Aboriginal community of Laramba feels safe to drink tap water now uranium levels are within guidelines
In the remote Aboriginal community of Laramba, residents are celebrating.
Men, women and children yell “kwatye mwarre” in unison, holding up recycled bottles of crystal-clear water.
It means “water good” in Arrernte.
For the first time in a long time locals feel safe to think their tap water.
To most, this would be a necessity taken for granted, but to this community it is a luxury.
“It’s a spring water taste and it’s pretty good,” Anmatjere man Ron Hagan said, taking a drink.
“It’s just like what you get from the shops.”
Uranium almost triple the recommended levels
Laramba is a tiny desert community of 300, more than two hours north-west of Alice Springs.
Since 2008, residents have known their bore water contained naturally occurring uranium.
But a study in 2018 by NT Power and Water revealed the sheer scale of the problem.
Results showed uranium levels in the town reached up to 0.055mg/L – almost triple what is recommended by the Australian drinking water guidelines.
“People started worrying. They were a bit scared about the water,” Mr Hagan said.
Some residents feared it was contributing to renal disease, with local doctors also expressing concerns about the long-term effects.
However, NT Health said research into uranium’s health impacts on humans was “limited and inconclusive”.
New plant purifies drinking water
This week the community’s fears have come to an end, with the NT government officially opening a new $6.8 million water treatment plant for the town.
Designed by water treatment company Clean TeQ, the plant uses an ion-exchange resin process to purify the water.
Already, uranium levels in the town have plummeted and are now almost undetectable.
An official launch was held this week, with more than 30 community members attending.
Central Desert Regional Council chief executive Leslie Manda said the big turnout was a testament to how excited the residents were.
Other communities impacted by water risks
The council has been lobbying for years for the NT government to urgently treat Laramba’s water.
Since May last year, council workers have been distributing free boxed water provided by NT Health to residents.
“Residents were saying they were turning to soft drinks on occasion, especially if they had no alternative water supply,” Mr Manda said.
“That was part of the push for the advocacy from us to distribute some of the bottled water.”
According to a recent water quality report from NT Power and Water, Laramba is not alone.
Nine other remote communities have tap water with levels of uranium, manganese and fluoride that surpass guidelines.
But according to legal experts, there is no legal requirement in the Northern Territory for landlords to provide safe drinking water to tenants.
However, NT Power and Water said it was committed to providing safe, secure and sustainable water to all Territorians, regardless of where they lived.
“We will continue to work with communities to respond to their needs, including investing in research and technology where appropriate,” a spokesperson said.
Hope for Laramba’s future
Sitting on his verandah, Mr Hagan sips from a glass of water.
While he has continued to drink water from his tap throughout the years, he has always felt uneasy about how it might be affecting his health.
But now, at last, he feels at peace.
Holding up his glass, he proudly points out how clear the water is, how sweet it tastes.
And already, he feels better about the future of his community.
“Everybody’s so happy,” he said. “I think it certainly might give us a bit of a longer life.”
Laramba (Napperby) Northern Territory – Uranium
Highest Uranium levels recorded recently in breach of Australian Drinking Water Guidelines in Australia
Highest levels detected each year listed below
2007/08: Laramba Uranium 0.04mg/L
2008/09: Laramba Uranium 0.044mg/L
2009/10: Laramba Uranium 0.02895mg/L
2010/11: Laramba Uranium 0.038mg/L
2013/14: Laramba Uranium 0.039mg/L
2015/16: Laramba Uranium 0.04064mg/L
2016/17: Laramba Uranium 0.047mg/L
2017/18: Laramba Uranium 0.046mg/L (95th %)
2018/19: Laramba Uranium 0.048mg/L (95th %)
2019/20: Laramba Uranium 0.052mg/L (95th %)
2020/21: Laramba Uranium 0.038mg/L (95th %)
2021/22: Laramba Uranium 0.05mg/L (max, av.)
