I went to the Kimberley last week, a place close to my heart.
I was posted there as a young reporter and usually can’t wait to go back and visit its red cliffs and long, white beaches.
But I was dreading this assignment because 10 years ago I was sent to cover a very similar story — a coronial inquest into Indigenous youth suicide.
It’s a story far more personal for Australia’s first female Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar.
Ms Oscar was at the inquest back in 2007, too.
She was concerned about why so many young people were killing themselves in her hometown of Fitzroy Crossing.
“It’s really sad to have yet another coronial inquest into the continued suicide deaths in the Kimberley,” she said.
Ms Oscar campaigned for alcohol restrictions to prevent more violence and more children suffering the effects of their mothers drinking while pregnant.
Some restrictions were granted.
But the latest inquest is evidence that in too many Kimberley communities the violence, the drinking and the deaths have continued.
“I’m worried that children and families you know see outwards and see the whole of society and community and get a sense no-one really cares,” she said.
The youngest child whose death the new coroner, Ros Fogliani, is investigating was just 10 years old.
She was in foster care when she killed herself at the Looma Aboriginal Community, three hours’ drive east of Broome.
Her father had spent time in jail, her mother was a drinker and three years earlier her 13-year-old older sister had committed suicide.
Local pastor Paul White said the 10-year-old, who wasn’t from Looma, had only been living there for a couple of months before she died.
“It impacted and affected everyone, it just rippled through the community and created a real sad period of time,” he said.
Mr White flies small, single-engine planes hundreds of kilometres across the Kimberley to do his work.
Like WA’s former coroner Alastair Hope, he blames the region’s suicide rate on alcohol and poor living conditions.
“The reason we have a problem that’s growing, and unfortunately it is growing, is because people have pussyfooted around for too long,” he said.
“The only time we appear to get reactions is when there’s a majority of suicides.”
He said positive steps towards change had been made but progress was slow.
“The teachers are doing an incredible job, introducing programs into the school on good eating and behaviours such as cleanliness,” he said.
‘It’s not their fault’
The inquest is also investigating the death of a 17-year-old boy who took his life at Broome’s main football oval.
At the time he was homeless and had been living in a carpark.
He was born severely underweight and by the time he was 11 months old a doctor said his was the worst case of failure to thrive he’d ever seen.
The boy reported being sexually abused by other boys at the age of seven and showed all the developmental problems of a child whose mother had drunk alcohol while pregnant.
“It’s not their fault, they’re innocent victims of this and yet they are the ones who will be judged, they are the ones who will be labelled,” Ms Oscar said.
Ms Oscar said lifelong care plans should be developed for children with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
But none of the children whose deaths are being investigated were formally diagnosed.
The coroner will be in Broome on Monday.
This piece by Eliza Borrello was first seen on ‘ABC News’ July 13 2017.