TROUBLE: ‘Stop trying to tie the hands of the courts’



Above: During Russell Goldflam’s reading from TROUBLE. Photo by Pip McManus

Below right: Book signing for prosecutor Asta Hill. Photo by Erwin Chlanda.


“Trouble erupts on days that are like other days in almost every respect, until those moments from which there is no turning back. This is part of what I’ve realised as I’ve been going into court, that the context of most crime, even the most serious, is ordinary, which is not to say untroubling. In Central Australia’s ordinary there are things we have in common – such as a culture of excessively heavy drinking – and things that are peculiar to us as individuals, families, and broader social and cultural groupings.


“This is obvious yet seems to need stating in the face of the blunt instruments of law and order responses, including mandatory sentencing. Each case, as these stories reveal, is particular – each victim, each perpetrator, each set of circumstances, each violent act. Up close, as women and men die or are injured at the hands of another, categories and generalities disappear. Victims and perpetrators know this starkly. Lawyers and judges know it by long exposure. The general public and the politicians who seek their favour should take heed and stop trying to tie the hands of the courts.


p2337-Trouble-Asta“This goes for the complex matter of consideration of Aboriginal law too, by which I mean a cultural setting far broader than, and in the twenty-first century necessarily excluding, the tribal corporal punishment which those words conjure. It is clear from the stories in this book that there is an evolving relationship between many Aboriginal people in Central Australia and the Australian settler law: they seek its protection, its vindication of their rights, its adjudication in serious matters, even though they may not be satisfied with the outcome, even as it locks up their men in such great number, even while they seek its reform.


“Evolving too is the co-existing governance of their everyday lives by their own law and mores. No amount of social and cultural bludgeoning from without is going to eliminate that. The devastating impact of their more ready resort to violence – especially violence inflicted with a weapon, in extreme disproportion by men upon women, and under the exacerbating influence of alcohol – is being recognised and examined among them. We have seen the local examples, the NPY Women’s Council, the Stop the Violence actions, the leadership shown by impressive individuals such as Wenten Rubuntja, Margaret Kemarre Turner, Japaljarri Spencer, among others. They should be given all the support they may require.


“The courts meanwhile need to be able to consider the whole person, the whole context insofar as they are able. The suppression by fiat of any consideration of Aboriginal law is highly artificial given the realities of people’s lives outside and thus the realities of what the courts have to deal with. There is surely everything to gain by working with people as they are and are becoming, rather than expecting them to leave a significant part of themselves at the door and forcing judges to look at them with blinkers on.”


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