“Based on health considerations, the concentration of uranium in drinking water should not exceed 0.017 mg/L.” ADWG 2011
Laramba (Northern Territory) – E.coli
2006/07 Laramba E.coli 3 samples exceeding trigger level. 93.6% samples within trigger level
2008/09: Laramba E.coli 1 Number of e.coli detections
2009/10: Laramba E.coli 2 e.coli detections 94% performance over year
Laramba (Napperby) 24 March 2011 Significant levels of E. coli were detected in Laramba’s water supply and a Precautionary Advice was issued. Power and Water undertook an inspection to identify the source of contamination and dosed the production bores and storage tanks. The system was then comprehensively flushed to draw the chlorinated water through the rising main and reticulation system to ensure disinfection of the whole water supply system. Following this, analyses of additional water samples confirmed that the water was clear from E. coli and other indicator bacteria and the Department of Health lifted the Precautionary Notice on 11 April.
“Coliforms are Gram-negative, non-spore-forming, rod-shaped bacteria that are capable of aerobic and facultative anaerobic growth in the presence of bile salts or other surface active agents with similar growth-inhibiting properties. They are found in large numbers in the faeces of humans and other warm-blooded animals, but many species also occur in the environment.
Thermotolerant coliforms are a sub-group of coliforms that are able to grow at 44.5 ± 0.2°C. E. coli is the most common thermotolerant coliform present in faeces and is regarded as the most specific indicator of recent faecal contamination because generally it is not capable of growth in the environment. In contrast, some other thermotolerant coliforms (including strains of Klebsiella, Citrobacter and Enterobacter) are able to grow in the environment and their presence is not necessarily related to faecal contamination. While tests for thermotolerant coliforms can be simpler than for E. coli, E. coli is considered a superior indicator for detecting faecal contamination…” ADWG 2011
Laramba – Northern Territory – Hardness
2007/08: Laramba Hardness 332mg/L
2008/09: Laramba Hardness 276mg/L
2009/10: Laramba Hardness 272mg/L
2010/11: Laramba Hardness 272mg/L
2013/14: Laramba Hardness 288mg/L
2015/16: Laramba Hardness 302mg/L
2016/17: Laramba Hardness 304mg/L
“To minimise undesirable build‑up of scale in hot water systems, total hardness (as calcium
carbonate) in drinking water should not exceed 200 mg/L.
Hard water requires more soap than soft water to obtain a lather. It can also cause scale to form on hot water pipes and fittings. Hardness is caused primarily by the presence of calcium and magnesium ions, although other cations such as strontium, iron, manganese and barium can also contribute.”
Australian Drinking Water Guidelines 2011
Laramba – (Northern Territory) – Iodine
2007/08: Laramba Iodine 0.35mg/L
2009/10: Laramba Iodine 0.35mg/L
2013/14: Laramba Iodine 0.29mg/L
2015/16: Laramba Iodine 0.24mg/L
2016/17: Laramba Iodine 0.18mg/L
Iodide: Based on health considerations, the concentration of iodide in drinking water should
not exceed 0.5 mg/L.
Iodine: No guideline value has been set for molecular iodine.
The element iodine is present naturally in seawater, nitrate minerals and seaweed, mostly in the form of iodide salts. It may be present in water due to leaching from salt and mineral deposits. Iodide can be oxidised to molecular iodine with strong disinfectants such as chlorine.
Molecular iodine solutions are used as antiseptics and as sanitising agents in hospitals and laboratories.
Iodine is occasionally used for the emergency disinfection of water for ﬁeld use but is not used for disinfecting larger drinking water supplies. Iodide is used in pharmaceutical and photographic materials. Iodine has a taste threshold in water of about 0.15 mg/L.
Iodide occurs in cows’ milk and seafood. Some countries add iodide to table salt to compensate for iodide-deﬁcient diets.
Laramba – Northern Territory – Total Dissolved Solids
2016/17: Laramba Total Dissolved Solids 647mg/L
2021/22: Laramba (Northern Territory). Silica 720mg/L (max), 650mg/L (av.)
“No specific health guideline value is provided for total dissolved solids (TDS), as there are no
health effects directly attributable to TDS. However for good palatability total dissolved solids
in drinking water should not exceed 600 mg/L.
Total dissolved solids (TDS) consist of inorganic salts and small amounts of organic matter that are dissolved in water. Clay particles, colloidal iron and manganese oxides and silica, fine enough to pass through a 0.45 micron filter membrane can also contribute to total dissolved solids.
