‘There Are Language Barriers’: Indigenous Communities Hit By WA Floods Need Food & Communication


Parts of the Kimberley hit by devastating, record-breaking WA floods this week have been completely cut off and isolated, including a number of remote Indigenous communities which are reportedly running out of food.

The rivers around Broome and the town of Fitzroy Crossing reportedly peaked on Thursday evening. But as residents wait for the waters to recede, many have criticised the local authorities’ inadequate response and lack of communication.

“A lot of people are walking around town frustrated and angry, they’ve been texting us for food,” one Fitzroy Crossing resident Jasmine Bedford told Guardian Australia.

“[Some people have] lost everything. Myself and a lot of families have been providing food [for them] with what we have left in the cupboards and have been able to salvage.”

Guardian Australia reported one community was told to wait up to 48 hours for urgently-needed food drops, but supplies in town were dwindling and people were worried some would go hungry.

“Now the power has been cut off to them as well — they haven’t had any explanation and people are saying they have very little food and that is a huge concern,” another resident said.

By Friday, Fitzroy Crossing had already been cut off for seven to 10 days due to WA’s flooded roads. Residents say communication has been “appalling”. They have stressed that they had not been informed when supplies were due to arrive, or how much was coming.

“The elders and the town members are saying there needs to be more central communication where everyone is all on the same page,” another resident said.

Bedford told Guardian Australia authorities needed to work with local Aboriginal groups to ensure residents who speak English as a second or third language — like many First Nations people in the Kimberley do — can access help.

“There are language barriers — we are a majority Indigenous community and I had a lot of people coming to me saying ‘what did he say?’ [and] ‘what does that mean?’,” Bedford said.

“We need a local approach, we want local coordination. A lot of the decision-making is taking place from Perth.”

Bedford also said residents had taken it upon themselves to retrieve people trapped in houses because WA flood rescue authorities weren’t arriving soon enough.

“Everyone who has a boat has been getting out there and helping people get to higher ground,” she said.

She also said people had been bunking together — as many as 40 in one house — because they weren’t able to get to the evacuation centres.

“There’s already overcrowding in their homes but family members don’t want to crowd the evacuation centre so then they are coming in and now they are asking me and saying, ‘we need to get more food’. And they’ve got nothing.”

The Fitzroy River peaked at 15.75 metres on Thursday which is beyond what was predicted and about 1.8 metres higher than the previous flood record.

The WA government declared an emergency on Tuesday as Cyclone Ellie made its way over with heavy rains and put evacuation orders in place for Fitzroy Crossing.

The river may have peaked but the waters have begun to run downstream, threatening more towns and communities with once-in-100-year floods.

After a year of devastating, record-breaking, once-in-a-generation floods around the country, you’d think authorities and governments would be prepared better by now.