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The Aboriginal Community happy to be high and dry

Extract from Australian Broadcasting Corporation - ABC Online, on 24 October 2003


Imagine living in a place where the arrival of the wet season is likely to mean you'll have to pack up and move house due to flooding.

This is the reality for most of the residents of the tiny community of Beswick, 120 kilometres south-west of Katherine.

Beswick is located next to the Waterhouse River which flows into the mighty Roper, and almost every year the river rises to a level which forces residents to evacuate to higher ground.

But this week, 13 new houses have been officially opened, only 500 metres away from the current community, but on higher ground above the floodline.

And for the families who have been chosen to live in these houses, it's a brand new start.

44 year old Pamela Weston has lived in Beswick her whole life.

"I'm living next to the Billabong, the first house that usually gets flooded when it rains," says Pamela.

"We sometime get no warning, we usually just see the floods next to the doorhouses, so we always be called out by the emergency to get our stuff out, our furnitures out from the houses to go to the top camp.

"Sometimes it's too late, we just leave it and go out without our furniture," she says.

Pamela says it's very hard to leave her belongings behind, and after spending money on furniture it can be heartbreaking to see it affected by flooding.

She says she felt so excited when she found out she was going to move to a house where she wouldn't have to move even during 'big wets' but is concerned about those who will still be living in the flood zone.

"I felt a bit sad for those people who are still there with their houses during the flood you know, it's going to be real hard for them sometime.

"Looking at it this year it's maybe going to be flooded again, we need some more houses for this year, or next year, or maybe the future," says Pamela.

Eric Sandy is also getting set to move to a new house, where there will be enough room for his whole family.

It's the reaction of his kids which captures how the family feels; "They feel great, they want to move, they keep asking me what time are we going to move into the new home?".

Michael Burto is the regional chair of ATSIC, and he's aware these 13 new houses won't solve all of the community's problems, but says it's a good start.

"All existing housing apart from these 13 houses are prone to flood," he says.

"Some of the houses we think may be able to be relocated to this area so we'd like to see that as well."

Mr Burto can see a day when the entire community may be relocated.

"My understanding is I think that's what the community would like, you know they are very tired of living in an area that's prone to flood," he says.

Mike Davies is the CEO of the regional council covering eight communities including Beswick, and hopes this project will have wider implications for the entire community.

"We're trying to get people to think about what families are about and get back to those basics of Mum and Dad raising children," he says.

"The environment of houses which are overcrowded usually means that there is a high incidence of scabies, ear infections, eye infections and it's hoped that the houses will have a significant change in those diseases.

"We'd like to think that all these things regarding the living conditions, the attitudes, the sentiments being expressed by people will lead them to think about different lifestyles, better attitudes towards themselves."


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