Town camp women stand against violence

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By KIERAN FINNANE 

 

Hundreds of women, men and children, Aboriginal and others, responded to the call to march with the Tangentyere Women’s Family Safety Group calling for an end to violence against women.

 

“Stop the violence!” was the chant. “Stand with us women.”

 

They marched from the Town Council lawns down Todd Mall to the courthouse lawns, many carrying flowers of the kind you see on graves or at roadside memorials, in commemoration, as MC Catherine Liddle said, “of anyone who has ever been impacted by domestic violence or feels overwhelmed by the need to protect other people from domestic violence.”

 

p2460 Women's march girls 430The marchers included prominent figures such as national domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty, Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw, NT Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, Territory Families Minister Dale Wakefield, and visitors from around Australia, but it was the young women from Alice Springs town camps who put their stamp on the occasion.

 

Teenagers Connie and Rhiannon (at left, on the microphone) proclaimed their rights to live free of violence, to have non-violent relationships, a safe home and community, to be able to say ‘No’, to be free of sexual violence and to have safe sex, to be respected as women, to have a voice, make their own choices, follow their own dreams, hold their own cultural beliefs.

 

Shirleen Campbell, who seems scarcely much older but is in fact a 36-year-old mother and coordinator of the Tangentyere Women’s Family Safety Group, spoke of the frustration that Aboriginal women feel with their invisibility as people behind the shocking statistics.

 

The crowd was reminded of the numbers by Phynea Clarke, CEO of the Central Australian Aboriginal Family Legal Unit: Aboriginal women are 34 times more likely to be hospitalised because of family violence, and they are 10 times more likely to die from violent assaults than non-Aboriginal women.

 

“Why don’t we hear about this?” asked Ms Clarke.

 

“It’s not alright that the stunning, beautiful Northern Territory is known as the hot bed of family violence, we are so much more than that.”

 

Left: Phynea Clarke talking to Rosie Batty. 

 

“We are not just numbers,” Ms Campbell  said, “we are people, walking breathing humans. We want to show the country, the world we are standing up against family and domestic violence.

 

“It’s not about breaking up families, it’s to make them strong, healthy and happy.”

 

This statement earned applause and cheers.

 

Afterwards Ms Campbell told the Alice Springs News Online that she had found her voice on these issues when she lost two of her aunties: “That’s what gave me the courage to stand up and speak about family and domestic violence.

 

“And not only that, I’ve got nieces and one daughter to look after and I want to teach them to be strong just like me and have a voice and speak up.”

 

p2460 Women's march Shirleen Campbell 430She described the Tangentyere Women’s Family Safety Group as “like the blanket on top” of a men’s behavioural change program and prevention program for youth.

 

Right: Shirleen Campbell. 

 

It’s about taking “baby steps, not big steps,” she said, and from the ground up. She wants Canberra to put more money into grassroots services like hers, not services based on “reading from books”, because “we are the people of our land … we know which way our mens can go and what to do, and with our youths we can understand where they’re coming from”.

 

“Aboriginal women are and will be front and centre of change,” Ms Clarke told the crowd.

 

“When we start to listen to our Aboriginal voices we will finally start addressing the devastation that is family violence,” she said.

 

She thanked the Tangentyere Women’s Family Safety Group for organising what she saw as “a game-changing event” and also acknowledged “the men and brothers who have walked with us today.”

 

Before the march began the crowd heard from June Oscar AO, a Bunuba woman from the Central Kimberley and the first Aboriginal woman to be appointed as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission.

 

p2460 Women's march Jackie Huggins 430Her speech was read by Jackie Huggins AM (left) from the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples.

 

“I know all too well the damage and havoc that violence wreaks on our lives as Aboriginal women,” said Ms Oscar.

 

“I have lived this chaos in the Fitzroy Valley where alcohol fuelled much of the violence within our community.”

 

However today, after years of community-led grassroots work and tackling alcohol issues head on, Ms Oscar was able to report “overall a greater sense of peace and order in our communities now”.

 

“Most people, men as well as women now accept that control of the grog is essential if we are to build a better future for our children.”

 

She hailed the young women from Tangentyere as “examples fighting against the picture of deficits that so often seek to define our communities.

 

“I know that all of the hardships in communities seem to be never ending in a cycle of trauma and grief which is unbearable. Sometimes the mountain in front of us seems too hard, too steep to climb …

 

“I know that despite everything you continue to climb because you can see what it is on the other side for us, you can see a future for our peoples that is free of violence.”

