A unique plumbing course is helping remote Aboriginal communities to save water

Kyle Burton took part in SA Water's plumbing course. Source: SBS News

A program teaching local Aboriginal people in the remote APY Lands how to fix taps and do basic plumbing maintenance is set to be rolled out across several communities.

Locals in arid APY Lands in the north-west corner of South Australia disagree about how long it has been since the last time it rained. The estimates vary from two to five years.

The lack of rainfall makes water a precious commodity and one the community is desperately trying to preserve.

The area is so remote that when taps leak and toilets break it can sometimes take weeks before the nearest plumber can get out to fix them.

The predicament has led to the creation of a basic plumbing program where professional plumbers teach young people from the local Aboriginal communities the basics of how to fix leaking taps and other water issues, so they can do the basic jobs themselves.

The plumbing course run by SA Water
The plumbing course teaches locals the basics of fixing taps.
SBS News

Kyle Burton, 27, said that since completing the one-day training course, run by the South Australian Water Corporation, others in the community have turned to him for assistance.

“Other people asking me to fix their tap, because the tap leaking,” he told SBS News during a training course for almost a dozen locals in the desert town of Amata last year before coronavirus restrictions were introduced. 

The course has now trained more than 125 locals and this month SA Water announced plans to roll it out to other remote Aboriginal communities in the west of SA, in and around Ceduna. 

For plumber of 16 years Tony Burroughes, teaching the local community how to fix their own taps in such a remote part of the country has been a rewarding challenge.

“It’s a fairly simple skill to learn [fixing a tap], but the problem here is, being so remote, we haven’t got the parts, but we can adapt the parts by showing the tricks of the trade,” he said.

The APY Lands - Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara - is a remote Aboriginal controlled local government area stretching over 100,000 square kilometres. It means getting government services out to the region’s 3,000 residents spread across a dozen small communities can be a challenge, but saving water matters. 

Getting a plumber out can take days or sometimes weeks in the remote APY Lands.
Getting a plumber out can take days or sometimes weeks in the remote APY Lands.
SBS News

Rachael Siddall, manager of community and Aboriginal engagement for SA Water, said there was a need to sustain every drop of water in what is one of the driest parts of the country.

“What we’re trying doing is making sure water is used sustainably across the lands and teaching people and students within schools about how to conserve water and fix taps they see in their homes and in their community,” she said.

Mr Burroughes shows the groups he teaches how to use Teflon tape and old plastic bags to fix the various parts of the tap.

“A dripping tap wastes a lot of water over time, so if we can stop as many dripping taps as we can, we’ve done our job,” he said.

Water also carries a special meaning for the local Anangu people and is known as 'kapi' in their language. 

Local Anangu elder Stanley Windy said a nearby rock hole, where water gathers on the very rare occasions it rains, is significant. 

“It’s really spiritual, for long time, the elders been here a long time," he said. 

"They always looking for water, finding it, going to other places. It’s really hard [because] it's been hot, really hot for a long time,”.

He said for his people to survive in such a dry part of the country, any attempts to help preserve water were essential.

“It’s really important for us. For looking after the water.” 

Jarni Blakkarly’s trip to the APY Lands was made with the assistance of SA Water.

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