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First emerging in the 1970s, there are now 43 town camps in the Territory. Eighteen are in Alice Springs. Others are in and around Darwin, Tennant Creek, Adelaide River, Jabiru, Pine Creek, Katherine, Elliott, Mataranka and Borroloola (see the map below).
Alice Springs town camps are as old as the town.
Town camps emerged in response to discriminatory laws and practices that meant Aboriginal people were unable to live within the formal boundaries of the city. In some cases they are on the site of a traditional ceremonial camping area. Each town camp is also linked to one or more remote communities, through kinship and cultural connections.
Town camps have endured despite efforts by white people to stop them from becoming permanent, and through years without security, piped water, power or sanitation – let alone community services such as public transport.
Security of tenure was hard-won, and residents feel a strong connection to their town camp. They are proud that their land and housing can be handed to their children and grandchildren.
Until 2012, funding for housing and services in town camps was provided by the Commonwealth. Since then, the NT Government has taken responsibility, though the funding has never been sufficient to keep up with the needs of the houses and residents. In its ‘reform framework’ for town camps (PDF 7mb), the NT Government acknowledges that the standard and condition of housing in town camps is ‘significantly lower than that of urban public housing and private sector housing’.
Since 2007, the NT Government has a sub-lease over town camps in Alice Springs and Tennant Creek, so it funds a complete housing management service. Other town camps are the responsibility of leaseholder organisations, and the NT Government provides grant funding to contribute to repairs and maintenance of the houses.
Photo credits: XX Town Camp, Alice Springs, by Skye Thompson / Aboriginal camp on the outskirts of Little Flower Black Mission, Alice Springs, 1937 – National Archives of Australia, A1, 1938/403 photo 63. That town camp still exists as Anthelk-Ewlpaye (Charles Creek & Kunoth).