The community of Areyonga has anywhere from 175 to 240 people living in it and is nestled between in a valley with sheer hills on all sides. The entry road follows a small creek that turns into the road and only leaves as the land starts to flatten out into a steep sided valley. I turned into the patch of dirt outside the council offices and turned off the engine. I was still rattled from the drive in and now looking up at the front door I could see it was closed. The time was a little past one o’clock. It wasn’t open. I wanted to get the key to check into my accommodation for the next two days. Still, no bother, I thought. I decided that I’d have a bit of a look around the community.
The first thing that I noticed was that the community seemed to be under attack by donkeys, horses and camels. The donkeys I wasn’t really surprised at. Areyonga has always had a few donkeys hanging about. I was however surprised at the number that were now here though. And lots of horses… and camels! There were nearly a dozen camels hanging out on the outskirts of the town. I hadn’t seen them this far south before, not wild ones anyway. As I drove through the town there were donkeys in the park, by the river, walking down the road, in people’s gardens and any other place that wasn’t fenced off. Some of the dogs were valiantly trying to move the donkeys along by barking and yapping at them however, with the exception on one younger foal and a nipping dog, none of the donkeys seemed too bothered about disturbance. On the outskirts of the community, between the power station and the sports field, there are a couple of cattle troughs. This is why there were so many about. They’d all come for a drink. The weather in Central Austral has started to heat up recently and today was supposed to get to about 37 degrees Celsius. At the water trough must have been about 50 animals. Some drinking but most standing on the edges or in the shade waiting for their turn. The road wound away from the trough and down to the sewage ponds and airstrip. As I stopped to have a look a few of the donkeys put their ears up. A couple of horses walked off and one of the camels looked up at me. They didn’t like me being so close. So I left them to drink.
Back at the council office I picked up the key to my accommodation. $84 doesn’t seem to get you much on a community. A filthy room with a table, two chairs, a bunk bed with stained mattresses, a dirty bathroom and a non-functioning air conditioner. I’ve come to expect that these places are not going to be to a satisfactory standard. It seems that we can’t do anything about it either. In discussions with my boss I was told that we need the accommodation on communities. If we don’t get it then we can’t go. If we have a go at them and tell them to clean them then they might not rent the rooms to us when we go out to the communities. So we have to put up with it. I can see the reasoning but it doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t want to have to put up with filthy accommodation, I don’t think that anyone should put up with this standard of accommodation. I said this and they told me that I could follow it up but not to rock any boats. If we can’t even get councils to have satisfactory accommodation then how can we ever start to close the gap on indigenous communities!
My afternoon went quickly. I did one inspection and then went back to the council office for a chat. We talked about the pest animals, landfill and community recycling. After that it was back to my tin box to while away the evening.
The next day I was awake by six. I didn’t get up however. It was cold. I’d left the air conditioning on all night and finally it had started to make a difference. I’d spent much of the previous evening cursing at the controller, the air conditioner and anything else that would listen. Finally, I cursed at some AAA batteries that were in my head torch and then had to apologies to them straight away. I put them into the controller and it worked! I was so happy. The air conditioner didn’t do much at all the previous night but now as I lay in my sleeping bag chilly, I knew it had finally kicked in. I guess with a 40 degree day even the biggest air conditioner (and this one was far from big) would struggle to cool the room.
My first inspection was at the local child care where I met with the new team leader. It was a quiet morning at the centre so we had a good chance to discuss the structural issues, food safety items and the potential for some training that may be offered by Environmental Health. The rest of the day was very much the same. I also went to the landfill and had a chat to the community manager about the good things they are doing at the tip. The council crew at the community seem to be doing a good job. Since my previous visit they had set up several separation bays for items such as batteries, cardboard, white goods, paint, recycling and generally household waste. The main trench was being well used and it was visible that waste had already been compacted and covered, ready for the next load. That night I was in bed early. The heat of the day had taken it out of me so after a shower (with my thongs on as the floor was still filthy).
The next day I was woken up early to someone screaming. After living in Alice Springs for nearly 10 years (on and off) someone screaming is not necessarily something that would make me investigate. After about half an hour of dosing off I heard the person still screaming I began to get curious. It’s bad that living in Alice Springs has made me so nonchalant to things of this nature. Whether it be screaming, yelling, sirens, fighting, fires, or anything else loud, I don’t always seem to worry about it. So, after getting ready, packing up the car I drove off to the home care centre. People were lining the streets looking at a white car. I had a word with the team leader at the Home Care centre. She said that there was someone who had come back from Alice Springs and was causing a bit of trouble, trying to start fights and the like. Later I learned that he’d already been knocked down once by someone he tried to pick a fight with and that the police had been called (although they didn’t arrive in the time that I was on the community). The community were all out and trying to calm down the person or force them out of the community. After a while they left in their car for parts unknown. It was an exciting morning in the community. After that, I headed home back to Alice Springs. It was another big trip out bush.