• Inquest hears about nightmare situation for remote Indigenous communities in the Kimberly facing issues of suicide, drugs, alcohol, neglect and sexual abuse. (AAP)Source: AAP
Life in WA's remote Aboriginal communities was presented as a horrific dystopia throughout the inquest into suicides of 13 young Indigenous people.
27 Jul 2017 - 12:45 PM  UPDATED 27 Jul 2017 - 12:51 PM

But one story was particularly disturbing.

WA Government child protection worker Rosalee Webb was talking about a 13-year-old Aboriginal girl who killed herself in 2013 in Kalumburu, the northern-most human settlement in WA.

Ms Webb, a psychologist, has seen a lot in a career spent in Aboriginal communities but became emotional describing the days after the girl's death when a $1,300 Centrelink bereavement payment arrived.

When a funeral company inquired about arrangements, Ms Webb said she found the girl's family gambling away the money that was supposed to go on the ceremony.

"When I heard there was another inquest, I thought: ‘well nothing happened after the first one, so what's this one going to do?’"

Many of those at the Broome courthouse were emotionally affected, including a sympathetic-looking WA Coroner Fos Fogliani.

They heard a harrowing account of the girl's life including the fact that three years later her younger sister ended her life at the age of 10, the shock at that death prompting the inquest.

The coroner is investigating 13 deaths in the Kimberley in three-and-a-half years, five of which involved children aged between 10 and 13.

The older sister grew up in Kalumburu, which on a map looks like an exotic, coastal location at the top of Australia.

But it was a predatory environment where 13 per cent of the men were convicted child sex offenders among others who had not been caught.

Ms Webb said she was worried the girl was part of a cohort of 10 to 13-year-olds being targeted.

The girl told a female board member at Kalumburu she was thinking of ending her life but was told not to be still.

Adults in Aboriginal communities were often the opposite of loving parents, leaders and role models, the inquest heard.

"Imagine the effect that has on a child."

The children run wild at night because they could not sleep, while the adults drank and gambled, fought and some men even offered up their wives for sexual favours in exchange for marijuana, Ms Webb said.

"You can imagine the effect that has on a child," she told the inquest, saying the traumatised children's emotions and resilience don't fully develop and they suffer attachment issues, trauma and foetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

"They don't feel cared for or loved, that their health and wellbeing is not important, it is internalised, they often blame themselves and have low self- esteem.

"The communities have to take responsibility for the wellbeing of children, with support of course."

It gives an insight into the angry protests of Aboriginal youths in Kalgoorlie last week - and last year's racial riot - after the sentencing of a man who ran down and killed 14-year-old Elijah Doughty.

Former WA Coroner, Alastair Hope held a similar inquest nearly a decade ago and described the conditions and poverty of Aboriginal communities in the Kimberley as a ‘disgrace’.

However, the remote Aboriginal community of Mowanjum was then hit by six suicides in six months in 2012.

"When I heard there was another inquest, I thought: ‘well nothing happened after the first one, so what's this one going to do?’" said Steve Austin, Mowanjum's CEO.

Mowanjum's chairman, Steve Peumorra, a 39-year-old father who has not drunk alcohol for 10 years says the community is often not a safe place for children, with domestic violence, alcohol, drug and sexual abuse still major problems.

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"I sit down at my spot at night while the kids are walking around and I have to watch them. There are drunks going by in cars real fast that might hit a kid or someone walking around in the background who could do something with one of them, sexual abuse," he told AAP.

Mr Peumorra has taken on the unenviable job of confronting drunks in Mowanjum and trying to keep alcohol out of what is supposed to be a dry community.

When nearby Derby imposed alcohol restrictions recently, he heard some Mowanum men planning a car trip to Broome to buy full strength beer - a 450km round trip just to buy grog.

He notified the police who stopped the men.

Mr Peumorra and Mr Austin say the federal government must share the blame for the suicides after changing its work-for-the-dole Community Develop Program.

Control over the finances away from community CEOs to distant bureaucrats, with increased penalties for missing obligations and discretion taken away to give jobs and pay more money to people who worked more than required.

"People lost hope after that, people used to take it seriously as employment and it worked well for communities," Mr Austin said, echoing the sentiments of WA Labor Senator Pat Dodson.

"That was because they could not earn extra, that's when the drinking really increased, families started to become dysfunctional and people went underground, didn't want anything to do with the government and said 'we're not working for the dole'."

Mr Austin and Mr Peumorra called for the return of Aboriginal wardens in communities, drinker ID cards and restricting alcohol takeaway sales to mid- strength beer.

But Mr Austin is positive about Mowanjum's future, pointing to the community- owned nearby cattle station and irrigation project that are growing and he hopes will create jobs and revenue.

"Mowanjum is a community with vision and aspirations to be successful and strong people. Despite all the government changes that actually make their existence harder than it should be, we will keep working at making their community a better place for their children to grow up," he said.

The inquest and coroner have faced criticism, after Aboriginal relatives and community residents did not show up in Broome.

Indigenous politician Josie Farrer, the state Labor MP for Kimberley, described the hearings as a "mockery to Aboriginal people".

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