Total dissolved solids comprise: sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, sulfate, bicarbonate, carbonate, silica, organic matter, fluoride, iron, manganese, nitrate, nitrite and phosphates…” Australian Drinking Water Guidelines 2011
Laramba (Northern Territory) – Silica
2016/17: Laramba (Northern Territory). Silica 85mg/L
2021/22: Laramba (Northern Territory). Silica 90mg/L (av.)
To minimise an undesirable scale build up on surfaces, silica (SiO2) within drinking waters should not exceed 80 mg/L.
Silica present in water is usually referred to as amorphous silica (i.e. lacking any crystalline structure). When silica is dissolved within water it forms monosilicic acid:
SiO2 + 2H2O à Si(OH)4
When the concentrations of monosilicic acid increase, polymerisation of the silica occurs, forming polysilicic acids followed by formation of colloidal silica. Monosilicic acid and polysilicic acids are the forms of silica analysed when determining dissolved silica content.
The deposition of silica from solutions can occur via various mechanisms. The deposition of silica that can cause the most problems for the water industry is via silica’s ability to deposit on solid surfaces that have hydroxyl (OH) groups present. Surfaces that commonly have hydroxyl groups present are glass and metallic surfaces. For example, dissolved silica will react with the surfaces of glass and begin to form a white precipitate. The silica forms silicates on the surface, resulting in silica build-up. In cases where customer complaints occur due to scale build-up, water hardness and silica concentrations should be investigated to determine the cause.
Silica can be a problem in water treatment due to its ability to cause fouling of reverse osmosis (RO) membranes (Sheikholeslami and Tan, 1999, Ning 2002, Sahachaiyunta and Sheikholeslami 2002). This occurs when the dissolved silica of the concentrate becomes super-saturated, causing silicates to form in the presence of metals, and these deposit on the membrane surface. The silicate then dehydrates, forming hard layers on the membrane that reduce the effectiveness of the process… 2011 ADWG
14 years after discovering elevated uranium levels in their tap water, Laramba residents welcome new treatment plant
The Northern Territory government has hailed the completion of a long-awaited water treatment plant at Laramba community in Central Australia.
NT Power and Water contracted Clean TeQ Water to deliver the plant, some 200 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs, as part of the government’s $28 million program to tackle critical water supply infrastructure needs in remote Aboriginal communities.
Onsite works began in July and were completed this month. The new plant will undergo product validation and operational testing early next year then begin operating.
With a capacity of 360 kilolitres per day, the plant uses an ion-exchange resin process to reduce the amount of uranium in the community’s water supply to below the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines value.
Minister for Essential Services Selena Uibo said the facility has been “a long time coming for residents of Laramba”.
“The Territory Labor government is committed to improving living conditions for remote Territorians, and this includes ensuring a reliable and safe supply of drinking water,” she said.
Member for Gwoja Chansey Paech said people living on Country “have the same rights to safe drinking water as their urban counterparts”.
“This facility is one that the people of Laramba need and it will make a significant difference in the community,” he said.
“Having a reliable water supply will also open further opportunities in the area.”
The plant will commence operation early next year.
Laramba residents have had uranium-contaminated tap water for well over a decade.
Since 2008 the community’s more than 300 residents were aware their local bore water contained uranium but only realised the scale of the problem after NT Power and Water studied the drinking water closely in 2018.
The data compiled found there were 0.046 milligrams of uranium per litre (mg/L) in the town’s water supply; almost triple the level recommended in Australia’s national guidelines, which state the level should not exceed 0.017 milligrams per litre.
Later in 2018 Laramba’s residents took their landlords, the NT Department of Housing, to court to argue that they had a right to safe drinking water, ultimately losing the case in July, 2020, before the Northern Territory Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
The tribunal member presiding over the case, Mark O’Reilly, said the uranium in the water was not the responsibility of the landlord, and this finding was upheld on appeal.
In May this year Central Lands Council chief executive Lesley Turner told The Guardian that Laramba residents “are some of Australia’s poorest people, forced to shell out $12 for a box of safe drinking water that barely fills a few billies each”.
“We have been told the community will receive free, uncontaminated water at some stage, but the residents need urgent answers about when this will start,” he said.
In March 2022 Clean TeQ Water signed a $5m contract to build the ion-exchange water filtration system for the community, which was announced to the ASX in May.
