Camp Elcho at Galiwin’ku after two cyclones

16 April 2015
On Friday 20 February 2015 a Category 4 tropical cyclone, TC Lam, struck a number of communities on the Arnhem Land Coast. Galiwin’ku on Elcho Island was the most damaged. On Sunday 22 March Tropical Cyclone Nathan passed over at Category 2.
Establishing a tent city on the oval at Galiwin'ku.
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By Senior Constable Marcus Tilbrook
Community Engagement Police Officer – Carpentaria Region
Alyangula, Angurugu, Borroloola, Milyakburra, Minyerri, Ngukurr, Nhulunbuy, Numbulwar, Umbakumba and Yirrkala

Galiwin’ku has a population of about 2,200 people, with a proportion of the 450 residents of outstations on Elcho and neighbouring islands living there in the Wet Season.

NT Housing estimated that 47 houses in Galiwin’ku were damaged and should be vacated.

NT Police doubled the staffing of the Galiwin’ku Police Station from four to eight members from 25 February, with the intention that this be maintained through March. The first additional members were from the Metropolitan Patrol Group (Sen Const Robinson, Const 1/C O’Riordan and Forsyth) and then from Maningrida (Sen Const Trenerry), from Water Police (Sgts Pini and Hocking), from Central Desert (Const Hegyi), Firearms (Sen Const Marsh) and then from the Community Engagement Police Officers of both Northern and Southern Commands (Robert Cartmill, Matt Cram, Nick Mitchell and Marcus Tilbrook).

Local Recovery Coordinators replaced the Local Emergency Controller (the Officer in Charge Police) in managing the TC Lam response and a joint Commonsealth/Northern Territory Government effort established a 300-person shelter camp (Camp Elcho) on the Galiwin’ku Oval that began taking displaced people on Monday 9 March. This had to be taken down and then put up again as TC Nathan came and went.

Currently there are 33 Shelters (essentially large, rigid-framed 10-person tents) at Camp Elcho, with 201 people registered as living there and 164 provided with TrackMi (developed by the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre) banding. The Camp has a capacity of 305 people. This can be expanded with the addition of further shelters and ablution units (about half of the oval is occupied at present).

Camp Elcho was planned as an 8-week solution (tent shelters) that led into a medium-term solution (groups of demountable buildings) before the long-term solution arrived (repair and replacement of housing stock).

Currently there are few social order difficulties with Camp Elcho. This can ascribed to low occupation numbers, the current 24-hour allocation of a Community Engagement Police Officer (CEPO) member to the Camp and the suspension of normal behaviours on the Island post-cyclone. Camp Elcho could soon have 300 people (up to double that, if enlarged) from all four major localities in Galiwin’ku living in tents over months in the Wet Season on one football oval.

The CEPO effort here has arranged, through the Local Authority, for the institution of Yakkurr’mirr Walu (‘sleep time’) for school-aged children from 22:00 hours on school nights and 23:30 hours on weekends) and the East Arnhem Regional Council has extended Night Patrol hours to 21:00–01:00 seven nights a week. These two measures have helped reduce operational pressure on Galiwin’ku Police.

Efforts are currently being made to ensure that the Staff at Camp Elcho have ‘occupier’ status, through either Balanda or Yolgnu law, and the ability to employ Trespass Act (or the equivalent) powers. Training in this approach will be provided to Camp Staff and to the Night Patrol.

The Cyclone response has had a high political profile with the Chief Minister and other MLAs visiting, as well as the Commonwealth Minister for Justice. The police response has been praised and Camp Manager Bryan Hughes has been very complimentary about the direct CEPO support he has received.