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Australia’s Indigenous Community Left Isolated Again Without Phone, Internet

The Lockhart River and Aboriginal Shire has been left without internet and phone access for days, leaving the community stranded.

BRISBANE, Australia — An isolated Indigenous community in Queensland has again been left without phone lines or internet services for four days.

The Lockhart River and Aboriginal Shire, situated on the northwest of Brisbane, is currently without internet and phone services due to an infrastructure incident at the region’s provider in Batavia Downs.

The region has an extensive history of telecommunications issues, which tend to happen in the wet season when these services are needed the most.

Earlier in February, about 800 Lockhart River residents lost landline, mobile and internet connections for more than a week due to intermittent power failures at the same site.

In 2018, the town went without contact with the outside world for six weeks after lightning struck a phone tower.

This comes after the country is facing racial accusations with the recent custodial death of an indigenous man. Community organization ABC Indigenous tweeted, “Australia is really failing us, Australia has really failed the families. Indigenous death in custody at Cessnock the seventh across Australia since March.”

Lockhart River Mayor Wayne Butcher said Telstra‘s infrastructure doesn’t meet the demands for the region and the reoccurring incidents were dangerous for his community.

“If it happened once every three years or five years you can understand, but the fact that in the last 18 months we’ve had three breakdowns … it’s getting ridiculous … or stupid, I guess, in one sense,” he said.

Butcher added: “You can’t work, you can’t run your own business, you can’t do anything without internet or phone service. I think it’s just unacceptable. It seems to be the problem with the infrastructure over and over again. I mean, obviously, there’s this clear indication that they need to start fixing or investing in their infrastructure.”

As service went down on April 25, a local couple and their 10-year-old son were camping 18.64 miles south of Lockhart when heavy rain hit the region and they were left stranded.

The young family was only rescued on April 28 when the mayor was able to reach an emergency air-lift service from Cairns.

“I could only communicate with the helicopter that was nearby to pick them up this morning and it was all weather dependent too,” Butcher said.

“Luckily they were just down to the last, I think a piece of bread, but we got them safely back to town.”

The town operates off a 3G service, but Butcher said the ongoing inconsistencies pose a real danger to the locals.

“We’re supposed to have 3G but we’re flat out having 1G,” he said.

“It urgently needs an upgrade — we’ve been talking to Telstra about an upgrade and I think they’ve negotiated some options on the table, so we’re just waiting to hear back what it’s going to look like, or how much it will cost.”

He said there has to be a quicker response time and that one cannot simply wait four or five days if someone is in a leaking boat out there, or someone is having a heart attack.

“This is a serious community safety issue now and our community seriously needs better investment and infrastructure that can cope with our environment.”

Telstra has been contacted for comment.

(Edited by Vaibhav Vishwanath Pawar and Praveen Pramod Tewari. Map by Urvashi Makwana.)