The City of Doors - Ampilatwatja, 2011

Like some jumbled twisted Mondrian* painting the Doors of Ampilatwatja lie tossed onto the red dirt of what passes for the town dump at this small town 350 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs.

Some mates were out there recently and they  thought that their pictures might fit into the series of posts I’m working on that looks at remote waste disposal facilities (dumps or tips to you and I) across the NT.

They sent me a note and these pics.

A favourite pastime in Central Australia is to follow SIHIP contractors around the country side in order to pick up what they have dumped at the tips.

Here, for example, dozens of solid core and hollow core doors with door furniture (handles, locks, hinges) intact.

There was an advert in a local paper saying ‘100 doors for sale’ (but community of origin not mentioned).

I was at Ampilatwatja with a friend who scored 2 perfectly good stainless steel sinks and three doors complete with excellent handles etc.

Someone had the bright idea to use cars to create dividing walls in the Ampilatwatja dump

At Ampilatwatja the car bodies are used to hold soil in the walls between the different tip areas – metal – tyres – wood – plastics – whitegoods etc

There is another HUGE section that is just vehicles (like all remote tips).

While using cars to create dividing walls might have seemed a good idea at the time I can’t see how it can be effective in the medium or long term.

When I lived at Yuendumu there were – as my friend indicated – lots of dead cars that had been destroyed by the terrible local roads.

In the early days of the NT Intervention the local Government Business Manager had the bright idea to gather all the town’s wrecks together, crush them in a portable crusher, and ship them off to be recycled. Whether the owners of the cars got any return for their loss I don’t know.

Half-burying them with dirt certainly doesn’t seem to be within the Waste Management Guidelines…

In the first post in this series I noted the responsibilities of both the NT Government and the local Shires (this is in the Barkly Shire area) under NT legislation, including the Waste Management and Pollution Control Act of the NT (administered by the local Department of Natural Resources, Environment, The Arts and Sport) under which a number of guidelines have been developed, including the Waste Management Guidelines for Small Communities in the Northern Territory and the Guidelines for the Siting Design and Management of Solid Waste Disposal Sites in the NT.

Someone's pride and joy...once...

The other key piece of legislation relevant to environmental health in the many small communities scattered around the NT is the Public and Environmental Health Act 2011 which is administered by the NT’s Health Department and has the following objects:

 (a) to protect and promote the health of individuals and communities in the Territory;

 (b) to provide a flexible capacity to protect the health of particular individuals and communities in the Territory from emerging environmental conditions, or public and environmental health issues, that may impact on their health and wellbeing;

 (c) to enable special action to be taken to protect the health of particular individuals and communities in the Territory who are at public health risk or facing particular health problems;

 (d) to improve the public and environmental health outcomes of all Territorians in partnership with individuals and the community;

 (e) to monitor, assess and control environmental conditions, factors and agents, facilities and equipment and activities, services and products that impact on or may impact on public and environmental health.

 (2) In carrying out the objects of this Act, regard should be had to the precautionary principle.

Richard Downs, Honeymoon Bore, August 2010

But the doors – and most of the buidling rubbish chucked onto the Ampilatwatja dump doesn’t come from the local Shire council or NT Government agencies.

According to my sources, this material came from the contractors doing the SIHIP refurbishments of about 26 houses at Ampilatwatja.

A few days ago I happened to run into Richard Downs, a spokesman for the Ampilatwatja community, walking down the street in Darwin.

We caught up earlier today for a coffee and a chat. I showed him the pictures that my mate had sent me. He was not surprised.

That’s not all! There is an open sewerage pond where the raw sewage – just next to this rubbish dump – is pumped out straight of the houses.

It is just very rough and ready – a hole in the ground surrounded by a chain-mesh fence. Pure raw sewage.

The tip is about 2 or 3 minutes drive from the community. Kids walk back and forth. Dogs can get into the sewage ponds and then they go back to the community. It is a disgrace – anywhere else it would be shut down.

More doors...

And looking at those doors – it is just an absolute waste. An absolute disgrace. It is taxpayers money being spent and wasted. A lot of these are perfectly good doors – they should have been recycled or they should have been offered to the community. People will use doors like these as a bed – put it up on flour drums up off the ground and put their swags on top.

And the others things – all that steel and the other material just thrown out – that is all a terrible waste. We could have used this stuff up at the Honeymoon Bore outstation – we could have used them up there. These doors came from the 27 or so houses in Ampilatwatcha that have been re-furbished under the Federal Government’s SIHIP program. No new houses – only refurbishments. This program was done just to keep the peace and to satisfy the public out there that the Government was doing something out on the community. A lot of communities are like Ampilatwatja – because they are out of sight and out of mind then no-one worries about it much.

Another spare parts mine buried in the red dirt...

I’ve got a few more of these to come – but if you have any pictures – and a bit of a story – that shows what is going on in a dump near you please feel free to send them on to me and I’ll post them here.

* I’ve just been watching Levy-Kuentz’s wonderful In Mondrian’s Studio on SBS One.


Overnight Gerry Wood, retired chook farmer and full-time and furiously Independent member for the Darwin hinterland seat of Nelson sent me a note and some photos he snapped during a recent trip through Centralia.

Doors at Engwala

Interesting article in Crikey on SIHIP materials dumped in the tip at Ampilatwatja.

I was there recently and also visited Engwala to the south east on the Plenty Highway.

Here the local shire service manager made sure materials removed from SIHIP refurbished houses were stored and kept for when needed in the future, not thrown in the tip.

The manager was also very much into recycling old cars and whitegoods.

Good story and I have attached some photos.

Sinks at Engwala
Cars at Engwala
Whitegoods...and a proper fence...

Thanks to Gerry and the local SSM at Engwala for doing a great job. maybe he could transfer to Ampilatwatja for a while? I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about the stark difference between the two townships.

Don’t forget – if you have any tales or photos of your local dump – good or bad – drop me a line, spin me a yarn and send me some photos and we’ll see what we can do…