In the same week that saw the moving first speech of Linda Burney, the first Aboriginal woman elected to the House of Representatives, 14 year old Elijah Doughty was found dead, having been hit by a car as he rode a motor bike in bushland near Kalgoorlie in Western Australia.
The driver of the car was charged with manslaughter and appeared before a Kalgoorlie court the following day. His appearance drew a crowd expressing grief and anger at the boy's death. At some point the crowd became violent, throwing stones and breaking court house windows and damaging some police vehicles. There are also reports of a few police who were injured.
Footage of the scene shows some in the crowd calling for calm, with one young woman putting herself physically between police and protesters. The tension in the crowd is obvious from the footage — and is it any wonder. For Elijah Doughty was an Aboriginal boy. And Aboriginal Australia has experienced too much grief.
In the same news cycle as the tragic death of Elijah Doughty, we learnt of parliamentarians seeking legislative freedom to engage in hate speech through the removal of s18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Evidence came out at the Inquest into the death in custody of 20-year-old Jayden Bennell that the head of the WA ligature reduction program had never heard of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
More allegations arose about abuse of youth in Queensland detention centres, where most detainees are Indigenous children. In Queensland 17 year olds are incarcerated with adults — to keep them away from the ten and 11 year olds who otherwise occupy our children's prisons.
And where Commonwealth Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion reiterated in parliament that he knew nothing of the abuses of youth — predominantly Aboriginal youth — taking place in the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in the Northern Territory.
This is the scandalous state of Indigenous affairs in Australia, where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their communities literally face a life and death struggle against the state itself. For these are not isolated incidents.
They represent the intrinsic failure of our society to heed the concerns of communities themselves, and to engage with fellow citizens in a dignified and respectful way. Indeed the failure is so grave that state treatment meted out to Indigenous Australians is actively harmful on a large scale.
"I cannot imagine the pain that must be felt in this community. But I share their frustration and their anger at governments across this nation who fail in their responsibility to work with Indigenous Australians."
State attitudes to Australia's colonised peoples are also reflected in the everyday racism of the non-Indigenous community. Reports have arisen, for example, that non-Indigenous residents of Kalgoorlie-Boulder have engaged in race hate speech online and that owners of stolen motorbikes would attempt to run down the youth who stole them. This is, some say, what may have happened to Elijah Doughty.
Against this background, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities around the country work towards a better life. However so many are hamstrung by state processes and the systems in place that seem designed to disempower Indigenous Australians. Leaders in Kalgoorlie for example, have attempted to implement community-led support programs, but their plans and aspirations fall on deaf ears.
Sitting in the comfort of my lounge room, watching the distress in the crowd in Kalgoorlie on my television, I cannot imagine the pain that must be felt in this community. But I share their frustration and their anger at governments across this nation who fail in their responsibility to work with Indigenous Australians. Without showing the leadership of extending basic human rights; without showing the leadership to support communities, the anger and despair of these communities will continue and we as a nation will likewise remain diminished.
Kate Galloway is a legal academic with an interest in social justice.
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05 September 2016
In Paul Keating's Redfern speech, he spoke about 'the stain on our soul' - the fact that peace has never fully been realised with the First Australians. That speech was made well over 20 years ago. The fact that two Aboriginal women stood between police officers and a justifiably angry mob speaks volumes. The most vulnerable in the community may lead the way to peace.
05 September 2016
This is from ABS
At 30 June 2015:
Nine in ten (90% or 8,859 prisoners) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners in Australian prisons were male. Similarly, for the non-Indigenous population prisoner population, just over nine in ten prisoners were male (93% or 24,365 prisoners). (Table 20)
The most common offence/charge for male and female Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners was acts intended to cause injury (34% or 2,990 prisoners for males and 31% or 319 prisoners for females) followed by unlawful entry with intent (15% or 1,362 prisoners for males and 14% or 145 prisoners for females). For non-Indigenous prisoners, the most common offence/charge for male prisoners was acts intended to cause injury (17% or 4,109 prisoners) and illicit drug offences for females (26% or 475 prisoners). (Table 4)
06 September 2016
Thank you Kate for raising this subject so vividly and movingly. I am circulating it to a number of my friends who are not recipients of Eureka.
06 September 2016
Thank you Kate , why are we still wondering why indigenous people are angry?
There is a lethal acceptance of the status quo. Shame,indifference and lethargy have been insistent colours of Australia. I have written to PM's Advisory Council,Warren Mundine, and Linda Burney, so disgusted to hear WASTE of $5 billion in funding, not allowing indigenous communities to plan and design their living needs-communal living- housing to enhance culture, and about Rheumatic Heart disease killing children. As a health worker I know it is widely accepted PTSD Post traumatic stress >Impacts on Stolen generations is carried by many communities, compounding health and education outcomes. But white Australia still wants to blame communities for wasting tax-payer funding. Theft of funding by government administrative systems is unlawful, but nothing is done to penalise, bring justice or redress.This is the biggest issue needing attention(wasting $ on royal commissions is WASTE too late) and being another outcome of this slow destruction of the world's oldest living culture.Slow genocide.
08 September 2016
Thanks Kate for a sensitive and poignant reflection on this tragic incident. My only question is one about protocols with deceased Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. I know there has been some shift re the practice of naming and showing an image of a recently deceased person. However I believe it is still respectful for an article such as this to carry a byline advising Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people that names and images of deceased persons are published. Perhaps this is an issue for the editorial group of Eureka Street to consider.