An Indigenous alcohol and drug specialist says the Fitzroy Valley needs a dedicated rehabilitation centre and locally-based counsellors to put an end to problem drinking in communities.

Rene Dingo, Indigenous AOD Specialist/Collaborative Coordinator at Gurama Yani U, told the National Indigenous Times that the alcohol bans that have been in place for up to 14 years “have taken away the how and the where but they have not addressed the why” behind drinking.

“Putting blanket restrictions across the whole of the Kimberley on its own – you have to do something to address people’s issues and their trauma and why they want to drink alcohol. You have to put support in place,” he said.

Mr Dingo is currently undertaking consultations in the Valley, supported by a Department of Communities grant from the Western Australian government, and will be producing a report after the project ends in March.

“Many people are talking about the need for a rehabilitation facility here. There is one in Broome and one in Wyndham,” Dingo said.

“The feedback I have gotten so far is we need one in Fitzroy Crossing that is culturally appropriate.

“We have a moderate supply of counselling but the counsellors are drive in, drive out.

“We need local counsellors for local people during and following their time in rehabilitation.

“There needs to be transitional housing, supported by alcohol and drug workers, to integrate people back into the community.”

“That has been one of the main issues I have seen talking to people.”

Mr Dingo said that some people leave Fitzroy Crossing in an attempt to break their drinking habits, but “when they return home, they return to an environment that encourages drinking.”

“They need to be supported to develop skills to live in the community and say no to drinking.”

Mr Dingo previously worked at Cyrenian House in Perth, which he described as “the leading alcohol and drug specialists in WA.”

“That is the model of treatment I would like to introduce here. It is based on the way of living we have had for thousands of years, living in the community and supporting one another – that is who we are.”

“One of the things we will achieve hopefully by starting a program here in Fitzroy Crossing is getting people through the program and developing a support community, so when new people go through recovery can be supported by people who have been down that same path,” he said.

A spokesperson from the WA Mental Health Commission told National Indigenous Times that while there are “no immediate plans at this stage to build a rehabilitation facility at Fitzroy Crossing… government supported services available for people in Fitzroy Crossing who are seeking help for their own or someone else’s alcohol and other drug issues.”

They noted the Kimberley Mental Health and Drug Service, of which the Kimberley Community Alcohol and Drug Service is a part and has an office in Fitzroy Crossing, from which outreach is provided to surrounding remote communities.

The spokesperson also referred to Nindilingarri Cultural Health Services, an Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation based in Fitzroy Crossing which provides community-based prevention and alcohol and drug treatment to the communities of the Fitzroy Valley.

Louis Marcel-Jones, alcohol and drug social worker with Nindilingarri Cultural Health Services, told National Indigenous Times that the key to establishing effective rehabilitation and more locally-based counselling was local leadership.

“The most important thing is that it is done with community consultation and leadership so it is something the community wants. If you implement it without that, it won’t suit the community.

“The crucial thing is to make sure it is culturally appropriate and suitable for the people of the communities,” he said.

Both Nindilingarri and the Kimberley Community Alcohol and Drug Service can support people wanting residential rehabilitation to gain admission to Milliya Rumurra Residential Service in Broome, or Ngnowar Aerwah Residential Service in Wyndham.

However, there is no residential rehabilitation capacity in the Fitzroy Valley for those who want to remain in their community and close to their families.

The Mental Health Commission spokesperson acknowledged that getting appropriately skilled workers to live in regional areas of Western Australia is an ongoing challenge, and said it is why the state government launched “a major $71.6 million initiative” in October last year to employ more staff across WA.

This Kimberley Health service can be contacted on (08) 9194 2867 or kmhdsclinic.reception@health.wa.gov.au.

Nindilingarri Cultural Health Services can be contacted on (08) 9193 0093 or admin@nindilingarri.org.au.

By Giovanni Torre