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Australian Indigenous HealthBulletin Alcohol and other drugs knowledge centre Yarning Places

Rebuilding a life damaged by alcohol before birth

Date posted: 5 June 2014

Fitzroy Crossing was the epicentre of a 2007 coroner's inquest into the deaths of 22 people. More than half the deaths occurred in the Central Kimberley town, Western Australia, and most of the deaths were self-inflicted.

Coroner, Alastair Hope, concluded that alcohol was the single most pervasive cause of the high suicide rate, along with 'pathetically low' levels of education, housing that was in a 'disgraceful condition', and 'no real leadership or coordination' from the State or Commonwealth governments. The coroner had particular concern for Fitzroy Crossing's next generation. '[The] plight of the little children was especially pathetic, and for many of these the future appears bleak. Many already suffer from foetal alcohol syndrome...'

Marmingee Hand is a Walmajarri woman and a Fitzroy Crossing mother of one of the children the coroner was referring to. Tristan was an eight-year-old with Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) when the coroner described his future as 'bleak'.

Marmingee grew up in a stable family, under the care of her mother who was a senior woman from the Walmajarri people of the desert country in the southern Kimberley. Marmingee was sent away to school, first in the West Kimberley town of Derby, and then to Perth. She later built on this foundation with a Masters Degree in Community Development.

But her half-sister was less fortunate. After spending part of her childhood in a government institution, she graduated to an adult life of poverty, dysfunction and alcoholism. The drinking continued through her pregnancy with Tristan, permanently damaging his developing brain, producing the disability known as FASD.

'Tristan was diagnosed with Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, and we have been looking after him since he was five months old. And now he's an early adolescent; he'll be 16 at the end of the year,' says Marmingee.

Source: ABC Kimberley


Last updated: 5 June 2014
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