Areyonga - doing it for themselves

When your community is located hundreds of kilometres from the nearest population centre there is often little point in relying on services from elsewhere to achieve improvement: hence the 'mission statement' of the remote Areyonga Community Council - 'We Did it our Way'.

Two hundred and forty kilometres west of Alice Springs, Areyonga's community of just 256 people has worked over recent years, in spite of temperature extremes, limited resources and few funds, to rejuvenate their town into a showplace, proving what can be achieved through community power.

Chief Executive Officer Nick Oliver said in such a remote location, with few funds and no local industry or job prospects, improving the town's amenity and creating a better environment was very much a matter of self help - of 'doing it our way'.

He said some years back when the Department of Transport and Works proposed fencing the local airfield under the usual system of external contract labour, it was suggested that using local labour would achieve the same result and bring employment to the town.

He proudly pointed out that five kilometres of fencing to keep stray donkeys, camels and buffalo from the airstrip was constructed without even the benefit of a post hole digger. However, the star pickets are all as 'straight as a die'.

Following that achievement the community drew up a 'wish list' of improvements they would like to see including a build up of infrastructure and improved health and education resources.

Working together, the community has relocated the power house to eliminate noise pollution, installed sewerage, renovated many of their buildings and, most popular of all in one of the hottest environments on earth, built a swimming pool.

"We looked at all contracts and took out of the tendering process those things we could undertake ourselves," Nick said. "This way we brought money into the community and the profits stayed here. "This is how the swimming pool has been funded."

Nick said in one instance it was suggested to Telstra that trenches dug for sewerage might be utilised to lay additional cable for extra telephones in the town.

"Rather than costing them $175,000, we said we could do it for $110,000 leaving us and them better off," he said. Nick said the key to getting things done in such circumstances is flexibility.

"The same people may not be working in a crew from one day to the next or they may choose to work different hours," he said. "But the work does get done." He said this flexibility is unfortunately not possible when working for Government work training schemes.

Other projects are aiming at a high degree of self sufficiency and simple solution. An orchard and fruit crops have been planted, fertilised with the manure of stray donkeys and horses.

Bricks, logs and other materials have been recycled into a retaining wall to keep dirt from the basketball court and into backyards as borders for gardens, many of which boast impressive rose gardens.

Many other buildings have been decorated with the addition of local rocks handpainted by the women of the community. Nick Oliver said heaps of money is not always the answer to town improvements, community involvement, albeit often unconventional, has been a necessary and better way to go.

For further information contact Nicholas Oliver, telephone (08) 8956 7877.