Government to help people return to Watarru

Posted on 19 July 2013 under Watarru.
Tags: electricity & service delivery
Watarru community members (photo: D. Geraghty)

Watarru community members (photo: D. Geraghty)

Watarru is a small, isolated community on the APY Lands.

Over the last 15 years, successive governments have invested heavily in the community. Its infrastructure currently includes: more than 20 houses, a modern school, a small clinic, a store, a community office, a PY Ku centre and a market garden.1

At the time of the 2011 Census, less than 50 people usually lived in Watarru.2

Enrolments at the local school peaked at 24 in 2008, after which they declined sharply.3 During this period, the community encountered a number of substantial problems including the closure of its store, the loss of a visiting health service, the suspension of its school, and the breakdown of its power generator. These and other challenges made it all but impossible for anyone to live in Watarru.

On 7 May 2013, the Paper Tracker visited Watarru with The Australian newspaper. At that time, Watarru’s power supply had been off for more than four months and its store had been closed for over a year. Aside from a part-time municipal services officer, no one was living in the community.

On the following day, the Paper Tracker met with a group of people from Watarru, including the community chairperson (Mrs Tinpulya Mervin). During this meeting – held in Kanpi – the people from Watarru spoke strongly of their wish to be able to return home once power had been restored and the school had reopened.

In subsequent weeks, the issue of Watarru’s future received considerable attention in the mainstream media.4

On 2 June 2013, the community’s power supply was restored as part of a “routine service run” organised by the State Government.5

On 11 June 2013, the Government advised the Paper Tracker that:

  • it had cost around $14,000 to restore the community’s power,
  • there has subsequently been “some temporary technical [power supply] issues due to the very low loads on the system”,
  • the Government was monitoring the situation “to ensure any unforeseen problems with the supply [were] identified early and rectified appropriately,” and
  • a poster had “been developed and displayed in a number of APY communities” to let Anangu know that the power had been restored.6

On 19 June 2013, the State Government convened a meeting in Kanpi “to talk to people from Watarru about returning home.”

On 24 June 2013, the Paper Tracker asked the State Government for an update on the meeting’s outcomes.7

On 15 July 2013, the Government advised the Paper Tracker that:

  • more than 10 people from Watarru had attended the meeting in Kanpi, “along with members of the APY Executive and representatives from key government agencies, and an interpreter”,
  • heavy rains and impassable roads had prevented a number of other community members from travelling to Kanpi,
  • the meeting had been “constructive, and covered issues such as the school, the store, the clinic, and power supply”,
  • the meeting had also considered “the population requirements for service provision to be provided and maintained,”
  • community members were “now considering a move back to Watarru”, and
  • a “return date” of 22 July 2013 had been proposed – “to coincide with the beginning of the new school term” – but that this date was “yet to be confirmed.”8

In relation to the community’s store, the government’s advice stated:

Until information requested by Watarru residents is clear (i.e. the financial position of the community and former store), residents are not in a position to make a decision in relation to the re-opening of the store. However, residents have agreed to tidy up the store in the short term. The meeting discussed the need to make sure food was available, and there was a discussion about the different ways this could happen such as phone orders and transport to and from the community.

It was agreed that consideration of an interim arrangement involving phone orders and transport from the Pipalyatjara store was possible, until the community considers the most appropriate model for the long term – this could be a store or some other arrangements.

The store is a community asset, and the community needs to work through the best approach and model once residents are settled back into the community.9


  1. Taylor Burrell Barnett Town Planning and Design, February 2008, Watarru Community Structure Plan No.1. pages 10 – 12. Also: McPherson, H (Housing SA). 17 May 2013. Email to J. Nicholls/Paper Tracker. Also: Saunders, N. June 2012. Letter to Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee, Parliament of South Australia, and enclosed documentation (including results of audit of APY staff housing).
  2. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2012. “2011 Census of Population and Housing. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples (Indigenous) Profile” Catalogue No. 2002.0. Watarru and Outstations (ILOC40200110).
  3. Chislett, P May 2013. “Report to Anangu Schools Model Development Reference Group (Version 2)”, Department for Education and Child Development, page 9.
  4. See: Martin, S. 20 May 2013. “Six months on, still dreaming of home,” The Australian newspaper, page 1. Also: ABC News. 20 May 2013. “Remote community months without power,” Available at:
  5. Primer, D (Department for Manufacturing, Innovation, Trade, Resources and Energy). 11 June 2013. Email to J. Nicholls/Paper Tracker.
  6. Primer, D (Department for Manufacturing, Innovation, Trade, Resources and Energy). 11 June 2013. Email to J. Nicholls/Paper Tracker.
  7. Nicholls, J. 24 June 2013. Email to D. Health, Office of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation.
  8. Heath, D (Office of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation). 15 July 2013. Email to J. Nicholls/Paper Tracker.
  9. Heath, D (Office of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation). 15 July 2013. Email to J. Nicholls/Paper Tracker.
The Paper Tracker works hard to provide accurate and up-to-date information. We will correct any inaccurate information as soon as it is brought to our attention. Please contact us if you have additional information or can provide us with an update.