Chief executive, Willem Vriesendorp, said in the ASX statement that the company was “excited to be working with NT Power and Water to provide better water quality to remote communities”.
“We hope this to be the first of multiple contracts with Power and Water as they look to upgrade the water infrastructure in remote towns in the Northern Territory,” he said.
NT Power and Water have identified nine remote communities in the Territory with tap water that had levels of uranium, manganese and fluoride that surpassed guidelines.
Uranium in the water: remote NT community wants answers about safety
October 18 2021
Laramba’s Indigenous residents fear they are at risk of long-term illness and say they need to know who is responsible for fixing the problem
Jack Cool is looking to hitch a lift out of town.
The 71-year-old former stockman has lived in Laramba, a remote Indigenous community in the Northern Territory, for most of his life.
Since his partner, Jennifer, 57, and his youngest daughter, Petrina, 35, started kidney dialysis at the end of last year, he has been trying to make the two-and-a-half hour trip south into Alice Springs whenever he can.
Cool, who also takes medication for kidney issues, says he doesn’t know why this has happened to his family but he thinks it has something to do with the water.
“When we drink the water it makes us sick,” he says.
Problems with Laramba’s water supply have been known since at least 2008 but the scale of the issue was not revealed until 2018, when testing by the government-owned utility company Power and Water Corporation (PWC) found drinking water in the community of 350 people was contaminated with concentrations of uranium at 0.046mg/L.
That is nearly three times the limit of 0.017mg/L recommended in the Australian drinking water guidelines published by the National Health and Medical Research Council.
Follow-up testing in 2020 found the problem was getting worse as uranium concentrations – which occur naturally in the area – had risen to 0.052mg/L, and the water also contained contaminants such as nitrate and silica.
A stream of conflicting advice
Prof Paul Lawton, a kidney specialist with the Menzies School of Health Research who has been working in the Territory since 1999, says there is no good evidence to say for sure whether the water at Laramba is safe to drink.
Lawton says the Australian drinking water guidelines are based on “pretty tenuous evidence” from rat studies, but the lack of evidence cuts both ways.
“There is a plausible theory, shared by many in the medical community that heavy metals coming from bore water may cause problems with, in particular, the kidneys,” he says. “But this is not likely to be a short term risk but a longer term risk.”
Assoc Prof Tilman Ruff from the Nossal Institute for Global Health at the University of Melbourne says uranium contamination also delivers “relatively low but relatively frequent doses” of radiation.
“The overall consequences from a radioactive point of view is that this will widely dispose in the body and organs, and will contribute to a long-term risk of cancer,” Ruff says.
Because children are particularly vulnerable, with girls 40 times more likely than boys to be affected over their lifetime, Ruff says there is “no good amount of radiation”.
Though there are still many unknowns, authorities elsewhere have addressed similar situations by acting with caution. In Eton, Queensland, a bore supplying the community was turned off when concerning concentrations of uranium were found in the water supply.
In June 2018 PWC’s general manager of remote operations, David Coucill, told a Senate estimates hearing the corporation planned to treat the water to deal with the long-term risk but the contaminant was “not at levels that concern us in the near term”.
“The water is perfectly safe to drink today,” Coucill said.
“You can drink the water today; you could drink the water next year. It is not going to hurt you in that time frame, but if you are going to stay there forever, we need to at some stage move to water treatment of that aquifer. That is the plan.”
The former minister for essential services Dale Wakefield told the ABC in 2020 that the risk to human health was minimal.
“The Department of Health has said, whilst [contamination levels] are over the World Health Organization guidelines, there is no immediate threat to people’s health and wellbeing,” Wakefield said. “There are no studies to show water at that level will impact people’s health.”
Asked whether there had been any update, NT Health said its “assessment of the health risk associated with drinking the water at Laramba has not changed in the last 18 months.”
‘A permanent holding pattern’
Laramba is just one of many among the 72 remote Indigenous communities in the Territory whose water is contaminated with bacteria or heavy metals.
This year the NT government promised $28m over four years to find “tailored” solutions for 10 towns, including Laramba, after a campaign by four land councils for laws to guarantee safe drinking water across the territory.
