Crisis? What Crisis? Utopia To Get New Bore, But Water Shortage Never Happened


The Northern Territory government has confirmed it will fund a new bore in one of the most disadvantaged regions in the country – a remote Aboriginal community in Central Australia – which has faced severe water shortages for the past three months.

But the community will still have to wait a further three weeks. And the water crisis never apparently never existed in the first place.

The Urapuntja Health Service, which services 16 outstations in the Utopia region and is situated at the remote community of Amengernterneh, has been campaigning for better infrastructure to provide residents with the basic right to safe and clean water, after the local Barkley Shire collapsed the 20-year-old bore during routine maintenance earlier this year.

For the past three months, the health service and the local primary school were reliant on water trucked in by the shire. But due to the shortage, the health service was forced to conserve water which lead to the closure of the community’s communal laundry and shower facilities.

A successful garden planted by local men also died while the health service waited to hear about the latest developments. There were early reports over an outbreak of scabies due to the inability to wash clothes, and concerns mobile health teams would be unable to tend to the residents properly.

With little response from the Barkley Shire or the NT government, the health service CEO Linda Keating had previously told New Matilda it was considering fundraising to pay the estimated $35,000 for a new bore, despite the infrastructure being an NT government responsibility.

A Facebook group – Water for Utopia – which wasn’t affiliated with the health service, recently spearheaded a crowd-fundraising campaign and had raised more than $12,000 at the time of press.

But the office of Community Services Minister Bess Price claims there were no water shortages at the community.

Community Services minister Bess Price’s office today confirmed to New Matilda the NT government was funding a new bore, which is expected to be completed in the next three weeks. The department says it has been in regular contact with the community from day one and the community had not been without accessible water save for a 90-minute period on August 24.

Ms Price’s office also claims the local primary school was never without water during these three months. Ms Price’s office today said there had been no water shortages at the community and the situation had not affected Urapuntja’s ability to service some of the sickest and most disadvantaged citizens in Australia.

But the Urapuntja Health Service, based at the community and which has almost 800 people reliant on its services, has previously told New Matilda the situation was becoming more and more urgent as water shortages forced it to prioritise services, especially as summer approached.

A media statement released by the health service in August said: “The health service has had no sustainable water supply and we have actually run out on occasions, when this has happened we have been subject to rude and unhelpful responses when we have called. Obviously water is a necessity for the health service, staff and all residents requesting water,” Ms Keating said.

Ms Price came under fire earlier this month for turning off the water at the Whitegate town camp on the outskirts of Alice Springs, a town camp which is home to traditional owners of the region. Whitegate residents have been caught in limbo due to land tenure issues.

The Tangentyere Council has been servicing the community despite receiving no government funding to do so for decades, but was unable to continue providing water after it was cut off by Ms Price’s department.

The Lhere Artpe Aboriginal Corporation- the native title representative body for Alice Springs – recently agreed to supply water for the next 12 months, but troubling questions still exist about whether government will address the critical lack of infrastructure at Whitegate.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.