The outback Queensland town of Longreach is the only home Adam Ballard has ever known. 

The 31-year-old, who lives with Williams syndrome and requires consistent care for his intellectual disability, volunteers at the local childcare centre and for the rugby league team.

But as his 64-year-old parents approach an age when they may no longer be able to care for Adam full-time, the family is considering moving hundreds of kilometres away. 

“There are no options,” Adam’s mother Paula Ballard said. 

“At the moment, the future for us is to leave.

“We wouldn’t like to take Adam out of this environment. He’s very safe, very well known … this is where we would like to stay.” 

A portrait of a 31-year-old man in outback Queensland
Adam Ballard has spent his life in Longreach and is heavily involved in the community.(ABC Western Qld: Victoria Pengilley)

‘Nothing close by at all’

For people in western Queensland, the closest disability housing is at least four-and-a-half hours away in Emerald or Mount Isa.

There also has not been any respite care available in the region since 2020. 

“Nothing at all, nothing in Longreach, nothing in the central west … our closest would be Emerald,” Mrs Ballard said. 

A young man in a footy jersey stands between his parents on a footy field.
Paula, Adam and Peter Ballard raise money for local disability advocates at a recent Ladies Day at the showgrounds.(ABC Western Qld: Danielle O’Neal)

The chair of local advocacy group Outback Independent Living, Leanne Kohler, said local adults with a disability were often living with their parents without independence, and several others were living in aged care.

“The irony of that is in Longreach we’ve got aged care people who are wanting to get into the Pioneers [aged care] home, but the units are filled with young people with special needs,” Ms Kohler said. 

“We have had two families leave in two months and there’s more talking [about moving]. 

“Longreach doesn’t actually need to get smaller.”

Great expectations, great disappointment 

An old blue house on Ibis Street surrounded by tall grass and weeds.
Local disability advocates hoped this site would be bought and become home to four specialist disability villas, but the sale fell through.(ABC Western Qld: Danielle O’Neal)

Brisbane-based company SDA Australia was planning to build the first disability housing in the region this year in collaboration with Outback Independent Living. 

The plan was to put four specialist disability accommo
dation villas near Longreach’s main street this year. 

But the contract for the land sale fell through and the project has stalled. 

“It’s taken us three years to get to this point and I just hope it doesn’t take another three years to get back here,” Ms Kohler said. 

A lady holds a destroyed real estate sign that says 'Under Contract' in front of an old blue house
Ms Kohler says the local aged care home was full of young people.(ABC Western Qld: Danielle O’Neal)

SDA Australia director Deborah Segeren told the ABC the project “isn’t dead in the water” but has significant barriers to overcome.

“Our first major problem is getting someone to actually do the build,” Ms Segeren said.

“The other thing we need to overcome is the staffing issues, that is a huge, huge thing.”

It’s disappointing news for 26-year-old Longreach mechanic Jacques Jacobie, who sustained a T-1 spinal cord injury two years ago and now uses a wheelchair.

A young man in a wheelchair leans over his sink which is almost too high for him to access.
Aspects of Mr Jacobie’s home, such as the kitchen sink, are too high to be comfortably used from a wheelchair.(ABC Western Qld: Danielle O’Neal)

After an unsuccessful search to find an accessible rental, Jacques Jacobie says he was “lucky” to be able to rent out his parents’ home, which has modifications.

“Everything around Longreach has steps or stairs so trying to find a place was pretty hard,” Mr Jacobie said. 

“Anyone could wake up paralysed or with some sort of disability [and] It’s going to suck for the town if everybody has to end up moving because they can’t stay here comfortably.”

A young man in a wheelchair sits in the shade of some trees in a backyard.
Mr Jacobie has considered moving to a region with disability housing, but wants to stay in the Longreach community.(ABC Western Qld: Danielle O’Neal)

University of Queensland Professor of Social Sciences Cameron Parsell said the federal government needed to intervene in places where the commercial market had not delivered housing for people with disability. 

“It’s not up to scratch, it’s appalling,” Professor Parsell said. 

“If the market is unable to provide that housing, for legitimate reasons, the state needs to intervene and incentivise the market to do so.

“What we know is when the state doesn’t provide housing that’s affordable for people, it often spends an awful lot of money responding to the consequences of that.”

A happy lady smiles next to a whiteboard with jerseys and the prices they sold for.
The Longreach community raised $11,000 at a football game over the weekend to support Outback Independent Living.(ABC Western Qld: Craig Fitzsimmons)

A Department of Social Services spokesperson said the federal government would investigate solutions to excessive red tape and the mounting queues that stopped people with disability accessing appropriate housing.

“With the involvement of state and territory governments, the Australian government is committed to ensuring people with disability have a range of housing choices,” a spokesperson said. 

Possible solution on town’s doorstep?

Ms Kohler said the former Longreach Pastoral College, which closed in 2019, would have everything they needed for a disability hub for the region. 

Drone view of former ag college site in Longreach
Local advocates believe this former agricultural college campus in Longreach could become a disability hub for the outback(Supplied: Lisa Alexander)

“It’s got accommodation, options for employment, it’s close to town with pathways already established for mobility scooters,” Ms Kohler said.

“It has endless possibilities.”

Queensland’s Disability Services Minister Craig Crawford has written to new Federal NDIS Minister Bill Shorten inviting him to visit Longreach to discuss a “possible pilot project” with Outback Independent Living Incorporated.
The future use of the agricultural college is yet to be determined.