Asked what was being done to fix the problem, a spokesperson for PWC directed Guardian Australia to sections of the company’s latest drinking water quality report that discuss pilot programs for “new and emerging” technologies to “potentially” clean water of uranium and other heavy metals.
But Ron Hagan and Stephen Briscoe, both senior men within Laramba, say the community has been kept in the dark.
“No one told us anything,” Briscoe says. “They were keeping things really quiet. No one came to tell us about the water.”
What little information that is available has filtered through in the media or highly technical language that many people, for whom English is a second language, can’t understand.
In the meantime both men say several people, including some in their own families, have been diagnosed with kidney problems or cancer.
“We have to drink, so we are drinking it,” Hagan says. “We don’t know anything about $28m. We’re still here drinking the same water. Nothing’s changed.”
The co-director of the Environment Centre NT, Kirsty Howey, says communities such as Laramba have been left in a “permanent holding pattern” and the lack of engagement is a “feature of a flawed system”.
“We have these ad hoc promises for funding infrastructure depending on what’s in the government coffers at a particular time,” Howey says. “This doesn’t address, in a structural way, the underlying causes of drinking water insecurity in remote communities.”
The persistence of the problem for so long owes much to the opaque and confusing way water is supplied to remote Indigenous communities.
There are no laws regulating water quality outside 18 gazetted townships and it is not clear who holds responsibility.
The actual work of installing, maintaining or upgrading any infrastructure is handled by a wholly owned subsidiary of PWC called Indigenous Essential Services. IES is officially a separate entity, and draws its operational funding from government grants, but it has no shopfront, no independent offices and no staff.
PWC is advised on water quality by NT Health, but a spokesperson for NT Health said responsibility for managing water infrastructure “does not sit within NT Health”, and directed questions to the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics.
Then there is the role the NT government plays as landlord.
Because the government owns many houses in Laramba, residents attempted to take it to the NT civil and administrative tribunal in an attempt to force the installation of reverse osmosis filters on their taps.
But in July 2020 a tribunal decision found landlords had no responsibility for the water supply to their properties.
Andy Attack, a non-Indigenous man who runs the Laramba general store, says in the three years he has lived there he has noticed a change in the community.
“People here are just so respectful and polite and calm,” he says. “The water is something that makes them really angry, and they don’t like being angry. It’s not nice seeing them like that.”
Attack says the first thing he was told when he moved to Laramba was not to drink the water. He installed reverse osmosis filters normally used in hospitals, which cost $130 a year to maintain, on the taps in his house.
Those who can’t afford such sums must either rely on rainwater or buy expensive 10L casks. Attack says the only distributor in the region who will deliver to Laramba charges $8.50 a box wholesale for items that would retail for $3.50 in Alice Springs.
“The way I feel, personally, is that these people are entitled to having clean drinking water coming out of their taps,” he says. “And they’re not getting it. It ain’t right. Laramba deserves better.”
Residents of remote NT community of Laramba lose legal battle over uranium in water
July 14 2020
Residents of the remote central Australian community of Laramba have lost a case against the Northern Territory Government over high levels of uranium in their drinking water.
Data compiled by the NT’s Power and Water Corporation had shown there were 0.046 milligrams of uranium per litre (mg/L) in the town’s water supply — close to three times the level recommended in national guidelines.
According to Australia’s national guideline, published by the National Health and Medical Council, uranium levels in drinking water should not exceed 0.017 milligrams per litre.
Residents of Laramba, north-west of Alice Springs, lodged a legal case against the landlord, which in this case is the NT’s Department of Housing.
The case was submitted to the NT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) in November last year, highlighting problems with not only residents’ drinking water but also housing repairs and conditions in the town.
Residents sought compensation over the uranium contamination and also asked for a filter system on at least one tap in their household kitchens to bring uranium levels in line within Australia’s drinking water guidelines.
But in the NTCAT’s ruling against the residents, the tribunal member Mark O’Reilly said the uranium in the water was not the responsibility of the landlord.
“In my view the landlord’s obligation for habitability is limited to the premises themselves,” the decision read.
“If the water supply in Central Australia simply dried up completely it would not be the responsibility of the various landlords of Alice Springs to provide a remedy or compensation.”
Mr O’Reilly said the Residential Tenancies Act did not place responsibility on the landlord in the circumstances of this case and NTCAT “had no jurisdiction” to impose responsibility.
