Content warning: This article contains reference to substance abuse. Please refer to the services at the bottom of this article for support.

Fitzroy Crossing communities in Western Australia’s Kimberley region are in crisis, facing a lack of social and support services to curb the use of volatile substances by children in community.

In the Aboriginal community of Bayulu, ten kilometres south of Fitzroy Crossing, it’s understood there are upwards of 20 children stealing and siphoning petrol from vehicles in the community, with some children peer pressuring others to participate in petrol sniffing.

Footage recently emerged online of children roaming the streets at night, sniffing petrol from makeshift containers and plastic water bottles.

A letter obtained by NIT, sent to Shire of Derby/West Kimberley President Geoff Haerewa, Deputy President Paul White and CEO Amanda O’Halloran on November 19 from the Fitzroy Crossing Business Network noted these issues had been “occurring for many years”.

“We are aware the many organisations and agencies that are funded to provide community support … are subsequently not providing such services to address the issues,” wrote the network’s Founding Chair Phillip Hams.

Hams requested the Shire “facilitate an urgent community meeting … to highlight and address the issues”, stressing the network’s desire for solutions.

A draft copy of the volatile substance abuse (VSU) action plan for Bayulu obtained by NIT outlines actions intended to stop children from petrol sniffing.

The draft plan highlights a “lack of activities and youth services” in Bayulu as a main issue, proposing children be distracted with movie nights, visits to Country, sports and teaching language at the local Bayulu Community School.

The plan also outlines actions to restrict access to petrol include safely storing all petrol and motorised equipment and removing abandoned vehicles from community.

Despite the primary issue being substance abuse, only one of 22 proposed actions suggests alcohol and drug counselling for youth and families.

It remains unclear whether any of these solutions have been fully implemented.

NIT understands a community meeting was also called for December 2 with Government representatives including Minister for Sport and Recreation Mick Murray, Kimberley MLA Josie Farrer and Department of Local Government Sport and Cultural Industries Director General Duncan Ord, among others, to attend.

A spokesperson for the Department of Local Government Sport and Cultural Industries said on December 2, the Department announced $1.75 million in funding for sport and recreation projects in Kimberley Aboriginal communities.

“The funding included more than $400,000 to the Junjuwa, Bayulu, Noonkanbah, Yakanarra and Wangkatjunka communities in the Fitzroy Valley to construct or upgrade the playing surfaces of sporting courts,” the spokesperson said.

“It is hoped that this funding will provide wide ranging benefits to these communities in terms of mental and physical health.”

Neil Thomson, number one Liberal candidate for the Mining and Pastoral Region, said the community’s current issues aren’t just a result of children with nothing to do.

“Clearly these are very deep issues … long and systemic issues that have gone on for decades if not longer,” Thomson said.

He said Fitzroy Crossing is in desperate need of more social services.

“There is no one size fits all solution to it, but we really have to be focused on developing opportunities for our families and our young people to break the cycle,” Thomson said.

“In the meantime, there’s a vital need for services into those communities where there has been, over time, a withdrawal of services.”

The Liberal candidate also said the State Government needs to be more transparent around its service provision and its effectiveness.

“There needs to be a lot more transparency and openness with our government agencies around the real situation,” he said.

“There just needs to be more information on data … the starting point is about more transparency about the situation.”

Department of Communities’ Executive Director Service Delivery, Lindsay Hale, said the safety and wellbeing of children is the Department’s “number on priority”.

“The Department of Communities is engaged with communities across the Kimberley through front line staff as well as chairing the Kimberley District Leadership Groups, which bring together local, State and Commonwealth Government agencies, non-government organisations, Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs), peak representative groups and community leaders to work collaboratively on complex issues in the region,” Hale said.

“In Fitzroy Crossing and the Fitzroy Valley, the Department of Communities funds Garnduwa Amboorny Wirnan Aboriginal Corporation (Garnduwa) to provide the Fitzroy Youth Service.”

He said the service operates “a range of activities” such as after school activities, disco and movie nights, holiday programs, sporting events and youth events.

Regarding Bayulu in particular, Hale said the community has its own by-laws for community governance.

“The by-laws cover issues such as entry onto community lands, management of traffic, a ban on alcohol and illegal drugs, and standards of behaviour,” he said.

While both Departments have labelled the issue as children bored with nothing to do, Leedal Chair Patrick Green said social issues like this have been plaguing the Fitzroy Valley for over a decade.

He said problems began arising in community after takeaway alcohol was banned in Fitzroy Crossing.

Green said the State Government promised a number of services to support community issues with alcohol, but they never came.

“They stopped the alcohol, promising us that they were going to bring in other services,” Green said.

“For us to support children, their family … need to be supported … the community needs to be supported as well.”

“[We need] some political willpower to have governance given back to the people that are suffering [without] support, wrap around support.”

An active community member, Green said he’s been raising community social issues with the Shire and State Government for years.

“I’ve been complaining forever and a day … I’m wondering, am I being heard? Are they listening? Or are we just considered as troublemakers by trying to raise community issues?”

From his conversations with community, Thomson said the reaction has been one of shock and dismay at the situation as well as a deep concern for the children affected as they’re likely to be “irrevocably impacted” by such substance abuse.

“We need more services which address the chronic problem now, but we need to have long term solutions as well.”

If this article has raised any issues for you, please call or visit the resources below:

  • National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline – 1800 250 015
  • Alcohol and Drug Foundation – 1300 85 85 84
  • Lifeline – 13 11 14, lifeline.org.au
  • ReachOut.com
  • Kids Helpline – 1800 55 1800

By Hannah Cross