Aborigines face pathetic circumstances

Sydney - An investigation into the deaths of 22 Aborigines in outback towns, some who hanged themselves while drunk, found Aborigines were trying to escape their appalling lives through alcohol abuse and drugs.

The coroner's inquiry found that life for Aborigines in the Kimberley region of north west Australia was so horrific that it was fuelling a soaring suicide rate, widespread alcohol abuse and leaving aboriginal children prey to sexual abuse.

In 2006, the suicide rate among Aborigines in the Kimberley rose 100 percent to 21 deaths, compared with no increase in the white population, which recorded just three deaths.

In Fitzroy Crossing, a dusty outpost of a few houses and a hotel, there were eight suicides in 2006 among a population of just 3 500.

Alcohol abuse was so entrenched among Aborigines in Kimberley that "foetal alcohol syndrome" was 21,5 times higher than the rest of the Western Australia state.

Deaths due to alcohol in Kimberly between 2000 and 2004 was double that of urban centres and hospitalisation due to alcohol was 5,5 times higher.

Western Australia state coroner Alastair Hope investigated the deaths of 22 Aborigines, all linked to alcohol and drugs, in Kimberley since 2000.

He said aboriginal communities in towns like Fitzroy Crossing were engulfed in rubbish, houses were small and dirty with little furniture and kitchens contained little or no food.

People slept on filthy foam mattresses, along with diseased dogs. Houses were crowded with sometimes 20 people per house, and temperatures soared to over 40° Celsius in summer.

"It was clear that the living conditions for many aboriginal people in the Kimberley were appallingly bad," Hope said on Monday in handing down his findings.

"In these communities there is nothing to do for most of the inhabitants for most of the time. Alcohol and drugs provide an escape," he said.

Hope said "there is little refinement about the drinking", with Aborigines becoming excessively intoxicated and consuming warm beer and wine mixed together.

A medical officer told the inquiry that there were so many "stuporous bodies on the ground" at Fitzroy Crossing at night, and drunks staggering in the dark, that it was hard to find the patient she had been called out to assist.

"The plight of the little children was especially pathetic," said Hope. "Many already suffer from foetal alcohol syndrome and unless major changes occur...they are likely to suffer poorer health and die younger than other Western Australians".

"They live in an environment where they can expect to be the victims of violence and possibly also sexual abuse," he said.

Australia's 460 000 Aborigines make up 2 percent of the 20 million population and have a life expectancy 17 years less than white Australians. They have far higher rates of unemployment, imprisonment, alcohol and drug abuse and domestic violence.

Source: Reuters