Just outside Walgett is Gindie reserve. In the dry heat of Thursday afternoon we were able to speak with local Elders and find someone to take us there. Anne Dennis, a Councillor of the New South Wales Aboriginal Lands Council, crammed four students into the back of her car and crossed the bridge of the Barwon River towards the reserve.
Gindie was once an Aboriginal Mission in which the local peoples of Walgett were confined under the supervision of a white manager. In order to leave the mission and enter the town an Indigenous person had to seek permission and justify their need.
Today twelve homes stand on the reserve, which is owned by the Land Council, collectively housing one-hundred and fifty people. The entrance to the reserve is marked by a sudden end to the smooth road from Walgett. Because the Council owns the land, Walgett Shire Council is unable to maintain the roads beyond the boundary. They have gone without resurfacing for more than twenty years. Last year, after visiting the reserve and hearing that the school bus often became bogged in the rain, NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli intervened, and the final section of the road connecting houses on the mission was resurfaced.
Once there, Anne introduced us to Uncle Clem and Buddy. The two Gindie residents explained that legislation prevents land councils from taking on debt for any reason. Walgett Land Council manages sixty-seven houses in the area but earns little to no income. No money is available for even the most basic maintenance of the run down and patched residential buildings. The community owns a shed, which is home to several computers—the only internet connection in Gindie—and a mural by local school children depicting the history of the area.
Anne wants to bring TAFE courses in construction to the reserve and stresses the need for local jobs to end welfare dependence in the community. She tells us of one house where a family of thirty is forced to share three rooms. At the other end of the reserve, four single elderly men live in a rundown house surrounded by the shells of burnt out cars. While we talk, Anne comments on ephemeral funding, the bureaucratic complexity of grant applications, and the inattention of government at all levels that perpetuates their situation. In recent months the Walgett Shire council denied the Gamilaroi people access to one of their sacred sites, a weir in the Barwon River. No explanation for this decision was given.
For more information: Honi’s coverage of the 2015 Freedom Ride