Pilbara reels from scourge of methamphetamines

When Alfred Barker was a teenager, his uncle was fatally struck by a car while wandering drunk through the streets of Port Hedland.

In his grief Mr Barker wanted to be useful, so he helped renovate an abandoned house in the West Australian iron-ore town and turned it into a sobering-up shelter. The cottage in Edgar Street became a safe place where Aboriginal people knew they could go to sleep, eat and pull themselves together.

Times have changed. Mr Barker says the scourge of meth­amphetamines in the Pilbara is wreaking new havoc on the lives of young Aboriginal people, and in ways no shelter can hope to ameliorate.

“You can’t build a shelter from those drugs, no shelter from that stuff,” he said. “They go downhill quick on that.”

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Ancient Aboriginal sites at risk in the Pilbara

Forty-two years ago, the first heritage law in Australia designed to protect Aboriginal sites was declared in Western Australia. It was a landmark move by a state government facing its first major resource boom.

Mining was precisely the reason why a new Aboriginal Heritage Act (1972) was needed, then minister for community welfare Bill Willesee told state parliament.

Ancient rock paintings, standing stones and scattered artefacts had once been protected by their remote location, but mining activity that ramped up in the early 1960s had triggered “fears for the safety of sites of importance to Aborigines”.

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