“In my view there is an essential flaw in the applicants’ assertion that the only water made available by the landlord at the premises contains nearly three times the maximum safe level for ingestion of uranium,” he said.
“In reality the landlord does not make water available at the premises at all … The landlord’s responsibility is to provide safe and functioning infrastructure to facilitate the supply of water by the service provider.”
Other community residents have fought housing department
The case is not the first time a remote community has taken the housing department to court over the state of housing conditions.
Last year residents of Santa Teresa took a case over delayed housing repairs to NTCAT and won.
Australian Lawyers for Remote Aboriginal Rights, which represented the Laramba residents in their case, used examples from the Santa Teresa case in their submissions to NTCAT, but those examples were not entirely accepted by the tribunal.
In regards to water in the Laramba case, Mr O’Reilly said landlords only needed to supply the infrastructure to supply water to the premises.
“In my view the landlord’s responsibility to ensure that the premises are habitable does not necessarily encompass regulating water quality.
“For example, if concentrations of lead in water are a result of corroding lead piping within the premises or unpotable water is provided from a tank that forms part of the premises or ancillary premises the landlord is likely to have responsibility under the act,” he said.
Appeal of NTCAT decision ‘likely’
Daniel Kelly, lawyer assisting for Australian Lawyers for Remote Aboriginal Rights said the result was disappointing and an appeal was likely.
“We’re in the process of speaking to our clients, but our view is — and the views that we’ve been able to garner from our clients are — that we should seek to have this decision reviewed,” Mr Kelly said.
“The Department of Housing is doing nothing about it, Power and Water is doing nothing about it and the Northern Territory Government is doing nothing about it.”
In a statement to the ABC, the NT Department of Housing said it would not be providing comment as proceedings were ongoing.
In relation to the rest of the Laramba case, involving housing conditions and repairs, the tribunal has called for further submissions.
Indigenous community launches lawsuit against NT Government over housing, uranium water issues
Veronica Tilmouth will do anything to make sure her family members have a roof over their heads — and usually that means sleeping on her kitchen floor.
Ms Tilmouth’s home — a small brick, three-bedroom house — sits in Laramba, on the edge of the Tanami Desert.
It is a house that usually has more than 10 people staying in it, including her son, her nieces and nephews, and their children.
Her bed is a thin, foam mattress covered in toys and kids blankets. It lays a couple of metres from her kitchen sink and doubles as a lounge during the day.
“Too many people [live] here,” she said, as she watched four of her great nieces and nephews play in the small front yard.
The other rooms are filled with mattresses and bedding for other family members who, without her, would be homeless.
There are about 40 homes in the remote community, 250km north-west of Alice Springs, all managed through the Northern Territory remote public housing system.
Those homes need to accommodate around 350 residents.
It can take years to secure a place, according to residents, meanwhile there is no option to privately rent or buy.
In the summer months, the region is excruciatingly hot and in the winter, bitterly cold.
Shelter is critical to survival and often families are forced to pile into the small, aging homes that litter the community.
For years, Ms Tilmouth was also living with a series of maintenance issues; a leaking sewage system, taps that did not work, and a toilet that would not flush, she said.
Tradespeople could take weeks or months to come out.
The community’s water supply also contains potentially toxic amounts of naturally occurring uranium.
The water used in every home contains more than double the amount of uranium than is recommended in the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.
According to data previously obtained by the ABC, the NT Government has been aware of it for at least a decade.
“For the little kids, we need it to be better,” she said.
But, for the first time in years, the grandmother is hopeful change might be coming: The community is suing the Government over the state of its public housing and water.
“Every landlord in Australia has a responsibility to ensure that the premises they provide to their tenants are safe and habitable,” solicitor assisting Australian Lawyers for Remote Aboriginal Rights Daniel Kelly said.
“We say that houses that contain drinking water with elevated levels of uranium are not safe and habitable and we say that houses that have long-term issues with plumbing, electricity, lack of air conditioning in a desert environment are not habitable.”
The lawsuit was filed this week by The Australian Lawyers for Remote Aboriginal Rights group on behalf of residents against the Northern Territory Housing Department.
