• Veronica Lulu outside the home she cannot get into. (Aaron Fernandes)Source: Aaron Fernandes
Veronica Lulu was forced to leave her home after it was surrounded by water. She's been asking for help to fix the issue for two years.
Aaron Fernandes, Kearyn Cox

13 May 2022 - 10:15 AM  UPDATED 13 May 2022 - 10:21 AM

At 57-years-of-age, Veronica Lulu finds it difficult to walk around her community unassisted.  

But making it even harder is the pool of water surrounding her house, which appears to be coming from a broken underground pipe.

"I was ringing up housing to fix this house. But they never do it. It was a long time now."

"I say it's not worth ringing up too. But it's their job, you know?" Ms Lulu told NITV News.

Ms Lulu reported the issue to the Western Australia state government, which is responsible for repairs and maintenance in the remote Aboriginal community of Mulan - a remote community on the edge of the Great Sandy Desert.

But she says that after two years and repeated requests, the problem still has not been fixed.

The leak became so bad that the entire house is now encircled by water.

Tired of waiting and worried she might fall, Ms Lulu was forced to abandon her house and moved in with a relative next door, where the water is slightly less of a problem.

"I need them to help me. Because I can't walk. If I fall, I might have to see a doctor."

Ms Lulu's long wait for essential maintenance is a familiar problem for many.

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released this week shows that only 64.8 per cent of houses in remote Aboriginal communities was of an acceptable standard, a figure that had not changed significantly since 2012.

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The ABS considers a house to be unacceptable if it lacks an essential facility, such as plumbing or a place to cook or wash, or because they have multiple major structural problems.

The Productivity Commission is currently undertaking a review of the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement.

Advocates across the country are using it to call on the Commonwealth government to play a greater role in the provision of remote Aboriginal housing and hold the states and territories to account for maintaining the homes.

"Housing for health is so important to our people," National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation CEO Pat Turner said.

"To be living in safe healthy environments, it goes with the quality of water and the environmental health. All of these things go hand in hand."

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A spokesperson for the WA Department of Communities said the state government has spent $12,000 in the last year fixing problems at Ms Lulu's house, but it didn't say how long the agency has known about the water leak or why it hadn’t been fixed.

"The most recent visit to the property was on 1 May. Additional maintenance work was identified during the visit and Communities has issued the works for repair as advised by a plumber," the spokesperson said.

"Communities' Housing Direct maintenance line has no record of being contacted by the tenant in relation to a broken pipe or water leak.

"Issues have been identified during property visits and via email communication from the local Home and Community Care."

Deteriorating infrastructure

The spokesperson said the state government spends more than $100 million annually on housing, power and water services in remote Aboriginal communities.

But on the outskirts of Halls Creek, residents of Nicholson Block community are asking where that money is going. 

"A lot of people come in here, I see, asking, what can we do for you. We always say we need the houses to be fixed," Lenny Long, Nicholson Block Leader told NITV News.

"The houses inside, it's got asbestos. It's pretty hard for us to live our lives, especially with the houses so crowded."

In recent years, the state government has begun a transition program for communities like Nicholson Block, fringe communities on the edges of regional towns. 

The aim of the program is to ensure residents have access to essential services, either by relocating them elsewhere or by ensuring the community becomes part of the nearby town through land tenure reform, housing upgrades, and regularised utility and municipal services.

The Department of Communities says that since the implementation of the policy, residents of two town-based communities have relocated and another three are considering relocation options.

"Work is underway to regularise power, water and/or wastewater services in a further 16 town-based reserves," the spokesperson said.

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"The longer-term goal for town-based reserves is the divestment of land to Aboriginal organisations, which will provide opportunities for sustainable social and economic development."

Mr Long said the residents of Nicholson Block have been made promises before.

"Its broken promises. But we need these houses to be expanded and the problems with them fixed because our families are growing."