Community-led facilities and support key to Roebourne’s changing identity
A community-led drive for change is helping transform the image of Ieramugadu and deliver services to help locals take pride in their community and town.
The historic town of Roebourne is the oldest town in the North West, established in 1866, but has suffered from a turbulent history and negative publicity in recent years from family violence and drug and alcohol abuse-fuelled antisocial behaviour.
It hit a flashpoint in 1983 with the death in police custody of local 16-year-old, John Pat, after an altercation outside the town’s Victoria Hotel.
The town was again thrown into the spotlight in 2016 when WA Police launched a large-scale investigation into sex abuse in the region which saw 54 men charged with more than 360 offences.
However, after a groundswell for change began several years ago, the local hotel was transformed into a community hub, the Ganalili Centre — which means “new dawn” in Yindjibarndi.
Since then more projects have been launched by community groups and Indigenous corporations to help change Roebourne’s image.
One such event was a multi-day festival in June last year with the message “good things happen in Roebourne everyday” — and the event aimed to showcase this side of the town.
Meanwhile, earlier this year Ngarluma Yindjibarndi Foundation, through Garlbagu, launched Foundation Food supermarket.
The previous grocery store shut down in October 2019 because of rising transport costs and a small population unable to afford the rising costs of goods, leaving the main food source in Roebourne to be a local cafe and a service station.
In an interview with Pilbara News in July, outgoing Roebourne police officer-in-charge, Sen. Sgt Mark Barratt said Roebourne had found its identity.
“One of the things that I’ve really cherished is the learning from the elders, learning about the challenges and being inspired by their resilience to want to improve Roebourne, and being part of that has been great,” he said.
His thoughts are echoed by Yindjibarndi elder Allery Sandy who said Roebourne needed to work with this new-found identity to make the community a stronger town.
“To build our relationships and make it strong for each and every one that lives here,” she said.
“People will see the change, but seeing, listening and talking is not the way, it’s action speaks louder than words.”
Ms Sandy said a large part of the change was strong community members striving for “better things” for the town and in life.
“We’re not gonna be here forever. And we need to be a role model for our children as well and for people out in the community,” he said.
NYFL chief executive Sean-Paul Stephens said Roebourne was one of the most beautiful towns in the Pilbara.
“We’ve seen over the last few years, it growing in stature and the community is certainly expressing a lot of pride in being Roebourne people and NYFL is proud to be at the centre of that,” he said.
Mr Stephens said the grocery store as well as employment programs like NYFL’s Warrgamugardi Yirdiyabura, which offers two-year supported employment, education and training are helping provide opportunities and amenities to locals.
“A a food relief initiative is incredibly important for a community that has been so disenfranchised, that has many obstacles to obtaining and accessing food in the same way that others do,” he said.
“It’s also a major contributor to reinvigorating a thriving Roebourne, having people wander down to the store and be able to access shopping in town is part of that — shopping with dignity.”
He said it was more than just the local community taking pride in the town but also the wider Pilbara community and tourists realising Roebourne was a place to stop and spend time.
While Roebourne has changed and continued to develop its services and facilities, Ms Sandy said at its heart it was still a small town which the locals felt safe in.
“We kind of like it that way, we feel safe, and a safe environment for our children. And for us nannies we know where our children are,” she said.
“It’s a happy place and freedom. You can walk down the river, you can go down to the beach and shops are not far.”
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