpgA CORONER'S inquiry into the deaths of 22 Aborigines in outback Australian towns, some of whom hanged themselves while drunk, has found that Aborigines were trying to escape their appalling lives through alcohol abuse and drugs.

The inquiry found that life for Aborigines in the Kimberley region of Western Australia was so horrific that it was fuelling a soaring suicide rate and widespread alcohol abuse and leaving children prey to sexual abuse.

The West Australian state coroner wants the Federal Government to take over the household budgets of dysfunctional Aboriginal families where children are at risk of neglect to ensure welfare payments are not being spent on alcohol, pornography or gambling.

In his damning findings the coroner said almost half the deaths he investigated as part of his inquest occurred in Fitzroy Crossing and that most of the alcohol consumed by the dead had come from the one pub - the Crossing Inn.

The coroner said consideration should be given to extending a ban on full-strength takeaway alcohol in Fitzroy Crossing to other parts of the Kimberley. He also suggested a voucher system in place of cash payments for child support to help limit the amount of money parents spent on alcohol.

In 2006, the suicide rate among Aborigines in the Kimberley rose 100 per cent to 21 deaths. There was no increase in the rate among the white population, which recorded just three suicides.

In Fitzroy Crossing, there were eight suicides in 2006 among a population of just 3500.

Alcohol abuse was so entrenched that fetal alcohol syndrome was 21.5 times higher than in the rest of Western Australia. Deaths due to alcohol between 2000 and 2004 were double those of urban centres and hospital treatment due to alcohol was 5.5 times higher.

The Coroner described the living conditions of Aboriginal people in the Kimberley as "appallingly bad". He said that although the State Government was spending $1.2 billion on indigenous-targeted programs the problems continued to worsen.

The Department of Child Protection did not have sufficient staff in the Kimberley to adequately protect children, he said.
Aboriginal communities were engulfed in rubbish, houses were small and dirty with little furniture, and contained little or no food. People slept on filthy foam mattresses, along with diseased dogs, and some houses were crowded with up to 20 people.

"In these communities there is nothing to do for most of the inhabitants for most of the time. Alcohol and drugs provide an escape," the Coroner said.

"There is little refinement about the drinking," with Aborigines consuming warm beer and wine mixed together.

A medical officer told the inquiry that there were so many "stuporous bodies on the ground" at Fitzroy Crossing at night that if was hard to find a patient she had been called out to help.

"The plight of the little children was especially pathetic," "Many already suffer from foetal alcohol syndrome and unless major changes occur - they are likely to suffer poorer health and die younger than other Western Australians".

"They live in an environment where they can expect to be the victims of violence and possibly also sexual abuse."

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