 

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RELATED READING: 

 

Domestic Violence: criminal justice system ‘not suitable for purpose’, says Coroner 

 

 

 

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4 Comments (starting with the most recent)

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  1. Mark Wilson
    Posted July 16, 2017 at 3:08 pm

    While I feel desperately sorry for these (Indigenous) victims I do wonder why they choose to march in Todd Mall. If they wish to galvanise politicians into funding yet more services (read band-aids) and police into action (I note that some of these marched also “in solidarity” no doubt), then they might better whistle in the wind. Ms Clarke is spot-on: “Aboriginal women are and will be front and centre of change”. Not politicians and not police. And certainly not the courts where the march ended. By the time the courts are involved the damage is done. The problems for indigenous women mostly lie inside the town camps. As Dave points out women are becoming perpetrators as well as victims. Not surprising, really.
    Perhaps the very hot-beds of violence, the town camps, would be the best place to undertake their campaign and actions. An ongoing vigil outside the liquor outlets during opening times might be another.

    Do we now really expect that government and its institutions will control people’s behaviours when the very same institutions through govt. policies have done so much to destroy indigenous society over decades?

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  2. Charlie Hull
    Posted July 16, 2017 at 12:05 am

    My wife and I have visited Alice several times as I have a mate there. We love love it there. The other two comments are right: First the respect must start at the family level, a basis for non violence begins there. Young men need to be taught early – not wait until they are teens to begin.
    Young girls need to be taught to earn respect. It is not just a given. Both girls’ and boys’ attitudes towards sex must change, that it should be saved for marriage. It is not just a handshake.
    Both need to be taught the attitude of the other towards sex as we do think differently about it. One side or the other cannot do as they please without effecting the other.
    A heart change is also needed; this will only come through the Lord Jesus Christ.
    The women are right to march against the violence but they hold the key in how they will teach their children and their attitudes towards this subject. Do not wait for government action. Start now in your homes.

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  3. Dave Price
    Posted July 14, 2017 at 11:22 am

    I took enthusiastic part in the men’s stop the violence march back in 2010.
    All I could think of was “at last”. We marched, chanted and wore our T-shirts. Then nothing happened.
    I was told that submissions for funding to government failed to attract support so no more action was taken. If action relies only on government funding the violence will never end.
    Men should act to protect their women and children on their own initiative not wait for tax payer’s money.
    Since then, for our relatives, things have just got worse. And increasingly women are falling victim to the violence of other women not just men.
    My sister in law and my brother in law’s widow were murdered by other women since 2010. Recently another grand daughter died following a brutal assault by her husband. Police are still investigating.
    This was witnessed by the son of the victim’s sister whose own mother was murdered by her estranged husband before the 2010 march.
    We wanted to get a daughter in law involved in this march. She had been bashed over the head with a rock by a young man who had demanded grog and cigarettes from her. She had none to give.
    The coward hit her from behind. This happened in broad daylight in a public place in this town. She couldn’t join us because of a combination of her on-going injuries and PTSD.
    Some of the speakers told us of their pain at what had happened to female relatives. They failed to mention that the perpetrators are also their relatives.
    It makes sense to draw the attention of the wider world to what is happening but it makes more sense for families to take direct responsibility for what is happening to them.
    We need grass roots action supported by government, not government action that will only be condemned as lacking consultation and undermined by systemic racism etc, etc ad nauseam, when it fails, as it inevitably will.
    We need to take the politics out of it and really work together on this. I hope this march results in real action, unlike the 2010 men’s march.

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  4. John Bell
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 11:23 am

    I read about the march and I say a little prayer in memory of those wonderful ladies from Ali Curung who took their lives into their own hands all those years ago to speak out. They were the bravest of all.
    The happy families always look to mum as the heart and dad as the protector. These values are considered old world and nuclear unit conservative, out of date in our extended family remote communities today. But I have yet to experience any better starting model for family life … as the acorn from which the big happy community tree grows … in town or out bush.
    Not there to walk with today’s ladies in memory of the Ali Curung ladies. However, I take my hat off to Phynea who has moved on to do wonderful community work after suffering career-ending injuries in her beloved hockey in which she was a great talent all those years ago. Keep up the great work, Phynea.

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