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Fitzroy Crossing’s supermarket closed on Wednesday after an incident linked to the theft of a significant amount of hard liquor on the night previous, sparking renewed calls for greater action to address social problems in the Valley.

The Tarunda IGA announced on social media that three staff members had been injured and the store would be closed “until further notice”, noting that “due to mental trauma of our staff we are waiting for new staff to come in and provide them with a safe working environment”.

The Post Office also closed Wednesday morning, reopened for a short period, then closed again after a fight around noon which witnesses believed was linked to the stolen liquor.

Part of the roof of the Crossing Inn was torn open and insulation above the pub’s cool room dug through before bottles of spirits were stolen after 11pm Tuesday night.

About two hours later, locals say windows were smashed at the local caravan park, with one resident receiving an eye injury from broken glass.

Later, a boy WA Police say is 16, heavily intoxicated, was escorted out of the local IGA after allegedly threatening and striking people. He left after girls with him urged him to go, but was then captured on security cameras smashing the windscreen of the store manager’s car.

While six communities in the Valley are subject to alcohol bans, and a seventh community has applied for restrictions, alcohol continues to fuel problems.

Local leaders and community organisations take pride in their town and are working hard to tackle a range of challenges in the region, but many say they need more resources to target the underlying issues.

Sachin Kalinga, manager of the IGA, told National Indigenous Times “this has been the struggle in Fitzroy Crossing for the past 24 months”.
“We are trying our best. We are trying to keep everything going for the people, they need to come here, some from far away, to get their groceries and their supplies,” he said.

“Last night they got into the staff accommodation at the caravan park, they smashed windows and one of the people is in hospital now because glass got in his eye. He has been here seven months, I am pretty sure he will come back here and give me his resignation.

“I am trying to keep the staff here, to give them good wages, good hours, other compensation, but if this keeps happening; it is no good. This the third time my car has been smashed in 13 months.”

Leedal director and local businessperson Patrick Green told National Indigenous Times that the morning’s events were “soul destroying”.

“There is some progress being made [in Fitzroy Crossing] but the reality is businesses and people are suffering because there is no law and order… There are no consequences for anyone giving alcohol to young kids,” he said.

“The cops are in Perth getting awards for working with kids in Fitzroy Crossing but nothing has changed.”

“If this child is apprehended, they won’t chase up the source of the alcohol. Somebody needs to be charged with supplying a minor with alcohol, but that doesn’t happen.

“It is a shame you have to close a business like this, it’s damaging to the town. A lot of innocent people suffer because of a few people.”

Fitzroy Crossing sits on the Martuwarra / Fitzroy River. The town is on the land of the Bunuba people, but there are five language groups across the many communities in the surrounding region – a legacy of colonial policy driving different nations into one area.

After several years of alcohol restrictions and government interventions, the town continues to suffer from chronic issues.

Johnny Nargoodah, 63, has lived in Fitzroy Crossing his whole life. He told National Indigenous Times that “things are getting worse and worse and worse”.

“Drinking is the problem behind it, everybody is drinking here. All the organisations around here need to put money together to do something for these kids. At the moment they have got nothing to do.”

Nindilingarri Cultural Health Services (NCHS), working in collaboration with other groups, have been running events and activities for local people over the past two months and have been making progress building rapport and engaging young people and children in positive behaviour.

On Tuesday evening, more than 50 children gathered near the local tourism information centre to play basketball and football, and to have a barbeque dinner, with NCHS staff, parents and grandparents on hand.

The children present were polite and well behaved, and local parents expressed their gratitude and support for the ongoing evening events.

Anthony Collard of NCHS told National Indigenous Times the organisation was collaborating with the shire and other groups to deliver youth and other community engagement from morning to night.

“Shire of Derby / West Kimberley, Garnduwa, Clontarf, Shooting Stars, Guruma, Marra Worra Worra, Royal Life Saving set up a committee and are delivering programs in a collaborative approach.

“We [Nindilingarri Cultural Health Services] are on the streets three nights a week directly engaging with the kids. Over all, the groups cover six nights a week. We are getting on average around 50 to 60 kids each night engaged with the programs.

“Before we got started, you would see 100 kids on the streets each night just hanging out, with nothing to do. Kids were either going into the road houses stealing food and drinks or they were stealing petrol, coming late at night and breaking bowsers to get petrol.

“We decided to pull everyone together and create a task force, a committee, focused purely on delivering programs, no politics, none of the other stuff. Without the silo approach, without competition – purely about how to help these kids.”

Louis Marcel-Jones of NCHS said “it’s all about the underlying issues at the end of the day”.

“You can do education and prevention the way they want you to – doing talks, running sessions about the dangers of alcohol, but if they are going home to a place where they don’t have beds, they don’t have resources to live a comfortable life, there are no jobs, of course they are going to turn to something else,” he said.

Kandula Herat, manager of the Crossing Inn and the Fitzroy River Lodge for the past five years, said there has been “a massive rise in break ins and violence” over that time.

“Because there are no consequences for the little things, they go on to the next step. In the Lodge in November we had 16 break-ins. At the caravan park they attacked two girls with chairs and they went to hospital. Another two guests were stabbed with screwdrivers. At the Lodge staff have been punched multiple times,” he said.

“We are struggling to provide the staff with a safe environment in this town… Alcohol and drugs are the problem and enforcing the law is the problem.

“The police say to us ‘you need to look after your guests’, but is it only our job if people are stealing or threatening guests?”

A spokesperson for WA Police told National Indigenous Times that an investigation into the theft of the alcohol and subsequent events is underway.

“It appears juveniles have committed a burglary, stolen alcohol and shared it amongst other juveniles. The investigation is ongoing and once sufficient evidence is available, a number of options become available, to hold people to account for their actions and involvement.”

Asked about collaboration between WA Police and Aboriginal community organisations to reduce youth crime, the spokesperson said Fitzroy Crossing has “dedicated Youth Police Officers specifically tasked with supporting local youth through a variety of programs designed to keep them busy and engaged in healthy, positive activities”.

“Police work closely with local Aboriginal corporations such as Marra Worra Worra, Garnduwa, Wunan, Clontarf Foundation, Shooting Stars and many others,” he said.

“Fitzroy Crossing has regular Youth at Risk meetings to discuss identified and potential youths facing various risk factors, including health, education and crime. Meetings are attended by various stakeholders including Department of Communities, Education Department, WA Country Health including local Health Clinic and outreach services, Police, Dept of Justice and Shire of Derby West Kimberley.”

On the subject of address youth crime without relying on incarceration, the spokesperson said “engagement and early intervention are key”.

“Opting for diversionary measures for offending which includes and is not limited to verbal cautions, written cautions and Juvenile Justice Team referrals. Department of Justice also has a roll in diversion, particularly once court proceedings have eventuated.  Our Youth Policing Officers continue to work closely with Youth Justice Officers to assist with monitoring youths who have been placed on Court Orders.”

The WA Police spokesperson said Fitzroy Crossing Police have “invested heavily into the impact of Youth Crime in our community and continue to investigate and hold people accountable for their actions”.

“But at the same time we work together with community and a wealth of organisations and agencies to provide alternatives for youth in an effort to break the cycle of offending and develop a supportive response for our community.”

By Giovanni Torre