Thanks for your question here, and via email. I was about to post it on the discussion forum when I saw the question here too.
Dongas are common across the cape because they’re widely available and relatively affordable, however the main issues are around the fact that they are not made for nor appropriate to suit the Cape York climate.
So some key issues we’ve heard from our partner CfAT is around poor design that doesn’t utilise natural air flow and so dongas get very hot, so air conditioning (where available) often comes with a donga rather than fans and is used constantly and is very expensive and inefficient for cooling 1 small room when several other dongas on site might all have their own separate air conditioning unit running also. Also the use of individual bar fridges has similar issues. So, the use of energy efficient appliances is a big need and there’s a strong interest in building design that utilises natural cooling techniques (see our interactive on CfAT project examples to see how the Community Building does this). There are also then maintenance issues associated with such cooling systems when they are so remote if they require a qualified person to travel there. Rusting as you mentioned may also be an issue, particularly due to the higher levels of humidity and rain season as you mentioned.
Our partner also said existing pre-fabricated units aren’t very compatible with more communal and intergenerational ways of living by First Nations people and shared caregiving – as it’s common to have larger families and grandparents living with families (as opposed to the largely-Western ‘nuclear’ family model). There is an interest in exploring how living and sleeping spaces could be increased beyond the standard donga size that fits on a truck, such as modular parts that can be assembled together on site. Some level of choice in sizing to be adjusted to the number of users would be favourable, but this can vary greatly across the year with the seasons.
In terms of cooking, some people still prefer traditional methods of cooking on an open fire outside, but there is a gradual shift from open fire to gas cooking in remote areas as opposed to electric cooking as this puts a strain on the energy system. So, factoring this into your design somehow would be valuable.
In terms of budget, take a look at our FAQs document linked at the top of the forum which will help guide you here – in short, you will need to determine what is a reasonable budget depending on who is paying for it (e.g. household level, local government, other providers or pro bono) and what value it is worth including in the long term. For how much money people would have and be willing to spend, at an individual/household level you can check out the 2016 Census to cross-check with the average income in Cape York, or look at what cost of projects that partners like CfAT or pro bono partners like Arup or Aurecon engage in.
Hope that helps!
Best of luck with your project,
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