Housing shortage and quality has been a long-term priority for the Dharriwaa Elders Group (DEG) and others in Walgett. Since 2022, DEG has been able to work closely with Yuwaya Ngarra-li (YN) Wiradjuri housing designer, researcher and Master of Architecture graduate Samantha Rich to document the housing need amongst the Aboriginal community in Walgett and develop community-led models of housing that could respond to local priorities and context.

A recent Yuwaya Ngarra-li Briefing Paper documents DEG's advocacy on housing issues over the past 20 years, and sets out what is known from available data about unmet need as well as existing housing providers and stock in Walgett. It then details the work undertaken by Samantha Rich to date on housing for three specific groups or purposes in Walgett that DEG has asked Yuwaya Ngarra-li to focus on in order to complement existing work by local social housing providers and develop additional supported accommodation for specific groups in the Walgett community:

  • Elders housing—Samantha's Masters project Gamil dhuningarraay baa (place of older person) designed a model of housing that could enable Elders to age well on Country in Walgett. Further scoping and resourcing to build Elders housing is in development. Samantha's Masters project was awarded the UNSW prize for the best postgraduate design studio and was included on the Dean's List, as well as the 2023 Architect's Medallion by the NSW Architects Registration Board. DEG is now seeking resources to build Elders housing in Walgett.
  • Housing to reduce young people's contact with the criminal justice system—DEG and its Yuwaya Ngarra-li partners have focused since 2018 on improving outcomes for children and young people in Walgett, including through its Walgett Action Plan for Children and Young People and Two River Pathway to Change holistic youth diversion model. Housing has been identified as key to reducing contact with the justice system and supporting young people to thrive, and a community-led model of accommodation is being developed as part of a new wellbeing service for young people in Walgett designed in an innovative collaboration between DEG, Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service and Aboriginal Legal Service.
  • Crisis/emergency housing—the urgent need for this was demonstrated during the COVID pandemic and floods in Walgett, as well as for future possible disasters including flooding, dust storms, drought and fires. Workshops held with community members evacuated from their homes during the 2022 floods are informing longer-term efforts to design and build emergency housing in Walgett.

DEG is now looking to secure funding for land and construction costs to progress these plans.

Another urgent area of priority for YN is the lack of available housing for visitors coming into the community for employment, research, health care provision or other purposes. The DEG has been consistently raising this as it has affected its ability to attract skilled workers to move to Walgett for new and important roles to build local capacity. Currently, there is no available housing for workers to move to Walgett as there are limited rental properties available in Walgett or specific remote worker housing. Based on a recent incentive by the federal government to attract health workers to work in regional and remote areas, this area of housing could become even more critical.

Crisis housing workshop with Samantha Rich, UNSW Architecture Lecturer Eva Lloyd and community members at DEG who had been evacuated from their homes due to flooding
Samantha Rich with Elders Richard Lake and Violet Morgan discussing Elders' housing needs

Past research

Research in the past undertaken by UNSW Engineering students has focused on homes occupied by Aboriginal people in Walgett, which provides evidence of the housing stock being of poor quality and health implications of this.

  • Angela Begg's honours thesis, Retrofit vs. New Build: Investigating the Thermal Comfort of Aboriginal Housing in North West New South Wales & Opportunities for Improvement, included interviews with Aboriginal community members undertaken with DEG's Vanessa Hickey. The findings revealed the poor thermal comfort and performance of those homes and identified other issues, including:

    • Thermal comfort impacts
    • No insulation and very little thermal mass
    • Maintenance of housing
    • Large amount of dust in Walgett and how this impacts the way houses are operated
    • Issues relating to water access
    • Issues related to black soil and issues with the structural integrity of housing
    • How well houses accommodate for culture and traditions
    • Accommodation of houses to support visiting families and friends.
  • Aidan Alexander's honours thesis, Improving Energy Outcomes for Remote Aboriginal Communities: Walgett NSW as a Cast Study, involved observations of approximately twelve homes. Whilst focusing on monitoring the energy use of existing homes, this thesis also found that the poor construction and design of the homes exacerbates problems relating to heating and cooling the home, including:

    • Poor and inappropriate passive design which increases the energy consumption
    • Poor access to daylight due to shading windows to try to reduce temperature
    • Air leakage that exacerbates the need for heating and cooling
    • Insufficient insulation
    • Single glazed aluminium windows and skylights without covers for hotter periods of the year
    • Poor quality, poorly installed and ineffective air-conditioning
    • Hot water units with no insulated piping, which when exposed to the sunlight and heat results in high heat loss.