Indigenous owned remote laundries in a container: an important step in Closing the Gap

For most Australians, regular washing of their clothes, towelling and bedding is a routine household task. It’s unlikely when throwing your washing in the machine that you consider the ramifications for health and quality of life, including freedom from disease.*

Many Indigenous Australians who live in the remote and/or very remote community settings do not own a washing machine, have money to purchase detergents, or have access to a functional laundry. Combined with overcrowded housing and inadequate hygiene they are increasingly vulnerable to infections skin diseases. These bacterial infections can lead to serious health complications such as kidney disease, acute rhematic fever and rheumatic heart disease.

Solving all these problems requires significant, coordinated, sustained and targeted investment to address underlying issues of disadvantage, but in the short-term at least the Barunga community have found a way to make a difference.

Setting the Context in Australia

Limited access to clean water is a reality for many Australians living in remote and very remote settings. The most recent National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey shows nearly 1 in 5 Indigenous Australians live in substandard housing – lacking essential facilities for healthy living. In many cases this means accommodation with no running water to wash clothes.

The Remote Laundry Project

In 2018 the Aboriginal Investment Group (AIG) in consultation with elders from the Barunga community started the Remote Laundry Project southeast of Katherine. It is 100 percent Indigenous owned and operated. In a setting where scabies and skin sores are markedly high, their aim is to reduce the prevalence of these conditions and associated medical conditions.

The laundromat is housed in a secure container with 4 commercial washers and 4 dryers, free to users, using detergent automatically fed into the machines. The first laundromat has been in operation since February 2019.

Aboriginal Investment Group . Launch of Remote Laudries. Barunga. NT. Photo Shnae Eecen

KPMG is working with the community to access the social and economic impact assessment of the project and the positive impact it is having in the community. This analysis will help set a business case for more laundries for other remote Indigenous communities facing the same health and housing challenges.

Data relating to the program’s impact on skin infections has not yet been analysed. However, immediate and visible benefits to the community already include:

  • Five employment positions @ 0.5 FTE and an approximate saving to the government of $133,176 over two years (Feb 2019 – Feb 2021) due to savings of unemployment benefits.
  • Social benefits with direct employment of local people at the laundry
  • Successful implementation and uptake of the laundry evidenced by 2456 cycles in 2020 and a total of 5363 wash cycles since the laundry’s inception in February 2019.
  • A weekly bus to pick up to laundry provides increased access for vulnerable community members

The operation has been well received by the Barunga community and AIG has since opened another unit in November 2020 in Casuarina (Darwin). AIG are now seeking funding for 7 additional laundries in the Territory to be built over the next 12 months.

Projects such as the Remote Laundries in Barunga, are meaningful strides in improving the health and dignity for Australians who don’t have access to facilities to do the daily tasks that most take for granted.

As signatories to the UN Development Goals, we have an obligation to take action to ensure that by 2030, running water, clean clothing and bedding are available to everyone

The video says it all.

 *In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly developed 17 interlinked global sustainable development goals targeting poverty and promoting a better and more sustainable future for all. Goal 6 refers to global water scarcity. In 2015, 4.5 billion people lacked safely managed sanitation services and 2.3 billion lacked even basic sanitation. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals have set a target of access to clean water and sanitation for all people by 2030. KPMG and the Australian Commonwealth Government are signatories to these goals.

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