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Fitzroy Valley Indigenous organisations stand united in the face of flood disaster

Giovanni Torre -

An alliance of Indigenous-led organisations has been working tirelessly to deliver relief and recovery support in Western Australia's Kimberley region after it suffered the worst flooding in the state's history.

Leedal Foundation, Marra Worra Worra resource centre, Bunuba Aboriginal Corporation, Marninwarntikura women's group, Yanunijarra, Gooniyandi, and Nindilingarri Cutural Health Service have united and are working with representatives of Fitzroy Valley's multiple Aboriginal communities to coordinate a locally-led flood recovery.

Leedal worked with state emergency services to distribute food and other essentials early in the flood crisis triggered by ex-Tropical Cyclone Ellie, and has also raised almost $600,000 in donations, including $500,000 from Woodside Energy.

The Foundation's executive chair, Patrick Green, said local Indigenous organisations had collaborated to help the communities.

"Leedal has taken the leading role and we do want to bring everybody on board and we will take everyone's views on board," he told National Indigenous Times.

"We will ultimately be responsible for how the funds we have raised are used, but we would like everyone's participation with us on all efforts."

Mr Green, speaking from Fitzroy Crossing last week, said it was vital to "do the right thing by the whole community".

"The situation here now, we are now getting the services on our front, with the food security and so forth," he said.

"There is a lot more to be done and we are rebuilding people's emotions as well, that's something to be done first and foremost.

"And we are looking at when we can get them back to their homes, how do we address their housing needs. We do have overcrowding in some areas."

Mr Green said there needs to be a "re-shape of policies and mindsets" on how emergencies and disasters are addressed in the future.

"One of my concerns, which I raised with the ministers, is trying to work past a bottleneck because everyone still needs to go through DFES, which is fine, but some of us have to do what we have to do in helping our people," he said.

"DFES weren't there at the very beginning when it came to rescuing our people, we just went and did it. When it came to housing people, we just did it."

Mr Green said the unprecedented floods, which saw the Martuwarra Fitzroy River rise to more than 16 metres in height at Fitzroy Crossing and 50km in width in some areas, has driven many people from their homes.

"There are people homeless here. Emotion arises when they talk about it. Ministers and officials are trying to deliver messages, it tends to stir up emotions rather than address their needs," he said.

"There are nine-odd communities affected in the Valley and there are people homeless, anything up to 100 people from each community. There are about 25 from one, about 50 from another who have not been able to return to their homes. They were rescued by boat and brought into town, those are two examples.

"The houses need to be inspected by the relevant authorities to make sure it is safe, including to make sure it is safe to turn the power back on. In that regard we do have a problem with the number of professionals, the number of tradies to do the inspections."

Mr Green suggested the defence forces could assist in bringing in tradespeople to ensure the homes are structurally and electrically safe.

"Those that aren't (liveable) we need to knock them down and build something else," he said.

A spokesperson for WA emergency services minister Stephen Dawson told National Indigenous Times last Thursday that 436 rapid damage assessments had been carried out to date, with 38 residential properties classified as destroyed in Fitzroy Valley.

Mr Dawson said on Wednesday that a further 240 houses had some damage.

"We are also looking at businesses and major structures. We have teams on the ground from DFES and also the ADF who are going through houses," he said.

"The Department of Communities have started telling residents with affected houses the status of their house. For those people who have had a damaged house it will be a tough time over the coming few months.

"We will certainly be working very closely across government on a range of potential opportunities and places where people can stay while we rebuilding their houses over the coming months."

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