NACCHO Aboriginal Health News : Woman behind watershed non-sniffable fuel rollout in Central Australia honoured 10 years on

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“The petrol sniffing problem was like a monsoon rain that flowed down and affected everyone

The liquid petrol was just pouring onto our lands and it was pushing people, particularly young people … and so we needed help with that, and that help came in the form of a different kind of liquid, which was Opal fuel.

That was a really triumphant moment and we knew that it would bring good things, and it has.

Everyone has been so happy since then because of the instant reduction in petrol sniffing. ”

Ms Inyika  ( Her other name is ‘never give up’ ) said through a Pitjantjatjara interpreter. She is now terminally ill and wanted to see her legacy recorded. CAYLUS estimated there had been a 94 per cent reduction in the number of sniffers in the region.

It is the 10-year anniversary since the roll out of non-sniffable Opal fuel in Central Australia and the APY lands, and the woman who led the fight against petrol sniffing has reflected on her triumphant campaign directed at the Federal Government in an interview with the ABC

For decades petrol sniffing devastated the beloved Aboriginal communities of fuel campaigner Janet Inyika.

Ms Inyika fought tirelessly to introducer get non-sniffable low aromatic fuel, known as Opal.

Janet Inyika at fuel launch, 2005

In a wheelchair, Janet Inyika wears a yellow carnation – the same type of flower she held during the launch of Opal fuel in Amata in the remote APY Lands of South Australia’s far north in 2005.

Back then she had everyone wearing the yellow flower, the colour of the fuel, as a symbol of change.

“That was a really triumphant moment and we knew that it would bring good things, and it has,” Ms Inyika said.

“Everyone has been so happy since then because of the instant reduction in petrol sniffing.

“They were so proud of me, and people have been coming up to me ever since and thanking me for all the work that I did to get to that point.”

Her other name is ‘never give up’

Janet Inyika, 2008

Current CEO of the NPY Women’s Council, Andrea Mason, said Ms Inyika was the face of council advocacy long before Opal was introduced.

Ms Inyika was also a leader with Aboriginal corporation NPY Women’s Council for many years.

“She actually has another name and her other name is ‘never give up’,” Ms Mason said.

“Her family was being impacted by sniffing. She was seeing people die around her, become brain injured, disabled for life, and she put herself right in the middle of the fire.”

Ms Mason was working on the APY Lands in the 1990s and saw the problem first-hand.

“I look at this community of Central Australia and there is a line drawn in the sand – the life before Opal fuel and the life after Opal fuel, and the important for us living in the life after Opal fuel is we must never forget how devastating petrol sniffing is,” she said.

Tony Abbott changed position to back fuel rollout

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott was the health minister when the Federal Government backed the rollout of Opal across bowsers in the region.

Mr Abbott initially said petrol sniffing could be solved by “parents taking petrol away from their kids”.

However, veteran youth worker Tristan Ray said Mr Abbott was ultimately persuaded by voices on the ground.

“I think that it was just so obvious that it was making a really big difference and there were politicians on all sides of politics that saw the benefit,” Mr Ray said.

Mr Ray said there was still resistance from a handful of fuel retailers, but most have made the switch to Opal.

CAYLUS estimated there had been a 94 per cent reduction in the number of sniffers in the region.

It said on the edges of Opal zones, there were about 20 sniffers remaining

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