Laramba will be the second community to sue the Government for failing to provide reasonable housing after residents of Santa Teresa, a community east of Alice Springs, won an important test case earlier this year, and were paid thousands of dollars in compensation.
“These are not isolated issues,” Mr Kelly said.
“The remote housing crisis in the Northern Territory has been going on for almost two decades.
“People are desperate … this it seems to me the only way that people can hold the Government to account.”
Mr Kelly said they had been approached by other Northern Territory communities interested in similar action.
‘Too many people’
Stephen Briscoe lives in one of the most overcrowded homes in Laramba.
His bright blue, three-bedroom concrete bunker is home to four generations of his family.
“About 14 or 15 people live here … some sleep in the kitchen,” Mr Briscoe said.
“I’ve got too many people, it’s way too crowded, too many grandchildren stuffed in here.
“It’s a bit hard … some people have to sleep outside.”
He was cautious about getting his hopes up about the outcome of the legal challenge.
“I’ve been reporting that my sewage is full and stinky, and it’s been there nearly since Christmas [with] no change,” he said.
Nearly one in five Australians are struggling to afford a house to live in, according to data from the ABC’s Australia Talks National Survey.
The problem is most pronounced in the NT where more than 37 per cent of residents said they were struggling to afford a home.
The Territory also has the highest rate of people who have been homeless, about 18 per cent compared to the average of 12 per cent.
Figures from the Northern Territory Council of Social Services suggest 81 per cent of homeless people are living in overcrowded homes.
Mr Briscoe is also in charge of night patrol in the community and often sees up close the social problems overcrowding can cause.
“We’ve got homeless people living around here,” he said.
“My brother-in-law, he’s living here with us for now. It’s not good … and yeah, [it] makes me sad.”
In a statement, Northern Territory Minister for Housing Gerry McCarthy said he recognised there had been historical neglect of remote housing, but said improvement works were underway in many communities.
“In Laramba 23 homes have been upgraded [since 2016] and three new homes are planned for this year, with work on two already underway,” he said.
He said more than a $124 million a year was spent on essential services in Indigenous communities, with 27 homes in Laramba set to receive major works.
Responding to the issues surrounding uranium in the water, he said the NT Government put “significant effort” into providing safe drinking water.
A Northern Territory Department of Housing spokeswoman said it was working closely with contractors to ensure repairs and maintenance issues were done in a timely manner.
‘Our kids need proper water’: Families plead for action over uranium in drinking water
Some of Australia’s poorest communities have been drinking water high in uranium, and residents have accused governments of ignoring the problem.
- At least three communities in central Australia have levels of uranium in drinking water that exceed health guidelines
- Dozens of other communities not meeting aesthetic guidelines, which ensure taste, feel and smell are up to standard
- Residents fear water could be harming them and say governments have failed to act
Many of us turn on the tap without a second thought — high-quality drinking water is supplied to most cities and regions across the country.
But in the Aboriginal community of Laramba, north of Alice Springs, drinking water contains more than double the recommended levels of uranium, and it’s been like that for a decade.
Billy Briscoe, a long-term resident, is deeply concerned about the impact that water is having on his family.
“The really important thing is about kids. Our kids need proper water, not with uranium. They need quality, really good water,” he said.
“We all drink the bore water … if there’s no water, how can you survive?
Official data obtained by the ABC’s 7.30 program shows Laramba’s water supply contains uranium at higher than 0.04 milligrams per litre (mg/L).
Australia’s drinking-water guidelines outline it should not exceed 0.017mg/L.
“The main toxic effect of short-term exposure to high concentrations of uranium is inflammation of the kidney,” according to the National Health and Medical Research Council.
“Little is known about the long-term exposure to low concentrations.”
Most communities in the Northern Territory rely on bore water, pumped up from an aquifer deep underground, which often contains high concentrations of naturally occurring minerals and contaminants — like uranium.
Laramba residents said their appeals for help had been overlooked.
“You have to write letters, you have to email it, but even then [action] don’t come in one day or two days, so you will have to wait one year or two years … It’s just a waiting game,” Mr Briscoe said.
The Australian Medical Association (AMA) said access to safe water was a basic human right and urged governments to invest in treatment facilities in remote parts of the country.
“It is difficult to understand how this hasn’t already been implemented and addressed,” the AMA said in a statement last year.