Ali Curung is an Indigenous community in the Barkly Region of the Northern Territory, located around 170kms from Tennant Creek and over 300kms from Alice Springs. To get there, you travel along the Stuart Highway from Alice Springs, and about 50kms before you spot the Devil’s Marbles, you turn a sharp right.
The bitumen road quickly narrows to one track as you navigate the red dirt to head to the community. For those who have travelled through regional Australia, you will know there is no internet connection between major towns. You can literally watch the bars on your phone go from four, to scrabbling around desperately searching, to no signal within the space of seconds.
But the moment you get to Ali Curung, your phone fires off with missed messages and you have four bars again.
In this community lives Colin Kiel, the principal of Alekarenge, the school and (arguably) the heart of Ali Curung.
Colin is from the big smoke – it doesn’t get much bigger in Australia than Melbourne, which has the postcode with the greatest population density. The 2016 Census showed inner-city Melbourne had 17,500 people per square kilometre.
Ali Curung is in the postcode of 0872. The population density of this postcode is 0.02 people per square kilometre. After obtaining his teaching degree, Colin moved to Ali Curung on what was supposed to be a short-term teaching contract. Eight years later and he is still there.
Colin first reached into IDCARE around three years ago after his email had been hacked. Our National Case Management Centre gave him support on the steps to take to fix this problem. He also contacted us in 2020, when he noticed the “warrant for arrest” telephone scam was going through his community.
He said people were “absolutely” more vulnerable to scams as “their financial literacy isn’t very high and, for some of our community, English is their fourth language".
“When they get the call, they don’t understand the person on the other end of the line. The person sounds like they know what they are talking about, they sound professional, and they’ll follow instructions as they may not fully understand what is happening," Colin explained.
After speaking to Colin, we decided to take a closer look at the statistics.
Offering a national community service for nearly eight years and over 500,000 engagements with people impacted by cybercrime makes this easy.
It was quick to see what Colin was experiencing in Ali Curung was typical across regional and remote Australia.
People living in these communities were three times more likely to be vulnerable to cybercrime than those living in the city and the financial loss is, on average, 40% higher!
Why? There are a number of reasons.
People living in regional and remote areas don’t have the same access to services those living in the cities do. The nearest bank or government office to Ali Curung is in Tennant Creek.
And while everyone in Australia is being bombarded by the “postal delivery” text messages at the moment, the people living in Ali Curung are dependent on postal delivery. There is no Kmart down those dusty streets.
Government services and banks do visit Ali Curung, but the school was only recently highlighted by the Australian Education Union as the school Australia forgot.
We travelled to Ali Curung and had the opportunity to sit in the classroom with some of the teachers and students and talk about scams we knew were impacting that community.
We know our quick visit is unlikely to make a lasting impact. But we’ve formed a connection and it is one we are determined to develop. Thanks to our CROC sponsors Westpac, Meta (formerly Facebook), and nbn, we have the ability to go back.
One of the teachers has suggested we get one of the students to help design an awareness campaign around scam messaging. We love this idea. And one of the students saw us fiddling with our drone, trying to work out how to get it started, when he said “I know how to fly that one”. We can’t wait to see his drone footage.
There are communities dotted across Australia, just like Ali Curung. Some might not be so small, but our data has identified them as being in the sights of scammers. We know that having a physical presence in these communities and connecting face-to-face, not through facetime, makes a real difference.